The Two Faces of Mexican Food – Las Dos Caras de la Comida Mexicana

2 February 2011 at 08:00 17 comments

By Lourdes Toussaint, KF13, Mexico

In Mexico, food is probably one of the most important and common expressions of Mexican culture. Mexicans get from their food a sense of identity and pride that merges their country’s history, traditions, ingredients, and creativity. Just last year, UNESCO added Mexican food to the world’s intangible heritage list. According them, the knowledge and techniques of Traditional Mexican Cuisine, are a comprehensive cultural model that expresses community identity, reinforces social bonds, builds strong connections, and is an important means of sustainable development. Different regions throughout the country enrich Mexican food with different dishes. From the burritos, fish tacos, and machacado with eggs of the north; the mole, pozole, chiles en nogada, and enchiladas from the center, and the tamales, tlayudas and cochinita pibil from the south, they all are part of what we know as Traditional Mexican Cuisine.

Food stalls in a Plaza

So how is that a country with such a rich traditional cuisine, considered a world heritage, is also one of the countries with more obesity among its population?

According to the actual president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, obesity is now one of the most pressing health problems in the country. About 70% of the adult population is over weighted, and 30% suffer obesity. In addition, over 4.5 million children between five and 11 years old are overweight. In a surprisingly short time, Mexicans have become some of the heaviest people on earth. This rapid growth has created a spike in health diseases such as diabetes, which is Mexico’s leading cause of death, and the prevalence rate is among the world’s highest.

Fresh fruits in a Mexican market

Fresh fruits in a Mexican market

This has happened in great part because Mexicans have turned away from their traditional diet based on corn and beans supplemented with fruits and vegetables with some protein and dairy products. People have changed habits and now they prefer industrialized and processed food. Native natural ingredients such as tomatoes, avocados, cocoa, onion, chilies, and others, have been replaced by a diet of fried food, hamburgers, ready-to-eat pasta, pizza, snacks, breads, and junk food in general. Although street and market stands still sell fresh fruit and juices, there are too many convenient stores that sell potato chips, cookies, candies, and soft drinks.

It’s a sad fact that Mexicans drink more soft drinks per capita than anyone else in the world, tied only with the Americans, substituting the traditional drink of Aguas Frescas made of seasonal and fresh fruit.

Some may argue that not all Mexican food is healthy (the fried “gorditas”, “flautas” and the thick atole prove this). However, obesity had never before been a threat. Dr. Hector Bourges, Director of Nutrition at the National Institute of Medical Science and Nutrition in Mexico City confirmed this by stating that 30, even 20 years ago the Mexican population had healthier eating habits: less junk and fast food and more home made “comidas”.

In addition to the increased consumption of foods with high levels of fats, calories, and sugar, Mexicans have reduced their physical activity. The lack of exercise has rapidly spread in urbanized areas. Obesity remains lower in rural areas where people still perform physical and manual work. Furthermore, either by force or by choice, they still walk from place to place. In big cities, pollution and crime have driven people out of parks and streets, so most city dwellers now walk as little as possible and do not exercise at all.

Mexican Food: Eggs with Pico de Gallo, Tamales and Gorditas

The abandonment of Traditional Cuisine in Mexico represents a loss in what it has already been recognized as a world cultural heritage. Mexican food represents a wealth of knowledge and skills that have been transmitted from one generation to the next. More importantly, this change has created an alarming public health problem that is affecting everyone in the country. Aside from the serious health problems in the population, there has been a large increase in medical expenditure costs associated with obesity, which could put in risk the sustainability of the already weak public health sector. The issue has gotten so big that major awareness and public resources are needed to address it. However, what Mexicans can start doing is to go back to eating and cooking like older generations did, like their grandmothers and mothers cooked with more native ingredients, fruits, and vegetables, and using recipes of delicious traditional Mexican dishes that are so famously recognized around the world.

Lourdes Toussaint is a Kiva Fellow in Monterrey, Mexico working with Credituyo.

Join Amigos de Credituyo if you want to support and learn more about loans given to microentrepreneurs in the northern area of Mexico.


Las Dos Caras de la Comida Mexicana

En México, la comida es una de las expresiones culturales más importantes. A lo largo de los años, la comida típica ha dado a los mexicanos orgullo e identidad basados en su historia, tradiciones, ingredientes y creatividad. Justo el año pasado, la UNESCO reconoció a la Cocina Tradicional de México como un patrimonio intangible para la humanidad. De acuerdo a la misma fuente, el conocimiento y las técnicas de la Cocina Tradicional Mexicana representan un modelo cultural que proporciona identidad comunitaria, ayuda a reforzar vínculos sociales y crea fuertes conexiones entre sus habitantes, además de ser un medio importante para el desarrollo sustentable del país. Las diferentes regiones de México aportan diversos platillos típicos a la cocina tradicional mexicana. Desde los burritos, tacos de pescado, y machacado con huevo, de la región norte, al mole, pozole, chiles en nogada y enchiladas del centro, y hasta los tamales, tlayudas y cochinita pibil del sur del país, todos estos y muchos más conforman lo que conocemos como Cocina Tradicional Mexicana.

