Martha Y Díaz has a deep desire to share the magic of the backcountry with as many people as possible — to make it a more welcoming, inclusive, diverse and delicious place.
Drawing on her lifelong love for outdoor adventures and exploration, her proud Latin roots, and her affinity for good food, both at home and on the trail, Martha created Itacate Foods.
"Itacate comes from the Nahuatl word, Itacatl," explains Martha. "It is the food that you take on your journey, and it is also the bundle of food that you are given to take home with you after a family gathering. An Itacate is full of love."
Martha, who relocated to the Bay Area from Central Mexico with her family when she was ten, receives traditional Itacates in a unique way — packed in her Grandma's suitcase when she comes to visit, or shipped from family. Martha says this is both special and common among immigrant families.
"To date, the most special Itacate I've ever received came in the mail during shelter in place from my cousin Tania," reminisced Martha. "She included fava bean tlacoyos, tamales, and my tío Pepe's salsa macha, all straight from my hometown of Toluca, México. Heating up the tamales on the comal brought back so many memories."
Now, Martha and her coworker are the ones cooking up adventure Itacates in their commercial kitchen in Sacramento, California — shipping out their backpacking meals to fellow foodies and outdoor explorers.
Itacate's quick-to-rehydrate, Latin inspired, backcountry menu includes mouthwatering, vegetarian options like:
- Campsite Lentejas, a hearty, tomato based lentil soup;
- Charge-Up Chilaquiles, a tasty traditional Mexican breakfast complete with eggs, cheese, beans and salsa, and;
- Sunset Calado, a classic Mexican soup with complex, spicy chipotle flavors, topped with rice, garbanzo beans and squash.
"In my opinion food is the biggest connector to culture," explains Martha. "We can learn a lot about each other and from each other through food."
Going on exploratory bike rides that ended in community meals with a group of other Mexican immigrant families was a 'cultural life line' for Martha when she first moved to the US.
It was also part of what laid the early groundwork for her love of nature, adventure, and sharing food with a broader community.
These bike rides would later inspire her first backpacking trip in college, an admittedly fumbling foray, but one that changed the course of Martha's life.
"We made a lot of silly mistakes, but also a lot of core memories," laughs Martha. "That experience made us grow closer together as we discovered how each of our strengths could help the group move forward."
And the benefits of the backcountry have been blessing her ever since.
"Having access to the outdoors through local trails and parks has been a big resource for me," says Martha. "It's where I've built the strength through running, hiking and cycling to give me confidence"
"It's where I go to process things when the going gets tough, and it's also where I'm able to connect with others and with myself without the distractions of day-to-day life."
These backpacking trips also highlighted the lack of diversity, equality and inclusion in the backcountry — something Martha wanted to have a hand in changing.
"I wanted more than ever to be part of that because of all the benefits I've gotten from my relationship with the outdoors," says Martha "and it was finally a time in my life when my skill set and my passions aligned to be able to do that through food and bring Itacate to life."
The experience hasn’t been without its challenges. Martha credits REI'S Path Ahead Venturess (PAV) program for helping her overcome hurdles, and recommends the program to any BIPOC founders looking to break into the outdoor industry.
The small but mighty, close knit network of BIPOC founders (who currently make up less than 1% of the whole outdoor industry) has helped Martha move forward, and is always there for her to lean on for support.
"Honestly, the community of people that have rallied in support of Itacate has been beyond what I ever expected," says Martha. "It's been so special to see how much this project resonates with people."
Martha believes there is plenty of room for even more diversity in the outdoor industry and is a big fan of new BIPOC brands making their way in the world.
While the demand for Itacate's Latin inspired backcountry fare keeps growing, Martha feels the true goal is beyond the number of dollar signs.
"To me, the measure of success for Itacate comes down to impact. If I can say, we have helped introduce new people to the outdoors, contributed back to outdoor DEI orgs, created jobs and maybe even started a scholarship, then I'll be really, really happy," says Martha.
This is why Martha and her team donate a percentage of Itacate's profits through their Juntos Outdoors program to non-profits.
"I know not everyone experiences the outdoors in the same way and it's not my intention to force everyone to go to the backcountry," says Martha, "I'm just over here waving my flag that says, "You belong here! Come if you want."
Ali Becker is a freelance adventure writer and narrative storyteller who shares compelling conversations about personal transformations, overcoming limitations, wellness education and adventurous situations. You can follow her rambling adventures on social at @thisisalibecker.