The sound of a whirling blender and laughter emerge from Nations Creations food truck. Inside, manager Steven James and his continually rotating staff make fresh juice blends and reimagined versions of Indian fry bread, piled high with black beans, pico de gallo, and avocado slices. The people behind the truck know how to make healthy food taste good. They also know that they’re working to serve more than food—they’re serving the Tucson community.
Nations Creations food truck is a part of Amity Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides rehabilitation and support to those impacted by addiction, trauma, incarceration, racism, violence, and homelessness. Circle Tree Ranch, Amity’s East Tucson campus, houses dozens of people and offers them rehabilitation through a school-like setting. Students take classes and learn by participating in hands-on work like gardening and cooking; together they work to create a community that fosters support and restoration.
Six years ago, Pamela Jay and Naya Arbiter, who have both been working with Amity Foundation for more than 20 years, overhauled the food at Circle Tree Ranch. Their goal? To use food as a healing mechanism. Chips, candy, and fast food were banned from campus. Soda machines were replaced with juicers. Meals became centered on plants while meats and processed food made their way off the menu. “The results were astounding,” Jay said. Students lost weight, began choosing better food to feed their children, and had more success with their recovery.
Having experienced positive change from healthy food, the students at Amity’s Center for Social Entrepreneurship devised a way to bring their community to the rest of Tucson—a food truck. None of the students or staff had ever run a food truck before, but they were confident that their passion and desire to publicize the benefits of healthy food would be enough to make it a success.
Deciding what kind of food to serve was easy. “Seventy percent of our students are indigenous peoples,” Jay said. They quickly decided to serve healthy Native American cuisine and finessed their slogan: Indigenous Deliciousness. The truck features three vegetarian Indian fry breads, like the Grilled Red Chili Mushroom Asada, and several freshly squeezed juices and smoothies.
Former Amity student-turned-employee Steven James stepped up to run the truck. After James’ life was transformed by Amity’s program in Los Angeles, he began working for the foundation to help others improve their own lives. James moved to Tucson in 2014 to be a counselor at Circle Tree Ranch. After a year of helping students progress through the Amity school, James was ready for something new. “I like to stop doing a job when it’s going really well … end things on a good note,” James said. Running Nations Creations has indeed been a new challenge, from finding a working truck, finding the right place to park it, and managing a team of student cooks. Despite the steep learning curve, James and the students behind Nations Creations are in it for the long haul: they’re getting the truck painted and wrapped, making appearances at events like The Loft Film Fest, and working with the chefs at Circle Tree Ranch to create healthy food that is not only delicious but visually appealing. Nations Creations food truck doesn’t have a regular schedule, so check their Facebook page to find out where they’re headed next.