Celebrating Women of African Descent

Yoli’s Green Living

She is the owner of Ou!ya; a boutique eco-style outfit and a member of the Junior Board of The New York Coalition for Healthy School Lunches; mix  these two and you have Yoli Ouiya, the green living chic!
Though born in America; Yoli’s paternal heritage is from Burkina Faso, a small country in West Africa. In Burkina Faso, preparing food is a great symbol of cultural pride for the women.
Yoli says she has always had a natural love for food, “I love the experience of preparing food. I love creating food memories and recreating them.” She continues, “I love the process of learning and teaching simultaneously.”
Yoli is known throughout New York City area for catering to various vegan activist organizations. She offers rich, colorful meals, food preparation classes, workshops, demos and a variety of eco-themed events in New York.
Read our Q and A interview with the chef about her passion for green foods for everyday life.
When did you become a vegan and when did you realize that the vegan food industry was your passion?
I started eating plant-based diet in 2001. At the time, I wanted to impress a guy I was dating with my culinary skills and converting foods I loved to eat into vegan meals became second nature to me. Over a few months, I noticed some significant changes just from choosing differently in what I consumed. Lost a lot of weight, had fewer allergies, and my cramps disappeared. I acknowledged that my results were payoff of eliminating dairy from my diet. 
But now that it has become part of my everyday was the icing on my single cupcake. To be able to do that and more through my blog, classes, workshops with kids and adults are a blessing. I knew it was my passion after one particular workshop I did a few years ago with children in a Harlem park. One young girl, who was overweight, was so happy that she had a chance to learn about fruits she never had and she was excited that she got to bring copies of the recipes I shared with the children that day.  I overheard this young girl telling her mom she wanted to get the ingredients we used that day to make it at home. From that point forward, I was committed to living by example and providing information and guidance where needed relative to healthier eating and lifestyle choices.

Yoli in the kitchen

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three foods would you want with you? What would you make?
If I were forced to choose, I’d have to say tropical fruits like mango, pineapple, and young coconuts. I’d eat them as is and also make smoothies. You will probably find me passed out under a mango tree sticky from fruit. Yeah, I have a thing for them.

If you weren’t in the food business, what would you be doing?
Running a design and marketing firm or producing music and djing. I’ve done all of the above with the exception of officially producing music.

What did you learn from your culture that you use every day in your kitchen?

I use love in the kitchen everyday. It’s a way of being learned at a very young age from my grandmother that you can create wonderful moments for yourself and others by what you put into food. She never used those words. It was just in her being and gratefully I inherited some of her culinary serenity. I can be very far home but bring home with me everywhere I go.

I also learned the art of adaption and using what is available to me – being able to take four ingredients and turning it into a gourmet meal.

When I went in 2009 to visit my father in Burkina, I learned that my way of living/eating is genetically familiar. Africans historically are eco-friendly and eat plant-based diets. Our abandonment of our indigenous ways of being has become detrimental to the overall health and environment. We get to return to caring about our people, our health and our continent because it is ours.
Are there more people becoming vegan?

Yes, veganism/vegetarianism is a rapidly growing market. It is an exciting time as people are becoming educated, aware, and accountable for their health.  But the majority of the world outside of the United States eats a primarily plant-based diet. The United States is just starting to catch up, but not fast enough. I prefer to at least start with people eating more fresh vegetables and fruits.
What ingredients should every person have in the cupboard/fridge at home?

Salad greens. Dark Leafy greens such as kale, swiss chard, and collard. Fresh garlic. Dried Legumes, seasonal fruits (right now citrus is in season), and one pleasure food. My current pleasure snack is blueberry sorbet. 

What’s your favorite thing about your industry?

My favorite thing about the food, health, and green industries is that there is always something old, something new, something borrowed, and something I can eat that is blue! It is a marriage of constant adaptation with reverence for the past and an eye towards the future. Someone can tell you their life story through his or her food. I can go to parts of Queens, NY and experiencing five countries in a one-block radius. I can go to a yoga class and realign myself with the ancestors. I can use eco-friendly cleaners in my kitchen and breathe easier. Everything is available now to live a full and happy life.

What advice do you live by?

Live authentically, love openly, meditate/pray when in doubt, drink lots of water, open a window for some fresh air and let the sun in. I’m a natural optimist. I can choose happiness at any moment because that is always an option; everything is always in divine time.

photo credits Yoli Ouiya 
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One Comment

  1. Awesome pictures and interview! You make me want to go in the kitchen and cook. Not that I'd actually do that, but you make it sound fun. Thanks for sharing!

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