Like so many viral movements in the 21st century, this one started on Instagram. As a college student in 2018, young vegan Amy Quichiz created a small food-focused account, Vegetarian mijas, initially for posting and sharing plant-based recipes to help her navigate her new lifestyle. “I wanted to create a place where people of color can talk about veganism without having to go through as much turmoil as I did when navigating these spaces,” the writer and activist tells TZR, referring to communities BIPOC, who have historically been excluded from the trendy vegan movement that often caters to and markets to privileged white people. “I had a hard time adjusting to what veganism looked like for our culture.”
Fast forward about four years (and some 31,000 followers) later, and this small IG platform for sharing vegan recipes has morphed into a full-fledged food justice collective uniting thousands of people across the country. And while such rapid growth wasn’t Quichiz’s original intention, she took every pivot to Veggie Mijas with speed and embraced veganism not just as a diet, but as her life’s passion.
Indeed, at its core and in its early stages, the culture of veganism neglected and discredited non-white communities. in its marketing and representation, despite the fact that many of them have plant-based ideologies rooted in their cultures (Hinduism, Buddhism, Rastafarianism and the Black Hebrew Israelites, to name a few) for years, even centuries.
There is also the question of the impact that animal products often have on the environment — and we cannot talk about environmental justice not to mention racism. In addition to animal abuse, these factories and farms run by corporations that produce animal products on a large scale also extend this exploitation and harm to workers, who are primarily people of color. “These conversations always lead me to the same conclusion: there’s a pipeline that goes from beginner vegan to environmental justice advocate,” says writer Noella Williams in a February 2022 Healthline article. “But that pipeline is often not recognized by white vegans, who are more likely to value animal rights over the lives of Latinx farmworkers fighting for fair wages or black people suffering from food apartheid.”
It was this very pipeline that took Quichiz on his own advocacy journey, which began as a movement for animal rights but later pivoted to include those of humanity as well. “I guess my conversational shift really changed once I got home and had to explain to my parents why veganism is important to me and explain to them not only the injustices of animals, but also people. within the system of oppression,” says the NYC native, who adds that she learned the full extent of the injustices within the vegan movement by reading A. Harper’s Breeze Vegan Sista. “So it was difficult in the sense of a challenge [questions like] What is culture? What is tradition?
It didn’t take long for Quichiz’s little Instagram account on vegan recipes to take on new meaning, eventually becoming a way to change the narrative around plant-based living. The student (who has since graduated and recently completed her Master of Arts in Ethics, Peace and Human Rights) saw a real need for accessibility like writing on the wall (or, more accurately, in Vegan Sista) made it clear that food injustice is alive and well. “I think one of the things that really stood out to me [in the book] was that nothing is really a choice and everything is done on purpose when it comes to food,” she explains. “If we even look at the map of predominantly brown and black schools, you can see there’s a bodega near every school or a Popeye’s or a general fast food chain. It’s not by choice, is it? Because when you look at predominantly white schools, they don’t have the same kind of dynamic that we grew up in.
With that ha ha moment, Quichiz is on a mission to ensure that a nutrient-dense, plant-based lifestyle is accessible to everyone, especially people of color. She wanted to create community events and gatherings that would bring people together in a safe place to talk about food justice and social justice issues in general. And while swapping recipes served to plant a seed among non-white vegans, Quichiz said he noticed people within that network were thirsty for what it was: community. As engagement grew on the IG platform among its plant-based followers, “we got a bunch of comments saying, ‘We want to meet in person. How do we do it?’ » recalls the founder.
So, just like its social media platform, Quichiz started small, with a March 2018 event that everyone could identify with: a potluck. A follower of Veggie Mijas has offered her home in the Bronx to serve as the venue. “I opened the doors, I had never been to this girl’s house before and there were already 35 people inside,” Quichiz recalled. “No one knew who I was and I think it was so beautiful. Because everyone was really there for the vegan food and [to meet] people who were vegan or people who wanted to be vegan or learn more about veganism, and everyone was having such a great time.
It turns out that this event resulted in something of a domino effect, with more and more Veggie Mijas followers asking for potlucks and rallies in their own cities across the United States. “It wasn’t just about creating these events and meeting people,” says Quichiz. “It was actually community service. So from there it sparked tons of conversations and ideas [on how to do that].” From events centered around self-care and crafts (together!), book clubs, open mics, guided meditations, and group hikes, Veggie Mijas fosters community and thoughtful interaction in a variety of ways.
Over the past four years, Veggie Mijas has grown significantly from a social media platform for vegans to a community for BIPOC as well as the LGBTQIA+ community, which Quichiz said was also an organic evolution. “[Veggie Mijas] was always queer because I’m queer and all the people who organized knew that so they felt comfortable,” says Quichiz. “I would say the move from an academic platform to involving many communities was due to my own journey and what I went through and what I needed. When I was in college, it was a platform to get into veganism. Then I graduated and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t need this anymore, I need people.’
With 11 active chapters across the country, Veggie Mijas’ network has grown exponentially, as has its mission. In addition to educating people about veganism with its now-iconic potlucks, the collective has become an advocacy arm in its own right, hosting panel discussions, community outreach projects and food workshops. “[Chapter leaders] meet once a month to talk about what’s happening in our communities,” says Quichiz. “[We discuss] how we can help people, what challenges we have. […] Our number one goal isn’t to expand, it’s simply to provide resources to people who need them and want to help their community and serve.