O’odham teens serve up victory in cooking contest

By Mariana Alvarado
Tucson, Arizona (AP) July 2010

Three teens from the Tohono O’odham Nation have taken first prize in a national contest to create a healthy school lunch.

And the novice competitors used locally grown items for their dishes.

Baboquivari High School students Ross Miguel,17, Yvette Ventura, 18, and Zade Arnold, 17, took first place with their tepary bean and spinach quesadilla, yogurt peanut butter fruit dip, and spinach and pear salad with carrot vinaigrette. They were mentored by chef Mary Paganelli of Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA).

The students competed on behalf of the TOCA Cooking Club in the 2010 Cooking Up Change National Healthy Cooking Contest, held at the 5th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Detroit from May 17-19.

TOCA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reintroducing traditional foods to the Tohono O’odham community. The organization has a pilot program to introduce traditional foods into school lunch.

Paganelli said the cooking team worked diligently to meet the nutritional standards of the competition and incorporate local ingredients.

“The challenge was how to create three recipes that met the criteria,” Paganelli said. “They took their own tepary beans (with them to the competition).”

The students say they are committed to helping the O’odham community, which has a high rate of obesity and diabetes.

Indian Health Services reports that 76 percent of students from sixth to eighth grade on the Nation are overweight or obese.

Ross Miguel, an intern with TOCA and leader of the winning team, said it wasn’t difficult to integrate the group.

“One of my classmates, Yvette, I knew she likes to bake and she’s into culinary stuff, so I invited her,” he said. “And Zade has the determination and he works with the community college, he works for the farms and he’s into traditional agriculture and plants.

“I wanted the full circle, the culinary person and the traditional agriculture person.”

They all had different ideas and cooked many dishes but finally came up with the three recipes.

Ventura, who wants to become a pastry chef, said she decided to be part of the group because she likes to learn different things.

“Our goal is to prove to our people in the community that we can use our resources here on the nation and have a healthy meal,” Miguel said. “It’s not hard to make traditional foods.”