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Let’s Lighten up Puerto Rican Food. Blasphemy or Truth?

There seems to be a lot of victim blaming going around. Especially with the historical no indictment decisions in the Mike Brown and Eric Garner case. I feel like our morale is low so I promise I won’t give you a punishment of words on how we don’t eat well. Most of us know, we people of color can do better. But things are not made easy for us. For super-sized convenience, the US has more than 160,000 fast-food restaurants, making 150 billion in annual revenue according to statistic brain.com. To add 61% of what the average North American eats is processed food according to 2010 film Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead. These facts are not put to the forefront, although we think we have options, we really don’t. There’s the images of farms and cows eating grass even though only a small percentage of today’s animals we eat are grass fed or free range animals. Today four meat packaging companies control more than 80% of the market according to 2008 documentary called Food, INC. Big corporations like Nestle, Walmart, and Monsanto are claiming to to be environmentally and socially responsible when they are everything but – guilty of dumping toxic chemicals without regard to public health, and employing child labor around the world. Money is put before people and our well-being is sadly less important.
My first inclination of writing this blog is that it won’t be very popular. As a matter of fact, I think it may bring some backlash. But it’s okay. I felt it necessary. To bring light to a dark truth. In researching for this blog one statistic rattled me to my core. In Humboldt Park, a predominantly Puerto Rican and African-American community in Chicago, almost 90% of our children said they would be embarrassed to be seen exercising, according to a 2013 DNA Info article. ¡Que diablo!
Today, according to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), some 71% of restaurant guests want more healthy menu options than they did just two years ago. In addition, according to vegetarian times, 10% or 22.8 million follow a vegetarian inclined diet. Organic foods are increasing by 20% every year. So where does this leave restaurant owners who don’t change with the times. Especially Caribbean/ Puerto Rican restaurant owners?

According to a Mount Sinai study, 21% of Puerto Ricans in Chicago are affected by diabetes. The Chicago Tribune said in 2006, we are three times more likely to die of diabetes compared to white residents. According to DNA Info in 2013 “in Humboldt Park Puerto Ricans are at high risk of asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure.” Although we do not fit the “white” body types, according to this writer, “some 72% of Humboldt Park Puerto Ricans are overweight and some 67% of their children are overweight.” Contributing factors are family history, diet, and lack of exercise. But a big factor is what is made available and affordable for us.

I don’t know about you, but there was little on my plate as a kid in Chicago besides iceberg lettuce, sometimes a slice tomato, and canned vegetables to display my healthy common practices. It wasn’t until my early visits to Puerto Rico that I remember the abundance of fresh fruits falling off the trees at the best price of free. Things of a lush paradise many of us call home. With those nostalgic memories of deliciousness the question remains… Where can we purchase these fresh fruits at an affordable prices? Unfortunately, for people who have a fixed income or live in poverty they may never have that opportunity. Even if available, it would not be wise to spend three dollars on a carambola starfruit.
But please don’t be discouraged! Even after reading the statistics and realizing we can’t always afford the nostalgic fruit we crave, there are still things we can do. Here are some suggestions.

1. Portion control. When I was a kid a my portions were split into half grain (usually rice) and half protein (chicken, pork, or beef). For a healthier plate, this is what your plate should look more like 1/4 or 1/3rd grain, 1/4 or 1/3rd protein, 1/3 vegetables, fruits, colorful salad, and or dairy.
2. Limit red meats. Many people around the world are vegetarians, not by choice but because they could not afford red meat. Today we are eating more meat then we ever did. Digestion of red meat is more difficult for our bodies to digest.
3. Eat Clean!!! What some may call a “perimeter diet.” At the perimeter of of grocery stores you will find produce, meat, dairy and eggs. Inside the inner aisles there you will find processed foods you should avoid.
4. Cook at home. This will ensure you know what goes in your food. You are not at the mercy of others to determine ingredients and serving portions.
5. Tranquilito con el arroz!!! Limit el espagueti y la papa también.
6. As good as it taste, you don’t have to fry it. Learn to grill, pan broil, and bake.
7. Eat small portions of healthy snacks frequently. This keeps your metabolism stimulated and burning calories.
8. Drink water. Water helps us digest toxins and waste products from our bodies.
9. Be active. Incorporate exercise into your daily activities.

