Program teaches Latinos nutritional awareness with a cultural approach

ByJose Mayorquin KABC logo
Friday, July 26, 2019
Cultural approach to healthy eating
Combating diabetes and other illnesses, La Plaza teaches Latino kids and their parents about healthy eating.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (KABC) -- The rates of some life-threatening illnesses remain alarmingly high for Latinos-specifically heart disease and diabetes. Many still don't know their risk factors. And others that do, don't take proper actions to control these serious health concerns. This can be due to a lack of healthcare insurance, or because of educational, language or cultural barriers. The good news is that more groups are stepping up to bring it back to the basics and taking nutritional awareness to their communities-with a cultural approach.

LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, a cultural center and museum dedicated to the stories of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the U.S., is taking a unique approach to health education.

"We wanted to do something that no other institution or museum is doing," said Armando Rodriguez, Manager of the Culinary Arts Program at LA Plaza. "That's talking about sustainability in the garden, but also harvesting food from the garden. Then bringing the food to the table and then discuss how food is history, food is stories, and food is life."

"When we talk about healthy eating, they have an opportunity to learn how to create a very healthy Mexican or Latin American-inspired recipe. Then they essentially take what they learn here at LA Plaza back to their home, to their community and having that conversation with their parents and their family," said Rodriguez.

"A lot of the students that come through our doors, they have never really had access to healthy eating," said Mireya Arizmendi, Education Manager of the Edible Garden at LA Plaza. "They don't even have markets in their community where they can go buy fruits and vegetables."

"Here at LA Plaza, we focus primarily on prevention, which means that we have to start teaching children about healthy eating in the beginning, before any problems show up later in life," said Arizmendi.

Chef Gilberto Cetina who owns two restaurants in South L.A., Chichen Itza and Holbox, understands the challenges when it comes to changing the eating habits of Latinos.

"I really think it's a cultural thing. I think Latinos take comfort in the foods that we ate growing up, los taquitos, las empanadas," said Cetina. "That's where our flavor memories are. That's our happy place."

Chef Cetina was invited to LA Plaza to host a culinary workshop for adults featuring culturally-inspired, healthy options for families.

"This is an example of something that's completely doable and easy for somebody like me who may not have a lot of time," said workshop participant and parent Karla Perez-Mendoza. "It's also rooted in some of my traditions, like the molcajete, something I grew up with."

LA Plaza de Cultural y Artes

Chichen Itza Restaurant

Holbox Restaurant