One UA professor is seeking to remind people that Cinco de Mayo isn’t just an excuse to drink, and that there are health concerns surrounding the holiday.
Roberto Rodriguez, an assistant professor in the department of Mexican American studies, is hosting “Taking Back Cinco: Cinco de Mayo Health Awareness Day,” along with his cultural nutrition class. The event is set to take place Saturday at Food Conspiracy Co-op on Fourth Avenue.
Rodriguez said he began searching for healthy food options when he learned he had diabetes.
“I remember when I first got diabetes, I felt like I couldn’t eat anything,” Rodriguez said.
Inspired by his quest to find healthy and delicious food, Rodriguez began putting together food awareness events, or “Ultimate Food Fights,” with his cultural nutrition class four years ago. Another primary objective of the event is also to educate people about what Cinco de Mayo actually celebrates.
Luis Saldana, a criminal justice senior, will present on the historical background of Cinco de Mayo. The day is not a celebration of Mexican independence, as he and many others believed, but a celebration of the underdog Mexican army’s victory over the French army in 1862.
The students also want to impart the message that the day should not simply be an excuse to drink.
“Alcohol companies have hijacked the holiday to promote alcohol and drunkenness, more than the actual battle,” said Danny Marks, a history senior.
To emphasize this point and “take back Cinco,” a sobriety run will kick off the event at 8 a.m. from the Food Co-op. The run is meant to be ceremonious and raise awareness about alcohol issues affecting Tucson communities, such as the prevalence of liquor stores.
One topic discussed in the class is the holistic nature of health, said Monica Contreras, a sophomore studying Mexican American studies.
“It’s incorporating your mind, body and spirit, not just the physical aspects of it, but being conscious of your body and every component of it,” Contreras said. “That’s what the run is trying to emphasize.”
After the run, there will be a healthy food festival at 10 a.m. featuring dishes such as carne asada, veggie tacos and fruit cocktails. While the food is being sampled, the students will give cooking demonstrations and educate attendees on the high rates of obesity and diabetes in the community.
“Southern Arizona is plagued not just by alcoholism, but … [also by] one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world,” Rodriguez said. “For Cinco de Mayo, there’s a lot of food, and a lot of it is bad food.”
For this event, much of the food the students will cook with is organic and comes from local sources such as the Food Co-op and Manzo Elementary’s garden. Along with samples of food, the students will unveil a cookbook at the event called “Ricas Raíces” that features healthy spins on traditional Latin American food such as the Three Sisters Soup.
For Kelsey Berryhill, a creative writing and communication senior, one of the most important aspects of the event and the class as a whole is being aware of tradition.
“They were traditionally celebrating a battle, but that tradition has slipped from it,” Berryhill said. “That connects back to the cookbook, which has mostly traditional recipes and ingredients and relates to the core values of what Cinco de Mayo is supposed to be.”
Rodriguez said the event serves multiple purposes because it educates on both the culture and healthy eating surrounding Cinco de Mayo.
“I mean, it isn’t a pleasant topic, about southern Arizona having these sky high rates [of diabetes], but we have to do something about it, and this is one small way,” Rodriguez said. “The idea is not simply to teach people to eat healthy, but to live healthy.”
—Follow news reporter Elizabeth Eaton on Twitter @Liz_Eaton95