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Food and Culture

Food and Culture

Having lived in Mexico for a year and a half, the Mexican culture and food have always stood out to me as something special. Food is an essential part of the Mexican culture. It is seen in every aspect of their lives, from their Desayuno (breakfast) to their Comida (lunch) and even into la cena (dinner). We must understand why that is and why food is a large part of their heritage and culture. Food makes the Mexican people Mexican through its use of expression, the historical and cultural significance that it has, and the now globalization of their cuisine. Hire our assignment writing services in case your assignment is devastating you.

Food as Expression

 The Mexican culture is very male-dominated. While living there, I spent a lot of time in the homes of Mexican families. I observed how the parents interacted with the children, the wife with the husband, and vice versa. It was scarce, and I never saw it happen in the year and a half that I lived among them for a man to be seen in the kitchen cooking for his family. The only exception would be to have a man run a taqueria (a taco stand) on the street or cook meat in a restaurant. All of the times that a man was involved with Cooking food, it was always associated with grilling or frying meat outside of the home.

In a patriarchy, the man is seen as the “king” in some sense. The wife’s job is to wait on her husband’s every need without much say. While the family and the guests eat, the wife continues to cook in the kitchen and constantly ensures that everyone has enough food and doesn’t need refills. Usually, the woman will eat before everyone else arrives because there is no time for her to eat when everyone gets to the house.

Meredith E. Abarca points out in her book that regardless of the level of education, where she is from, and her status in society; there is a stereotype that women belong in the kitchen (p. 4). She explains that because the women in this society are looked down upon, it is only logical to assume that the kitchen is seen as their safe place. It is a place to express themselves, create art, and disconnect from the world for a time (p. 5). A woman I met while living in Mexico told me that she could not cook anything at all before she was married. She was awful at it. She had no sense of taste or no idea what she was doing. When she married, she asked her mother for help to care for her husband and future children. She was expected to do all the Cooking once she was married, so that is what she did. Many years later, she made the most fabulous food I have ever tasted. When I asked her for a list of recipes, she told me she no longer used recipes. Many of the things that she now cooks are her creations. Because she was expected to be a housewife, this woman conformed to that way of life. Not only conformed but excelled marvelously. Through her Cooking she was able to express not only her love for her family and people who ate her food, but also her identity as a person.

For many women in Mexico, the kitchen is seen as their “domain,” where they feel the most comfortable expressing themselves (Abarca, 2006, p. 14). Through food and Cooking, women in this culture can have a say. They are allowed to make their own decisions. For them, it is a sacred time when they can be alone or with helpers. A place for them to be who they genuinely want to be. It is a place of freedom (Abarca, 2006, p. 18).

The kitchen is a place for women to put their skills to the test. By making good tasty meals, they show their families and friends that they are “worthy” to be in the kitchen. It is a right of passage for a Latina woman. While in the kitchen, they have the ability or the choice to make the meal the best they can. “You can cook a sauce, a sauce that anyone else can cook, but yours will taste better if you do it with joy and love…Cooking is an art. Home cooking is an art.” (Abarca, 2006, p. 78). Through the meal, women can express their love for Cooking and for the people who will be eating by the flavor of the food. Not being considered a good cook is the highest offense in their culture. If a woman wanted to offend another woman, they would start by finding fault with how they cooked. I saw this many times, and it would make me laugh because being called an awful cook here in the United States is not uncommon; very often, it is seen as a joke and taken very lightly.

Cooking is seen as an artform, something that takes time and talent. To do other “house chores” such as cleaning and taking care of the children are seen as boring and something that is easy to do, but Cooking is where the real skill has to shine through (Abarca, 2006, p. 80), and for Mexican woman, they take a lot of pride in that. It gives them confidence and helps them to be able to face the challenges that come from living in the world they live in now. Knowing that they can cook well helps women to realize that they can do at least one thing right and that, in the long run, everything will turn out for the better (Abarca, 2006, p. 81). Cooking can give a person control over their lives and the situations they are encountering. All of their feelings are put into the food. All of their hopes, dreams, and wants are incorported into what their food becomes. They can take out frustrations or simply put in all their love.

