Alexandria is the founder of The Wholesome Conscious, a catering company hoping to create normalcy around delicious & mouth-watering healthy foods through Indigenous fusion, plant-based menus. The brand is rooted in traditional Anishinaabe teachings around food, celebration & gratitude, offering an earth-centered and holistic eating experience that highlights food as medicine. We sat down with Alexandria to talk about her business values, passion for food, rituals around cooking and activism in her daily work.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your business! What led you to create The Wholesome Conscious?
My name is Alexandria Bipatnath, CEO and founder of The Wholesome Conscious a catering company that offers Indigenous fusion foods located in Toronto, ON. There is a common misconception that “healthy eating” isn’t tasty when in fact it can be mouth-watering. Founded in September 2018, I started the business with one goal, to offer nourishing plant-based foods in Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities as food impacts both the community and the individual. I decided to specialize in plant-based foods since it is inclusive to all diets. With a background in Fitness & Health Promotion and Holistic Nutrition, it is important that I both educate and advocate healthy eating for the futurity of our Indigenous peoples. I noticed that there was a lack of representation of Indigenous foods, especially women in the profession and wanted to showcase the beauty of Indigenous foods from nation to nation.
What sparked your passion in food and how does sustainability play a role in your business as a caterer and menu creator?
I have always had an interest in food as it is so deeply rooted within my family and family traditions; my father being the first to teach me. But the story doesn't begin with a recipe made at home but rather my sister bringing home a small puppy who was very unwell. We took her to the vet where they had done blood work and expressed the concern that she had various parasites and worms inside her intestines preventing her from retaining nutrients. The vet was very pessimistic to her survival. I felt that the western medicine was much of a failure to both me and the dog. I had asked the vet to write down the scientific names for the parasites found and took the research into my own hands. I began researching holistic nutrition for domesticated animals which lead to curating meals twice a day for her. I supplemented things like raw garlic, ACV, raw carrots and more within her daily meals. Within in a month or so, we cleared her intestines from parasites that were causing severe malnutrition, and she grew to be a healthy and strong pup. It was this experience that peaked my interest into the holistic nutrition world.
What foods do you choose to nourish yourself + your family with?
Plant-based and whole foods is my go-to always. This could sound like a hearty three sisters soup with manoomin (wild rice) with a side salad with fresh sprouts and in-season vegetables garnished with mixed nuts and seeds - yum!
Do you follow any rituals when it comes to cooking &/or eating?
A clean kitchen, sharp knives, and the most important ingredient of love. Always giving thanks before eating and depending on the season or reason, a fest plate for our ancestors who have passed on.
How has your relationship with food shifted over the years? How has your relationship with sustainability shifted?
I'm grateful to say that I've always had a healthy relationship with food and that's something that has continued to remain consistent throughout the years. I began the shift from a SAD (standard American diet) diet to vegan 4-5 years ago that slowly transitioned into becoming a vegetarian, then pescatarian diet. Currently, I intuitively eat and don't label my diet. I ensure that I keep it clean, local and seasonal when possible. My relationship with sustainability has always been fundamental, especially from an ancestral lens as an Anishinaabe Kwe. "When you take care of the land, the land will take care of you." This is a statement I think about frequently as we live in a consumeristic society that thinks to first replace before reusing, repurposing, or fixing. There is so much misconception about sustainability, especially within the food industry when it comes to greenwashing eco-dinnerware.
What does sustainability and living earthy mean for you through an Indigenous lens?
Thinking of those seven generations who have yet to come. What will we have left for them? How are we teaching our younger generations about reciprocity and longevity? Thinking of how our daily actions affect the planet (i.e. water use, ethical/sustainable fibers for clothing, toxins in our everyday lives, plastic waste, and disposal, etc.)
As an Anishinaabe business owner, how do traditional teachings about food and the honourable harvest impact your choices when it comes to menu creation? How has working with food allowed you to connect to your lineages?
As an Indigenous person working in food it is important that I'm not only learning from my nation, but other nations as well. We all have such great recipes, stories, and cooking methods that our ancestors have used for thousands of years. The act of reciprocity when taking from the earth is equally important. When harvesting from the earth in my nation we ensure that we bring seema (tobacco) to that plant being for example. We introduce ourselves in the language, explain why we're harvesting, and ask for the plant's permission. We never harvest from a young plant, but a more established one. We also don't harvest from the first plant that we see. We ensure that we always give back to that plant with that seema, saliva, a strand of loose hair, or spread the seeds of that plant. Speaking the language connects us with those ancient plant beings, they hear us, they recognize the language. All these aspects are kept in mind when locally sourcing or preparing food within my business. Manoomin has been one my greatest teachers from the way it grows, the way it is harvested and the way you cook it. My nation of people is known as the rice nation. And historically, Settlers called it "pocket money" because it feeds a lot of people. In our nation it is the first solid food that you eat and is the last you eat before passing onto the spirit world. Being able to address those plant beings in the language is connection to my ancestral lineage.
As an Anishinaabe womxn working in a shifting social and political landscape, one cannot deny that activism is almost intrinsic to your living experience. How do you maintain longevity in this work and how does food support you during times of strain or shift?
I always picture what all our nations would look like in good health, reducing/diminishing our negative health statistics and ensuring the longevity of our peoples. I ensure that I spend time with knowledge keepers, our elders, reading/researching, continually learning the language, attending ceremony, singing our traditional songs, eating traditional foods, fancy shawl dancing, and growing ancestral crops keeps me grounded.
How has community played a role in your entrepreneurial journey?
Both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community at large has truly grown and shaped my business through their continuous supports in hiring us, recommending us, providing feedback, and sharing the business with others on their platforms helping us with exposure. Their endless encouragement is what truly keeps us going.
Describe your relationship with the earth. Do you have any advice you can provide for those seeking to deepen their relationship with the natural world?
The earth is our first mother. All that exist is because of her, the sun and the moon. We give thanks for them and all of creation. Remember that in times of sorrow go for a walk, regardless of weather, and look at all the beauty that she has to offer and share. Listen to the sounds of the life all around you. Be kind to her, honor and respect her and she will too return all that love. Plant some seeds into the soils, nurture and take care of them. They will teach you patience, loss, beauty, and bounty. "When you take care of the lands, the lands will take care of you."