Mexican Food in America

In our latest podcast “You Eat What You Are, Part 1,” Tyler Cowen talked about the relationship between immigration and food. Gustavo Arellano, author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, has written in Reason a more sentimental account (with historic nuggets) of how Mexican food went mainstream:

Food is a natural conduit of change, evolution, and innovation. Wishing for a foodstuff to remain static, uncorrupted by outside influence — especially in these United States — is as ludicrous an idea as barring new immigrants from entering the country. Yet for more than a century, both sides of the political spectrum have fought to keep Mexican food in a ghetto. From the right has come the canard that the cuisine is unhealthy and alien, a stereotype dating to the days of the Mexican-American War, when urban legend had it that animals wouldn’t eat the corpses of fallen Mexican soldiers due to the high chile content in the decaying flesh. Noah Smithwick, an observer of the aftermath of the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836, claimed “the cattle got to chewing the bones [of Mexican soldiers], which so affected the milk that residents in the vicinity had to dig trenches and bury them.”

Arellano thinks that people who want to protect Mexican food’s authenticity are on the wrong track:

I’m not claiming equal worth for all American interpretations of Mexican food; Taco Bell has always made me retch, and Mexican food in central Kentucky tastes like … well, Mexican food in central Kentucky. But when culinary anthropologists like Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy make a big show out of protecting “authentic’ Mexican food from the onslaught of commercialized glop, they are being both paternalistic and ahistorical. 


Well, except that's not really what Rick Bayless does. He introduces regional Mexican foods to an audience unfamiliar with them. And he also promotes high-end, creative, ever-changing cuisine "inspired" by those traditional foods. Showing that a cuisine is more extensive, vibrant, and ever-changing than "commercialized glop" doesn't automatically mean he's being "paternalistic and ahistorical."

Cor Aquilonis

"...protecting “authentic’ Mexican food from the onslaught of commercialized glop, they are being both paternalistic and ahistorical. "

Or, maybe they (I) like to eat food that tastes good.

After I ate tacos from a taco stand in Guadalajara, I realized just how truly vile "Mexican" "food" in my neck of woods truly is. So I don't eat it. If someone wants to eat a flour tube of flavorless bean paste, then more power to them.


But surely you have a Chipotle near you, right? It may not be anything close to "authentic," but vile it is not.


Mexican food IS unhealthy if the obesity rate is an indicator for those eating the food. By the standards of the very-successful Paleo diet, Mexican food consists almost entirely of what you must avoid if you want to maintain a stable weight: rice; corn; and to some degree, beans.


Mexican food is probably my favorite cuisine -- my family gets tired of my saying "Let's get Melody's" (in the San Fernando Valley).

Is Mexican food healthy? To judge this, ask yourself, "How do I feel after I eat X?" I think it is good, simple food. I agree with Chris that rice (white rice especially) should be minimized, but corn and beans are food of the gods in my book. In his ground-breaking book, Beyond Backpacking, Ray Jardine shares his insight that corn gives him more energy on the trail than other foods. And if you eat oatmeal for breakfast, I invite you to try this: In a large microwavable bowl add a cup of cold water. Stir in a heaping tablespoon of quick grits (they sell it in a cylindrical container at WalMart). Microwave for 2 minutes. Unless you have a VERY big bowl, add a teaspoon of coconut oil at this point to keep it from boiling over. Add one envelope of Trader Joe's flaxseed oatmeal. Microwave for another 40 seconds. Let sit in the microwave for 10 minutes. Garnish with a little maple syrup and eat! In my experience the grits makes a big difference -- my blood sugar stays high much longer. And in a recent issue of Men's Journal, a doctor identified beans as perhaps the perfect food. I apologize for the slight digression.



The many fat youngsters that nowadays are all over mexico ,are precisely the result of recent prosperity of millions of new middle classes in mexico.Im 48 years old,when I was at elementary school,I do recall that there were two fat classmates in a group of 45.Today I see that half the class of a typical elementary schoolers ,suffer overwight.They eat a lot of frito lay kind of foods,-local brand is named "sabritas" products,instant noodles,pizzas,and burgers.
Even the poorest of the mexican families buy a two and a half liters of soft drink ,instance of preparing the traditional lemon and natural sugar beverage of the seventies.

traditional middle class food for Us was:
watered noodles with tomato,dry rice,main dish of little steack cut in little pieces acompanied by potatoes,all in green chili,a little beans fried,with chess added,orange or lemon prepared water,with little natural cane sugar-We were poor!,the rich bought koolaids-,.a piece of orange or a banana.The soft drinks were only for sundays .

(sopa de fideos,arroz,guisado,fruta,frijoles con queso,agua preparada d efrutas naturales,con poca azucar,y un platano o naranja.)



Wasn't much different growing up in a rural & fairly poor part of the US around the same time. I don't believe I had drunk carbonated soft drinks more than maybe half a dozen times before I was in high school, nor eaten anything that could be described as fast food.

Gustavo Arellano

Gracias for the plug! Maybe next time, you can, um, interview me?

Eric M. Jones

Mexican food is like food anywhere...fresh ingredients and a great chef make all the difference. I have had lots of lousy food in Mexico and great food too. In my long experience, the BEST Mexican food in the world is in Southern California and Arizona...because that's where the best Mexican chefs and the best ingredients are...because that's where the money is.

Freddy's on 11532 West Pico in W. LA (now El Serape) had salsa that was never more than 30 minutes old, and some of the best food on the planet...especially when Freddy was cooking, which was not all the time--usually he had hired help. But when Freddy was cooking, my friends would call each other and spread the word...dinner was ON muchachos!

On Sunday morning you would find the bar filled with old Mexican guys eating steaming bowls of menudo along with bowls of dried chiles and chopped onions...and XX cervasas.

Now I'm a prisoner of the East Coast with no good Mexican food within 1000 miles.