· Vatican City ·

‘Let food be your medicine’

 ‘Let food be your medicine’  ING-021
26 May 2023

Daughter of Wisdom, Sister Maria Jesús Pinedo Aguilar, has been sharing the joy of cooking quinoa and the amazing nutritional benefits of this ancient superfood with the immigrant Christian community of Saint Hugh of Lincoln parish in Huntington Station, New York.

The hunger struggles of the working poor immigrant families on Long Island have been exacerbated by the pandemic and inflation economy. Thanks to generous support, Sister Maria is assisting these families with a beneficial nutritional project entitled “Quinoa is Super Food.” A rich source of protein, minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients, quinoa has been gaining popularity for its many health benefits.

Inspiration behind the project

Sister Maria first conceived the project while ministering to the immigrant Christian Community of the parish. They told her about their struggles to provide their families with healthy meals after coming home tired from laboring long hours at their jobs. “In my dialogues with immigrants, I got to know their hopes, worries, and sufferings,” she writes in her project description. Sister Maria quotes the concern of one parishioner: “I come home tired after working hours; I just want to rest, sleep, but I am also hungry.... After taking a shower, I go out to buy cheap food, but I worry because it’s not nutritious enough.”

Sister Maria knew she needed to help solve this problem and help the immigrant community eat healthier meals. For many years, alongside fellow Daughters of Wisdom Sisters Marilyn Soeder, Bernadette Sassone, and Teresa de Jesús Aguilar Avila, she had already been devoted to serving the immigrant community at the parish as a part of her Congregation’s Intercultural Community that began there in 2015. Its goal is to offer human and spiritual services to the immigrant Christian Community.

Community behind the project

Sister Maria thought and prayed about how she could help solve the nutrition problem. She spoke with the parish pastor, Father Robert Smith, who supported her idea for the quinoa nutrition project. She asked the Daughters of Wisdom Leadership Team if they could help fund the purchase of quinoa and the printing of recipe booklets for distribution to the families. Her Sisters responded with generous support and affirmation of the project. Then Sister Maria found a distributor who agreed to provide the bags of quinoa at a discounted cost.

Benefactors back the project

Thanks to generous benefactors, the project was able to come to fruition. Beginning in May 2021, Sister Maria invited members of the immigrant community for a presentation on the health benefits of quinoa. She also shared some dishes prepared with quinoa and a refreshing healthy fruit drink. Since then, the program has continued with great success, with presentations to groups of women and men and the youth group of the parish. Prayer is an important component of the presentations, and Sister Maria emphasizes that “Life is a gift that God offers us with love.” She also quotes Hippocrates, the father of medicine, saying, “Let your food be your medicine.”

Educational part of the project

“Our body is a perfect machine,” Sister Maria told one group of Spanish-speaking young adults, explaining the importance of eating foods rich in potassium, magnesium, protein, beneficial fats, fiber, Vitamin A, C, and D; and a diet for the health of the heart, including a colorful variety of vegetables, fruits, beans, and grains, and of course quinoa. “Quinoa is a marvelous super food,” she told them, explaining that quinoa has many nutrients essential for good health.

Julio Velasquez, Youth Group Leader, said Sister Maria’s educational program about quinoa is making a great difference in helping the Hispanic immigrant families who frequent the parish. They are now leading healthier lives by making better food choices. “This is helping our families to be healthy,” he said. “It helps our families make better choices about what to eat.”

“I’m really grateful for Sister Maria and how she teaches us about nutrition. And the food was awesome,” said Patricia Alcantara, who participated in the presentation. “I learned so many things today that I never knew before about how food can be medicine.”

About Sister Maria

Raised in Peru, Sister Maria grew up watching her mother prepare the superfood quinoa in soups, salads, and desserts for her family, friends, and neighbors in need. “My mother was born and raised in the Andes region, where quinoa is grown.... She knew it was a superfood,” recalled Sister Maria. “In prayer, I remembered my mother and how she prepared food every day with joy and sacrifice. She knew how to combine them according to their nutritional value, and they were delicious.” She added, “My mother worked very hard, and she helped many poor people.”


by Catherine McWilliams
and Andrea Morale