In Chicago you can find healthier options at Casa de Yari at 3268 Was Fullerton Ave., Chicago, IL. 60647. Casa Yari is a Latin fusion cuisine, they like to describe it as “Caribbean meets Central America”. At Casa Yari all meats are baked, grilled, or pan broiled. No meats are fried. Chef Yari cooks with absolutely no trans fat oil. And never cooks with manteca (lard). All foods are freshly made to order. Yari has fresh salads as well as fish options. According to Chef Yari, “many of my customers are vegetarians.” Chef Yari also makes all her dressings and salsas in house. Chef Yari for many years was a pastry chef therefore a big buzz of her place is the flan. At this current time she has flan de platano maduro, flan de coco, flan de coquito, flan mango con chile, flan de aguacate-limon, y flan de piña. Casa Yari is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday and is open Sunday for brunch from 9:30am to 3:30pm. As a new friend I am proud of her work and am really cheering her on for success for many years.

Salmon a la plancha

Salmon a la plancha

House Salad at Casa Yari

House Salad at Casa Yari

This week I have put together a great tasting and well tested healthy recipe. Hope you enjoy it.

Lasagna Criolla

(Feeds 6-8)
Here are the ingredients:
Aciete de achoite
1-Medium spanish onion
1/2-Red bell pepper
Sofrito
2-3 tbs Smoked turkey (diced)
1-Serrano pepper (optional if you like spice)
Minced garlic (3-4 cloves)
1 lb Lean ground turkey
1/2 can Salsa de tomate
1 diced tomato
2 cups of Spinach
Salt to taste
Black Pepper
3-4 Zucchinis
Olive oil
Cream cheese 4oz.
Ricotta cheese 1/2 cup
Mozzarella cheese 1 cup half in cheese mix and other half to top
Green onion to garnish

Needed:
Mandolin slicer to slice zucchini
Lasagna pan

1) Create turkey picadillo. Heat up aciete de achiote, glaze onions until translucent. Medium heat. Add pepper, sofrito until pepper also become translucent. Add smoked turkey and brown. Add garlic and shortly after put in ground turkey til it too is brown. When brown add tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Add spinach until it integrates into turkey.

2) Cheese mix-in seperate bowl put cheeses together. At room temperature they will mix better.

3) Zucchini layers. In a pan. Put sliced zucchini in about 3-4 Tbs of olive oil. Medium heat. Gently cook for 3-4 minutes each side

4) First layer is zucchini. You can layer with a touch of sauce from picadillo on the bottom to help prevent it from sticking.

5) Then add turkey picadillo over zucchini slices evenly. Add cheese gently and evenly creating layers. Repeat adding layers. Add zucchini again, then picadillo, then cheese, then zucchini, and top with mozzarella cheese.

6) Bake for 50 minutes in oven at 350

Cool for 20. Garnish with chopped green onion

Healthy food demonstration

Healthy food demonstration

*This picadillo can be used to stuff tomatoes, bell peppers, or avocados as well.

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Val • Humboldt Park, Chicago

Photo: Xavi Burgos Peña. Location: Humboldt Park, Chicago

Photo: Xavi Burgos Peña. Location: Humboldt Park, Chicago

Val has lived all 21 years of her life in Humboldt Park, Chicago. She was even born in one of the community’s hospitals and currently works in a local barbershop. 

“How is it working in such a male-dominated field? What would you say to other queer and women aspiring barbers?”

“Don’t give into intimidation. If you want it, go out and get it. The only thing stopping you, is you. I’m changing the world one haircut at a time.”

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