Decolonize Your Diet

Love your Mexican food? Traditional indigenous food from Mexico is misunderstood in the U.S.—and is actually among the world’s healthiest.


Published:

Pre-colonist cuisine was entirely gluten-free, dairy-free, and meat and fish were used sparingly, as a condiment.

Say “Mexican food” and many people have images of fried foods, smothered in cheese, with plenty of sour cream. It’s delicious food but not considered particularly healthy cuisine that fights diseases. Two professors in the San Francisco Bay Area, however, believe traditional, indigenous food from Mexico (available before the Spanish colonists arrived) is misunderstood and is actually among the world’s healthiest foods.

It all started when Luz Calvo, professor of ethnic studies at Cal State East Bay, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. Her research led her to discover that Mexican women have some of the world’s lowest breast cancer rates. And that immigrant Latinas had lower breast cancer rates than non-immigrant Latinas.

She began researching early Mexican foods extensively with her partner Catriona Rueda Esquibel, associate professor in race and resistance studies at San Francisco State University.

Together, they have written Decolonize Your Diet: Plant-Based Mexican-American Recipes for Health and Healing. The cookbook combines ancient wisdom with modern-day conveniences, using lesser-known ingredients such as jicama, nopales, and chayotes in creative ways. But it’s more than that.

The book is also a well-researched “love letter” to all the abuelas (grandmothers) out there, who have kept alive these culinary traditions for thousands of years. Recently, Luz spoke with me about traditional Mesoamerican cuisine, and how returning to these culinary roots can improve many people’s health and well-being. (Don’t miss the recipe at the end!)


Teresa O’Connor: Researching traditional Mesoamerican cuisine became very important for you, Luz, after your breast cancer diagnosis. What were some of the most surprising things you learned?

Luz Calvo: I was quite concerned that one day my cancer would return, so I turned to research to learn about cancer-fighting foods. I found that there are so many phytochemicals in foods that help the body fight cancer. For example, anthocyanins (found in blueberries and both blue and purple corn) have powerful anticarcinogenic properties. Mesoamerican peoples grew many different kinds and colors of corn.

From reading the research, I became convinced of the importance of recovering the rich biodiversity of foods and learning about the potential of phytochemicals to prevent disease and increase my own chance of living a long life. Of course, I’m careful to explain that I am not advocating treating cancer exclusively with food, but there is no doubt in my mind that eating a plant-rich diet can help prevent many diseases.

O’Connor: Tell us about the Latina/o Immigrant Paradox. How did this information influence your research?

Calvo: Public health scholars have published hundreds of studies that prove recent immigrants from Mexico arrive in overall good health. These immigrants have low rates of overall mortality and incredibly low rates of infant mortality. Unfortunately, this good health declines after living in the United States for a long time, and the next generation (those born here) have the same poor health as others of similar socio-economic status in the U.S.

The Latino/a Immigrant Paradox led us to look carefully at the health knowledge and practices that immigrants bring with them—especially knowledge about food, recipes, remedios (home remedies), and so forth.

The Latino/a Immigrant Paradox is powerful, because it shows that one does not need to be rich to have good health. But one does need to be connected to ancestral knowledge and culture. Sadly, because of racism in the U.S., this ancestral Mexican knowledge is neither recognized nor valued.

O’Connor: How did pre-colonist Mexican cuisine differ from what many of us consider “Mexican food” today?

Calvo: Well, today’s Mexican restaurant food often features beef, pork, cheese, sour cream, and white flour. Many dishes are fried or cooked in oil. Pre-colonist cuisine was entirely gluten-free, dairy-free, and meat and fish were used sparingly, as a condiment.

Food was not fried, but was instead boiled, steamed, or cooked on a comal (a clay griddle). Nixtamalized corn was the basis of the diet, supplemented with beans and squash.

In addition, Mesoamerican people ate a wide array of wild greens. The nahuatl word for edible wild greens is quelitl. When the Spaniards arrived, the word changed to quelite. Quelites are still foraged in communities both in the U.S. and Mexico. Some of these prized foraged greens are lamb’s quarters, purslane, and watercress, but also include lesser-known greens such as romeritos and huazontles.

O’Connor: How can today’s Latinas/os return to their cultures’ food roots for physical and spiritual connection?

Calvo: We encourage young Latinxs to engage their oldest relatives in conversations about the old ways to try to recover family knowledge and traditions. Sometimes, our elders don’t know the value of their knowledge. They think the old ways are no longer useful now that there are supermarkets, fast food restaurants, and Western doctors.

We should engage our elders in these conversations and value their knowledge. There is something very powerful about realizing that the tamales we eat today have been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. This is just one example among many of indigenous knowledge that has been kept alive via family recipes. Cooking traditional foods is a way to honor our ancestors.

O’Connor: What worries you most about today’s food system? What inspires you most?

