Atlas Monroe Is Illustrating a “Better Way of Life” Through Delicious Vegan Meats
We are so happy to announce this month’s ChooseVeg partner, Atlas Monroe! This innovative vegan business was started by Deborah Torres to help make healthy plant-based eating even more delicious and to show an “exceptional, tastier, and ultimately better way of life.”
Atlas Monroe offers award-winning, all-natural plant-based meats made from non-GMO wheat and rice. Hungry customers can choose from mouthwatering favorites like extra-crispy chick’n, smoked ground beef, deep-fried stuffed turkey, vegan cured bacon, and applewood-fired ribs. While based in San Diego, California, Atlas Monroe ships nationwide!
Deborah Torres was kind enough to not only answer our questions but provide deeply thoughtful responses. Here’s what she had to say!
What is your name, where do you live, and what is your relationship to Atlas Monroe?
My name is Deborah Torres. I am the CEO and founder of Atlas Monroe and currently reside in San Diego, California.
What inspired you to create plant-based meat?
My company was founded on providing equally delicious, healthier alternatives to plant-based products when my father was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and my whole family went on a raw vegan diet for 90 days in an effort to heal him and induce a lifestyle change. In addition to walking with him for an hour every day, we started having smoothies, salads, and fruit salads. And although it sounds and is refreshing, we were all at each other’s throats with hunger pains and cravings by the end of the week. So I started researching plant food textures and flavors. I started developing recipes and making flavorful meals like raw tacos, lasagna, nachos, pizza, burgers, and nuggets! At the end of the 90 days, he was completely healed.
We returned to eating cooked foods but vowed to stay all natural and plant-based. I kept experimenting, but this time with cooked foods—and Atlas Monroe was born! We started doing business in June 2017, getting invited to events via word of mouth and traveling to various festivals across the country as a vegan company from California specializing in various vegan products, with the highlight of our company being our original 100 percent non-GMO and plant-based Atlas Monroe extra-crispy fried chick’n!
We would love to hear about your personal motivations for living a vegan lifestyle.
I’ve been vegan for seven years. I did not go vegan originally for health reasons. I went vegan an entire year before finding out that my father had Type 2 diabetes. It was something that came to me and a decision I made in my heart after a chance meeting with a man at a Whole Foods store, who was standing next to me staring at frozen burritos while we both were trying to make a decision. At the time, I’m not even sure I fully understood what “vegan” was, and there were very few vegan options or restaurants. He asked me what I was going to be having, and I said, “I don’t know yet.” And he said he did not know either because he recently stopped eating red meat. I asked him, “Why, was it for health reasons?” And he told me a story about how he had randomly taken a trip to a factory farm with some friends, not expecting his life to be affected or changed at all, and witnessed first-hand all the cows crying tears when going to slaughter. He told me how the friends that he visited the farm with were all unexpectedly sobbing as well and about how sad and life altering the whole experience was.
It had never entered my mind that cows, or any animals for that matter, would ever cry actual tears, because they were intelligent enough to know that they were about to die, could hear the screams of their family members around them, and were scared to death. That chance moment changed my life forever.
What suggestions do you have for those considering plant-based eating?
It is so important to incorporate whole fruits and vegetables into your diet and have balance. The number one best purchase I’ve ever made (outside of our manufacturing facility) is a Vitamix. It is so versatile and makes eating plant-based that much more fun! You can easily make all organic, frozen, Jamba Juice-style smoothies; delicious creamy sauces and dressings; raw vegan cheese; raw vegan ice cream; and more. The reason it is the best is because it allows anyone to easily incorporate raw greens into their diet without having to taste them or lose any nutrients cooking them. These types of greens, although at times bitter, are the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet and essential to our well-being. A Vitamix just makes it so easy to hide the taste of bitter greens by easily incorporating them into delicious fruit and vegetable smoothies. Just the best for your health and your taste buds!
It was recently the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. Have you seen the vegan movement change in the past year? What is your experience with the connection between human rights and animal rights?
Seeing George Floyd murdered in public was eye opening for many vegans and truly held up a mirror for America to see herself for who she really was. It forced people to really examine themselves and choose which side of humanity they wanted to be on: the active, ever-changing side or the indifferent, complacent side. It shocked me that before this world-changing event, in which George Floyd became an unintentional martyr, many Caucasian vegans would go to battle when it came to equality for animals before they ever moved to stand for equality for human beings of a different skin tone and, even more specifically, Black individuals. Many felt it was OK to just quietly not be racist as opposed to actively moving or speaking out against racism and creating equal opportunities where few to none exist. Seeing the vegan world come together to start making changes when this took place meant the world to me personally and was one of the most beautiful and moving things I ever got to witness and be a part of. I hope it continues until true equity exists in every corner of the earth.
