Today, convenience fills every aspect of our lives — especially our food choices — and the implications are alarming. Four months following the New Year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported obesity has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents. In an effort to decrease these statistics, many individuals, particularly Latinas, have chosen to create a solution. Among these Latinas is Tania Lopez – a Puerto-Rican chef, healthy living champion and CEO of Coqui the Chef.
To understand Coqui the Chef, one must first know Lopez. Growing up, food was a comforting and familiar subject in Lopez’s home. When she became a mother to two children, Lopez envisioned centering her home on that same security. However, these hopes dissipated with a new generational trend of fast food. “I was really fed up with the way we have treated the world, our generation, with so much fast food,” Lopez says. “I see that happening to our children now [because] they are getting addicted to [fast food].”
In response to this issue, Lopez decided to implement gradual changes to improve the food choices of her children and extended family members. She began recommending what not to eat and changed her cooking style. When her family resisted these changes, she decided to choose a different method — a cartoon coqui, a small frog native to Puerto Rico.
“I thought ‘why not create a character like Barney or Dora like a frog,’” Lopez says. “Puerto Rico’s mascot is the coqui frog. Everyone loves the coqui. We don’t have a mascot for healthy living or healthy cooking but we have one for other [food] that is not good for you.”
Like her earlier efforts for change, Lopez initially presented her coqui cartoon with caution. “I started going with the flow. I was checking out what people’s reactions were toward the [coqui],” Lopez says. Eventually, Lopez recognized the power of the cartoon coqui benefitting other children and families facing similar healthy eating challenges. Thus, with the help of her neighbor who is a chef, the Citizens Committee for New York City and the American Heart Association Community Impact Grant , she was able to expand Coqui the Chef’s presence throughout tri-state New York.
“In the beginning, one of my difficulties was that [my coqui] is green, and they say in Puerto Rico the coqui frog is brown. Many people wanted me to change the color and I had to explain that I understand that there is a coqui that is brown but green captures the children’s eye,” she says. “Green is the color that is connected to nature, and what I am trying to do is connect people with nature and with food.”
The Coqui the Chef mascot is now the official face of Lopez’s cooking campaign. With the expansion of her coqui empire, Lopez has won several awards and has made appearances on networks such as ABC and TLC. So far, Lopez considers positive feedback from families her greatest accomplishment. “Seeing the kids smiles motivates me much more than any award,” Lopez says. “When I get feedback, when a family tells me ‘you have changed our lives’ that is the biggest reward.”
As for Coqui the Chef, the vibrant cartoon frog clothed in a Puerto-Rican flag apron and white hat, he can be spotted at her various cooking demonstrations: birthday parties, nutrition and culinary workshops and cooking classes.
Lopez is currently running a campaign titled “Kids Cooking for a Brighter Future,” a fundraiser to help launch in-person and online cooking classes for children outside the tri-state area. With her fundraising goal being $10,000, Lopez holds high hopes of expanding Coqui the Chef’s presence throughout the U.S.
“I don’t give up very easily,” Lopez says. “I have a lot of energy and I’ll keep going as long as I can with coqui and let everyone know [coqui] is out there to help.”
To learn more about Tania Lopez visit http://www.coquithechef.com/
Alexia Constanza is a senior at James Madison University. In addition to studying technical communication and creative writing, she enjoys video editing, traveling to new cities and dancing Bachata. Her writing has been featured on holacultura.com. She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Lambda Chi chapter, and serves as vice president and treasurer.
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