The ROOT Report: Awakening the healing traditions of Afro-Caribbean food





In the South Bronx and Northern Manhattan, many people find it difficult to get consistent access to fresh, healthy and nutritious food. Looking to educate people about healthy eating and address racial inequalities in our current food system, Ysanet Batista turned to the rich culture and history of Dominican and Afro-Caribbean cuisine.

In an effort to educate people in her neighborhood and around New York City about healthy food, Ysanet began cooking vegan Dominican and Afro-Caribbean dishes using responsibly sourced and organic ingredients from community gardens and local farms.

The catering venture, Woke Foods, soon grew into New York City’s first vegan Dominican food business, serving up food and social justice for non-profit events, grassroots organizations and other functions. Wishing to “lead by example” and run the business as a co-op, Ysanet, asked Merelis Ortiz and Claudia Mena to join her and they enrolled in the Green Workers Cooperative Co-op Academy. The cooperative business structure provides an alternative to the hierarchical structure that is commonplace in the food industry, and is a step in the right direction when it comes to shaping a socially just food system. Today the cooperative’s worker owners are Ysanet Batista and Frances Perez Rodriguez.

Photo Courtesy of Woke Foods
Photo Courtesy of Woke Foods

Their mission was always to use food as a tool for education, so in addition to catering, they also began to hold talks and events, share recipes and offer cooking classes. Recently, Woke Foods was awarded a grant by the Citizens Committee of New York City to offer free plant – based cooking classes for people living in affordable housing.

Woke Foods shows us the importance of using culture and food as a platform to discuss and think critically about social inequalities. Not only do they bring traditional recipes of Dominican and Afro-Caribbean communities to the forefront, but they also present an example of how food can be prepared in a way that is conscious of the environment and promotes food sovereignty. Many restaurants and caterers across New York City showcase various kinds of global cuisines, yet few acknowledge the global and historical inequalities associated with food and food production.

If you would like your next event to be catered by Woke Foods, or want more information about recipes, cooking classes and events, visit: or find them on Instagram @wokefoods.

For more on the great work Woke Foods is doing, click here.


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