Candy and Food Justice Barrio Bici in TMY’s Culture Kitchen

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Cesar Lopez and his sister, Nicole Trujillo
Cesar Lopez and his sister, Nicole Trujillo, and the Barrio Bici cart outside the Culture Kitchen Tent.

As the attendees leaned closer, Cesar Lopez of Barrio Bici melts the Oaxacan chocolate, adds the cinnamon and pops the amaranth seeds. Full of nutritional value and a staple of pre-Columbian Aztecs often used in religious ceremony, the amaranth, Cesar tells the Culture Kitchen audience, is an ancient grain now being cultivated in the region — from Mission Garden plantings to small farms of South Tucson. Its varieties make it a perfect ingredient for many nutritious foods — with its greens delicious in salads or its seeds cooked as cereal and ground into flour.

At TMY, the demonstration recipe is the traditional Dulce de Alegria, with amaranth seeds popped and stirred into syrup mixture, which cools and sets into delicious candy. There obviously is a lot of work that goes into the candy-making. Culture Kitchen visitors are offered samples, and enthusiastically nod their approval of the tasty and healthy treats.

Barrio Bici combines public art, activism and traditional foods, intending to connect local communities and citizens in need to their cultural heritage and national environment. The organization provides training to community, encouraging local citizens to become advocates for native and heirloom crops appropriate to our region. Just as important as the production of wholesome local foods is the economic viability afforded the backyard farmers, all the while grounding the program mission in a love of food, wellness and community.

Dulce de Alegria
Cesar demonstrates the amaranth-inspired traditional candy, Dulce de Alegria

“Our program gives voice to the people of the region while spurring a respect for local food systems, sustainability and nutritional change,” says Cesar. “We’re instilling sustainability values and producing local food systems that help reduce obesity while boosting local business.”

Capturing imagination is an artistic component of the Barrio Bici program — the bike-carts — movable bodegas of healthy foods and local arts pedaled by knowledgeable South Tucson barrio farmer entrepreneurs. Four of these carts will be launched by Spring 2015. “We’ll go to the soccer fields, the schools, anywhere the Barrio Bici carts will be valuable in taking health, culture and community economy to the next level,” says Cesar.

Training is currently underway for the operators, with education in nutrition as well as entrepreneurial skills. To Cesar, it’s all related to healthy food access, community empowerment and food justice. “Now there are huge issues along our borders involving malnutrition and obesity. We want people who don’t have access to healthy foods to have the opportunity — not just to participate in programs, but to be their own leaders. We were encouraged by the diverse audience at the TMY Culture Kitchen. Many stayed afterwards to learn more about our program. This is a candy, and we hope a program, that people remember. “


Video Link: Thai Buddhists at Tucson Meet Yourself
© Sophia Chen 2014.

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