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‘Making the Things You Already Love A Little Differently’ ~ How Todo Verde Is Leading the Plant-Based Food Revolution

Heart of Palm Ceviche garnished with pickled radish, black sesame and micro greens. Photo by Leslie Rodriguez.

[dropcap size=big]J[/dropcap]ocelyn Ramirez has a way of making her family's holiday meals more plant-forward. She and her sister-in-law coordinate the menu and Ramirez will head preparations for nearly everything. Her brother, though, handles the turkey, the only non-vegan item served.

She's not dictating a vegan Thanksgiving. Instead, Ramirez wants to show that there are tasty, meatless options to the typical turkey and gravy. "I'm trying to place some really delicious dishes in front of them that they want to make at home and that's it," Ramirez tells L.A. Taco. "If they make that dish instead of one that maybe has dairy or meat in it, then that is a slow, subtle win."

Save for the turkey, Ramirez's approach to holiday meals isn't that different from how she runs her plant-based food business, Todo Verde. The former Woodbury University professor launched the company in 2015 with agua frescas and smoothies sold at farmers markets. Since then, it's blossomed into a full catering company that can also be found regularly in downtown’s weekly food fest Smorgasburg.

Jackfruit Carnitas Tacos Recipe from Todo Verde.

Ramirez doesn't blast the vegan tag when she's marketing her Mexican and Latin American-inspired dishes. She prefers to simply list the ingredients, which do not include animal products.

“I don't promote the business as being this vegan business that's forward-facing in the veganism world,” she explains. “It's more about just being an option for people who would otherwise never have another plant-based option.”

With dishes like Oyster Mushrooms en Mole and Ceviche de Palmitas, Todo Verde has generated a buzz in the L.A. food scene. Now, Ramirez is ready to level-up. The company just completed a successful Indiegogo campaign to raise $50,000 to launch a brick-and-mortar location on the Eastside, ideally in Boyle Heights, the neighborhood where Ramirez lives. 

Todo Verde owner Jocelyn Ramirez. Photo by Walter Thompson-Hernandez.
Todo Verde owner Jocelyn Ramirez.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he goal, she says, is to serve plant-based meals seven days a week and provide a space for community engagement through cooking demonstrations and other educational programming. Her target audience: Latinas between the ages of 24 and 35. “I feel like that woman is the entry point to her entire family,” Ramirez says. “That's why, with Todo Verde, I'm directly speaking to her.”

She's thinking about women who might be growing more aware of the socio-political issues that affect food access and women who are becoming more health-conscious. She's looking towards women who may have young families or older parents.

Ramirez, who grew up in South Gate, was in her 20s when she began exploring plant-based diets. "If you talked to someone who knew me 10 years ago, they would have thought this was the most impossible idea ever," the vegan chef admits. "They knew the type of food that I ate."

She took small steps, beginning as a vegetarian.

RELATED: 'Food Desert No More': A Raw Vegan Eatery Thrives in Highland Park

Amorcito Agua Fresca garnished with chia, fruit, edible flower. Photo by Sana Javeri Kadri.
Amorcito Agua Fresca garnished with chia, fruit, edible flower. Photo by Sana Javeri Kadri.

“It was a hard process at first for me to get into vegetarianism because I thought that I was going to be missing out on so much,” she recalls. “But then I got to the point where I had tried so many delicious things across Los Angeles, I could say that I had tried the best chicken or whatever dish.”

Moreover, Ramirez started to think about how she physically felt after eating certain foods. What made her grow lethargic or bloated? Health was a concern – Ramirez has dealt with a thyroid issue – but so were politics.

[dropcap size=big]S[/dropcap]he considered Los Angeles's race and class issues and how that led to disparities in access to healthy food across the region. “That made me look at how I can fuel my body with things that are a lot better health-wise, but also think about it as a political act where I can push against the capitalist, oppressive system here in Los Angeles of not being able to access those types of food because I live in a certain neighborhood.”

Pozole Verde with roasted mushrooms, blue heirloom maiz, pickled purple cabbage, radish and micros. Photo by Todo Verde.
Pozole Verde with roasted mushrooms, blue heirloom maiz, pickled purple cabbage, radish and micros. Photo by Todo Verde.

Then, Ramirez started working with her parents on incorporating more plant-based foods into their diets. The impetus was her father's second cancer diagnosis, which prompted the family to look at how food could help him with treatment.

“I think if that situation wouldn't have happened, it would have been a lot harder for me to transform a Mexican-Ecuadorian, heavy meat-eater family to think about food differently and to take away what they thought were their traditional food items,” she explained. “It wasn’t about taking things away. It was more about, how do we make that same thing that you already really love a little differently and still capture the flavor of that.”

RELATED: 'Southern Girl Desserts' in Baldwin Hills: Where Traditional SouthernSweets Become Vegan

Jackfruit en Chile Verde Sope topped with cashew crema, pickled heart of palm, micro green and edible flower. Photo by Todo Verde.
Jackfruit en Chile Verde Sope topped with cashew crema, pickled heart of palm, micro green and edible flower. Photo by Todo Verde.

While her parents aren't vegan, they do maintain a mostly plant-based diet. “For me, I think that's a huge win,” she says. “It’s just a way to be able to preserve their health and really integrate the culture and create almost like a new tradition that will hopefully be long-lasting moving forward.”

Ramirez's mom works with her now, too, helping the chef re-imagine family recipes without the animal products. Ramirez believes there's a lot of power in small steps and, when it comes to plant-based diets, that's where she feels she can make an impact.

“For Todo Verde  specifically, it's all about the incremental changes.”

RELATED: Meet the L.A. Chef Who Has Veganized 40 Dishes From El Salvador and Is Going For More

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