Healthy Hyna founder Lorena Ramirez is passionate about veganism, her Mexican heritage and making "humble food."

Chef Lorena Ramirez is proudly drawing on her Mexican heritage to uplift her community through her vegan culinary brand Healthy Hyna

by julie gueraseva and ludi leiva
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Maria Del Rio for laika
Monday, February 1, 2021

As a first-generation Mexican-American living in a low-income Los Angeles neighborhood, Lorena Ramirez struggled to find relatable YouTube personalities when she first went vegan. So she took matters into her own hands and, in 2018, launched her online platform Healthy Hyna, Chicano for “healthy girl.” It quickly grew, and she’s been channeling her unique blend of style, culture, and stage presence (Ramirez is a former hip hop dancer) into teaching vegan Mexican cooking classes and hosting events in underserved areas ever since.

By asserting her Latinx identity in her work, Ramirez provides her community with “someone [who] looks like them,” she says, attracting people to veganism who have previously felt shut out. Alongside fellow L.A.-based vegan chefs and community advocates of color, like Todo Verde’s Jocelyn Ramirez (no relation) and Süprmarkt’s Olympia Ausset, she is helping to reshape mainstream veganism. And that makes the stresses of pursuing a culinary career (“It’s hard!”) worth it for Ramirez. She dreams big, envisioning online cooking courses, a cookbook, and even a line of vegan sneakers in her future. Below, the mother-of-two discusses her passion for making “humble food,” prioritizing mental health, and bettering her community.

How did you get on the path to veganism?
I was one of those people saying veganism is for white people. I was like, “What? No meat? You’re crazy.” My sister went vegan first, six years ago. [During] my senior year of high school, she asked me if I wanted to go to an animal sanctuary (Farm Sanctuary) in northern California. I remember hanging out with one of the pigs in a field. I was looking at the way he was breathing, and I thought, “I can’t believe I eat you.” I cut meat entirely after the sanctuary.

Was there a catalyst for removing all other animal products?
At the sanctuary, they had shared stories about the cows and how their babies are taken away. I was processing that when I was breastfeeding my [first] child, and I thought, ‘My God, and then they take away the baby from the mom.’ This pain is so unbearable with the child being on your breast that I couldn’t imagine a machine constantly pumping milk out of your body. It wasn’t until I breastfed that I made that connection [about] why it was bad to keep drinking milk and eating cheese and eggs.

What are your childhood food memories?
Growing up, I was an outdoor type of kid, a tomboy. My mom would always nag at me, “Tiene que estar aquí en la cocina y aprender a cocinar.” (“Be here in the kitchen.”) A lot of my recipes are from my mom, who learned from her mom. That’s real, authentic, traditional Mexican food.

How did you veganize your mom’s recipes?
What I noticed is that I didn’t have to convert the recipes [much]. It was more about subtracting. So, for example, the dough to make tamales — you just subtract the lard, that’s it. Everything else is already vegan.

Which ingredients do you keep on hand?
I like to think of everything in simplicity. I have the basic ingredients in the kitchen: frijoles, maybe rice, tomatillos, fresh chile to make a salsa, masa mixta, potato, mushroom, onion, garlic, cilantro. I call it “humble food.”

“I’m always feeding my mind with new things.”

You’re juggling a lot, raising two young daughters (Lindaflor, 5, and Naomi, 2).
I’m a single parent now. There are days when it gets really tough on me mentally, and I forget that I’m doing this alone. I can’t fall into victim mode, though. I’m always feeding my mind with new things. I’m focusing on self-enlightenment, on being in control of my emotions and my thoughts.

Which practices have been helpful to you?
I’ve been spending a lot more time in my thoughts without playing music because I noticed that I’ve sometimes avoided my own thoughts, so I would play music to distract myself. We [should] make time to sit within our thoughts and, in silence, get to know ourselves more.

This story is from LAIKA Issue Eight

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