Tag Archives: Foodways

In Honor of Earth Day: Composting at a Workplace

compost photoby Erika Gisela Abad

On one of those rare sunny mornings in Portland, my roommate and I take advantage of the sun, sitting out on the deck and talking about the food we can grow. Growing locally requires a lot of work, preparing the soil, finding the seeds, gauging what seeds and what resources to use because of what it means for our food and the insects that help produce it. The food she and I eat varies and as we replant vegetables and cuttings that can regrow we review where our scraps go and what we can do. At my local food pantry, we have a similar conversation, but we focus on the foods they, Latina immigrant women, bring from their homes, the ways they try to grow it and how to feed the poor. We’re all making ends meet, but making ends meet is also about eating and breathing better. Where we get our seeds and where we get the nutrients we need to grow them is critical in that conversation. At both the Hispanic community’s fundraisers and at home, we’ve established compost systems to improve how we feed our food and how we express gratitude for what the earth provides. It’s about reflecting on what we do with excess, whether that be the plant stuff that can be replanted to produce more food, or the food scraps that we allow to decompose in our yards to revive the soil. I learned about these issues in my grandmother’s kitchen, in the kitchen of many working class women and women of color who had to answer this question: how do we feed ourselves with minimal resources and who can/will share their abundance so that we could make our own?

Living and working in a city like Portland, that collects compost more frequently than trash, I thought composting would open up the conversation about how we each gardened or could begin to garden at home. I began composting at work, initially because I wanted a guaranteed source of used coffee grounds. Coffee grounds are useful for a number of reasons, but I wanted to see what it would take to compost in a work place not otherwise expected to compost. Below, I explain the steps I took and what I used to establish a relatively effective compost system at work.

Materials Needed

  • At least 2 Containers with lids (I started with old coffee canisters but growing practice required five-gallon buckets)
  • Grocery cart
  • List of compostable materials
  • Reminder signs

First, I started by asking the manager if I could set up a small compost station in our break room. On getting permission, I reviewed the places in the break room I could place the canister. While I place my compost bin in the garage which lies off the kitchen, there was minimal room under the sink in the office’s break room.  Given where the coffee was located and what minimal shelf space there was, I placed the canister in the corner behind the coffee pot as that corner was also next to the recycling area.  Putting the canister near the recycling kept all ‘green’ trash in the same place; placing it near the coffee pot would assure minimal mess in transferring used coffee grounds from the pot to the canister.

Once I had a system, I sent a mass email to coworkers. In the email, I explained that the office allowed me to start composting to minimize trash and I answered the following questions: what was the philosophy behind composting? why was it beneficial for our office community? The exercise, for me, was not just about getting free materials for my garden’s compost; it was also about learning how to talk about socially relevant issues in a way that was accessible. In the email, I also explained I would take full responsibility for it. I chose to take full responsibility because I was controlling where the compost was going and, in the first year, I privileged just being able to collect whatever food scraps, used coffee grounds and used napkins I could. Politically, I knew I was asking a lot from my coworkers given each individual’s personal boundaries with ‘dirt,’ mess, and the possibilities of a lingering smell. In asking them to consider adding another practice to their disposal of waste, I wanted to minimize their role in an effort to focus on beginning a cultural shift around what needed disposal and what could be recycled.

The shift required more than an email. A supervisor suggested I post a sign above the trash can as well as next to the compost container/recycling station so to encourage as well as remind other coworkers that we had a compost station. Within a few months, the old coffee canisters I used to collect materials were getting filled every other day. Signage and conversations with coworkers improved and increased participation. Even though we had multiple canisters filling up, it was difficult to navigate given the increased participation. With growing participation, there grew a need to invest in or find larger containers.

As composting was becoming commonplace at work, I had to ask myself what culture of composting I wanted to promote. I was reluctant to buy anything because, from what I had learned, central to the composting philosophy was making trash into treasure. In other words, redefining the possibilities of what could be re-used. While I was still perusing Craigslist and Freecycle for a container a coworker volunteered to buy me one. I appreciated the gesture, as it indirectly distributed the responsibility of composting but, funny enough, as I was walking to the bus the following day with the new one in my hand, I found a three-foot stack of empty five-gallon buckets down the street. I took three buckets and three lids. More buckets lent themselves to easier transport and transfer. Since then, I switch the buckets every few weeks. As we collected more compost, I made a point to integrate used paper towels and brown paper bags to absorb whatever smell would have been produced. The carbon contribution paper provided also contributed to balancing the carbon-nitrogen ratio. While the buckets secured shut, I was wary of what opening them would inspire in well-intended volunteer composters.

