PIE Paragraphs, Taco USA, & Taco Bell

Today we did some work on PIE paragraphs. PIE is a way of remembering the structure of composing body paragraphs that do a close reading or analysis of a text. The structure is basically a passage of key text (the PIE filling) with a top layer and bottom layer of text. PIE stands for

P-Point

I-Information

E-Explanation

The P is the point of the paragraph, setting what you quote in context, and introducing the quote to your audience. The I is the information you quote. The E section is the most important section. The Explanation is where you give your interpretation of what you quoted, examining in closer detail key words/ideas/passages that jump out to you, or where you tease meaning from the text. Consider this the section where you do the work of helping your reader to see the significance of what you quote. By the way, P sections are usually 5-7 sentences long, I sections vary based on what you quote, and E sections should be twice as long as the I section–giving two lines of interpretation for each line you quote in the I section.

Here’s an example, first upon reading the book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, this passage about the transformation of chile con carne into chili.

Chili con carne, now plain ol’ chili, was the harbinger of things to come for Mexican food. It was a Mexican dish, made by Mexicans for Mexicans, but it was whites who made the dish a national sensation, who pushed it far beyond its ancestral lands, who adapted it to their tastes, who created companies for large-scale production, and who ultimately became its largest consumer to the point that the only thing Mexican about it was the mongrelized Spanish in its name. The Mexicans, meanwhile, shrugged their shoulders and continued cooking and eating their own foods, all the while ostracized by Anglos who nevertheless tore through whatever Mexicans put in front of them. (37)

The quote stuck out to me because of the long sentence with phrases that tell a story, about what happens to Mexican food in the USA as it becomes transformed into American fast food. There are also some aspects of race that important, especially what is meant by “mongrelization.”

Based on this quote, students each left responses below, which gave their interpretations to the quote.

According to google the word Mongrelize (verb) means: Cause to become mixed in race, composition, or character. I thought the usage of the words mongrelize and “tore through” were very sharp. It evokes a certain emotion that radiates from the writer. Also, the only other time I’d heard or read the word/name “Anglos” in reference to whites was in the movie Selena.

 

It’s interesting as to how it was originaly a mexican dish made for mexicans however, it was whites who pushed the dish foward making it a white mexican food dish rather then a pure traditional mexican dish.

 

I think Arellano referring to the American treatment of chili con carne as “a harbinger of things to come” for Mexican food is the main point of the paragraph, since he goes on to highlight the way Americans love eating Mexican food but dehumanize and look down upon Mexican people. His usage of “mongrelized’” is also interesting (definition: “cause to become mixed in race, composition, or character.”) not only because it’s a word that Mexican culture itself embodies, but also because American culture readily absorbs Mexican culinary traditions, yet denies and demeans them.

 

It’s sad to see how Mexico has offered its culture to the Anglo community and instead praising Mexico for it, they take what they like and customize it to their own likings forgetting the root and the culture from where it’s from. The respect that’s due to the culture is lost when in fact it should be praised upon. Americans tend to whitewash other peoples culture, and only accepts what is in their interest.

 

I didn’t even know it was originally a Mexican dish, I just thought it was a traditional American Southern dish. So it was interesting to read about this.

 

Mongrelized – cause to become mixed in race, composition, or character.
Americans seem to view Mexican food, or food of any other nationality to be a novelty rather than a way of life. To Americanize the food is a way of monopolizing and capitalizing on it. For those who are already steeped in the culture and cuisine, there is a different perspective on the food.

 

This quote makes me think of the white people that continue to take Mexican recipes to profit off them and not give any credit or acknowledge the history behind it. It reminds me of when my father told me that in Peru, only the poor people would eat quinoa and when it became popular, the poor people in Peru can no longer afford to eat it anymore.

 

“Chili con carne, now plain ol’ chili,” is a way of phrasing that encapsulates the Americanization of Mexican food and culture that Gustavo Arellano translates in his novel, “Taco USA”. I just Googled the term “harbinger” because I did not know what it meant and discovered it means an indication or sign of something to come. So, does Arellano mean to say that chili con carne (translated as plain ol’ chili) was the spark that ignited the fire of American obsession with Mexican food? This makes me think of how Glen Bell started selling hamburgers and hot dogs, and later tinkered with his recipe to market the chili dog (?) then later…the taco….

