It is a sad paradox that many Latinxs who emigrate to the United States in search of a safer way of life often develop the health disparities of U.S. born Latinxs, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and mental health needs. Unwilling to perpetuate these disparities, Indígena Health & Wellness (IHW) developed Nuestras Raices Saludables. With funding from the City’s tax on sugary drinks, this unique nutrition program focuses on preventing and reducing cardiovascular disease in the Indígena/Latinx community.
As the Indígena and other immigrants come to this country, they must often leave behind their traditional eating habits. Whether due to unavailable or unfamiliar food products from their countries or limited financial resources, immigrants must often adapt to the strange foods available here. Inundated by numerous inexpensive fast-food options and ready-to-eat foods, not only do they lose their traditional eating rituals but their health can quickly deteriorate.
Carlos Izaguirre, Program Manager for Nuestras Raices Saludables, decided to address this problem head on. Having received his bachelor’s degree in Nutrition Science and a gay cis man of Mayan descent and who previously worked a as IHW’s Case Manager, there’s no dispute that he’s the right person for the job. “Since 2010 in Guatemala, I’ve worked to address health disparities and nutrition-related diseases. Now, I get to do the same thing, but with people who migrated, just as I have,” offers Carlos.
Nuestras Raices Saludables has already provided training to 70 individual men, women and youth. It has been extremely popular; in addition to the various healthy foods information they receive, they have integrated valuable food traditions to the process. “Among the Indígena, food is a complex process. Communities seek permission from ancestors about when to plant and harvest. Permission from mother earth is essential,” explains Carlos. ““We set out to re-establish the relationship between food and culture. Eating time is sacred; it’s often shared with family, and has great meaning,” shared Carlos.
You might wonder, even with a reconnection to honored indigenous traditions, how do you improve healthy eating with limited resources? This is where Nuestras Raices Saludables took on a life of its own. As with most who have experienced poverty, creativity is critical.
Carlos recounts the story: One day, we received food boxes thru mission food hub and began providing health education based on the items in the food boxes. Someone picked up a stalk of celery and indicated they didn’t know how to use it. Suddenly, different participants began offering their own recipes with celery, and later, some of them made food and brought it in to show how various ingredients could be used. “This wasn’t just self-help,” noted Carlos, “it was self-help plus! It was about organically building community.”
Not unsurprisingly, participants are building Nuestras Raices Saludables in a wide variety of unplanned ways. Recognizing the ongoing nature of chronic disease prevention, participants have been eager to share stories of their own illnesses and new responses to address them. In turn, IHW and Carlos has witnessed the motivational impact these personal stories has had on other community members to change their eating behaviors.
The concept of sharing recipes and personal stories evolved, keeping their creative juices flowing. The idea of publishing a book began as a way to continue sharing good recipes while reestablishing indigenous traditions. However, they also saw how participants’ personal stories was an effective way for them to share how their changed diets helped improve their health.
As a result, over the few months, Nuestras Raices Saludables plans to publish a book that contains the stories and recipes of its participants. For now, the book will only be available to clients, but IFR will search for opportunities to publish larger quantities of the book to sell to the public. “We are putting a lot of love, intention and creativity into the development of the book. We are hopeful that this will be a tool for positive change to improve eating habits and reduce health disparities.”