Chilaquiles con Huevo y Frijoles

Entonces, ¿cómo puede ser que un país que cuenta con tanta riqueza en su cocina y que además es considerada patrimonio de la humanidad es paradójicamente uno de los países con más obesidad en su población?

De acuerdo con el actual presidente de México, Felipe Calderón, la obesidad es hoy en día uno de los problemas más graves de salud en el país. Alrededor del 70% de los adultos tienen sobrepeso y 30% sufre de obesidad. Además, hay más de 4.5 millones de niños entre cinco y 11 años que presentan sobrepeso. En pocos años, los mexicanos se encuentran entre las personas más obesas del planeta. Este rápido crecimiento ha traído conjuntamente otros problemas de salud como la diabetes, que hoy en día, es la primera causa de muerte en el país, presentando unas de las tasas de incidencia más altas de todo el mundo.

Papitas, refrescos, dules y cerveza en una tiendita de la esquina.

Esto se debe en gran parte al alejamiento por parte de los mexicanos, de su dieta basada en maíz y frijoles complementada de variadas frutas y verduras con algo de proteínas y productos lácteos. Los mexicanos han cambiado de hábitos alimenticios y actualmente  prefieren comida industrializada y productos procesados. Los ingredientes naturales de la comida mexicana como lo son los tomates, los aguacates, la cocoa, la cebolla, y los chiles, entre otros, han sido reemplazados por comida frita, hamburguesas, pastas instantáneas, pizzas, panes, y comida chatarra en general Aunque siguen existiendo puestos en las calles y mercados de fruta fresca y jugos, también sobran las “tiendas de la esquina” que venden papitas, galletas, dulces y refrescos. Es una triste realidad que México es el país que consume más refrescos por habitante que ningún otro país, igualando solo a  Estados Unidos, reemplazando así a las tradicionales aguas frescas.

Algunas personas pueden refutar que no toda la comida mexicana es saludable (los antojitos fritos como “gorditas” y “flautas”, y el atole de maíz lo comprueban). Sin embargo, la obesidad no había sido una amenaza para el país como lo es hoy. El Dr. Hector Bourgues, Director de Nutrición del Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Medicas y Nutrición establece que hace 30 años, incluso 20, la población mexicana contaba con mejores hábitos alimenticios: menos comida chatarra y mas comida casera.

Al mismo tiempo que la dieta de los mexicanos ha cambiado por una que contiene altos niveles de grasas saturadas, calorías y azúcares, los mexicanos han reducido su actividad física. La falta de ejercicio se ha expandido principalmente en las zonas urbanas. La obesidad continua siendo mucho menor en áreas rurales donde todavía se realizan labores que requieren arduo trabajo físico. Cabe mencionar que en los pueblos el caminar de un lado a otro es algo de todos los días. En las grandes ciudades, el crimen y la contaminación han causado que las personas ya no asistan a parques y que no caminen por las calles, disminuyendo su cantidad de ejercicio diario.

Niños mexicanos comiendo.

El abandono de la comida tradicional en México representa una gran pérdida a lo que ya ha sido reconocido como patrimonio de la humanidad. Pero aún mas trágico es el daño que este cambio alimenticio está causando en la salud de la población. Esta transformación ocasiona un problema alarmante: genera altos gastos de servicios de salud que debilitan al sistema de salud mexicano. Es tan grande este problema que se necesita ponerlo como prioridad pública para que todos lo reconozcamos y para que se inviertan recursos para solucionarlo. Por lo pronto, lo que podemos hacer es regresar a comer y cocinar como las generaciones pasadas lo han hecho, como nuestras abuelas y mamás lo hicieron: incluyendo más ingredientes típicos, frutas y verduras, y cocinando en casa los deliciosos platillos mexicanos que tan famosos son en todo el mundo.

Lourdes Toussaint es una Kiva Fellow en Monterrey, México, trabajando con Credituyo.

Unete a Amigos de Credituyo si quieres apoyar y saber más acerca de préstamos entregados a microemprendedores en el norte de México.

Entry filed under: blogsherpa, Credituyo, KF13 (Kiva Fellows 13th Class), Mexico. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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  • 13. Mauricio  |  3 February 2011 at 13:26

    Great job Lula, very interesting article, colorful, informative and nicely explained.
    if I may add something – coca-cola is cheaper that a glass of milk- another fact to considered to the poor decision making when spending money is of a low income budget!
    Soft drinks should be taxed higher and give tax incentives to dairy products making them available to the less favored!

    Keep writing ! :-)

    • 14. lulatoussaint  |  3 February 2011 at 14:32

      Thank you Mauricio! what you mention is very true, obesity is greater in the urban poor who buy cheap junk food instead of healthier items that are more expensive. Your idea of taxing more soft drinks and other products that are unhealthy for Mexicans is a great idea, so good and healthy products can be made available to everyone at more affordable prices!

  • 15. maraka  |  3 February 2011 at 07:46

    De acuerdo!! la comida mexicana es la mejor!!! que mas rico que comer casero?? que triste que perdamos esa costumbre…. además creo que mientras mas sano y balanceado comes, mas activo estas y el cerebro funciona mejor!!

    • 16. lulatoussaint  |  3 February 2011 at 14:33

      Exacto maraks! asi que a cocinar comida casera que es riquisima!

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