Respecting Your Office Mates

Remember, composting is a volunteer effort. We each have our learning curves as well as diverse understandings of what can decompose at the rate we want, based on how we intend to use the compost. If you notice more meat and cheese and oil than your home system can tolerate, send coworkers a reminder email of what the compost’s boundaries are. Be considerate of workplace boundaries and maintain a break room’s culture as a space of comfort/leisure. As can be expected, compost can be messy. We all expect clean break spaces in our office and it was important that I respect that considering I was asking a lot of people by introducing a new practice. The transition to greater support required I pay closer attention to the mess created. I wiped down the bin as well as the surrounding area whenever I saw it getting messy. I equally had to address the initial use of old coffee ground containers so as to minimize the clutter the collection was producing. In other words, as much as the environmental ethos that drove composting was about improving the quality of life, it was important that I equally support a clean and tidy break room. I did my best to keep the station clean, recognizing that the transition could be difficult to accept if the change did not accommodate the initial norm of a compost free workspace. The daily attention cleaning requires is well worth it not only because of what the scraps will contribute to a garden over time.

Gratitude and Sharing

Food scraps take months to a year to decompose; growing food with minimal additives in an environment full of birds, slugs and insects does not guarantee a strong yield. For that reason, as much as I would have liked to, I did not commit to bartering for coworkers’  contributions with food. In an effort to continue building community and finding ways to share what I was growing, I found other ways of saying thank you. I would set out extra greens like kale, mustard, arugula for others to take. I also shared tomato surpluses as they come into my possession. At other times, I would make salsa with the ingredients I grew, buy a bag of chips and leave it in the break room for others to enjoy. Coworker smoothies benefited from the additional greens.

The culture of sharing wasn’t new to the office. Given our economic position, we made the most of what we had and shared when we could. Being able to share good food that was good for us, complemented the community empowerment I had born witness to in the networks of urban gardening in which I had learned so much. In the three years I have been growing food with friends in their yards, with organizations converting lawns and unused lots into food gardens, I learned how accessible each step of the growing food process could be. I did read a little, but friends and co-volunteers were my best teachers, closely followed by what I learned by practice and imitation. As much as composting at work is about decreasing waste, contributing to food’s food, for me, it continues to be about finding a more intimate relationship with understanding what we eat and sharing the fruits of that close relationship with others. While expanding the possibilities of surplus food requires changing a lot of habits, the community built and sustained through the process has been well worth it.

Works Cited

“Portland Composts!” Planning and Sustainability. The City of Portland, Oregon. n.d. Web. 4 April 2014.

“Coffee Grounds Perk up Compost Pile with Nitrogen.” Oregon State University Extension Service. 9 July 2008. Web. 4 April 2014

“Compost Needs.” Compost Fundamentals. Whatcomm County Extension. Washington State University. n.d Web. 4 April 2014

The Freecycle Network. https://www.freecycle.org

“Materials for Composting: What to Compost.” Composting for the Home Owner. University of Illinois Extension. n.d. Web. 4 April 2014

“What to Compost.”  Composting in the Home Garden. University of Illinois Extension. n.d. Web. 4 April  2014

Urban Farm Collective. http://urbanfarmcollective.com/

Erika Gisela Abad, PhD, is grateful for the coworkers who compost at work with her and who helped her review this essay. Her essays and poetry have been published in Diálogo, Mujeres de Maiz, and The Feminist Wire. She learned to garden with the Urban Farm Collective as well as with friends she made while living in North Portland. Since finishing graduate school, she has been supporting the Latino community of her North Portland open and affirming Catholic parish, running between the kitchen and the food pantry, going to where she is needed. She can be found on twitter @lionwanderer531. 