Calvo: I’m mostly worried that we are developing a two-tiered system. Folks with money, especially here in the Bay Area, have access to beautiful organic produce and have the time to cook life-affirming meals. Meanwhile, poor folks are put in an impossible situation, trying to find ways to feed their families with scant access to produce but ready access to cheap, processed food.

That said, I’m inspired by all my neighbors who grow food in their front yards, in pots, and on balconies. In our neighborhood, a Mexican family grows chayote and nopales in their front yard, and their Chinese neighbors grow goji berries by their chain link fence and bok choy in plastic buckets.

We know that communities of color have been growing food for their families in urban environments for decades, long before it became “hip.”


From Decolonize Your Diet: Recipe For Alegría Power Bar (page 232)

We think this is one of the original “power bars.” These amaranth treats date back to before the Conquest, when they were shaped into many forms, such as skulls, toys, and mountains.

Alegrías are sold today as bars or discs in Mexico City’s tianguis, or open-air markets. The combination of nuts, seeds, and amaranth make this a high-protein breakfast.

Note: A candy thermometer is used in this recipe.

3 1/2 cups (830 mL) popped amaranth seeds
1/2 cup (125 mL) raw hulled pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup (125 mL) raw hulled sunflower seeds
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped peanuts
1/2 cup (125 mL) dried currants
1 cup (250 mL) raw local honey
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh lemon juice

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In a large bowl, combine popped amaranth with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and currants. In a medium saucepan on medium-high heat, cook honey and salt until mixture starts to foam up. Immediately reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring constantly and watching pan so that honey doesn’t foam over, until the temperature of the honey reads 300°F (150°C) on a candy thermometer.

Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Working quickly, pour the honey over amaranth mixture and stir with a nonstick spatula to evenly coat. Spread amaranth mixture onto prepared cookie sheet, place another sheet of parchment on top and press down firmly to compress mixture. Then use a rolling pin to press mixture into a rectangular slab about 10 x 12 in (25 x 30 cm) and about ½ in (1 cm) thick. With a knife or pastry wheel, cut into rectangles about 4 x 2 in (10 cm x 5 cm) (and save trimmings as a tasty cook’s treat).

Refrigerate for 2 hours. Then wrap bars in parchment paper. Store bars in airtight container in refrigerator.

Teresa O’Connor wrote this article for UC Food Observer. Teresa is the assistant editor of UC Food Observer. A former journalist, she has written and spoken about food trends, edible gardening and sustainability for national magazines, leading industry events and well-known brand names. Trained as a master gardener in California and Idaho, Teresa has written for both states’ extension services about food gardening.

This article was originally published by UC Food Observer. It was edited for YES! Magazine.

See also:
Eat Your Lamb’s Quarter, Don’t Weed It!
Urban Foraging: Weeds You Can Eat

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

April 22, 2018

Happy Earth Day!!! Let’s all celebrate our one true home! The Moon is in the fertile sign of Cancer, ideal for planting flowers, vegetables and trees and offering thanks to Mother Earth. A sweet, easy lunar sextile to Venus gets the morning started with…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

April 2018

Usui Holy Fire II Reiki I Prerequisite: a desire to learn Reiki Study includes the history of Reiki, the Reiki principles, the hand positions used to give Reiki to yourself and to others,...

Cost: $175 (pre-registration required)

Where:
The Studio at One Earth
191 Emery Mills Road
Shapleigh, ME  04076
View map »


Sponsor: The Studio at One Earth
Telephone: 207-636-2500
Contact Name: The Studio at One Earth
Website »

More information

Sunday yoga is back! Hatha Yoga with meditation to get you ready to tackle your spring intentions. Sign up for series or drop in. 

Cost: $75/5 classes; drop in $17.00

Where:
Dragonfly Wellness Center
176 Jackson Rd
Devens, MA
View map »


Sponsor: Dragonfly Wellness Center
Telephone: 978-227-8297
Contact Name: Anita Perry
Website »

More information

Have you done yoga before but feel a little rusty? Haven't been on your mat in a while? Yoga Basics is a great place to begin again. Do you feel you need motivation to jump-start your...

Cost: $60

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Lower Level
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Telephone: 603-969-8968
Contact Name: Brian Serven
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

This workshop is part of the At the Heart of the Matter: a series of workshops about all things HEART. How do we connect with our hearts? And what keeps us from staying connected? In this...

Cost: $35

Where:
Newtonville, MA


Telephone: 617-913-0683
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Feel the bliss of opening your spine, while being totally supported and meticulously aligned. Great for sciatica and low back pain! Classes also held Saturday mornings.

Cost: $18 drop in

Where:
Bliss Through Yoga
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


Sponsor: Bliss Through Yoga
Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

As springtime rolls around, many of us get out our trash bags, buckets, and boxes in order to clean out and tidy up our homes and offices. Physically cleaning our spaces is great and all, but did...

