Martha Y Díaz Brings Her Mexican Heritage to the Camp Kitchen

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This article originally appeared on Backpacker

Martha Y Diaz fell in love with backpacking in her twenties during an overnight trip with some girlfriends to Olympic National Park. It was hard--especially the wet Pacific Northwest weather, which soaked her clothes--but camping in the wilderness wasn't as intimidating as she'd feared. Diaz and her friends immediately started planning their next adventure.

"I couldn't wait to go again, but the one thing that stuck with me was the food," she says. "That was hard for us. Backpacking can be 'Type 2' fun, and to then have food that we didn't otherwise eat at home was this double whammy of discomfort." There's a deep-rooted sense of belonging that comes from the food you've grown up eating, and none of the backpacking offerings on the shelf--chili mac to stroganoff--reflected her heritage.

She saw an opportunity to create something that would not only nourish her community in the wilderness, but help them feel more welcome there in the first place. In September of 2022, Diaz launched Itacate--"food for the journey" in Nahuatl--bringing the familiar flavors of chilaquiles, sopa de lentejas, and Caldo Tlalpeno to the trail.

Martha Y Diaz
Itacate founder Martha Y Diaz (Photo: Courtesy Itacate)

A background in science and a love for food gave Diaz the tools she needed to create not only delicious meals, but ones that could be dehydrated, packaged, and easily rehydrated while retaining the proper flavor and texture. "It was very much a community effort," she shares, adding that her friends and family tirelessly helped her taste-test and create her brand. Business resources and seed money from REI's inaugural Path Ahead Ventures program helped lift Itacate off the ground.

Diaz owes her love of food and the outdoors to her family, who moved from central Mexico to the Bay Area when she was ten. Campsite Lentejas were inspired by her mom's sopa de lentejas, a hearty tomato and lentil stew that she says her brother and her would joke that they almost ate too much of as kids. Sunset Caldo is a vegan version of traditional Caldo Tlalpeno, which originates in southern Mexico City. The flavorful chipotle-based broth is filled with garbanzo beans, rice, chayote squash, and lime.

On that first backpacking trip, Diaz and her friends craved chilaquiles, a popular Mexican dish of tortilla chips, eggs, cheese, and salsa that's traditionally served for breakfast. Diaz refers to it as the "ultimate comfort food." Charge-Up Chilaquiles are made with from-scratch salsa verde, blended with fresh tomatillos.

Itacate Chilaquiles
Itacate’s dehydrated chilaquiles (Photo: Courtesy Itacate)

With her backpacking meals, she hopes to invoke a sense of comfort and belonging, inviting people from all backgrounds to feel welcome in the outdoors. But the food is just one part of the plan for Diaz, who wants to use Itacate as an example to show other people of color what the path to entrepreneurship in the outdoor space can look like. "In this industry," she says, "only one percent of founders are people of color." Juntos Outdoors is Itacate's giveback program, funding nonprofits that share Diaz's dedication to showing the world that the outdoors are for everyone. Juntos' first partner? Adventure Risk Challenge, an organization that facilitates leadership and wilderness experiences for youth to build confidence in the outdoors.

"The point is to show other people that yes, you belong here," she says. "When I started imagining what Itacate could be, I wanted to think about what was going to inspire me when things got hard. And being able to make an impact on diversifying the outdoors is a huge driver for this."

While a dehydrated meal may feel like a small piece in the complex task of creating a more inclusive outdoors, the power of food is hard to ignore. Diaz says the biggest response she gets from Latin hikers is: "Wow, finally someone did this."

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