There was a time when I had so much to say about food combining, and the positive aspects of raw eating and juicing. Thinking back now, I realize that I have been blind-sided by a certain group of Cubans and their mastery of Latin cooking. I still eat as healthy as I can, but I feel that I have to find ways to explain to them that their highly rich in carbs diet is as deliciously enchanting as it is also dangerous. The health taxing of such heavy meals is devastating, although I always seem to forget this previously practiced speech when the main course is served at family gatherings.
The moment I enter my in-laws house on late Friday afternoons, and I smell the air abundantly rich with floating exquisite essential spices from their cooking, I feel an urge to dance. I always wondered if they cast some sort of spell before they start making their sofrito. I can picture garlic, onions and peppers being smashed on a drum skin. But as I approach the kitchen I realize that it is abuela Mima who is cooking, and then my gringa interviewer mind, saying “I want to learn this sofrito essence” turns on, then Mima and I get down to some serious business. Needless to say, at this moment, the vegan health guru I was turns the face to slap herself with a wooden spoon filled with garbanzo soup. Nothing like a grandma in a kitchen, the Queens of Old will always rule. We, the new generations, might as well just adapt to that reality, it’s a war we lost the first time they feed us.
I know it may sound like an old gramophone repeating itself over and over again, but we have to be aware of what we eat, it’s our way to keep track of medical bills and their unexpected change of circumstances for our lifestyle. Maybe I am turning into my mom, and regrettably, there is a high probability that this is true. But, I ask you this, when was the last time you went to a Latin restaurant? I can bet you don’t eat there twice a week. Am I right? All those shredded beef dishes with their tasty olives and spiced aromas, their black beans soup and nice tropical juice drinks are quite a treat, right?
Imaging eating that way seven days a week nonstop for thirty something years. A gym membership card will not suffice to keep you fit. Neither will a constant calorie burning counting app on your phone. But, there is a BUT. The Latino people make it happen. Generations after generations of eating that way and the deliciousness of it just keeps gaining new adepts. I consider myself one of its fanatics, there is no doubt about that. I’ve been hooked since the first time my husband cooked tostones rellenos (if you don’t know what it is, look it up. You can thank me later.), when I was pregnant with our first child. It was like a festival of colors, smells and flavors. Of course the experience itself could had been enhance by all the oxytocin, estrogen and progesterone hormones running wild throughout my pregnant body, but nonetheless it was an experience. After tasting the same dish made from different people I have to admit that it doesn’t matter who cooks them, heaven, most probably, will serve you some tostones as a welcoming gesture.
Am I worried that they may get sick or that some future ailment may happen in relation with their eating habits? Yes, I am. But if happiness truly changes some neurochemistry in the brain, resulting in heighten states of awareness, clarity and well-being, then I do believe that the joy a culture takes from its particular traditional cooking may be enough to counterattack any kind of diseases that may result from eating behaviors. Obesity has a greater chance of truly endangering the metabolic processes of our bodies. And although there are lots of Hispanics that are obese, the happiness they feel enjoying their meals with their loved ones may be medicinal enough to procure a field of health. Even if they all carry in their bags and purses a bottle of Alka-Seltzer every time there is a family gathering, which could happen impromptu, like their music playing while eating.
I decided to enjoy the spices for what they are, without reacting to any conditioning about health I may have had, before my Cuban connection stole my heart. Because in the end, there is nothing like Mima’s black bean soup and the joy of sharing a meal with family, especially if there are some tostones involved.