From Pig Food to Haute Cuisine

March 25, 2013

By Catherine S. Ramírez

Many years ago, a family I knew—let’s call them the Pedrazos—invited their parish priest to their home for dinner.  Like many Mexican Americans, the Pedrazos were Catholic.  Their priest was from Spain.  In all likelihood, he’d been assigned to their church to attend to its many Spanish-speaking parishioners.  The Pedrazos made tamales for him, a sign that they held their guest in high esteem, as tamales require a fair amount of work and Mexican Americans generally serve them on special occasions.  As I picture them readying themselves and their home for their visitor, I imagine Mrs. Pedrazo spreading the creamy masa and spicy meat filling over the wet cornhusks and carefully folding the ends of each hoja to create a tidy bundle.  I picture scores of tidy bundles.  Then I imagine the astonishment, disappointment, injury, and anger she and her husband felt when their guest refused to eat the meal she had prepared for him.  “No como comida de therdos,” the priest announced in his Castilian accent.  Since the tamales were made of corn and pigs eat corn, he wouldn’t touch them.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Today, it appears Spaniards’ attitude toward Mexican food has changed.  In 2009, the New York Times’ Andrew Ferren surveyed a handful of Mexican restaurants in Madrid and concluded that Spaniards had “come a long way in embracing the food of their former colonies.”[1]  The 2013 Páginas Amarillas, Madrid’s equivalent of the Yellow Pages, lists 103 Mexican restaurants.  11870, an online restaurant reservation service that functions somewhat like Open Table, tallies 104.[2]  The Spanish capital also boasts 85 Argentine, 38 Peruvian, 27 Cuban, 23 Colombian, 21 Ecuadoran, ten Venezuelan, four Uruguayan, and three Chilean restaurants, not to mention 20 restaurantes sudamericanos.[3]  Stores specializing in productos latinos, like Paraguayan yerba mate and mixes for arepas, savory Colombian cornmeal patties, dot the city. [Fig. 1]

Chirimoyas, a sweet, succulent fruit native to the Andes, can be found in just about any frutería.  And many supermarkets have a small section devoted to Mexican food, complete with flour tortillas, ready-made guacamole and salsa, and kit fajitas. [Fig. 2]

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

Without a doubt, the fruits of empire are available in Madrid in huge part because of the movement of Latin Americans to the former metropolis.  According to a report published in 2010 by Network Migration in Europe, a Berlin-based think tank devoted to the study of migration and integration, a total of 2,365,364 people of Latin American origin lived in Spain in 2009.  Latin Americans comprised 37 percent of the foreign-born population, up from 24 percent ten years earlier.  Most hail (in numerical order) from Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.[4]  Relatively few are from Mexico, but of all the cuisines from Spain’s former colonies, Mexican seems to be the most prevalent and popular.  Why?

As the American daughter of a Mexican immigrant who won the Los Angeles Times Best Home Cook of the Year Award in 1992, my response to this question is a simple duh:  Mexican food is prevalent and popular in Madrid and many other places simply because it’s tasty.  This is a glib, not to mention biased, answer.  There are many reasons for the increasingly global demand for Mexican fare.  Like German, Italian, and Japanese cuisines in the United States (think hot dogs, pizza, and sushi), Mexican food has been assimilated, in the literal and sociological senses of that word.  For evidence of its absorption by and emanation from the American mainstream, one need only look at the proliferation of the Denver-based chain, Chipotle, which lays claim to restaurants in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, and France.[5]  Despite atrocities “The Great Satan” has committed and continues to commit at home and abroad, Americana, be it in the form of jazz, Disney, Starbucks, or Mission District-style burritos, retains its allure in many places.  According to Gustavo Arellano, author of Taco USA:  How Mexican Food Conquered America, Mexican fare has even made it to outer space.  Since 1985, NASA has catapulted its astronauts into space with tortillas, which have proven more durable and less dangerous to sensitive equipment than bread.[6]  Tony restaurants like Chicago’s Topolobampo show that Mexican food has also drifted from its humble origins.  In 2010, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization declared “traditional Mexican cuisine,” along with “the gastronomic meal of the French” and “Mediterranean diet,” an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.  This was the first and only time food made UNESCO’s privileged list.[7]

When I moved to Madrid in August of 2012, I was intrigued by the Mexican restaurants here and took it upon myself to eat in as many as possible before my return to the US the following year.  How is the Mexican gastronomic experience reinterpreted in its new surroundings, I wondered?  More concretely, who owns, works in, and patronizes Mexican restaurants in Madrid?  And what can the migration and assimilation of Mexican food tell us about the migration and assimilation of people, both in the US and elsewhere?  Along with an empty stomach, a full wallet, and an increasingly crammed notepad, these are some of the questions with which I’ve set out as I’ve explored Mexican cookery in my adopted city.