Food and Cooking becomes a way of communication. Anthropologist Mary Douglous explained:

Food always has a social dimension of utmost importance in the system of communication. [It is a] medium through which a system of relationships within a family is expressed. [Cooking and eating also express] the most deeply felt human experiences, and thus [express] things that are sometimes difficult to articulate in everyday language (Abarca, 2006, p. 112-113).

Women living in a suppressed culture are given the chance to express emotions of all forms through Cooking. Many times it is not seen as acceptable for a woman to get angry or to be sad in front of her husband and children. They are meant to put on a perfect façade and do the things that are meant to be done without showing emotion. Through Cooking, women are given the choice and their agency to express strong emotions (Abarca, 2006, p. 113). Often a woman is found in her house alone during the day with her husband at work and her children at school. The only kind of communication that can be found, the only way to truly express how she is feeling in a healthy and rather effective way, is through the way that she cooks. Mexican women can “write their own stories” as Meredith E. Abarca explains through recipes and the way that they make and prepare their food (p. 109). They can put their thoughts and words into their food and make art.

It is very rare for women to use a cook book, as I have explained once before. I would watch as they threw ingredients together and if the food tasted good afterward, they would continue to make it that way. They were writing their own culinary story through expression of ideas and creativity. Their emotions were embedded in every ingredient and every fiber of the food they made. You always knew if a woman was having a good or bad day by how her food tasted and looked, by the amount of spice added, or by the lack of flavor. It could have been because of the lack of resources to make the perfect meal, but many times, what was served would tell you a great deal about the cook in that moment.

Finally, Cooking is a way to express, more than anything else, charity towards your family and fellow neighbor. Being in Mexico, I can hardly remember a time when we would walk into a house and not be offered something to eat or drink. Even if a family did not have a lot to offer, they always did. The people of Mexico, especially the women always had the “faith that when you [share] the food that God gives you with someone, you [will] never be without food. You would always have food as long as you [are] not greedy” (Abarca, 2006, p.167). Food is not only a way of expression for the women who make it, but also expression for those who have the privilege to eat it.

Historical and Cultural Significance

 Food in the Mexican culture literally defines who they are as a people historically and in modern day. Liz Embry said that, “It is tough to talk heritage without mentioning food.

Authentic ethnic dishes bring one’s history into the present through smell and taste” [Emb04]. It signifies something, perhaps a little different for each person. For one it may give meaning to family, for another, freedom. For Mexican people as a whole, their food shows a kind of resilience meaning that they will never be changed by another group of people or their culture.

When the Spanish entered Mexico in the 1500s, there was a policy that said they could not plant olives, wheat, or grapes in Mexico so that there would be no competition between Mexico and Spain when it came to exporting goods. This proved very significant for the Mexican people because they never fully emerged in Spanish food ways. Chilies proved cheaper than new spices from Spain, and Maize outgrew wheat, so naturally, Mexican food continued to prosper (Anderson, 2014, p. 206).

Overtime, the Spanish began to miss the food from their own country and started fearing that if they did not eat European food, “their bodies would degenerate in the climate of the Americas, eventually transforming them into Indians” (Pilcher J. , 2012, p. 29). And so olives, wheat and grapes were brought to Mexico but they were never able to grow well because the climate was different from that of Europe. European food was never incorporated into Mexican foodways. In 1821, Mexico felt a need to establish their own national cuisine and it was there that “la comida Mexicana” was born (Pilcher J. , 2012, p. 5).

From the beginning of time, Mexico started out as huntergathers, getting their food like many other people from around the world would during that era. A few things helped make Mexican food what it is today, beginning with maize. Maize is a big part of the Mexican diet. In 7000 BCE, the maize plant came to be thanks to a genetic mutation (Pilcher J. , 2012, p. 24). With the discovery of this precious plant, tortillas were invented and used very often. Still, the Mexicans continued to search for and kill their own food during this time. It wasn’t until the “ecological tumult at the end of the last ice age” (Pilcher J. , 2012, p. 26) that Mexico began experiementing with agriculture, which deeply changed how they ate.

