‘Itality: Plant Based Wellness’ Meets a Need for Fresh, Nutritious Food in Indian Country

Tina Archuleta (Jemez Pueblo), founder of Itality: Plant Based Wellness (Courtesy Itality)

Look no further than Tina Archuleta, a member of the Jemez Pueblo, and owner of Itality: Plant Based Wellness, for an example of Native entrepreneurship aligned with traditional values, such as reverence for Mother Earth and indigenous wisdom. From advancing Tribal and food sovereignty to uplifting healthy eating as a form of self-respect, Archuleta continually returns to her core values when sharing her journey to plant-based wellness and how Itality evolved, organically and through deep care and focused intention.

Itality is Archulet’s health-conscious food business that meets community need for fresh food and nutrition education. Native Business spoke with Archuleta about Itality’s services, and the hurdles she jumps as a small business owner to fulfill her mission of bringing nutrient-rich, fresh foods to Indian Country.  

From an early age, Archuleta was fascinated with the healing arts and community wellness. Raised on the Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico (where she also calls home today), Archuelta recalls, “I myself went through a multitude of tribulations growing up — obstacles maybe we’ve all faced in our lives,” she says. “So my life went in the direction of wellness and healing.”

Itality’s Enchalada Plate features plant-based red chile enchiladas covered with black beans, fresh greens and tomatoes. (Courtesy Itality)

Her passion and pursuit of holistic health lead her to the New Mexico School of Natural Therapeutics in Albuquerque, where she studied living foods and therapeutic massage.

After graduating, Archuleta returned to the Jemez Pueblo and got involved in community farming, gardening and harvesting, as well as selling fresh food at the farmer’s market. “A lot of people would come up to us and asked, ‘What is this?’ or ‘How do I use this?’ and I realized there was a lack of knowledge about nutrition, food and variety, and how to prepare these foods.”

Meanwhile, Archuleta was rectifying and cleaning up her own diet and testing out vegetarianism, which led to plant-based eating. “I gave up fast food and highly fatty foods for my own wellbeing. Through that, I found how good I could feel,” says Arhculeta. “Seeing the transformation in my own life, it was amazing. I wanted to share that with my community.”

Interacting with locals at the farmer’s markets, Archuleta soon became known for her plant-based spins on favorite dishes such as tamales and enchiladas. That led to catering opportunities for Tribes, organizations and individuals. “Anytime a Tribe wanted a healthy caterer, they’d contact me.”

Ital NDN Taco (Courtesy Itality)

And Itality was born. “That’s how my business started, from the lack of health-food options and the desire for it,” she shares. “People want healthy food, and they want to learn how to prepare healthy food, to better their lives.”

The gregarious entrepreneur grew her clientbase organically, offering catering, nutrition consultation, doula services and more. Today Archuleta regularly caters for the Notah Begay III Foundation and the Native Entrepreneur in Residence Program, a business incubator and accelerator offered through New Mexico Community Capital. Archuelta also counts the American Indian College Fund as a client.

A few years in, Archuleta continues to run her catering and food consultation services as a one-woman operation, with the help of a volunteer (her partner), and contract employees.

For a small business, catering presents its challenges, logistically and legally. To cater in New Mexico, Archuleta is required to prepare food in a state-certified commercial kitchen, and “the state doesn’t recognize Tribal kitchens,” she says. The enterprising foodpreneur is so committed to bringing healthy food to Indian Country, she worked out a deal with the Street Food Institute based at New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque to use their commercial kitchen in exchange for interning. “I’m working hours in their kitchen in order to use their kitchen for my business. I’m doing my best, while looking for other options and avenues,” she says.  

Itality’s Two Sisters Nachos consist of white corn tortilla chips covered with a delicious warm pumpkin sauce. (Courtesy Itality)

Itality’s focus is all-encompassing, with wellness at the heart of it. Her doula encompass nutrition as well. “Nutrition is a big part of my doula services — for prenatal, birth and postpartum,” says Archuleta, noting that Native communities endure higher rates of gestational diabetes. “Obesity and diabetes, and a lot of things that are diet-related lead to high-risk pregnancies. My company offers doula services for women and families, including postpartum care, for when the mother is recuperating and she needs a very healthy diet to maintain a healthy milk flow.”

As Itality grows, Archuleta support for local Native farmers increases as well. A former farmer herself, she sources as much food as possible from local, indigenous producers.

“I try always to purchase local. I purchase my red chili from Native farmers. I use local hominy from the north, and then I use blue corn when I can. If it’s local, I’ll purchase it and use it,” Archuleta says. “It’s lot to manage, but it’s part of my mission, part of my core values, to support Native farmers, because I once was a Native farmer. I know that they have lots of food that they need to get off their hands, and I know that it’s higher in vitamin content, because it’s fresh.”

Plant-based posole (Courtesy Itality)

Looking five years ahead, Archuleta envisions her business “with a storefront and my own kitchen. I want to provide my grab-and-go location where people can stop in and pick up as much food as they need,” she shares. “They can pick up five meals for the week if they want. I would be able to impact more community, more people and make more healthy food.”

Meanwhile, locals can catch Archuleta every Sunday at the Rail Yards Market in downtown Albuquerque. “I set up there to sell my food. I’m looking to do more pop-ups throughout Indian Country to reach more Native people,” she adds.  

As Itality scales, Archuleta aspires to bring vitality to Indian Country through healthy food, while empowering Natives to recognize their power to revive their own health, thus shifting the tide of disease to wellness across Indian Country.

She underscores: “Plant-based eating can reverse Type 2 diabetes, and plant-based eating can lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Plant-based eating is 100 percent cholesterol free. I really want people to know that this is a way to reverse what we have been facing. As Native Americans, we have the highest rate of diabetes, and heart disease is the number one leading cause of death. Diabetes is the seventh cause of death. I just want my community to know that there are ways we can take our healing into our own hands. That’s what my business is — trying to show people that we can impact our own lives in simple ways.”

Tina Archuleta (Jemez Pueblo), founder of Itality: Plant Based Wellness