Plantega Vegan Fridges: Meet The Food Blogger Making Plant-Based Eating Accessible In Brooklyn

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In collaboration with other mission-driven food advocates, food blogger Erick Castro has launched ‘Plantega’, a company that installs vegan fridges in Brooklyn bodegsas in order to bring plant-based options to communities where there is a often a lack of healthy food choices.

Plantega was founded by Minneapolis-based social change incubator EFFECT Partners, plant-based food blogger and creative director Erick Castro, Brooklyn-based Nil Zacharias, author and podcaster at Eat For The Planet, entrepreneur and eco-hip hop pioneer D.J. Cavem and vegan graphic design shop Parfait Studio.

The vegan fridges were born as a response to the pandemic with the goal of bringing plant-based healthy eating to the underserved communities and lower-income areas as well as empower Bodega owners in this time of crisis. Bodega is a Spanish word translating to ‘warehouse’, though in New York, it’s a colloquialism for a certain type of neighbourhood grocery store.

Initially, Plantega will have a three-month trial and has selected three 24-hour bodegas to do so in Bushwick, Cypress Hills, and The Bronx. For the trial, three vegan fridges will be placed in the stores filled offering more than 30 vegan products like plant-based eggs and burgers from brands like Beyond Meat, vegan egg maker Eat Just, vegan seafood brand Good Catch, and many more. The range of products also includes cheese, mayo and butter.

At the counters of the Bushwick and The Bronx bodegas, customers can also order items using Plantega’s offerings such as breakfast sandwiches made with Beyond Meat and JUST Egg.

Living with his grandparents, Castro had zero exposure to vegan meals because the Spanish community and people of color didn’t know something like this existed. “Bringing these plant-based products to my hometown and surrounding neighborhoods is a tremendous opportunity at just the right time. These bodegas are our lifeline, the gateway to food for so many, from nurses on the run to late-night needs. We the team also are constantly learning how we can raise awareness about how delicious, healthy, and affordable eating plant-based really is.”

Essential workers buying Plantega’s offerings. Source: Plantega

Bringing these plant-based products to my hometown and surrounding neighborhoods is a tremendous opportunity at just the right time. These bodegas are our lifeline, the gateway to food for so many, from nurses on the run to late-night needs. We the team also are constantly learning how we can raise awareness about how delicious, healthy, and affordable eating plant-based really is

Erick Castro, leading the Plantega concept

Castro also has an Instagram page ‘How to be Vegan in the Hood‘, that provides affordable vegan tips, recipes, and restaurants making it easier for those who want to make a switch.

A recent Yale study found that more than half of American consumers want to incorporate plant-based alternatives to meat, cheese, and eggs but 53% are not sure what to buy and 71% of low-income households have a notion that these foods are more expensive than animal products.

Co-founder and CEO of Eat Just, Josh Tetrick said of the launch: “Everyone, regardless of their zip code, should have the opportunity to enjoy food that is good for their bodies and good for the planet. Growing up in the South, eating meals that were convenient and cheap but bad for my health is what motivated me to start a company that could help bring meaningful change to the food system.”

Photo of a bodega, Source: Juan Ordonez/Unsplash

The Plantega fridges also have QR codes and SMS texting in an effort to help customers find plant-based recipes and learn about the benefits of ditching animal foods and to further help people to maintain an affordable plant-based lifestyle, the project will run special promotions throughout the trial period.

Andrew Arrieta, a Plantega director from EFFECT Partners, grew up at a distance from one of the participating bodegas and he highlighted the fact that good food is the medicine we all need right now. “Throughout the course of this summer, our team of food fighters challenged ourselves to help find better, healthier solutions that could benefit the most people. Like so many of our friends in the plant-based movement, we’ve been staring at this same data about taste and access for too long—we finally decided it was time to get some friends together and go do something about it.”

The Food Empowerment Project estimates that 750,000 New Yorkers live in food deserts with little to no grocery store access, and about 3 million New York citizens live a fair distance away form grocery stores that sell fresh produce.

Also due to the rising rent costs, several bodegas have closed in recent years affecting low-income families and hence the Plantega initiative could help break these barriers and establish a healthy relationship of food with these communities.


Lead image courtesy of Plantega.

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