Cost: Free

Where:
WeWork
31 St. James Ave
Boston, MA  02116
View map »


Sponsor: The Kabbalah Center
Website »

More information

Ayurvedic practitioner. Presenting a 28-day program designed to initiate and maximize detoxification and nourishment of your body, mind and soul, inspiring results that can last a lifetime. For...

Where:
Concord, MA


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

This workshop is part of the At the Heart of the Matter: a series of workshops about all things HEART. What does it mean to be deeply touched inside? To feel something deeply? To be connected?...

Cost: $35

Where:
Newtonville, MA


Telephone: 617-913-0683
Website »

More information

Join Mediums Laura Wooster and Andrew Dee for an evening of mediumship! In addition to sharing how you also can become more aware of your connection to passed loved ones, Laura and Andrew will...

Cost: $40

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
90 Main Street
Andover, MA  01835
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

YogaLife studio would like to offer this opportunity to slow it down, step back, notice your breath and sit quietly in community. Join us Thursdays from 5:40-6:30 PM. No Yoga...

Cost: Free

Where:
YogaLife Institute
6 Chestnut Street
Suite A
Exeter, MA  03833
View map »


Telephone: 603-969-8968
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Ann Barker will be seeing clients on Friday, April 27th and Saturday, April 28th at Balance Bethlehem. Call to book your appointment today! This non-invasive screening utilizes a thermal...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Balance Bethlehem
2087 Main Street
Bethlehem, NH  03574
View map »


Sponsor: Ann Barker
Telephone: 603-897-9645
Website »

More information

Friday, April 27 - Sunday, April 29, 2018 April Ropes and Ritu Kapur Sohum’s 3rd Annual Retreat will be offered in Beautiful Berkshires, The Spirit Fire Meditative Retreat Center in...

Cost: $385

Where:
Spirit Fire Retreat Center
407 W. Leyden Road
Leyden, MA  01337
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

April 27 - 29, 2018 What if there were 5 love languages in the bedroom…and you had a secret decoder ring? Imagine the erotic satisfaction you could unlock…for yourself and for...

Cost: $1097*/couple; Early bird $997* by Feb 14, 2018

Where:
Angel’s Rest Retreat Center
63 North County Road
Leyden, MA  01301
View map »


Sponsor: Conscious Intimacy
Telephone: 415-244-1652
Contact Name: Brynn Bishop
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Ann Barker will be seeing clients on Friday, April 27th and Saturday, April 28th at Balance Bethlehem. Call to book your appointment today! This non-invasive screening utilizes a thermal...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Balance Bethlehem
2087 Main Street
Bethlehem, NH  03574
View map »


Sponsor: Ann Barker
Telephone: 603-897-9645
Website »

More information

India Discovery Center is pleased to announce the next seminar in the “Let us explore the Cultural History of India.” The fourth event entitled “Seminar on the Golden Period,...

Cost: $20

Where:
Bemis Hall
15 Bedford Road
Lincoln, MA  01773
View map »


Sponsor: India Discovery Center
Telephone: 781-259-0029
Contact Name: Bijoy Misra
Website »

More information

World Qigong Taichi Day is celebrated globally, and at Eastover, it is a day of free presentations, demonstrations and mini-classes offered by nationally recognized leaders in Taichi, Qigong,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Eastover Estate & Retreat Center
430 East Street
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Sponsor: Eastover Estate & Retreat Center
Telephone: 866-264-5139
Contact Name: Yingxing Wang
Website »

More information

April 28 - 29, 2018 Led by Marconics Teacher Practitioners:  Josh Brotherton and Nadine Muhammad To register:  From US:  Tel: 774-987-9449 Email: yourhealinglight@gmail.com...

Cost: $450

Where:
Suffield Massage Therapy and Wellness Center
230 Mountain Rd
Suffield, CT  06078
View map »


Sponsor: Marconics
Telephone: 774-987-9449
Contact Name: Josh Brotherton
Website »

More information

With award winning author Nancy Smith. Starts April 28th, 7-month certification program about Akashic records. One Saturday a month, 10am - 4pm. womenofwisdominc.com

Cost: $860

Where:
Women of Wisdom
North Easton, MA


Telephone: 508-230-3860
Website »

More information

Be a part of healing history! The last saturday of April each year in hundreds of cities, spanning over 80 nations, people come together…to breath together and provide a healing vision...

Cost: Free

Where:
Elm Park
Russell St
Worcester, MA  01609
View map »


Sponsor: Kung Fu & Tai Chi Academy of New England
Telephone: (774) 321-6611
Contact Name: Sifu Gary
Website »

More information

2018 Eclectic-Fest! Our fourth event that is building community, celebrating all spiritual beliefs and practice. Free parking and free admission. Featuring aura photography by the...

Cost: Free admission

Where:
Taunton V.F.W.
82 Ingell Street
Taunton, MA  02780


Sponsor: The Enchanted Forest Taunton
Telephone: 774-208-6195
Contact Name: Brother Granite
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags