Latine Heritage Month is going on and something that is important to me all year round, is honoring our cultural foods. Part of that means I have to debunk a lot of myths around the foods we grew up eating. The biggest myth being that our foods are not healthy or nutritious. That statement is not only false but is a grand simplification of the wide variety of foods in the countries that encompass Latin America. So let’s jump right into debunking some of the common myths about Latine food.
Latinos don’t eat vegetables
The belief that Latinos don’t eat vegetables is just silly when the base of many dishes is sofrito or a form of sofrito that is unique to that country. On top of that we have many delicious vegetables that are added to dishes we eat. This idea comes from the “Americanized” way of eating where it’s recommended to eat half of your plate full of vegetables and vegetables that Americans eat. While the “half plate veggie” method is something I often recommend, I often choose to first point out the way that dishes folks are eating already have some vegetables, because those count!
When we as practitioners are speaking to folks about their vegetable intake it’s important to ask questions about the way food is prepared. In asking questions you’ll learn that some dishes are full of medicinal herbs like cilantro, starchy vegetables like squash, and nonstarchy vegetables like peppers, onions, tomatoes and more. If you, comadre, think you’re not eating enough vegetables then it’s helpful to find opportunities to add more, either inside of dishes you’re already making or as a side to your meal. Perpetuating this myth is a disservice to the Latine community and erases the rich gastronomy of the foods we eat.
Latino food is spicy
I believe this comes from the way Latinos are thought of as a monolith, and that we are all Mexican and that all Mexican food is spicy. Which all of that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are over 30 countries in Latin America where, yes some of those countries use chiles or spicy peppers in their dishes, but it's not as prevalent in all dishes as you would think. There’s many delicious herbs and spices that are used in Latine cooking, that are not spicy.
Rice is off limits
I often hear this from patients after their doctors tell them that they need to cut out white foods to manage their health or lose weight. White rice is often to blame and the first thing that people want to cut out to be “healthy”. By placing the blame on rice, society takes part in erasure, rice is consumed all over the world and has been for centuries. Rice can be part of a delicious and nutritious diet. Rice is a source of nutrients like manganese and B vitamins, as well as carbohydrates. Rice is also an affordable way to feed large families, paired with other proteins it can also be part of a balanced plate. Rice stores well, can be bought in bulk, and easy to cook. When I speak with comadres and compadres trying to manage their intake of rice I often focus on what else they can add to their plate, to make sure they are still honoring their culture and enjoying their foods.
There’s no vegan foods
When it comes to staples of Latine cooking, most of the foods are surprisingly plant based. Think platanos, yuca, rice dishes, and more! Historically our ancestors ate mostly plant based, consuming only the local animals, think guinea pigs, iguanas, and seafood, and in smaller portions. Colonization actually introduced the domestication of animals to our diet, which expanded to include pigs, chicken, and cattle. All that being said, our staples are vegan and paired with deliciously seasoned vegetables or even an avocado most of our foods can be enjoyed vegan as well.
Our food isn’t healthy!
I hope that since reading through all these previous myths you’re able to see and appreciate all the ways that our cultural foods are not only delicious but also nutritious, making them healthy. I hope that after reading all this you’re able to feel empowered about your cultural foods and know that they fit in your overall lifestyle. Because all foods fit, especially Latine foods!
Before you go,
share a favorite cultural food that makes you feel joy! Until next time.