Grow What You Know: The First Steps to Healthy Living with Happy Healthy Latina
Living a healthy life is often easier said than done. No matter where you are in your health journey the best way to stay on course and inspired is to continue learning. Certified holistic health coach and natural food chef, Yadira Garcia, also known as Happy Healthy Latina, knows the ups and downs of starting a health journey. We sat down with the chef, who has been featured on Buzzfeed and NBC New York, to learn about her healthy eating and healthy living philosophy, and how she uses Tower Garden produce to give her dishes that extra something special.
Tower Garden: When did your passion for cooking, wellness and health begin?
Happy Healthy Latina: I always say that my test became my testimony. During my junior year of college as a theatre student, I fell down two flights of stairs and injured my back, tailbone, and shoulder. I had to withdraw from school. At twenty-one years old when I was supposed to be living my best life, I was using a walker and a cervical cushion and I had a home attendant. I began cooking as a recreational hobby and a lightbulb went off in my head. I would think about the recipes I made growing up with my grandmother in the Dominican Republic and I would try to recreate them as plant-based. By cooking my own foods and thinking about where things came from, I realized that my body was starting to heal! And I realized that this was not a coincidence. I found a deep joy in rediscovering the connection between food and healing.
TG: Do you have any tips for people who are just beginning their health journey?
Happy Healthy Latina: Try to make better versions of the foods that you actually enjoy.
You don’t want to force wellness on yourself. You don’t have to eat salads or smoothies if you don’t like them. Make it fun! I started with rice and beans and making vegetarians versions of Latin dishes because that was the food that I liked! Also, grow your herbs. In your own quest for healthy eating, it’s really great to start growing some of your own fresh herbs. I always say money doesn’t grow on trees, but herbs are the closest thing you can get to that! The, you can use the herbs to make marinades and sauces, and switch up your meals and make them taste better! I always say, it’s not the meat that you like, it’s the seasoning!
TG: Why is it important to cook with local ingredients?
Happy Healthy Latina: I don’t just think it’s important, I think that people need to recognize it is their right. You have a right to fresh and local food. You have a right to feel well. When you cook with fresh and local ingredients, they are so much more nutrient dense. There’s less distance from the food to get to you, and you know what’s going into your food when you grow it yourself. Everybody has that right, but not everybody has the space. A Tower Garden takes up such a little amount of space and anybody can do it. You don’t have to be a scientist, you don’t need a special degree. It’s a food justice tool.
TG: Your meals always look super fresh and delicious! Do you notice a difference in the taste when you use higher quality produce?
Happy Healthy Latina: 100%! When I work with kids, I love playing this game with them where I challenge them to revisit foods they don’t like. I’ll say, ‘Okay, you think you don’t like a tomato, but it’s because you’ve been having a water-logged tomato that has traveled thousands of miles and it’s not in season.’ Compare that to a tomato that you grew and that you picked: it’s a completely different experience. It’s like a burst of candy in your mouth! They’ll plant and harvest their own tomatoes, and then I can show them what a tomato really can be!
TG: How do you stay inspired on your health journey?
Happy Healthy Latina: I barely go in the supermarket! It’s so much easier to be healthy if you eat local and in season. If you can eat what’s growing in your area at any given time, you will naturally vary your diet throughout the year. And you will also save money! Because you’ll be eating whatever is in abundance!
TG: What’s growing on your tower right now?
Happy Healthy Latina: We’re trying to grow culantro, a wide leaf cilantro that traditionally only grows in the Caribbean. So, now the tower is giving us this gift of being able to create this really local seasoning, and I can actually say it’s really local and fresh. I want to have a sofrito tower with all the things you need for my signature marinade: the cilantro, the culantro, the tomatoes. I’m a sauce boss!
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