Eight months ago, Angela and I realized we were running the wrong race. Our definitions of happiness and success were measured by hours worked, money made, and things bought. When we stumbled upon the opportunity to introduce pinole to the U.S., it was a chance for us to decide whose race we wanted to run. So, we said goodbye to NYC and moved to Santa Monica to start Native State Foods.
Don’t get us wrong — Angela still likes fancy trips to exotic locations and I wouldn’t mind an Italian sports car in the future, but we’ve decided that how we get there is just as important as crossing the finish line. That’s why Native State Foods is about (a) making a product that is actually good for people, (b) highs or lows, enjoying the journey along the way, and (c) doing something to contribute to this world we all share.
We kicked off our journey on the road to the unknown and exciting future with a trip to Central America…and more specifically, Honduras. I grew up spending summers in Honduras and it was where I was first introduced to pinole.
So we wanted to go back to where it all began…
1900 Miles: Although only roughly the size Oklahoma, driving in Honduras is a little like trying to avoid being hit during bumper cars, when half the drivers are going the wrong way. Criss-crossing the country in search of pinole, we had a near death experience with a wild pig, learned that a “Slow – Road in Poor Condition” sign is sufficient warning that the entire middle of the bridge is missing, and that passing in the face of oncoming traffic is ALWAYS an option. The effort paid off, as we visited 14 markets in 10 different towns — from the crime plagued San Pedro Sula to the Lencan village of La Esperanza high in the mountains — and collected over a dozen varieties of pinole. We also toured corn and cacao plantations to learn about pinole’s primary ingredients. (In case you’re ever on Jeopardy: the term cacao comes from the Mayans, who consumed it as early as 1150 B.C.)
A Crazy Uncle: A distant half-uncle became our guide during part of our trip. Although there was a lot of head scratching when we told him we had quit our jobs to sell pinole, he joyfully helped us navigate the endless shopkeepers “who had a friend who knew someone whose mother might still make pinole…maybe”. Our persistence paid off when we were invited into a home in El Progreso to watch several women make pinole from scratch, the way it has been done for hundreds of years.
A Starfish: While in the small city of Cortes, we met a young woman who was selling dried starfishes to support her three daughters. Her legs were heavy from walking in the 90 degree heat, her back stiff from the weight of her newborn slung around her shoulders, and her eyes growingly hollow as she faced the potential of another day not being able to provide for her family. We paid her $4 for the starfish and told her she could keep the change, only about $1. She adamantly refused and returned our dollar. She then smiled deeply to us and with renewed energy grabbed her children’s hands and continued on her way.
Our experience with other struggling families we met (Honduras is the second poorest country in Central America, with 60% of people below the poverty line) was the same. Not one of them wanted charity; instead, each of them desired the dignity and hope that comes with being able to support a family from an honest day’s work. This is why Native State Foods is committed to doing more than just donating a percentage of profits to charity. Our mission is to support impoverished communities by sourcing locally where possible and investing in programs that will allow individuals to break the cycle of poverty. We’ve kept the starfish as a daily reminder of where we want our finishing line to be.