How to Enjoy Latin America’s “Super Comidas” Without Being a Cultural Appropriator
You say “superfood,” we say “comida.”
Growing up, my home and life was filled with incredible smells and sensations emanating from the kitchen. While other kids’ pantries and fridges may have been consistently stocked to the brim with white bread and Bologna slices or mashed potatoes and mayonnaise (that’s stuff white people like, right?), mine was never without a stockpot filled with frijoles refritos, enough tortillas to feed an army, rice in my favorite hue of orange and a giant bottle of Tapatio to add an instant dash of flavor and culture to any meal (Cup Noodles are too bland, y’all — we should all be adding hot sauce to that sh**). This was just a sliver of what I was exposed to as a child growing up in a Mexican household, and just a fraction of all the glorious foods the Spanish-speaking world (and it’s indigenous ancestors) has to offer.
Latinx, Hispanic and indigenous American culture is as diverse and expansive as the continents it covers. From the cold and brazen shores of Patagonia to the islands of the Caribbean, Hispanic identity’s multifaceted nature means that the Hispanic experience is one filled with variety — not only in its people, but most especially in its food.
Lately we’ve been subjected to the seemingly new concept of superfoods or foods that are just really healthy and beneficial in a multitude of ways. Some of these come from Latinx culture, like chia seeds and coconut.
To my Latinx friends and family, these so-called “superfoods” seem like well, food. Or comidas. Just plain old food.
Related: Food Crush: North Indian Rajma
White people managed to add the “super” when they stripped these foods of their cultural identity and roots, kind of like how they did with the beautiful lands and people that make up almost 40 percent of the world.
Indigenous and Native American peoples have been utilizing these foods for centuries, but we get it. Discovering new things is great — if you’ve actually managed to discover something that people haven’t been eating for centuries.
I understand. Latinx culture has given us some pretty amazing things (tacos, tamales, aguas frescas, pan dulce — I could go on forever, really). I’m here to show you some of the foods this rich culture has given us that you may not even realize have historic roots (sorry, Becky, but that acai bowl you’re quaintly eating at your desk may be organic but it ain’t new).
So if you’d like to discover some of the true origins of the foods you’re eating, let’s explore some of them, how they were used and how we can use them today without supporting white supremacy. Sound good?
1. Chia seeds.
It’s believed ancient Aztecs would subsist solely on these things in desperate times away from the village because they contain so much fiber and micronutrients. Thankfully, people have become far more educated in their use of this ancient super grain than they were in the not-so-distant past (anybody remember Chia pets? Yeah, same stuff. All those nutrients wasted on a clay replica of Daffy Duck or whichever cartoon character you were into at the time.)
Though the recommended way to eat chia, per ancient Aztec methods, is simply to eat the seed, it can also be ground to create a flour-like binder or soaked in liquid to create a gelatinous form of fiber that’s less abrasive to the digestive system. The great part about chia is, you can literally put it on anything. Making sure you’re eating ethically and sustainably sourced chia is important, since so many companies have popped up to cash in on the recent spike in demand. If that sounds like too much of hassle, you can also grow your own.
Coconut (oil) has recently been discovered by the mainstream as a cure-all. I literally don’t even need to tell you all the benefits, because you’ve honestly probably used a coconut byproduct today and seen all the listicles and know that it’s basically our answer to everything at this point.
Its origins are a bit murky, but there is definitely proof of its pre-Columbian existence in the Americas. And there’s no question that this plant’s origins seem almost worldwide, because it grows in a lot of places and can be used for literally almost everything.
Coconut usage is widespread in tropical regions of Latin America. Its clear water has been a godsend to those in need of nutrient-rich hydration, even before the invention of tequila and the foreseeable hangovers we now alleviate with coconut water. It’s worth mentioning that though many new brands, like Vita Coco and Zico have made this product more marketable and appealing, there’s nothing wrong with spending a lot less at your local Hispanic food market on one of these guys.
Speaking of tequila! Agave, the wonder plant, is trending in so many ways, both as a gorgeous succulent (which are so hot RN) and as a low-glycemic sugar substitute. This superfood with roots in South America offers so many more benefits than you can imagine. It’s basically a natural wonderment that the sap of this plant can be used to treat wounds (much like aloe vera) and its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties are comparable to ginseng and other natural remedies. This may be why mezcal or pure tequila is one of the best options for partying, as it’s actually less likely to give you a hangover than most other alcohols. If that’s not reason enough to take another shot, I’m really not sure what is. You can find fair-trade agave in most of your local health food stores, and it’s actually super easy to grow yourself. Plus you get a super-trendy succulent out of it.
So if you’re a lame like me, you might actually hate-stalk Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand Goop from time to time to get mad at her entitled sensibility for touting this holistic lifestyle at a steep price tag (but also maybe to admire a white alpaca throw blanket because you could really use the accent for your bedroom).
Another accent I found (read: Columbused) on the website was the smoothie recipe shared ‘round the world. Among the numerous otherworldly ingredients being co-opted by elitist culture is one that may benefit your sex life: maca root. It’s said to increase libido and regulate hormone functions, along with being a more digestible fiber (much like chia).
It’s a member of the root family, comparable to a turnip/parsnip, and can be ground into a powder to be taken as a supplement, blended into a drink or other foods, or used to make doughs. The health food industry has inspired a massive spike in demand for maca, so be cautious in sourcing the root, but you can purchase ethically sourced fair-trade maca here. Or you can be super hip and just try the damn Moon Juice Sex Dust, because why not?
Corn is a superfood for so many reasons. It’s present in so many Latinx/indigenous dishes for its binding properties: it’s made into dough for tamales eaten by almost every indigenous/hispanic culture, stirred into soups, used for colorful fall decoration, and actually has antioxidants and fiber along with all that sugar it’s so often maligned for.
In the same way corn binds most food, it also binds many cultures together. It’s also an example of having “too much of a good thing.” Corn agriculture was subsidized by the U.S. government in the ‘40s and ‘50s, which led to overproduction. Corn seems to be one of the original food appropriation sins: it was once a gift from these lands that indigenous people offered up to new “settlers,” and is now a testament to what those settlers have done to this nation.
6. BONUS: Hotdogs.
Now, I’m no dummy. I know this isn’t a super food. F***, it hardly qualifies as a food at all by certain standards, but this is my sly way of Columbusing a typically American food by putting it through a Latinx flavorizer and injecting the culture necessary to make this weird zombie sausage truly thrive.
Hotdogs or salchichas have gained immense popularity in most Latin American countries, and much like Coca Cola, it’s both really bad for you and really f***ing delicious (Thanks, U.S.A.!). We’ve all probably stumbled out of a club at around 2 a.m. to the sweet smell of the glory that is “street meat.” The same thing happens Latin America, but it’s a little different.
Dressing up a hot dog is not a new concept, but when it’s dressed in salsa, guacamole, some ensalada, some beans and maybe even some bacon (if you’re feelin’ crazy), it takes the traditional hotdog to a whole new level. It’s almost a big f*** you to colonizers, in that it takes a food that was horrible to begin with and makes it more horrible, but also so much more delicious. Mmmmm. Tastes like revenge.