It’s one thing to make delicious Venezuelan barbecue, it’s a another to make it vegan and delicious. A year ago, Vrinda Quintero started Areperia 831—while balancing her social justice work with the homeless and other underrepresented groups—to do both. Originally from Caracas, Venezuela, Quintero says there wasn’t much representation of Latin cuisine in Santa Cruz, so she decided to make what she calls “grandma’s street food.” She’s a lifelong vegetarian who doesn’t believe in eating soy-based fake meats, so she uses more natural alternatives like jackfruit. Quintero serves up her stuffed arepas (Venezuelan fried cornmeal pockets) with a side of beans and rice, fried plantains and social justice.
How did you come up with the menu?
VRINDA QUINTERO: My food is who I am. It’s a mixture of different crazy things, and that’s me. Like my beans, they are a combination of Afro-Latin flavors. They are cooked with coconut milk like they do it in Trinidad, and then there are Latin, African and Asian flavors, too. My slaw is an Asian slaw with ginger and sesame oil, our chicken is jackfruit and our shredded beef is made with plantains. But people think it’s meat all the time. The vegans and vegetarians love it. I make everything myself from scratch, all plant-based and gluten free. Food is a source of life, and it should be nourishing and intentional, and available to everyone.
How did the pop-up get started?
I ran the kitchen, food, and volunteer programs at Homeless Service Center, and then decided that this is what I wanted to do. To me, there is nothing that builds community more than food. I always think, ‘why do I have to explain things like racism and experiences to people?’ But if you sit and eat with a person, you understand them, you understand their experiences and it’s an act of love. We always have to build bridges, and there is nothing better than food to do that. Food should be intentional, it is tied to history and identity. When you share a meal, you are sharing part of who you are.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to do a “share a meal, share a story” event where people come and eat and talk to each other. We have done it for lunch in the past, but I want to do a big one in San Lorenzo Park. I’d cook and people would come to see and share the experiences of other people. It’s easy to say ‘there are so many homeless people here,’ but when you sit and have a meal with someone and see their face, it changes people’s minds. That’s really powerful and beautiful.