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Decolonizing Your Diet

August 4, 2016
Photo credit: Tracey Kusiewicz / Foodie Photography

By Rachel Levin

Chilled ceviche, cool guacamole, refreshing agua fresco—in this summer heat, doesn’t some light, fresh Mexican food sound like nectar of the gods?

As it turns out, these plant-based treats will not only cool you down—they may also help heal you up. The recipes come from Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel’s recently released cookbook, Decolonize Your Diet: Plant-Based Mexican-American Recipes for Health and Healing, which emphasizes the health-promoting merits of foods common among indigenous Mesoamerican people in the centuries before European colonizers arrived.

Forget quesadillas, gorditas and other meat- and cheese-laden dishes—the native food of the region we now call Mexico was almost exclusively plant-based: Multicolored heirloom corn, beans, whole grains like amaranth and quinoa, chia seeds, wild greens, fresh fruits, herbs and spices formed the basis of the indigenous diet, much of which is still eaten in parts of rural Mexico, until colonizers brought beef, wheat, cheese and sugar. It sounds just like the way we Clean Platers eat now!

Calvo, a professor of Ethnic Studies at California State University East Bay, began “decolonizing” her own diet—eliminating processed foods and prioritizing fresh ingredients from her ancestral heritage—when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 (thankfully, she’s now in remission). She was inspired to write the book in part because of studies , such as the one conducted by the University of Utah that show that consumption of an indigenous diet is associated with decreased risk of breast cancer.

She and partner Esquibel, a professor at San Francisco State University, developed the book’s flavorful vegetarian and vegan recipes to appeal to modern palates while incorporating traditional foods, like tacos filled with dried hibiscus flowers, enchiladas stuffed with pumpkin seeds and lamb’s quarters, which are nutritious wild greens, and chocolate amaranth cake sweetened with raw honey.

They graciously shared with Clean Plates three of their favorite recipes, Watermelon-Cucumber Agua Fresca, Super-Charged Guacamole (see below) and a Cauliflower Ceviche.

So, as you raise that icy glass of watermelon-cucumber, drink to your health—and the wisdom of Mexico’s ancestors. Salud!

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