This summer Luz and I have been working on our book, Decolonize Your Diet. I’ve mostly been working on the cultural histories of the native foods that we focus on, and their health benefits. I’m reading so many scientific studies that sometimes it feels like my brain is spilling out of my ears.
A lot of the interesting stuff hasn’t made it into the actual writing: just little curious bits that I never knew before.
For example, this week, I was working on cactus. It turns out that cactus was taken from Mexico to Europe very soon after the Conquest, and it became so popular in areas like Italy and North Africa that it naturalized and some people thought it was native to those areas. In Italy, although they prize the fruit, they apparently don’t eat the paddles. ¡Qué curioso! And in Mexico I found reference to colonche, a fermented, fizzy, slightly alcoholic drink made from the fruit. And a thick candy called “queso de tuna.” It’s totally non-dairy, just the tunas cooked down thick like cajeta. I have no idea what that is like but the idea makes my mouth water.
Nopalitos are a folk remedy for diabetes and the scientific research backs that up. Eating nopalitos lowers blood sugar in both diabetics and non-diabetics. It also lowers cholesterol and protects the liver from Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, which afflicts many diabetics.
A lot of the scientific studies done on cactus tend to focus on the fruit, rather than the paddles. Tunas have so many amazing properties, my head is spinning. The fruit, its juice, or extract, have been proven effective against many different cancers (skin, prostate, colon, ovarian, and, to a lesser extent, liver and breast). The juice also helps your body recover from damage caused by alcohol.
All of my favorite image of cactus are by Carmen Lomas Garza. See these and other paintings at her website.