Last week we introduced you to Chef Yadira Garcia, a Bronx-based, integrative health coach who teaches so much more than counting macros. What Chef Yadi values most is tapping into the spiritual well that’s guided generation after generation.
But her work doesn’t stop there. Chef Yadi isn’t simply talking a good game about cultural connection and aligning your mind and body, she’s walking that reality too. Whether through individualized cooking programs or partnerships with New York organizations, Chef Yadi is a fighter for the people. And her advocacy extends to food insecurity.
The USDA describes food insecurity as a limited availability of nutritionally sufficient foods or a limited ability to acquire foods in socially acceptable ways. As the most populated city in the country, New York is no exception.
11% of the NYC population suffers from inaccessibility to nutritious foods. That’s nearly 1 million city residents.
According to Food Bank NYC, the city’s largest organization dedicated to hunger relief, 11% of the NYC population suffers from inaccessibility to nutritious foods. That’s nearly 1 million city residents, representing 50% of the overall food insecure population in the entire state of New York.
Those are staggering numbers, but Chef Yadi is working to change things for her fellow New Yorkers. To her, it starts at home with knowledge of what the actual options are.
For instance, she encourages links between local farmers and the communities they serve. When that happens, you’re supporting a local food source where you’re able to fund the farmer who in turn grows even more food for that same community. It’s a mutually beneficial system that is not taken advantage of simply due to a lack of awareness.
“I found out New York City and the Bronx have the largest matrix of urban farms and farmers markets,” she says. “Nobody’s talking about this. Taqwa Community Farm is blocks from Yankee Stadium. Who knows there’s a huge urban farm next to Yankee Stadium?”
“New York City and the Bronx have the largest matrix of urban farms and farmers markets.”
Another misconception she works to dismantle is the idea that eating healthily is unaffordable or unattainable. The truth is that these urban farms have subsidies in place where people can use their SNAP benefits to buy fresh foods right in their own backyards.
But again, the awareness isn’t there. Parents aren’t necessarily teaching their children these things because their parents never taught them.
“Think about it,” Chef Yadi says. “When did we learn this? Who taught us? We get into college and we only know how to make ramen. There’s got to be an in-between. We have to find middle ground to empower ourselves.”
Take her work with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, where she taught kids how to grow their own food in Tupperware. Because buying seeds to grow one’s own food is much cheaper than purchasing organic produce, Chef Yadi knows that passing this info on to the youth is crucial. Her lessons empower city kids to take active ownership over their nutrition and health at a young age.
Or, take Chef Yadi’s work with Columbia University. Just last year, she connected with a group of students over a 9-week period to provide live, virtual cooking demos preparing them to feed themselves after they leave their parents’ homes.
“There was such excitement,” she says happily. “And the moms were jumping in, little brothers and sisters. And something really cool happened where before, I was only able to get to the student, but through this, I was able to generationally reach members in the house. A very powerful connection happened.”
For Chef Yadi, that’s everything.
“If that’s all my community can afford, how about I teach them how to freak those vegetables and make them taste amazing?”
It’s what led the Hunter College Food Policy Center to list her on its Top 40 Under 40 Individuals Working in Food Justice list for 2018. It’s what fuels her to teach self-sufficiency through food knowledge in the largest city in America. And that work includes debunking antiquated ideas.
“It’s always ‘All canned foods are horrible or all frozen vegetables are horrible,’” she remarks. “Well, if that’s all my community can afford, how about I teach them how to freak those vegetables and make them taste amazing?”
But Chef Yadi wouldn’t be able to power her advocacy without the tech provided by Metro by T-Mobile. She credits the company for helping her continue to reach the masses – whether they be New York locals or visitors to a gastronomical retreat in the Dominican Republic.
“I’ve been going back and reconnecting with the lands because I want to bring people to the farmlands, and I want them to feel comfortable,” she says. “So this past year I was able to grab videos of everything. I was able to bring my comrades in to see so much of what I explain and talk about. The conversion rate for my community being empowered by all of this technology has been absolutely phenomenal.”
“I’ve been going back and reconnecting with the lands because I want to bring people to the farmlands, and I want them to feel comfortable.”
Informing people of the resources and programs available are vital to Chef Yadi. It’s personal for her because she’s put in the work. She’s done the recon, and she knows exactly where the system became disjointed.
“The levels of trauma with food in our country, specifically in our communities of color is very impactful to the social detriment of our health,” Chef Yadi says. “We all want to live our happiest and healthiest lives, but if you don’t have food education or if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, it’s a system that shuttles us into pain and oppression.”
“We all want to live our happiest and healthiest lives, but if you don’t have food education or if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, it’s a system that shuttles us into pain and oppression.”
It makes sense that Chef Yadi earned the nickname “The Chef-tivist.” Yes, she’s informed and passionate, but more than that, she’s dedicated to the process.
“I guess I’m like a spigot, a connector,” she states. “I deal with food sourcing, with food preparation and food education. You can advocate for laws and even pass laws, but if people don’t know about it and you’re not getting it to the right communities, we’re still in the same vicious cycle.”
It’s a cycle Chef Yadi is committed to ending every single day.