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Rubí Orozco shows Mexican-Americans a traditional way to eat better

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Courtesy of Lauren Villagran

(Read caption) Rubi Orozco talks with Latino children at a daycare center in El Paso, Texas. She's improving the diets of children by returning them to eating traditional, and healthier, Mexican foods.

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It’s a Sunday morning and the Mercado Mayapan in El Paso, Texas, is bustling with activity. People order breakfast – variations like eggs scrambled with onion and nopales, or cactus; bowls of steaming pozole, a spicy soup with fat kernels of white hominy corn; black beans and handmade flour tortillas.

Spanish is the dominant language as customers order; cooks set plates on the glass counter and friends greet each other among the wood tables and benches.

Rubí Orozco pauses between bites of her breakfast burrito to describe the food revolution at hand in the Mercado Mayapan and in the community it serves. A traditional Mexican food market, paired with a cafeteria, museum, and cultural center, the Mercado Mayapan was created in 2009 as a center for hope in one of the poorest zip codes in America, where education levels are low, unemployment is high, and health challenges such as obesity and diabetes are widespread.

Ms. Orozco says she believes that healthy eating can be as simple as returning to one’s roots. Here, just blocks from the southern US border, that means going back to the natural foods of Mexico.

Grains of amaranth, corn, dry beans, and herbs adorn a small table Orozco has set up at the market. The foods are accompanied by explanations in Spanish and English about the health benefits of a Mesoamerican diet – what indigenous Mexicans ate before the Spaniards arrived.

That traditional style of eating is reflected in what the Mercado Mayapan serves in its cafeteria and at a daycare center that serves 40 area children – thanks to Orozco’s efforts over the past year.

A native of Cuernavaca, Mexico, just south of Mexico City, she grew up in El Paso and has witnessed firsthand the cultural disconnect that happens when families cross the border.

So she has instituted workshops on pre-Hispanic foods; she has pushed the Mercado’s cafeteria to cook healthier, more traditional fare; and – perhaps most importantly – she has created a healthy, culturally sensitive foods program for Mercado Mayapan’s daycare center.


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