 

I find it really interesting that “The Mexicans, meanwhile, shrugged their shoulders and continued cooking and eating their own foods…” as people took their food, made it theirs, and then continued to marginalize the same people the food is taken from. Chilli itself is something so American in theory that until recently I had no indication of its roots. Even more interesting is the use of the word “mongrelized”; as if considering the roots of Chilli, we are using that word. Mongrelized is defined as “cause to become mixed in race, composition, or character.” Wouldn’t it have been better to rename the food altogether instead?

 

It’s interesting how the Chilli made nowadays doesn’t have any connection or flavoring from its origin but its name. That it was mixed in with American culture but more so in large-scale productions which seems like another item that the industry could profit off.

 

This quote highlights one the main arguments discussed in the novel Taco USA. I find it particularly interesting and a bit unfortunate that the only reason “chili con carne” became such a popular and even integral part of Tex-mex cuisine is due to the fact that it was adopted by the “white” community. It was then, so far removed from its original Mexican roots that the author felt the need to include the word “mongrelized” to further enforce this idea of their attempt to stray as far away from the traditional as possible. This says quite a bit of the racist undertone,set it place by society and the unfair lack of power people of differing nationalities seem to be plagued with.

 

We know now that Chili is the first in a long line of food that will be initiated into the american food pantheon, but what interests me is how the country has changed to accept its Mexican connections. Was the distinction forcibly lost? If so, when did Chili con carne become plain ol chili? If not can this can this semi cultural absorption be considered a fetish? How did chili become disconnected from its original roots and when did the united states become a place that celebrates Mexican delicacies like tacos, and tamales?

———–

Fantastic stuff! Multiple minds working through the significance together. With that, we already have some honest responses to the quote, some initial interpretations, which we can edit into a solid E section. So let’s recap.

First, starting with this quote:

Chili con carne, now plain ol’ chili, was the harbinger of things to come for Mexican food. It was a Mexican dish, made by Mexicans for Mexicans, but it was whites who made the dish a national sensation, who pushed it far beyond its ancestral lands, who adapted it to their tastes, who created companies for large-scale production, and who ultimately became its largest consumer to the point that the only thing Mexican about it was the mongrelized Spanish in its name. The Mexicans, meanwhile, shrugged their shoulders and continued cooking and eating their own foods, all the while ostracized by Anglos who nevertheless tore through whatever Mexicans put in front of them. (37)

We generated these responses, which I chose a few to stack together, here:

According to google the word Mongrelize (verb) means: Cause to become mixed in race, composition, or character. I thought the usage of the words mongrelize and “tore through” were very sharp. It evokes a certain emotion that radiates from the writer. Also, the only other time I’d heard or read the word/name “Anglos” in reference to whites was in the movie Selena. It’s interesting as to how it was originaly a mexican dish made for mexicans however, it was whites who pushed the dish foward making it a white mexican food dish rather then a pure traditional mexican dish. I think Arellano referring to the American treatment of chili con carne as “a harbinger of things to come” for Mexican food is the main point of the paragraph, since he goes on to highlight the way Americans love eating Mexican food but dehumanize and look down upon Mexican people. His usage of “mongrelized’” is also interesting (definition: “cause to become mixed in race, composition, or character.”) not only because it’s a word that Mexican culture itself embodies, but also because American culture readily absorbs Mexican culinary traditions, yet denies and demeans them. It’s sad to see how Mexico has offered its culture to the Anglo community and instead praising Mexico for it, they take what they like and customize it to their own likings forgetting the root and the culture from where it’s from. The respect that’s due to the culture is lost when in fact it should be praised upon. Americans tend to whitewash other peoples culture, and only accepts what is in their interest. I didn’t even know it was originally a Mexican dish, I just thought it was a traditional American Southern dish. So it was interesting to read about this.

To be sure, this needs to be threaded together more, and also some editing. I took some liberties, cleaning it up a little here: 

As Arellano notes, chili was originally a Mexican dish made for Mexicans, however, it was white people who capitalized on the cuisine as fast food. Arellano refers to the American transformation of chile con carne to chili as “a harbinger of things to come,” highlighting the way Americans love eating Mexican food but dehumanize and look down upon Mexican people. Indeed, Arellano’s usage of the words mongrelize and “tore through” were very sharp. The tone radiating from the writer that points the finger at how American culture readily absorbs Mexican culinary traditions, yet denies and demeans Mexican people. The history of chili in the United States further decontextualizes the food from the people as the Anglo community has taken dishes they liked and customized them to their own likings, and mass marketing them This decontextualized way of approaching food forgets the root of culture and where the food comes from. Americans tend to whitewash other peoples culture, and only accepts what is in their interest. 

