How the lessons of native foods teach us new eating habits

This post guest written by LFA Local Foods Intern, Amy Burkel

At the Food and Farm Finance Forum, a food education conference hosted by the Local First Arizona Foundation, Rubi Orozco, gave a brief history of the Mesoamerican diet and culture.  Orozco, a Health Specialist in Ancestral Wellness from El Paso, Texas, shared some of the benefits of this type of diet with attendees.

In Pre-Historic Mexico, public health was sustained through several community factors. For instance, public sanitation was maintained by public servants, everyone swept and looked after their community squares. There was also a community aspect to nutritional wellness. Long journeys on foot built up a hunger and travelers would be greeted as guests and served hearty and filling meals.  According to Orozco, "Traditional foods are part of our culture and identity, part of our genes, and an ancestral legacy that we are charged with maintaining and teaching to future generations."

Modern-day Mesoamerican ingredients can easily be grown here in their own native environment and enjoyed as a fresh, local, and sustainable option! Many of these ingredients are better adapted to our low water climate.  Additionally, incorporating more regionally grown foods into our diets reduces the carbon strain on transporting food products across the globe.  Amaranth was is cultivated for its extreme nutritional value until Spanish conquest when it was outlawed. It was known as “warrior food” and can be prepared several different ways.  Rubi Orozco shared many of her  personal recipes including the following for  Amaranth Leaf and Pine Nut Pesto:


  • 1 Bunch amaranth leaves (about 1 oz)
  • ½ cup Pine nuts
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of ½ a lime or yellow lemon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutritional yeast
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper


Place ingredients in this order into the blender: amaranth leaves, pine nuts, olive oil and lime or lemon juice. Blend well. If the mixture gets stuck, stop the blender and use a wooden spatula to free the ingredients and scrape them from the sides into the blender. Add nutritional yeast, salt and pepper. Blend again until mixture is smooth.

Mix pesto with cooked pasta or spread on toasted bread. If desired, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes before serving.


For more on Rubi’s work and other recipes, check out her website:  To find more upcoming Local First Arizona Foundation events highlighting the importance of local foods, such as the Farmer Chef Connection on September 12th at the Tucson Convention Center, check out our foundation page.