Fig. 3

Fig. 3

Like images of the Virgin Mary in tree trunks, Mexican eateries in the US tend to reflect migration patterns and shifting demographics.  However, the ones in Madrid—and, here, I’d wager to say in just about any other European city—testify more to that city’s elite cosmopolitanism.  In other words, Mexican restaurants in Europe signal the presence of American expats and/or well-heeled foodies.  By and large, the Mexican restaurants in Madrid have a trendier or more upscale air than their Latin American counterparts, many (but certainly not all) of which appear to be run by and for hardworking and thrifty immigrants.  For example, at Hatun Wasi, a Peruvian restaurant that recently opened in the working-class, immigrant neighborhood of Cuatro Caminos, the no-nonsense dining room consists of mismatched chairs, tables, and bar stools.  The floor is clean, but scuffed.  A simple blackboard in the window announces the restaurant’s hours and the prices of various specials. [Fig. 3]

Fig. 4

Fig. 4

A two-course menú del día or lunch special costs a mere three euros (around four dollars).  In contrast, Takeiros, a Mexican restaurant near my apartment in the middle-class neighborhood of Ríos Rosas, offers a three-course menú del día for 11 euros (roughly 14 dollars).  Dinner runs around 30 euros (40 dollars), a hefty price for many madrileños, immigrant and native-born alike, in this moment of economic crisis. Where Hatun Wasi is a modest, if not barebones, joint, many Mexican restaurants in Madrid are bedecked with colorful decorations that scream ¡MÉXICO! (or, as the Spaniards spell it, Méjico), such as papel picado, serapes, and lucha libre masks.  At Takeiros, Mexican lotería cards cover the walls and metal tooling lampshades dangle from the ceiling. [Fig. 4] And except for the live mariachi music Thursday nights at La Herradura, one of Madrid’s more established Mexican eateries, salsa music dominates the playlists in the Mexican restaurants I’ve patronized here.

Fig. 5

Fig. 5

All the meals in these restaurants begin with a small basket of totopos (what Spaniards mistakenly call nachos) and salsa.  The chips always taste a bit like reconstituted cardboard, a travesty given the ubiquity of mouthwatering fried food in Spain, most notably, churros, patatas fritas, and calamares a la romana.  And while the salsa, be it red or green, is usually flavorful, it’s never spicy enough for me.  Still, despite their less-than-promising start, the Mexican meals I’ve had in Madrid have been surprisingly satisfying.  I’ve enjoyed fresh green salads garnished with velvety avocados and tangy flores de jamaica.  Staples, like quesadillas, burritos, and flautas, can be found on nearly all menus.  However, unless I’m at a burrito or taco bar, I usually don’t bother with the more prosaic foods.  Instead, I go for more complex dishes, like pollo en mole poblanocochinita pibil, and albondigas con salsa de chipotle. [Fig. 5] Mexican beers, such as Corona and Pacífico, are widely available; Mexican sodas and aguas frescas, less so.  Impressively, Takeiros’ wine list consists exclusively of wines from Baja California.

A couple of Mexicans opened Takeiros in 2011.  They own three other eateries in Madrid, one of which, a take-away counter, also specializes in Mexican fare.  While the customers at Takeiros appear to be mostly Spaniards, the workers I’ve encountered there have all been immigrants.  Peruvian and Ecuadorian chefs have prepared my food to perfection and Argentinian and Mexican waiters have delivered it to me and put up with my many questions.  The dishwasher, like the waitress I photographed in front of Hatun Wasi, is a young immigrant from Romania.

I’ll wrap up with a brief discussion of Romania, what I’ve come to see as the Mexico of Europe.  Just as Mexico hitched its cart to the NAFTA horse in 1994, Romania, one of Europe’s poorest nations, joined the European Union in 2007.  While NAFTA failed to provide for the free movement of workers across Mexico, the US, and Canada, EU membership has allowed Romanians to move and work within member states.  Like many Mexican migrants in the US, many Romanians came to Spain, Europe’s leading country of immigration from 2000 to 2007, to work in the then booming construction, tourism, hospitality, and domestic-service industries.[8]  In 2008, they surpassed Moroccans as the largest foreign group in this country.[9]  Then Spain’s economic bubble burst and unemployment skyrocketed.  The Spanish government responded by trying to restrict Romanian immigration, a reversal of its commitment to admit rumanosas fellow members of the twenty-seven-nation EU.[10]  More recently, the prospect of Romanians and Bulgarians being able to work freely in the UK starting in 2014 has provoked protests in that country.[11]  To deter “an influx of unwanted people,” the UK’s equivalent of the Department of Homeland Security, the Home Office, has considered launching an advertising campaign in Romania and Bulgaria stressing Britain’s less attractive qualities, like its notoriously bad weather.[12]  Hardy, despised, feared, and here to stay, Romanians, not unlike Mexicans in the US, are the cockroach people of Europe.[13]

In physiology, assimilation refers to consumption and the body’s absorption of nutrients after digestion.  Like the Spanish priest who rejected the Pedrazos’ homemade tamales, Europe refuses to take in Romanians or to absorb what many of them have to offer:  their labor.  Indeed, it sees them as a contaminant, as the recent scare over horsemeat fraudulently labeled as beef has made patent.  When horsemeat was first discovered in frozen lasagna in British and French supermarkets earlier this year, Romania was immediately cast as the culprit.  French and British news media reported that new traffic laws banning horse-drawn carts in that country had led to the mass slaughter of horses and the subsequent introduction of horsemeat into the food chain.  Even though the horsemeat was ultimately traced to a factory in southern France, the perception of Romania as dirty, primitive and, therefore, thoroughly un-European endures.[14]

Fig. 6

Fig. 6

A Spaniard in LA.  Chicken mole, Romanian workers, and a Chicana scholar in Madrid.  Lasagna in France and Britain.  Clearly, people and food travel.  Far too often, the latter goes down more easily than the former, as the sign in the final illustration I’ve included in this essay indicates [Fig. 6].[15]  Whether or not people assimilate and are assimilated—incorporated, integrated, welcomed—depends on numerous factors, including access to citizenship and basic social services, particularly education and health care, possession of rights and protections as workers, and genuine tolerance and respect.



Catherine S. Ramírez, an Associate Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is spending her sabbatical year in Madrid, where she’s writing a book tentatively titled Assimilation:  A Brief History.

[1] Andrew Ferren, “Mexican Hot Spots in Madrid,” New York Times, May 5, 2009, http://intransit.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/05/mexican-hot-spots-in-madrid/ (accessed March 18, 2013).
[2] http://11870.com/k/restaurantes/es/es/madrid (accessed March 19, 2013).
[3] http://madrid.salir.com/restaurantes (accessed March 18, 2013).
[4] Trinidad L. Vicente, Latin American Immigration to Spainhttp://migrationeducation.de/48.1.html?&rid=162&cHash=96b3134cdb899a06a8ca6e12f41eafac (accessed March 18, 2013).
[5] “Chipotle Opens Restaurant in London, First in EU,” Denver Business Journal, May 10, 2010, http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/stories/2010/05/10/daily4.html (accessed March 19, 2013).
[6] Gustavo Arellano, Taco USA:  How Mexican Food Conquered America (New York:  Scribner, 2012).
[7] http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?lg=en&pg=00011 (accessed March 18, 2013).
[8] Michael Fix, Demetrios G. Papademetriou, Jeanne Batalova, Aaron Terrazas, Serena Yi-Ying Lin, and Michelle Mittelstadt, Migration and the Global Recession:  A Report Commissioned by the BBC World Service (Washington, DC:  Migration Policy Institute, 2009), 33-34.  Also see http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/mpi-bbcreport-sept09.pdf (accessed March 19, 2013).
[9] Ibid., 38.
[10] Raphael Minder, “Amid Unemployment, Spain Aims to Limit Romanian Influx,” New York Times, July 21, 2011, http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/07/22/world/europe/22madrid.html (accessed March 19, 2013).
[11] Stephen Castle, “Britain Braces for Higher Migration from Romania and Bulgaria,” New York Times, March 4, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/05/world/europe/britain-braces-for-higher-migration-from-romania-and-bulgaria.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (accessed March 19, 2013).
[12] Sarah Lyall, “Welcome to Britain.  Our Weather Is Appalling,” New York Times, January 29, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/30/world/europe/welcome-to-britain-our-weather-is-appalling.html (accessed March 19, 2013).
[13] I take the term, “cockroach people,” from Oscar Zeta Acosta’s 1973 novel The Revolt of the Cockroach People (New York:  Vintage, 1989).
[14] Andrew Higgins, “Recipe for a Divided Europe:  Add Horse, Then Stir,” New York Times, March 9, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/10/world/europe/recipe-for-divided-europe-add-horse-then-stir.html?pagewanted=all (accessed March 19, 2013).
[15] This image is from http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/74/r2048252209bz4.jpg/sr=1 (accessed March 19, 2013).All other photos here were taken by the author.

