Crossing Borders in Oaxaca - part 1
"I don't know..because I think I'm supposed to be there/here..I don't know why...could be the food, the landscape, the people..I don't know yet, but I need to go."
This is the creation story of Piñon Cherry Deliciousness, our newest flavor created in collaboration with the incredible chef Eduardo Vera Morales of Atila Del Sur in Oaxaca, Mexico. It is also a tale of following my gut, returning to a place of immense influence on my value system, and creating something out of pure honest love for food, culture, friendships. and standing up for something I believe in.
Finding Past Connections
The roots of RedCamper were formed in the back of my parents baby blue pickup truck bumping down the roads of Central America in the 1970’s with Bob Dylan on the stereo, teepee poles on the roof, and a couple of dirty faced kids looking out the windows counting mile markers. My brother and I. This brand was formed on the philosophies of 2 generations of world travelers to get out of your comfort zone, pack that suitcase and go see, explore, taste, talk to, breathe, experience other cultures, and while you are at it, take some photos, and buy some souvenirs, and bring it all back home to share with everyone else so they want to go too. Be aware. Be curious. Live. Above all, realize we are one big world of people with the same dreams, and hopes and challenges.
Returning To My Roots, and Putting Down New Ones
12 years after inception of RedCamper, I returned, by my own choice, to the very same spot those road tripping hippy parents of mine carted me to 40 years earlier in their utopian quest for fulfilling their anthropological dreams. I came to Oaxaca, Mexico for 10 days in December of 2016. Almost immediately something profound clicked in my heart. Something primal and rooted in a place I couldn’t quite understand. No hablo español, I am not Mexican; I am a German, Polish, Jewish, Native American (Shawnee) by Heritage.com’s summarization. I grew up on the border of the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservation, but boy do I have white skin and blue eyes. I’m tall, a good foot taller than 9/10 of the population and for an introvert who doesn’t like much attention drawn to her, so this math didn’t add up. I have been to many places in Mexico in my life and all feel oddly comfortable, and uncomfortable, at the same time, but never before had I felt such a strong calling to return to a single place. So I returned, two months later, for longer, to see why. Was it the culture, the food, the heritage, the art, the mezcal, the incredible countryside..what is it?
Breaking Through Walls
I arrived one and half months after our newly elected President Trump was inaugurated into office with his campaign promises of building a wall between the US and Mexico to keep out those "bringing drugs, crime and rapists". He instilled travel bans and vowed to increase import fees on produce from Mexico to pay for this wall. Produce and sugar I use nearly every time I cook jars of my artisan “local” jam. Limes and sugar cane just don’t grow in Colorado.
I wondered how I would be met in Oaxaca, a woman with no set purpose. It was while I was crashing (literally and figuratively) around in Oaxaca with little to no ability to truly communicate, trying to uncover the reason I felt such a strong calling to a place one could argue I have no place being, (and often I felt, by my own insecurities), that I realized not only was I not being held accountable for this Presidents tidings, but that I was caught, or picked up, or given help, by gracious strangers and new friends on a daily basis.
It wasn’t a surprise, I’m not a complete stranger to the culture, having danced in and out of it my entire life, but it was a reminder. As were the countless stories I was told of selves, or family members, crossing the border to find some relief from the immense poverty and complicated government system in place. Not rapists or thieves or murderers, but good people. Good people who are proud of their heritage and family and values. Good people willing to work for 2 years in the same clothes they crossed the border in, doing jobs 9/10 of American residents will not do, so they can help their family back home.
Global Economy, Global Family
On a very small, tiny, scale, I am part of this world economy. I am dependent on those orchards and fields south of the border for my north of the border business. And I like that relationship. A lot. I feel good participating in economies, especially if they are less financially fit than my own. I wish I could buy a lot more limes and sugar which in turn would create more income for multiple people in the chain. But I'm not a huge company. What could I do to honor this symbiotic relationship between these two countries? Me, a simple jam maker.
Do Things Right. Sleep At Night
Post Good Food award I had a renewed quest to even further raise my standard for ethical and humanly raised agriculture, for both myself, and RedCamper. While in Oaxaca I was fortunate enough to learn more about food origin, about criollo cacao, and corn and chili’s. About non-GMO resistance and family farming. And the more I learned*, the more I wanted to learn. Through a series of repeat visits to a local restaurant housed inside an art gallery/ work space that I'd found on my very first outing, on the very first day, of my visit in December, I befriended the talented chef/owner of Atila Del Sur, Eduardo Vera Morales. A self taught chef who learned from his grandmother and mother how to make traditional Oaxacan dishes, and then upped the ante by modernizing his dishes with precision. Read this article about his restaurant on Culinary Backstreets, I can't say it any better....
Our first conversation included a tiny jar of Absinthe Orange Deliciousness that I handed over as a token of my appreciation for his amazing food and command of local ingredients. He tasted immediately, and suddenly a food friendship was born. Shortly after this exchange I figured it out...how I could honor this relationship between these two countries / cultures.
A Partnership is Born
A collaboration between Colorado and Oaxaca. Featuring ingredients that represented each region, together, in unity. Heritage ingredients that spoke of our cultures, of the simple joy of eating and sharing a dish between people of different backgrounds, different places. A symbol of the opportunity for kinship, for working together, for supporting agriculture and commerce and good food values. A statement of unity and dedication to those things that matter in life. Pure honest wholesome produce, and labor practices, and nourishment of body and soul through the commune of eating. Politics aside, language barriers aside, social practices aside..we are all one people, one planet. This is exactly the message my family instilled in me and I will carry this forward. I excitedly pitched the idea to Eduardo.....he agreed.
The seeds of a collaboration were planted....NOW READ PART 2 - Cherries & Chilis & Piñones
*When you make it to Oaxaca, take the chocolate tour with Oaxaca Profundo Tours you will not regret it. Also, stop at every market you can and tour the immense amount of organic fruits and vegetables available, being sure to have a lunch at The Rayñón Pochote Organic Market. Itanoní is good..Pochote is better. Both use organic criollo (heritage) corn for all their tortillas, tlayudas, etc.