Planet Taco

“The globalization of food in New Spain was largely a story of conquest, but it unfolded in highly uneven fashion. The continued reliance on maize by the majority of the population, including large numbers of mestizos and downwardly mobile Spaniards, illustrated the limits of culinary colonialism. Foods moved across social boundaraies and entered at the margins of both native and European culinary systems. In rural areas, maize remained the foundation of everyday subsistence, while imported livestock and spices gained high status through their consumption during religious festivals, perhaps once a year, when a single animal might be slaughtered to feed an entire community. Meanwhile, those at the edge of urban Hispanic society generally ate a more indigenous diet, confirming their lower status. Even the elite, who could afford expensive wheat bread, soon acquired a taste for native condiments such as chiles and chocolate. Although the dual tyrannies of nature and status determined the broad outlines of food distribution, according to where the crops would grow and who could afford to purchase them, cooks nevertheless had considerable latitude shaping the flavors of New Spain. Despite the culinary blending, one looks in vain for an authentic Mexican cuisine in the colonial era.”

–Jeffrey M. Pilcher, Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, page 35.

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19 thoughts on “Planet Taco

  1. This quote makes me wonder about the types of people we might consider “authentic” within a society because I see that food is very much not only the sustenance of a people, but a reflection of them, too. As it concludes with the implication of a lack of authenticity, I’m led to ask: Are the people, then, inauthentic, too? Or is it just that they all are, despite and because of their individual circumstances? Who’s the real Mexican?

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  2. “Meanwhile, those at the edge of urban Hispanic society generally ate a more indigenous diet, confirming their lower status. Even the elite, who could afford expensive bread,soon acquired a taste for native condiments such as chiles and chocolate.”

    This part of the block quote is the most important in my opinion because it shows the unification of the classes around food.

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  3. This quote essentially reaffirms the idea that food choices do determine where one stands within society. This fact holds true to this in some regard. The more wealthy members of our society are capable affording exquisite and rare delicacies as opposed to common folk who are kept bound by more fiscal barriers. Yet still, for all the class associated with the upper crust of society, the borders of taste or thin and often times sides are easily switched. Mastery is found in all places and is not exclusive to a single faction. This was a concept picked up by those early Spanish cooks and, as a result, a cascade of food ingenuity was wrought.

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  4. It appears that Arellano’s words ring true, that there is no such thing as “authentic.” Even the food eaten before Mexico was recognized as Mexico was not Mexican in nature or style, but rather a combination of different foods consumed by the native peoples and the Spanish invaders. One must assume that the only “authentic” food to have ever been consumed was cooked over an open fire in a year before calendars, and that all subsequent foods have been merely alternate combinations of different developments within each food culture.

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  5. The fact a single animal can feed an entire community explains why many Mexican cuisines include seemingly unique parts of the meat such as intestine, tongue, and tails. This can be found in Korean dishes as well and probably they originated from the similar reason.

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  6. While it is clear that the Creole and other elite tried to distinguish themselves from the other facets of New Spain society, I would contend that they were already contributing to the evolution of modern Mexico. Pilcher believes that the was a start date to what is Mexican cuisine: “one looks in vain for an authentic Mexican cuisine in the colonial era.” However, then when is the line drawn? Mexico began once this mixed hierarchical food and ethnic mescla inició.

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  7. While it is clear that the Creole and other elite tried to distinguish themselves from the other facets of New Spain society, I would contend that they were already contributing to the evolution of modern Mexico. Pilcher believes that the was a start date to what is Mexican cuisine: “one looks in vain for an authentic Mexican cuisine in the colonial era.” However, then when is the line drawn? Mexico began once this mixed hierarchical food and ethnic mescla inició.

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  8. I think it is very interesting how food can give us so much history and make people identify with certain classes. As much as I hate the division brought up in this quote with social class, it really goes to show how food demonstrates history.

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  9. I really enjoyed Pilcher’s discussion of this socioeconomic context for Mexican cuisine. I especially like these lines: “Meanwhile, those at the edge of urban Hispanic society generally ate a more indigenous diet, confirming their lower status. Even the elite, who could afford expensive wheat bread, soon acquired a taste for native condiments such as chiles and chocolate.” They hint at a quasi-appropriation of the indigenous diet, wherein the upper classes began to take control of (or at least a budding interest in) food that was once considered to be only for the lower classes. In many ways, this is a picture of what happened in America. Mexican food was “adopted,” but not accepted as high cuisine. Now, that view is shifting, but only with the advent of texts like Planet Taco and Taco USA. Even still, we see the confusion around the value of Mexican cuisine in people’s comments about this class, when they point out how we’re “wasting our time” or how “the American educational system has degraded.” And yet, no one makes any negative comments about the wine tasting class on campus. We’re still at this really interesting crossroads of Mexican cuisine where, as Pilcher discusses, social boundaries are being crossed. That produces tension.

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    1. One thing I add for you to consider, what about rather than “in America” as “in the Americas.” This is a way to think of the postcolonial shared history of this hemisphere, including much of these same inequalities. Ways to connect it with fast food I think?

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      1. I meant value here in terms of emotions. Some people seem to discredit the merit of Mexican food socially–it’s not seen as something that’s “high class” to certain groups of people.

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