I’m not a vegetarian, much less a vegan, so talking about food in that context is a bit like learning a new language.
For example, vegans don’t eat cheese made from milk, so vegan restaurant menus refer to a cheese-like substitute as “cheese”—an acronym consumers know to mean a plant-based food product.
I learned this from Albuquerque restaurateur Tina Archuleta, a native vegan whose experiences living in a “food desert” shaped her future. Archuleta makes its own “cheese” from pumpkin, but calls it “chi” sauce—a double-entendre that sounds like “cheese,” but also refers to the traditional Chinese term for the vital life force or energy that pervades all living things. passes from
Archuleta has an entire philosophy about food and nutrition that is built around her experiences as a native of the James Pueblo, but colored by other cultures around the world that strive to live in harmony with nature.
That’s why her restaurant is called Italian plant-based cuisine. While it sounds vaguely Italian, the name is part of the Rastafarian term for the food – Italia. Many in the Rafastari movement follow a general principle that food should be natural, pure and straight from the earth. It does not contain animal meat, dairy products or eggs.
I met Archuleta during an inquiry into business and entrepreneurship in New Mexico’s Native American communities. With November being National American Heritage Month, there is no shortage of contributions to explore. But entrepreneurship is an aspect of Indigenous life that is easily overshadowed by the brochure-friendly imagery non-Indigenous people are most familiar with: art, jewelry, beadwork, dance, pottery and rugs.
There is a strong tradition of entrepreneurship in the tribal culture, says Marvis Aragon Jr., an Acoma Pueblo native and executive director of the New Mexico American Indian Chamber of Commerce, whose Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is located on the land. And they are not all artists.
From selling produce or alfalfa, to collecting piñon nuts and firewood, many locals in New Mexico are essentially self-employed business owners who must mitigate risks to their source of income.
“For a lot of these people, it’s a way of life,” he says. “They fly under the radar and some may not even consider themselves business owners. In fact, many are ineligible for many of the supports that have come up during the COVID and pandemic because they are not registered businesses — at least not with the state. not with
Archuleta’s career in food service and nutrition has similar roots.
“We’re Pueblo people,” he says. “Our community revolves around food.”
She grew up helping her family produce and sell prepared foods on the James Pueblo property that needed visitors. James’ food vendors enter a lottery for a chance to work one of six booths each week during the busy season.
Archuleta describes the “James,” a tourist-friendly area that includes the James Pueblo and nearby villages, as “New Mexico’s best destination.” Although it has few restaurants, pueblo-owned food booths create a great money-making opportunity for James families. The “James Enchilada” is Pueblo’s signature dish, consisting of flour tortillas, cheese and onions—a favorite Archuleta has recreated at his restaurant as the “Hi Miss Enchilada,” but with, of course, chai sauce.
The area is also a food desert — without easy access to supermarkets — as is much of rural New Mexico, according to Archuleta.
He recalls making 60-mile round trips to Bernalillo or Albuquerque with his mother to buy groceries — “cheap food with a shelf life” to last between trips. A self-described “rebellious teenager,” Archuleta began to suspect that what she was eating was affecting her well-being.
The government’s “rationed food” – flour, sugar and ghee – has contributed to an unhealthy shift in the indigenous diet, he says.
“Native Americans have a higher incidence of diabetes and I linked it all to food.”
So, she adopted a plant-based diet to the surprise of her family.
“When I stopped binge eating, I felt amazing,” she says. “I left home because I wanted to control how I ate.”
She started growing her own produce and selling it at the local farmer’s market, but many of her fellow pueblo members didn’t know what to do with the bananas, chard, and unknown vegetables. It was then that she saw an opportunity to educate her community about the benefits of reintroducing plant foods into their diet.
What followed was a series of entrepreneurial experiments to test whether her passion could be a money maker. She was known as the “healthy cook” of the Pueblo. There were cooking demonstrations at the Pueblo Wellness Center and Archuleta began providing healthy grab-and-go options for the local convenience store “Fresh Fridge.” She started catering for Pueblo events — things like salads, sandwiches and quinoa stir-fry.
But it was a business meeting led by Native women at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center that finally made her think big. One of the workshops focused on marketing and Archuleta quickly realized she was building a recognizable brand. She also realized that she was a “social entrepreneur,” meaning she wasn’t just out to make money, but to impact social outcomes. For her, it was good health for fellow tribal members.
She entered the original Entrepreneur in Residence program with New Mexico Community Capital, which provided a $16,000 startup grant. She bought food supplies and made a menu. Then she struggled to find commercial kitchen space to expand her business. She said local incubators don’t prioritize business owners who don’t live in Albuquerque. Archuleta still lives in James Pueblo and commutes to Albuquerque daily. During that time he worked in his home kitchen preparing food that he sold at rail yards and pueblo fair days. Feast days showed that her food was shared by natives and non-natives alike.
“I had all these markets, all these needs, and nowhere to share my talent — I call it my medicine,” he says.
Lack of kitchen availability forced Archuleta to measure. With technical support from Native women, Archuleta needed capital and financing to launch Italian plant-based food in a new phase of commercial development near the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. The restaurant has limited indoor seating, which reflects the Italian focus. Preparing and preparing food for sale on pueblo fair days remains the main focus of the business. But now people have access to breakfast and lunch foods that look, frankly, amazing. Tamaya Blue Corn Atoll with Pumpkin Seeds. Blue Corn Amaranth Waffles with Berry Maple Syrup. Pueblo Pizza is made with Pueblo Oven Bread.
This is not “decolonization” fare, which only uses foods that were available to native peoples before Columbus. Archuleta will use any plant she has access to—even tropical plants like jackfruit—but her emphasis is on locally sourced fruits and vegetables. And everything he makes usually has a Pueblo twist.
The location of the 19 pueblos in the Albuquerque district has two major advantages for Archuleta. Despite her business being located on tribal land, the tax she pays goes to tribal communities in the state’s rural areas – the food deserts she is determined to impact. The restaurant setting also offers cultural relevance.
“If I hadn’t done it, I would have seen someone else do it, but in a non-original way,” she said. “This is where the future is going. We cannot continue to eat like this, in a cruel and abusive food system, with a heavy reliance on dairy and meat production. It is not compatible with the ethics of the earth.”
Archulta made his way by following the simple desire to control food. First for yourself and now for your people.
“I’m just trying to feed people and change health outcomes,” he says.
Andy Smith writes columns based on conversations with members of New Mexico’s underserved communities. Contact him [email protected]
Help for Indigenous Entrepreneurs
There are many resources available for New Mexico natives to develop business skills and knowledge. Argon, along with the New Mexico American Indian Chamber of Commerce, has training modules that help entrepreneurs at all stages of business development. New Mexico State University houses the Arrowhead Center and its nonprofit American Indian Business Enterprise. In August, AIBE hosted a one-day conference on entrepreneurship, “Breaking the Barriers,” which explored things like networking, marketing and access to capital.
And the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is raising about $9 million to build a multi-purpose “opportunity center” that will include space and equipment for creative industries like jewelry and pottery, as well as a culinary incubator. Students will not only learn specific business skills, but also their business side through financial literacy courses and business startups.
“We think we have the resources to help individuals who want to learn a new trade, who want to get into business, who want to get a job, get some job skills,” IPCC president and CEO Mike Canfield told the Journal last December. “We think we’re in a perfect place to do that.”
– Andrew Smith