Cecilia Flores is an Afro-Latina vegan chef transforming traditional Dominican dishes into plant-based delicacies. When she first went vegan, she was afraid that she’d have to leave behind the flavors of her culture’s cuisine. She and her husband Ivannoe set out to make sure that never happened and now serve hearty vegan Latino foods to their community in Massachusetts through their catering company Coco Verde, Latino Vegan Kitchen. Flores is one of The Beet’s favorite Black vegan influencers to follow for inspiration.

Here, in an exclusive interview with The Beet, Flores talks about how becoming a mother empowered her to change her diet, explore veganism as a racial justice issue, and empower mantra setting. She aims to show that going plant-based doesn’t mean your diet will be boring and without flavor. We think her advice will help to inspire you to veganize some of the meat-centric dishes you’ve been missing. 

Q: Why did you go vegan?

CF: My daughter was the biggest driving force for my transition to a plant-based diet. When we had her, it was an opportunity to examine our diet, re-evaluate what we wanted for ourselves and our health, and make some changes. 

It was during this time that we watched a lot of documentaries and did a lot of research. The information pointed to the fact that veganism is both a social justice and a racial justice issue. We learned about the unsustainable nature of factory farming for our climate, and how communities of color are primarily being affected by CAFOs (high cancer rates, respiratory illnesses, etc.). 

I'm also a public health researcher and Ph.D. candidate studying racial health inequities. Knowing the history of racial redlining and how burdens of disease primarily affect Black and Latinx folks, it felt hypocritical to not shift to a plant-based diet. We still have a long way to go as farmworkers and those cultivating and harvesting our fruits and vegetables are also oftentimes subjected to poor working conditions. Transitioning to a plant-based diet seemed like a good first step. 

Q: What exactly do you normally eat in a day?

CF: I’ve been making a lot of sourdough bread! My favorite breakfast lately has been an avocado toast on sourdough or a smoothie. Lunch and dinner switch between Buddha bowls (with brown rice, some greens, roasted veggies, beans, etc.), hearty salads, moro or rice and beans, grilled mushrooms, etc. My favorite snack is usually chips, veggies and hummus, or a handful of nuts. 

Q: What’s your favorite vegan restaurant?

CF: I've only been once because it's in NYC but two years later I'm still thinking about the meal that we had at Seasoned Vegan. They had this stuffed avocado there that blew my mind. 

Q: What is your favorite vegan meal to cook?

CF: This is a hard one! It depends on my mood and the weather. I love making Dominican-style spaghetti when it's raining, vegan pescado con coco or sancocho are some of my favorite comfort foods. Generally, we just love to experiment!

Q: What is one ingredient you can't live without?

CF: Salt! It can transform a dish, and there are so many different kinds! 

Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to go vegan?

CF: Pick a few recipes that you're excited about! Something that you’ll look forward to eating as you’re transitioning. I think often we see vegan or plant-based diets as really limiting, but seeing all of the veggies, fruits, nuts, and grains that you're opening yourself up to, it's a very inspiring and exciting way of thinking. 

Q: What advice do you have for vegan entrepreneurs like yourself?

CF: Keep at it! And also build community. We feel blessed to have the support of other business owners that know what it's like and have been able to share encouragement and vice versa. 

Q: Tell me about your vegan catering service.

CF: Our catering company merged from our process of veganizing our favorite dishes from our childhood and it's been amazing to share that with others! Business has been really difficult lately because we primarily focus on events. We're hoping to shift to an individual meal model and have folks be able to order that way. 

Q: Who is your role model or inspiration? 

CF: My cousin, Elizabeth, and my best friend, Molly. I often refer to them as my vegan fairy godmothers. When I decided to transition, I called them up and they showered me with love, advice, and encouragement.

Q: If you had 30 minutes to work out what would you do?

CF: Circuit training with the resistance bands and kettlebells. I love running so if I have a little longer, I'll go for a run!

Q: What is your go-to smoothie recipe?

CF: 1.5 cups of oat milk, 2-3 handfuls of spinach, 1/2 a banana, and another fruit (whatever I have on hand, such as mixed berries, mango, or apple). Sometimes I'll add a scoop of either moringa, spirulina, or protein powder.

Q: Do you have a mantra or thought/words to live by?

CF: I set mantras and intentions with my cousins every month, this month is, "Your ancestors outnumber your fears, feel your power."