Cleaned up a bit, but the various interpretations lead us here. Now, with the I and the E section, we have something that resembles:

Chili con carne, now plain ol’ chili, was the harbinger of things to come for Mexican food. It was a Mexican dish, made by Mexicans for Mexicans, but it was whites who made the dish a national sensation, who pushed it far beyond its ancestral lands, who adapted it to their tastes, who created companies for large-scale production, and who ultimately became its largest consumer to the point that the only thing Mexican about it was the mongrelized Spanish in its name. The Mexicans, meanwhile, shrugged their shoulders and continued cooking and eating their own foods, all the while ostracized by Anglos who nevertheless tore through whatever Mexicans put in front of them. (37)

As Arellano notes, chili was originally a Mexican dish made for Mexicans, however, it was white people who capitalized on the cuisine as fast food. Arellano refers to the American transformation of chile con carne to chili as “a harbinger of things to come,” highlighting the way Americans love eating Mexican food but dehumanize and look down upon Mexican people. Indeed, Arellano’s usage of the words mongrelize and “tore through” were very sharp. The tone radiating from the writer that points the finger at how American culture readily absorbs Mexican culinary traditions, yet denies and demeans Mexican people. The history of chili in the United States further decontextualizes the food from the people as the Anglo community has taken dishes they liked and customized them to their own likings, and mass marketing them This decontextualized way of approaching food forgets the root of culture and where the food comes from. Americans tend to whitewash other peoples culture, and only accepts what is in their interest. 

Already, you see a solid body paragraph taking shape. But we have to head back to the P section, asking ourselves, what’s the point of what we cited/quoted, and how can we transition the reader into what are the key elements to keep an eye for. As a class, we decided the aspects about race and appropriation were important to focus on. With that, as a group, we collectively wrote the following P section, starting from a general statement and getting more specific as we moved further to the quote:

The connection between food and culture has been ripped apart between Mexican food and its people. The marginalization of Mexican food is reflective of the American treatment of Mexican people and their culture. American people spit on the hands that feed them, and those hands are brown. It seems as though they are more comfortable providing a false sense of integration, as opposed to understanding Mexican culture. Chile con carne, for example, is referred to as chili in the United States, demonstrating how Americans have monopolized Mexican food to their own. According to Gustavo Arellano in Taco USA,

Notice how I underlined that last tag phrase. That’s to introduce the quote. So now, we have a complete PIE paragraph that looks something like this:


The connection between food and culture has been ripped apart between Mexican food and its people. The marginalization of Mexican food is reflective of the American treatment of Mexican people and their culture. American people spit on the hands that feed them, and those hands are brown. It seems as though they are more comfortable providing a false sense of integration, as opposed to understanding Mexican culture. Chile con carne, for example, is referred to as chili in the United States, demonstrating how Americans have monopolized Mexican food to their own. According to Gustavo Arellano in Taco USA,

Chili con carne, now plain ol’ chili, was the harbinger of things to come for Mexican food. It was a Mexican dish, made by Mexicans for Mexicans, but it was whites who made the dish a national sensation, who pushed it far beyond its ancestral lands, who adapted it to their tastes, who created companies for large-scale production, and who ultimately became its largest consumer to the point that the only thing Mexican about it was the mongrelized Spanish in its name. The Mexicans, meanwhile, shrugged their shoulders and continued cooking and eating their own foods, all the while ostracized by Anglos who nevertheless tore through whatever Mexicans put in front of them. (37)

As Arellano notes, chili was originally a Mexican dish made for Mexicans, however, it was white people who capitalized on the cuisine as fast food. Arellano refers to the American transformation of chile con carne to chili as “a harbinger of things to come,” highlighting the way Americans love eating Mexican food but dehumanize and look down upon Mexican people. Indeed, Arellano’s usage of the words mongrelize and “tore through” were very sharp. The tone radiating from the writer that points the finger at how American culture readily absorbs Mexican culinary traditions, yet denies and demeans Mexican people. The history of chili in the United States further decontextualizes the food from the people as the Anglo community has taken dishes they liked and customized them to their own likings, and mass marketing them This decontextualized way of approaching food forgets the root of culture and where the food comes from. Americans tend to whitewash other peoples culture, and only accepts what is in their interest.


Now, that’s a solid body paragraph. Look at all the work it does, but also how it really gets to business in that E section when exploring the significance of the quote. That said, when you feel you get writer’s block, one of the best cures is to start with a quote from what you read, and then do a free-write for a few minutes picking the quote apart. This is a way or writing backwards in some ways, but also writing through and with the text you are analyzing to help you figure out where you are going as you write.

