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Eating the Tarahumara Way

October 12, 2011

A few months ago, the Gentleman Marathoner decided he wanted to try some recipes from Runner’s World magazine based on the cuisine of the Tarahumara people of Copper Canyon, Mexico.  He explained with enthusiasm the Tarahumara’s long-distance running culture, and how their traditional diet seemed to support health, longevity, and physical stamina.  I listened with interest, and then put the idea on the back burner as summer heated up and kept us almost too busy to cook.

Homemade corn tortilla stuffed with slow-cooked black beans, nopales (prickly pear cactus), salsa, queso fresco, cilantro, and fresh lime juice.

Then, a few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Daphne Miller’s The Jungle Effect.  Dr. Miller, a family physician in San Francisco, CA, has traveled the world researching the healing properties of indigenous diets associated with epidemiological “cold spots” — that is, areas where there are dramatically few instances of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.  The very first indigenous diet described by Dr. Miller in her book was that of the Tarahumara of Copper Canyon, Mexico.  The coincidence rekindled the initial interest the Gent and I had felt in the Tarahumara culinary tradition, and we started considering a more expansive culinary experiment. 

Browse through the health and nutrition section of any bookstore, and you will find that most diet books, whether they are intended to help you lose weight, transition through menopause, or fight heart disease, have one thing in common: they have been invented at some recent point in time by one or a few individuals.  This book is quite different.  The foods and eating plans recommended are not based on the ideas or observations of a doctor, chef, nutritionist, or supermodel.  Nor are they based on laboratory experiments with humans or rats.  Rather they have been developed over centuries by indigenous people living on the land in remote places around the globe. …Indigenous diets are born when a group of people use their traditional knowledge to make a complete diet using local foods.  These diets have slowly evolved in a natural setting and have stood the test of hundreds of years.

— The Jungle Effect

This way of eating appeals to me because so-called indigenous diets are based on whole foods cooked in traditional ways.  Delving into these recipes, ingredients, and methods of cookery doesn’t feel like a fad diet.  It feels like a return to a more natural way of eating, of truly nurturing our bodies.  Over the months ahead, the Gent and I will be sampling the various indigenous diets outlined in The Jungle Effect, and will blog about them here.  I’ll post recipes, report on the ease or difficulty of finding various ingredients, and include the approximate cost of eating according to these culinary traditions.  Please join in and share your own cooking tips for any of the foods we blog about.

The Jungle Effect is so accessible, entertaining, and compelling that I recommend reading the whole book, but if you’re interested in just the recipes, you can find a free PDF to download here.

Our first, delicious attempt at eating the Tarahumara way

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