Decolonize Your Diet!

September 10, 2012

Quelites Harvest

Quelites Harvest

By Luz Calvo and Catriona R. Esquibel

We have a passion for Mexican food. We have a passion for gardens, for healthy food, for food justice, and for people of color reclaiming our histories. All of this has led us to our current project, Decolonize Your Diet. This is a project to reclaim the heritage foods of greater Mexico and Central America as a way improving the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of US Latinos/as.


In the US, a person’s health is almost pre-determined by their socio-economic status. For the most part, upper and middle class people, who have access to health care, higher education, healthy foods, and safe spaces to exercise, have significantly better health than poor folks who lack health insurance, education, access to grocery stores, and who live in poor and often dangerous neighborhoods. Public health scholars evaluate the health of demographic groups by looking at mortality, infant mortality, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer rates. Poor people have worse health on all these measures. This is not surprising: Social inequality affects people’s health and lifespan.

However, there is one notable exception to the equation of poverty = poor health—public health scholars have found that recent immigrants from Mexico have very low rates of mortality, infant mortality, and illness compared to other groups. Public health scholars have dubbed this phenomenon “The Latino/a Paradox.”(1) Recent Latino/a immigrants, mainly from Mexico and Central America, have better health than Latinos and Latinas who were born in the US. The health of recent immigrants rivals the health of the [w]healthiest Americans! This fact is somewhat astounding given that Latino/a immigrants face so many challenges: in general, Latino/a immigrants arrive to this country with very few economic resources. They don’t have access to preventative health care and are often afraid to seek care when they are sick. They work in difficult and dangerous jobs and they are under extremely high levels of social, spiritual, and economic stress. One would expect their health to suffer under these circumstances.

Public health scholars have not been able to explain Latino/a immigrants’ health; but there is significant evidence supporting the health benefits of traditional diets of Mexico and Central America. We believe that these food traditions protect Latino/a immigrants from disease, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and some cancers. Unfortunately, the health of immigrants declines over time. The longer immigrants stay in the US and the more they assimilate into US culture, the worse their health becomes. By the second generation, Latinos/as face the same issues as other poor folks in the US, with skyrocketing rates of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Cancer rates also start to increase.


We feel it is imperative that Chicano/a Studies engage food justice in research and teaching. We call to our comrades, colleagues, and students to look at their personal food choices as political acts. Resist cultural imperialism by reclaiming ancestral foods. Honor our ancestors and their wisdom by learning how to cook beans, make corn tortillas, and grow food.  Above all, share your knowledge!

The following chart outlines some of the differences between what we think is a Colonized Standard American Diet (¡Qué SAD!) and a decolonized approach:

Advertising and Fads
Ancestral Knowledge/Oral Tradition
Hybrid Seeds and GMO
Heritage Seeds and Seed Saving
White Supremacy
Respect for Mexican and Indigenous Knowledge and Traditions
White sugar, White flour, White rice
Brown is Beautiful: Honey, Whole Wheat, Brown Rice
Assimilation, Submission, Capitulation
Resistance, Resilience
No connection to the land. Reliance on Chain Grocery Stores.
Community Gardens, Guerilla Gardening, Urban Farming,
Conspicuous consumption
Simple, accessible food
Disavowal, Thoughtlessness
Intentions, Blessings and Ceremony
Processed Foods
Real, whole food
Fair labor practices, Worker cooperatives
Pesticides and Monoculture
Permaculture and Biodiversity
Pharmaceutical industry
La Comida es Medicina, Herbal remedies

As part of our project, we are collecting and sharing knowledge and recipes. We are inspired by Native food activists like Winona LaDuke (2,3,4), Devon Abbott Mihesuah (5) and the Tohono O’odham Nation (6). We’re very excited by the significant health benefits to be gained from eating cooked dried beans (7,8,9), nopales (10,11), chia (10), quelites (12), and verdolagas (13, 14, 15).