Okay, so after PIE paragraphs, we spoke a little bit more about Arellano’s book, and then did some searching Mitla Cafe, where Bell found “inspiration” for Taco Bell, or what became the US taco (which was a taco dorado for Mexicanos). We had some more discussion about profit motives, decontextualized food, and also fast food relating to the appropriation of Mexican food for mass consumption. More to come next time! . . .

Related to this, here are a couple videos from YouTube. First, this report from ABC News about the “reinvention” of the taco at Taco Bell, with an interview from CEO Gred Creed:

And one last one, a funnier one to also think about how Taco Bell “invents” new takes on Mexican food: when Conan O’Brien visited Taco Bell headquarters.

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12 thoughts on “PIE Paragraphs, Taco USA, & Taco Bell

  1. According to google the word Mongrelize (verb) means: Cause to become mixed in race, composition, or character. I thought the usage of the words mongrelize and “tore through” were very sharp. It evokes a certain emotion that radiates from the writer. Also, the only other time I’d heard or read the word/name “Anglos” in reference to whites was in the movie Selena.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think Arellano referring to the American treatment of chili con carne as “a harbinger of things to come” for Mexican food is the main point of the paragraph, since he goes on to highlight the way Americans love eating Mexican food but dehumanize and look down upon Mexican people. His usage of “mongrelized'” is also interesting (definition: “cause to become mixed in race, composition, or character.”) not only because it’s a word that Mexican culture itself embodies, but also because American culture readily absorbs Mexican culinary traditions, yet denies and demeans them.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s sad to see how Mexico has offered its culture to the Anglo community and instead praising Mexico for it, they take what they like and customize it to their own likings forgetting the root and the culture from where it’s from. The respect that’s due to the culture is lost when in fact it should be praised upon. Americans tend to whitewash other peoples culture, and only accepts what is in their interest.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Mongrelized – cause to become mixed in race, composition, or character.
    Americans seem to view Mexican food, or food of any other nationality to be a novelty rather than a way of life. To Americanize the food is a way of monopolizing and capitalizing on it. For those who are already steeped in the culture and cuisine, there is a different perspective on the food.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This quote makes me think of the white people that continue to take Mexican recipes to profit off them and not give any credit or acknowledge the history behind it. It reminds me of when my father told me that in Peru, only the poor people would eat quinoa and when it became popular, the poor people in Peru can no longer afford to eat it anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “Chili con carne, now plain ol’ chili,” is a way of phrasing that encapsulates the Americanization of Mexican food and culture that Gustavo Arellano translates in his novel, “Taco USA”. I just Googled the term “harbinger” because I did not know what it meant and discovered it means an indication or sign of something to come. So, does Arellano mean to say that chili con carne (translated as plain ol’ chili) was the spark that ignited the fire of American obsession with Mexican food? This makes me think of how Glen Bell started selling hamburgers and hot dogs, and later tinkered with his recipe to market the chili dog (?) then later…the taco….

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I find it really interesting that “The Mexicans, meanwhile, shrugged their shoulders and continued cooking and eating their own foods…” as people took their food, made it theirs, and then continued to marginalize the same people the food is taken from. Chilli itself is something so American in theory that until recently I had no indication of its roots. Even more interesting is the use of the word “mongrelized”; as if considering the roots of Chilli, we are using that word. Mongrelized is defined as “cause to become mixed in race, composition, or character.” Wouldn’t it have been better to rename the food altogether instead?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s interesting how the Chilli made nowadays doesn’t have any connection or flavoring from its origin but its name. That it was mixed in with American culture but more so in large-scale productions which seems like another item that the industry could profit off.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This quote highlights one the main arguments discussed in the novel Taco USA. I find it particularly interesting and a bit unfortunate that the only reason “chili con carne” became such a popular and even integral part of Tex-mex cuisine is due to the fact that it was adopted by the “white” community. It was then, so far removed from its original Mexican roots that the author felt the need to include the word “mongrelized” to further enforce this idea of their attempt to stray as far away from the traditional as possible. This says quite a bit of the racist undertone,set it place by society and the unfair lack of power people of differing nationalities seem to be plagued with.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. We know now that Chili is the first in a long line of food that will be initiated into the american food pantheon, but what interests me is how the country has changed to accept its Mexican connections. Was the distinction forcibly lost? If so, when did Chili con carne become plain ol chili? If not can this can this semi cultural absorption be considered a fetish? How did chili become disconnected from its original roots and when did the united states become a place that celebrates Mexican delicacies like tacos, and tamales?

    Liked by 1 person

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