By Mark Whittaker
We were exiting The Loft Cinema when we spotted a bright, copper food truck parked out front. Their product was loaded with fry bread and seeing as we were on our way to dinner anyway, we thought we’d have a nosh beforehand. There were a few options to choose from: Tri-tip steak, a grilled Portobello mushroom, vegan tofu and a marinated chicken. There was also the fairly standard fry bread that was dusted with powdered sugar, cinnamon and honey, although that sounded more like dessert. We opted for a simple one; a Southwest variety that boasted black beans, Pico de Gallo, slaw, avocado and crumbly white cheese. Sounded like a nice appetizer, but when it arrived we were stunned at how generous the dish was. Beyond that, the flavor profile on the fry bread, which was perfectly crispy and chewy at the same time, was impeccable. We sat there gazing at the pile of freshness wondering how such basic components can all come together so harmoniously. “You need to try the avocado smoothie,” said the smiling tattooed man running the truck. An avocado smoothie? Umm… The good man then brought out a tall, densely green drink and handed it over. With one sip, we were hooked. Refreshing, delicious and best of all inventive with its austerity. “That has fresh avocados, soy milk, a little vanilla extract, cinnamon, coconut oil and some agave,” he informed. We then decided to forgo dinner and hang out with this food truck that boasted the title Nations Creations, serving healthy indigenous food atop the slightly decadent fry bread. “If you want to get the real story,” the man named Steven James, said, “you need to visit our foundation out on Tanque Verde.” Foundation? Wait, what have we gotten ourselves into? The next day I found myself driving along Tanque Verde Road, way out of the borders of Tucson. Some miles later, I located the turnoff and down a long dusty road I came across a community literally in the middle of nowhere. This is the Amity Foundation, out on Circle Tree Ranch, a haven for those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and the birthplace of Nations Creations. It is sprawling. Eventually I found Steven and he led me into the kitchen where it all started. “Our Native community battles with diabetes at an alarming rate and while they are here getting treated they are also getting proper nutrition,” Steve says as he guides me through the dining hall which is teeming at lunchtime. “Through Amity we were able to get Nations Creations off the ground because we want to bring our nourishing flavors to the rest of Tucson.” So, we have a philanthropic organization, one that has been here for 43 years, to thank for Nations Creations; basically, a food truck with a healthy purpose. While sitting and chatting with Steven and executive chef Jeremy Christensen, children gathered around, dripping from just coming out of the pool, and cooks emerged bearing plates of their signature fry bread creations. Then heads of Amity came over and began to describe who they are, and what the foundation is all about as kitchen staff came bearing plastic glasses of brightly colored smoothies. There was a lot happening all at once. As I was getting an education on what Amity has been doing to rehabilitate our Native community for over four decades, I was treated to some of the tastiest fry bread “tostadas” and “tacos” in recent memory. The Red Chili Tri-Tip ($8) was sublime. Rested over house-cooked pinto beans, lettuce, tomatoes, a nice sharp cheddar cheese and fragrant salsa verde, it had a fresh approach to a distinct and hearty Tucson taste. I also really enjoyed the Vegan Tofu Taco ($7), which is marinated in lime and cilantro and paired with a crunchy jicama slaw, slow cooked black beans, queso fresco, fresh Pico de Gallo and slices of ripe avocado. So lovely to eat among the desert swelter of early summer. As was the Mojo Marinated Chicken ($7) that comes rigged with a crisp jicama and nopales slaw and beans. All of it bountiful and beneficial. It is also well advised to sample their smoothies. My suggestion is not only the Avocado but also the Spicy Lemonade that features paprika and tangy green apples or the Honeydew Blast with summer ripened honeydew melon, crisp apples and cucumber. They are all priced at $3 and will repair anything in you that might need fixing. While exiting Circle Tree Ranch, full and fulfilled, back on the burning road, there was just a near overwhelming elated sensation that I was just part of something very special. Not only is the food from Nations Creations beautiful, but also how it started in the first place is just plain gorgeous. So be on the lookout for a bright copper truck and help yourself.