Tepary Bean Quesadillas for Tohono O'odhom Students
Two high school students introducing a new traditional lunch to fellow students of the Tohono O’odhom Nation in Arizona said through the school’s loudspeaker to fellow students: “We hope it will be good for all of you, not just for your bodies but for your minds, to help with your education.” In 2010, the nonprofit organization Tohono O’odhom Community Action (TOCA) began its “Traditional Foods in Schools” program in the Indian Oasis Baboquivari-Unified School District in Arizona The first traditional lunch offered as an alternative to that day’s menu of pepperoni pizza: white tepary bean stew with chicken and green chili and brown tepary bean quesadillas.
The program started small by offering traditional foods once a month and has grown to include weekly traditional menus. It has partnered with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation through its Food & Community Initiative, which also includes a fitness element.
TOCA credits its success with getting youth involved in the process and allowing their voices to be heard. The organization has a Y.O.U.T.H (Young O’odham United Through Health) program that works to inspire and empower youth to be strong, powerful and self-sufficient members of their community. Youth take on leadership roles in the “Traditional Foods in Schools” program by mentoring other students, speaking in schools at the weekly traditional meals and teaching gardening classes. Y.O.U.T.H. members developed a series of food themed cartoons that have been successful in motivating kids to want fresh, locally farmed, healthy, native foods.