Amy Quichiz: Founder of Veggie Mijas
2. Where are you from? Where do you live now?
My mother is from Colombia and my father is from Peru, proudly a first-generation Latina, born, raised and currently living in Jackson Heights, Queens New York.
3. Profession? Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am Colombian and Peruvian raised in Jackson Heights. I studied at Syracuse University Women's and Gender Studies and Sociology, and now doing my masters at New York University in the Global Affairs Program concentrating in Global Gender Studies and International Human Rights Law. I am the founder of Veggie Mijas, a woman of color/folks of color collective where we discuss our plant-based lifestyle and how it intersects with our marginalized identities. I love to inspire folks through education, such as teaching folks about veganism, wellness, and how food should be a positive experience.
4. What sparked your interest in wellness?
I became interested in wellness when I started to learn about food accessibility and how there was no healthy choices around my area. I started thinking about how my routine was like, what my family ate before they came to this country, and started doing more research as to why our people in our communities do not have access to learning more about eating plant-based, even though our ancestors have been doing it for so long.
5. When did you decide to become a vegan?
I decided to be vegan sophomore year of college, since 2014. I became vegan because two of my friends, a cuban guy and a dominican woman inspired me to look at what I was consuming. They also said, hey if you're studying women's and gender studies and consider yourself a feminist, I believe going vegan would interest you as well. At first, I did not see the correlation, however, when I started doing my own research and reading Sistah Vegan, right away I knew I had to be vegan for the animals and for my community.
6. What inspired you to start Veggie Mijas?
When I was in college, I had my two friends from different backgrounds that were vegan, but once I started joining clubs and becoming to know more of the vegetarian/vegan circles. I felt very discouraged by the people around me, especially after graduation. During that summer of 2017, I told my sorority sister Mariah, that we should start a blog to show folks that they can eat healthy as well with food stamps and the resources they already have in the hood. She loved the idea, but we never got around it until August. I suggested, let's start with the people first: collecting recipes, where they ate in NYC, etc. From there Veggie Mijas continued growing, not only in NYC but in different parts of the states.
7. How has the collective grown since you launched it?
At first, I thought it was only going to be an online platform where folks would send in recipes, tips for being a beginner vegan, etc. However, people wanted to start meeting other vegans from various backgrounds in New York City. We had our first event in the Bronx, and ever since then people had been so excited about having different activities that not only incorporated food, but also sustainable fashion, essential oils, farm sanctuary trips, cleaning beaches, etc. This enthusiasm did not only stay in New York City, but expanded to twelve different states whom now have active organizers.
8. What do you think is the biggest misconception about veganism?
I believe the biggest misconception about veganism is that it is only a 'white' lifestyle, which erases all folks of different ethnic backgrounds that have been 'vegan' even before white folks put a name to it. When talking about veganism, it is very important to highlight, if not center, folks of color that are doing environmental and anti-speciesism work, especially anti-racist vegan work as well. When we talk about the environment, folks of color, specifically black people are the ones that face environmental racism on a regular basis. When I look around my house, what do I see? Popeyes and Dunkin Donuts. That is not by accident, the 'choices' around where working class folks of color are not just made by you, but it is already chosen for you by the system. There are so many women of different ethnic backgrounds that are activists in the vegan world and should be highlighted when talking about Veganism such as Aph Ko, Lauren the founder of Food Empowerment Project, Hailey Thomas, and so much more.
9. What does it mean to decolonize your food?
Decolonizing your food means: questioning the 'choices' around you, what did your family tree used to it before colonization, if you're first generation, what did your family use to eat before coming to the U.S--question what you are digesting and why? Doing research in your heritage and the stamps of food they used to it, what were the names of the vegetables or fruits before you took for granted? For example, quinoa was blessed, defined as 'mother grain' in Peru. Now, it is more expensive in bougie supermarkets when thats considered 'poor people food' in other countries that is more accessible. Not only questioning, but also processing what you're eating and being grateful for the food you have on your plate.
10. How can we make a vegan diet more accessible to the general public? I believe we can make veganism more accessible by having conversations about why veganism should matter to folks as individuals. We should have more classes on how to cook plant-based meals with what people already have in their fridge, and overall, talk about the benefits of having a plant-based lifestyle. I think the more we educate one another, the more accessible veganism can be.
11. What’s next for you? That's such a hard question because like I said, I had no idea that Veggie Mijas was going to take me to where I am today. If I can hope so, I see myself having more educational workshops, opening up college chapters, and starting a youth group for Veggie Mijas, and in the far future open up a school where folks from the community can have a community garden, we'll teach cooking classes, planting classes, all sorts of tools we need.
12. What is your motto in life? Dream so big, you think you'll overcome your dreams and land somewhere bigger, somewhere you didn't imagine getting there in the first place.
13. Website: veggiemijas.com
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Written by Alison Hernon, Editor-In-Chief, PhotoBook Magazine