Food Fighters: Nayelli Ocampo Quinto

nayelliQ. You’re originally from Mexico. What kind of role does food play in your life there and the lives of those in your community?

A. Besides nourishment, I think that the role that food plays in Mexico is very similar to the role it plays in other countries. Food gathers family and friends together at the same time that it is strongly related to festivities and to the identity of Mexicans. To give you an example, each Mexican celebration (religious, patriotic, etc.) has a set of particular dishes with seasonal ingredients. Each region has a special way of preparing these dishes, which confers a further specific component to our identities.

Q. What kind of observations have you made in regards to how food is viewed here compared to back home?

A. The most obvious difference I observed was that food in Mexico is much more traditional than in Canada. Mexicans greatly value many dishes that have been around and evolving since prehispanic times. In contrast, for what I could observe, dishes in Canada are relatively new and new flavours are more valued and sought after.

Q. How have you seen international forces such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and globalization impact the traditional foods of the Mexican people?

I will refer to a book to answer this question (Corn meets maize by Lauren Baker).

Produce from the US, including corn, have flooded the Mexican market. Also, marketing has altered consumers’ behaviours, increasing their preference for junk foods and beverages. Supermarket sales have raised, affecting smaller retailers and traditional fresh food markets. And now it is more common to find tortillas (our staple cereal) made with corn flour that have not gone through the nixtamal process, which makes the nutrients in the corn easier to absorb. So, as you can imagine, this kind of international trade agreements and globalization has had undesired unintended consequences that need much of our attention.

Q. You’re doing your Master’s major research project (MRP) on the FoodShare model. What drew you to this model and what has your research focus been?

A. Urban agriculture and what it can accomplish in terms of nutrition and food security has interested me for quite a while. I wanted my research to revolve around this topic and I was so fortunate that the Ryerson’s Centre for Studies in Food Security (CSFS) is leading a research called “FoodShare’s History Project”. FoodShare is a leading Canadian organization striving for food security and this research project has the intention of documenting FoodShare’s evolution for other organizations to learn from their experiences. My research project is a part of this bigger project and is focused on identifying favourable conditions, challenges and potential benefits regarding FoodShare´s garden-based programs that promote food literacy.

Q. What do you hope to do with your Master’s when you go back home?

A. I hope to be able to make suitable recommendations for governmental and non-governmental organizations that could promote food literacy through activities in food gardens in my home state.

Q. What do you think Canada and Mexico can learn from each other in regards to food security?

A. I was amazed by the optimism of food gardeners in Toronto. In spite of the long looong winter and the short growing season, they are very active helping each other and creating awareness of the potential benefits of food gardening. Many places in Mexico have an ideal weather all year round for food gardens to thrive. Nonetheless, this great potential for home, community and school gardens is not being seized. I would like Mexico to learn from Canada´s experiences in the matter.

Something that was sad to observe in Canada is that a lot of food goes to waste. People by more food than what they need and end up throwing a lot of it away. Of course, food also gets wasted in Mexico, but I think that Mexicans make an extra effort to stretch their money to avoid that. That is something that Canadians could learn from Mexicans.

Q. What foods from Mexico do you miss the most?

A. The vegetables I missed eating the most were guavas, fresh nopales (cactus), jicama, and tomatillos. The dishes I missed the most were enchiladas and picaditas.

Nayelli has since returned to her home community in Mexico since this interview was conducted. As one of our most dedicated and enthusiastic community garden volunteers this past summer, we greatly miss Nayelli and wish her all the best in her future pursuits!

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