La Vida Verde: When cooking at home mattered most
Our House is a harbor for passionate creative people from all walks of life. We believe in lifting as we climb and it is this ethos that inspires us to dip into the deep well of our community to tell our stories. For this piece, we invited LA based journalist, founder of Salvi Soul and Salvadorian food historian, Karla Vasquez to chat with her colleague & friend, Jocelyn Ramirez about her new project.
Each Our House piece is created with intention, poignancy, and personal connection, to remind us all of the power of community.
It’s been five years since Jocelyn Ramirez, chef and founder, left her job in higher education to pursue her dream of building her food business, Todo Verde. Last month, Jocelyn celebrated the release of her first cookbook, La Vida Verde. We caught up over the phone to discuss her bittersweet book launch amid a pandemic, her journey as a woman of color in publishing, and what it felt like to share the first copy of the book with her mom.
This interview has been revised for clarity and brevity.
What is it like to launch your cookbook, La Vida Verde, during COVID-19?
(Sighs) Yeah, we were planning and planning tons of events and had a lot of good traction, we were supposed to have a VIP launch and everything was paid for...it didn't work out. Hopefully, it'll work out for the future. I'm riding the wave. I was like, all right, all this work that we did to get people excited about the book it’s all in the flames right now, it’s done but I gotta keep going, you know. I gotta go full force with whatever I can do virtually.
Speaking of virtually, how was your online launch event?
We had over 600 people, and I'm just like holy sh*t. All these virtual platforms are making it possible for people outside of Los Angeles to become more informed and interact with the world and with us. So I think that that's kind of a plus side. I'm getting people from Texas, the UK, and like all these different places, San Diego. You know I have somebody who [direct messaged] me saying, “I’m waiting for your book and I’m in Germany.”
How was this whole book writing process for you, especially as a woman of color going through publishing?
It's definitely an experience. It's all been like a huge learning curve, you know as a woman of color who doesn't have anybody in her family that has ever written or published a book, it's just been one question after another. It's been a lot of questions like, what is good, what is bad, what about pre-sales, what are good pre-sales. I would ask the publisher when they emailed me weekly [about] Amazon sales, is that fine? Everybody keeps asking me if the book is going to be published in Spanish, and I don't know. All I know is that if English goes well, the potential for Spanish books to come up might happen.
Today my niece texted me and she's like, “hey Tia I wanted to let you know that we just got your book.” She was like “I'm proud of you, this is so cool.” I wrote back and I was like, “first published author in the family, you’re next!” Because a lot of us in our generation were the first ones to go to college. Our parents migrated here, maybe we had like a prima or primo or somebody who did it before, maybe an aunt or uncle, but most times it was us who made that passage to go to college. So I feel like this was kind of the same situation in a way, where we're trying to figure out how it works so that we can create more opportunities for the people in our circles, in our spaces, and our families to be able to do those things.
And then I know that you kind of did an intense blitz with shooting the cookbook. What was that experience like?
(Laughs) It was so, so many long hours. Yeah, I don't recommend anyone shoot a cookbook with 60 recipes in one week, that was a terrible idea. We all knew it was a terrible idea but we still made it happen. We did it in five days, that week was really tough and really tiring but we knocked it out of the park.
Typically, authors write a cookbook, [it can be] a two year process where mine ended up being a one year process. So a lot of 2019 was me sitting down at a computer just writing my book. About a week and a half was just recipe testing. I had friends come over and pick up extra food because I just had so much food in my fridge and freezer. Yeah and then we shot the cookbook. I had somebody helping me, assisting in the kitchen. Then obviously my editor, proofreaders go through the book, it's just like a long process.
What is the significance of you being the one to document your culture through your own unique lens?
It was important to share that this knowledge came directly through my family lineage and that it's not just about the ingredients and the food or like learning about the culture; I live the culture. In the book, I talk about one of the first times I remember making one of the gorditas at my Tia’s house in Mexico. She had her clay oven outside of the house, and it was fired up, and all the Tias are there making gorditas and, I mean, that's part of our foodways. Women and community and gathering and catching up and making food for all the family. So that's important to contribute to, you know, these recipes, it's not just the masa, it's not just whatever's in the masa, it's about the traditions and the way it brings people together.
Your grandmother taught you these recipes, what was your mom's reaction? What did this feel like to share the book with her?
Yeah, I got to do that a couple months ago because I received a copy of the book before anybody else. The first people that I showed it to, were my partner, my dad, and my mom. They were all three separate times actually, we weren't all together. With my mom, we were working in the kitchen and I brought the book and we both looked at it and she was going through it. She was just like, “wow, mija.” It was definitely like this proud moment. I feel like for the generation of our parents, there's also a sense of like, like, wow, what do I even do with this. I can't frame it. It's not like your diploma. It's a book. It’s cool but it's so new to them. It's something so unfamiliar but they're very proud of it.
Can there be any pros to launching a book mid-pandemic?
Yesterday, I literally woke up feeling bittersweet feelings. The book is here and this is such a big accomplishment, it's something that I've been working on for a long time and I'm proud of. Yet, it’s not being lifted in a way I had planned. But the other side of that is that so many people are cooking right now in a way that we just haven't seen in many years. People are just so excited about it and I think more than anything they're excited about a plant based book. Now more than ever, people are really focused on their health, their immune system, their bodies, and how they function and how they feel.
I think that people have been hearing for a long time that plant based cooking could potentially be the great lifestyle that people can adapt to over-time and work really well with most bodies. So I feel like okay if there ever was a certain type of pandemic that happened I guess this was the time where this particular book can come out and it could still make sense in the reality that we're living in.
Last question, was there a recipe that maybe your publisher or editor wasn't so sure about but that you really advocated for?
I mean I think that when they looked at the photos, they kind of said, I don't think these gorditas are gonna make the cut because they look kind of like not super delicious or maybe it looks a little too sloppy. Gorditas [are] something that I grew up with and I was like, I can't not have this, it has to be in. They were open to it, it was never a question of no this absolutely has to be out but they had opinions about certain things and the way things [look]. And I was like dude to me, that looks bomb (laughs.) So you know, I was with the tweezers making sure everything was in there perfectly.
Meet The Family
Karla T. Vasquez is the creator of SalviSoul, a food justice advocate, a food historian and a proponent for healthy food accessibility in low-income communities.
She holds a degree in Journalism and completed her culinary training at The New School of Cooking. Karla specializes in community building, nutrition education, and food history & has worked with Hunger Action Los Angeles, Los Angeles Food Policy Council, VELA, The Edible Apartment, Champions for Change, With Love Market and Cafe and other social justice organizations where she uses her skills to organize outreach efforts, manage projects and lead community health initiatives.