As controversial as it is, there’s a lot of food discrimination on every level, starting from what is being offered and what is available in schools of color versus Caucasian communities. There is a huge gap in availability of various vegan brands in Black and brown communities, as well as Black brands’ availability in the vegan space. It’s wholly disproportionate in terms of equality and equity. And when I say equity, I am talking about not only ownership and representation but specifically providing the resources and opportunities for equal health and wealth outcomes so that the results are clearly seen across the spectrum and diverse neighborhoods. There’s a lot of misinformation about what is nutritious for different bodies. I think the truth is coming out about what is healthy and what is not, and the truth is being exposed about how detrimental meat and dairy are for not only the economy at large but, disproportionately, people of color. People are finally finding out that 90 percent of Asians and 75 percent of African Americans are lactose intolerant, and it’s been causing years of harm to their bodies, drinking milk and having yogurt and cheese, because the education system and health “experts” are telling us that it is required nutrition for us when it is actually killing us in large numbers.
A lot of clinical depression can come out of unhealthy foods, and it is so important that communities of color have access to healthy foods, because they need to know that change can happen at every level emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially, and it really starts with what you eat. It’s when our bodies are a garden and not a graveyard that we flourish.
Do you have any advice for other female entrepreneurs trying to find success?
The startup space is imbalanced. Women founders still receive about 2.5 percent of venture-capital funding—and even less for women of color. It is easy to get discouraged if you do not have laser focus and determination to achieve your goal and heart’s desire. I can only give the advice that I live and follow. I remain in love with God, my family, and myself. It is crucial to give back and invest in the people who have invested in you. I have surrounded myself with a dream team that is willing to get back up each day and try again with me. As a Black woman being told no and that you are not good enough, repeatedly in different ways—with microaggressions and differential treatment—you get to a point where you eventually do like Simone Biles and so many other legendary women of color who achieved the impossible in the face of opposition: readjust the crown they’ve been trying to knock off and build your own table to rightfully sit at the head of. You do this by continuing to imagine and envision where you want to be and knowing in your heart that with patience and endurance you will get there.
I personally plan to create a platform, a sounding board where women who have excellent ideas and execution can flourish, grow, and shine as they deserve because I know what it feels like to have your ideas stolen and your creativity silenced. I will definitely be the change I wish to see.
Do you have any favorite vegan brands you wish more people knew about?
Yes! I’m the world’s biggest vegan foodie, so I’m so glad you asked! Here are my top six all-vegan restaurants and brands in no particular order:
- Fineapple Vegan carries a vegan cheese that will soon be available at vegan restaurants. Her cheese is bursting with layers of flavor, and she is a really amazing person overall.
- Our facility is located in a city with two amazing vegan spots. One is a place called Spoiled Vegans, where one can find an epic McDonald’s McMuffin-style vegan breakfast sandwich—so good!
- Another is Maya’s Cookies. They have exceptional Ms. Fields-style vegan cookies, and their packaging is to die for—ah, the nostalgia!
- My favorite restaurant in America hands down, by a woman of course, is Chef Tanya’s in Palm Springs—consistently amazing sandwiches. I seriously get four sandwiches for myself every time I’m in the area, and every one is a hit. Subway could never!
- Jajaja in New York will have your eyes rolling in the back of your head. It’s a Spanish vegan restaurant complete with sky-high nachos and breakfast burritos, which I personally took on the plane ride home. They are that good!
- Last but certainly not least: Vurger Guyz in LA makes the best vegan cheeseburgers ever, and the tacos had me licking my fingers for more!
Gotta love bomb vegan food!
Is there anything you would like to add?
I do believe that there is an agenda to keep great Black brands out of popular chain grocery stores. If we, who continue to be in extraordinarily high demand, face discrimination issues getting into grocery stores, how much worse is the problem for other reputable Black brands that have exceptional products but are not getting as much attention.
Some have not heard of Fifteen Percent Pledge. The organization’s website reads: “Black people in the U.S. make up nearly 15% of the population. So, we are calling on major retailers to commit a minimum of 15% of their shelf to Black-owned businesses.”
While many reputable retailers have taken the pledge, no grocery stores have, despite being called on to do so. By not taking action and not taking this pledge, knowing how disproportionate things are, they are consciously speaking and making decisions with their inaction. Major brands like Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Ralphs, and Sprouts are pushing health and wellness but not vowing to allow their Black customers who have been supporting them and frequenting their business for decades have a voice and be a part of them. The opportunity to be an integral part of such a major food movement is being stripped away, just like the choice to make an educated decision regarding harmful dairy consumption and lactose intolerance because the information is silenced.
I do believe it is a new day, and I hope to be a leader of change.
Lastly, thank you so much for the opportunity and for asking the questions that need to be answered. We all have to hold each other accountable, and it starts one woman at a time.