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Empowering Plant-Powered Girls in the Dominican Republic

Globalization and factory food production has deeply affected the health and well-being of many marginalized communities: with more foreign influence and commerce comes more processed and packaged foods. We at the Mariposa DR Foundation are committed to developing life-long healthy habits while protecting the environment and respecting the abundant natural resources the Dominican Republic has to offer. We are proud to announce that as of this year, thanks to the generous Community Grant from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies (CNS), all of the food that is prepared at our center is entirely plant-based!

Shifting to a whole food, plant-forward diet is not only beneficial to the health of our girls; it’s also a tribute to their culture and an acknowledgment of the extraordinary life-giving resources that their country has to offer. The Dominican people have lived off the land for generations, and our cooking classes focus on learning new and exciting ways to prepare familiar, local produce (and also use some new ingredients!). The girls’ taste palates are expanding, and they are developing the necessary skills needed to improve their eating habits and influence the people closest to them.

We know that when girls take ownership of what they eat, and their health more broadly, it has a ripple effect throughout the entire community. Most young girls in the Dominican Republic are major contributors to household responsibilities, including being at least partially responsible for preparing meals for their families. By educating them and their families on local, affordable resources and providing them with easy-to-follow recipes, we help them create healthy habits that last a lifetime. With the support of CNS’s Community Grant, we have been able to do just that—we have exposed the girls to 15–20 new healthy options since the beginning of the 2021–2022 academic year.

Mariposa School

Our girls are also becoming more involved in the planning and preparation of the food being served. They look forward to coming to the center every day because they love the food and they are learning how to prepare it themselves. By taking ownership of what they eat, they are able to learn more effectively and they are empowered to take control of their health outcomes.

One of the girls’ favorite recipes is a granola fruit wrap inspired by a recipe in The China Study Cookbook. With fresh island fruit, homemade peanut butter, and homemade granola, it’s a sure-fire hit. We’ve used bananas, grapes, apples, mangos, papayas, and even pineapple!

The girls are invested in this process from start to finish. For our granola fruit wrap, for example, we have worked closely with our oldest Mariposa girls to fine-tune the granola. By growing and roasting our own macadamia nuts, we’ve been able to put an extra special spin on this breakfast treat. The girls visited the farm in Jarabacoa, saw the macadamia nut trees, picked the harvest, and brought them down to Cabarete where we dried and roasted them before adding them to the granola. By participating in that way, they were able to directly reap the benefits of their labor, which helps them to appreciate the different ways we incorporate healthy, seasonal foods into our plant-based menu.

Healthy eating leads to healthy living. Mariposa’s commitment to a localized plant-based menu has been a tremendous step in educating our girls about wellness and proper nutrition. We continue to experiment with seasonal ingredients and new recipes, and we look forward to expanding our menu throughout the year.

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