We invite you to join us in the reclamation of Mexican heritage foods: join “Luz’s Decolonial Cooking Club” on Facebook or follow our blog at decolonizeyourdiet.blogspot.com

  1. Viruell-Fuentes, Edna A. 2007. Beyond acculturation: immigration, discrimination, and health research among Mexicans in the United States. Social science & medicine (1982) 65 (7): 1524–35.
  2. LaDuke, Winona. 1999. All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life. Cambridge, MA; Minneapolis, MN: South End Press; Honor the Earth.
  3. LaDuke, Winona. 2005. Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
  4. LaDuke, Winona, and Sarah Alexander. n.d. Food is Medicine: Recovering Traditional Foods to Heal the People. Honor the Earth/White Earth Land Recovery Project.
  5. Mihesuah, Devon Abbot. 2005. Recovering Our Ancestor’s Gardens: Indigenous Recipes and Guide to Diet and Fitness. University of Nebraska Press.
  6. Tohono O’odham Community Action with Mary Pagnelli Votto and Frances Manuel. 2010. From I’Itoi’s Garden: Tohono O’Odham Food Traditions.Blurb.com.
  7. Reynoso, Camacho, R. 2007. El consumo de frijol común (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) y su efecto sobre el cáncer de colon en ratas Sprague-Dawley. Agricultura técnica en México 33 (1): 43–52.
  8. Guevara, Lara, F. 2006. Phenolics, Flavonoids and Other Nutraceuticals in Mexican Wild Common Beans {(Phaseolus} Vulgaris).
  9. Serrano, José, and Isabel Goñi. 2004. [Role of black bean Phaseolus vulgaris on the nutritional status of Guatemalan population]. Archivos latinoamericanos de nutrición 54 (1): 36–44.
  10. Guevara-Cruz, Martha et al. 2012. A dietary pattern including nopal, chia seed, soy protein, and oat reduces serum triglycerides and glucose intolerance in patients with metabolic syndrome. The Journal of nutrition 142 (1): 64–69.
  11. Gutierrez, Miguel Angel. 1998. Medicinal Use of the Latin Food Staple Nopales: The Prickly Pear Cactus. Nutrition Bytes 4
  12. Barakat, Lamiaa A A, and Rasha Hamed Mahmoud. 2011. The antiatherogenic, renal protective and immunomodulatory effects of purslane, pumpkin and flax seeds on hypercholesterolemic rats. North American journal of medical sciences3 (9): 411–17.
  13. Huang, Yun, and Lei Dong. 2011. Protective effect of purslane in a rat model of ulcerative colitis. Zhongguo Zhong yao za zhi = Zhongguo zhongyao zazhi = China journal of Chinese materia medica 36 (19): 2727–30.
  14. Huang, Zhiliang, et al. 2009. Total phenolics and antioxidant capacity of indigenous vegetables in the southeast United States: Alabama Collaboration for Cardiovascular Equality Project. International journal of food sciences and nutrition 60 (2): 100–08.
  15. Shobeiri, S F, et al. 2009. Portulaca oleracea L. in the treatment of patients with abnormal uterine bleeding: a pilot clinical trial. Phytotherapy research: {PTR} 23 (10): 1411–14.

Luz Calvo is an associate professor of Ethnic Studies at Cal State East Bay.  After their breast cancer diagnosis in 2006, Calvo became interested in food justice activism.

Catriona R. Esquibel is an associate professor of Race and Resistance Studies at San Francisco State University. Esquibel started writing about ancestral foods after she and Calvo ate verdolagas at her father’s morada on Good Friday in Holman, New Mexico.


  1. Elena Gutierrez  September 11, 2012 at 5:46 PM

    Verdolagas grow in the sidewalk cracks here in Chicago and I have more than once excavated and cooked them with friends. We get a few stares but they are so yummy and worth it! Thanks too for these references- not I can show my mom the “proof” that nopales really will help her diabetes. Excited to hear about your further works in this area.

  2. Theresa (Mujeres Talk Co-Moderator)  September 12, 2012 at 12:33 PM

    When my dad became diabetic i started looking into healthier traditional foods and yes, nopales are, indeed, good for diabetes! Luz and Catriona, thank you for sharing some of this exciting new work, and your emphasis not on the pricey and expensive and hard to find ingredients but on the readily available and traditional prepared in healthy ways. I am curious if anyone has done studies on the practices of keeping milpas that are mentioned in fiction that describes early and mid 20th century Chican@ life and health.

  3. Dianna Ching  November 21, 2012 at 5:06 PM

    I want to get rid of my tummy fats but I can’t deprive myself on foods so I never considered diet. But this one sounds so easy so I think I’ll give it a shot. Instead of having a liposculpture right away, why not try this. Thanks a lot!