When Diana Teran-Moreno and her husband, Francisco Moreno discovered their son was highly allergic to processed foods, they put him and the rest of the family on a strict, preservative-free, whole-grain diet.
That was a good start. Still they had a slight nagging problem. They loved traditional flour tortillas.
"We're good Mexicans," said Teran-Moreno. "We couldn't be without tortillas."
They came up with a solution. She reworked the family tortilla recipe that came from her mother and prior generations. The result was a whole wheat, preservative-free, non-lard tortilla. For some kick, she added chiltepin peppers. The tortillas were a hit with her family and friends. Best of all, their now 15-year-old son who had suffered from migraines and seizures, grew healthy.
That would have been a great ending to their story.
But when Francisco Moreno lost his construction job in 2009, the Moreno family turned to their tortillas to save them.
Today the family produces their tortillas in a small commercial-grade kitchen on Tucson's south side and sells them at the Food Conspiracy Co-op on North Fourth Avenue and Sprouts Farmers Markets. They'll soon also be found at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's in Tucson and at Tucson Medical Center, said Teran-Moreno.
They also sell their tortillas on the Internet, including to one Tennessee customer who buys 30 dozen tortillas every six weeks.
The tortillas and the company are called La Tauna, which is Spanish for the millstone still used in some Sonoran towns to grind corn or sugarcane.
"My mother and mother-in-law still use the tauna," said Teran-Moreno, 38, who like her 45-year-old husband, is from Moctezuma, Sonora, a couple of hours south of Douglas. "I love our roots and our culture."
The family got their break two years ago when Teran-Moreno responded to an invitation from the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. The food bank was recruiting healthy food vendors to the sell their products at Thursday's Santa Cruz River Farmers Market at Mercado San Agustín, on West Congress across from the El Rio Community Health Center.
That summer they began selling their tortillas - whole wheat with olive oil, whole wheat with soy bean oil and chiltepin and white flour with soy bean oil. They were a hit.
By the fall the tortillas were on the shelves at the co-op and Sunflower Markets, which later became Sprouts. Last year Trader Joe's decided to sell them at a dozen stores in Arizona and New Mexico. That required a commercial kitchen.
Since the beginning of the year La Tauna has been churning out more than 2,000 dozen tortillas a week at 5650 S. 12th Ave. Teran-Moreno hopes to addgluten-free, rice-based tortillas by the end of the year.
Financially the business remains a struggle for the Morenos. Banks are not eager to lend to small tortilla factories, she said.
Moreover, the business of getting more people to eat whole wheat tortillas is daunting. Teran-Moreno often gives free samples of whole wheat tortillas to potential customers to win them over. It works, she said.
Ardell Manuel, who grew up eating traditional tortillas, walked into La Tauna's headquarters last week to buy a dozen whole wheat. She's a big fan and she has gotten her children to like them, too.
Giving children and adults healthy options is critical to improving diets, said Rosalva Fuentes, coordinator of the Community Food Bank's Farm to Child Outreach program. Fuentes works with community groups and schools to encourage healthy eating and cooking.
"It is a slow process but we need to show people healthier options," she said. "The sad fact is that children and adults are eating too much processed foods."
For Mexican-Americans and indigenous families, who love their tortillas, turning to whole wheat, preservative-free tortillas could help reduce high levels of diabetes and cholesterol, Fuentes said.
"We need to eat better," she said.
Ernesto "Neto" Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. He can be reached at (520) 573-4187 or at email@example.com