Goya Foods was founded in 1936 by Spanish immigrants Don Prudencio Unanue and his wife Carolina, who first migrated to Puerto Rico, and the company's products, like Adobo and Sazón, have been staples in Latinx households for decades. While for years the brand, which according to its website is the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the United States, had the Latinx community's trust, things changed this month. After Robert Unanue, the current president of Goya Foods, praised President Donald Trump during a White House visit in July 2020, Goya has received a considerable amount of backlash, and a call to boycott the brand has been issued.
Unane - who was visiting the White House to announce Goya's donation of one million cans of chickpeas and one million pounds of food to food banks in the United States as part of the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative - praised Trump, comparing him to his grandfather, and saying: "We're all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump, who is a builder. And so we have an incredible builder. And we pray. We pray for our leadership, our president, and we pray for our country, that we will continue to prosper and to grow."
In an era where Latinxs' purchasing power is growing and most everything we do is somehow tied to politics, many Latinxs have called out Unanue for his betrayal to the community, and have pledged to stop buying those Goya products that so often were stocked up in their pantries. Perhaps, in terms of their health, it's for the better.
Yadira Garcia, founder and executive chef of Happy Healthy Latina, which uses culturally relevant cooking and gardening to help underserved communities have access to healthier foods, was angry but not necessarily surprised when Unanue made his statement at the White House. She believes that Goya doesn't feel the responsibility to the Latinx community that the company actually owes it, and this is made clear by the toxic ingredients Goya chooses to put in its products. "If you turn Goya Adobo and Goya Sazón seasoning packets around [to read the ingredients], monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the first thing listed," Garcia says.
For years, studies have tied overuse of MSG to health issues including obesity, heart disease, and hypertension. As a result, healthier alternatives to Goya's popular seasonings have made their way to shelves, like Loisa Sazón and Adobo ($29), a company for which Garcia is a partner.
"I hope this is the first step in making people become more conscientious eaters and just consumers in general," says Loisa's co-founder Kenny Luna, who is Dominican and Peruvian American. "I think [my co-founder] Scott Hattis and I were reflecting on what was happening, and one thing that I try to think about and apply to my life and my parents is that we don't want to be hyperconsumers. Cheaper isn't always better. You should invest in the things you care about and if you have to pay more for quality, you just buy less of it and that's okay."
Candy Calderon, a Dominican American wellness expert and founder of the Glow Wellness Tour, is using this opportunity to help source information and healthier options for the community. She recently partnered with Garcia to create a free and accessible demo showing folks how to make their own sofrito at home, and she's in the process of creating a list of adobo and sazón alternatives. She's also been vocal about why it's so important for Latinxs to boycott brands like Goya. "The trillion-dollar power that we have in the market as brown and Black communities, we haven't really used that power [before] to say we're not going to buy your products anymore and you're going to feel it," Calderon says.
"People need to understand that food is political and that's a fact. [. . .] From the way that it's grown, from the way that it gets to your community, to how it gets to your plate, to who gets access to it, to who purchases it, to where the dollars go back, and how your family's health is as a consequence of it," Garcia says. "So when I talk about food justice, I say food is a political statement. It can be an act of resistance, it can be an act of joy, but it is a statement."