Because of their new found foodways, it became necessary for people to make a type of vessle and actually begin the Cooking process. It was discovered that the Mayan people, after becoming farmers, made different types of tamales, poridges, sourdough nixtamals, and tortillas (Pilcher J. , 2012, p. 27). They experimented with recipes and different spices and tastes, slowing creating what would one day become the Mexican cuisine.

Since that time, comida Mexicana has slowy transformed into the typical Mexican foods that can be found today being eaten in Mexico. Tortillas are a comon staple when eating Mexican food. Jeffery Pilcher eloquently stated that tortillas are the “daily bread of the majority of Mexican wage laborers” (Counihan & Van Esterik, 2013, p. 420). Although now nowadaysMexico you can buy store bought tortillas from walmart, it is more common than not to see a tortillarilla on just about every street corner in Mexico City. There was not one meal that I was served while living in Mexico that did not start out with arroz (rice), sopa (soup), and tortillas. Although the tortillas were typically served with the meal.

As the Mexican cuisine was slowy transformed and modied over the years, traditions and celebrations began to incorporate the eating of food. During Christmas there is always a large meal late Christmas eve with family and friends. Day of the Dead is celebrated by making food once loved by ancestors that have since died. Their belief is that their ancestors return for that night in spirit to be with their family members. Finally, Semana Santa or also known as Holy Week, the week before Easter Sunday, is filled with the most popular of Mexican cuisine (Pilcher M., 1998, p. 52). If there is a party, there is bound to be food, and a lot of it. These traditions started even before the early days of the Mexican Republic and are still in effect today. Food revolves around the lives of the people of Mexico. It gives them pride and helps them to remember better times. Through food and celebration, friends are made, and the past and future are celebrated.

The Globalization of Mexican Food

 Today, Mexican food and Mexican restaurants are found in all parts of the world. What is interesting, is that Mexican foodways did not all of a sudden become popular in the United States or in Europe. For many years the world only tasted parts of what true Mexican food was. Starting in the early days when maize was first discovered in Mexico, people from other parts of the world, especially farmers working on marginal lands, found it very useful as it was a sturdy and productive crop. For the poor, chili peppers gained popularity to use as a spice because it was so cheap to buy (Pilcher J. , 2012, p. 24). Little by little Mexican foodways began to sneak into the cuisines of European countries through maize, chiles, and choclate. From there these precious grains and spices were exported from Mexico to places all around the world.

In the beginning of the exportation of these goods, they were seen as dangerous and immoral mainly “because they were rarely accompanied by indegenous cooking knowledge” (Pilcher J. , 2012, p. 24). People living outside of Mexico saw corn and chilies as something associated with “poverty, illness, and immorality” (Pilcher J. , 2012, p. 45). But as time went on, people began to see the good influence that new flavors and products can have on the world of Cooking. It wasn’t until years after the globalization of maize that Mexican cuisine and foodways began creeping into other parts of the world and changed the bad perspective for good.

The taco started out in Mexico City but, over time, was incorporated into the American culture, though not the kinds of tacos that are normally found at a Mexican taqueria. Many of the foods we consider to be “Mexican” here in the United States and other parts of the world are things that are completley foreign to the people of Mexico (Pilcher J. , 2012, p. 46). The burrito, for example, or chimichangas, has almost no meaning in Mexico. There was only one family that I met while living there who actually knew what a chimichanga was and who would make them for us (because we were from the United States). The closest thing found in Mexico to a burrito or chimichanga is a taco durado, literally meaning hard taco that is basically a tortilla filled with meat, or potatoes, rolled up and fried.

Mexican food in America and other parts of the world are all very different from Mexican food found in Mexico because of the difference in climates. In Mexico they are able to grow certain spices and chilies that we cannot, causing the flavors of the food to be completely different. Mexico is unique in that it is the only county in the world where “picante”, or spicy food, is widely eaten for every meal. When going to a Mexican restaurant in some part of the world that is not Mexico…just ,”sume that you are not eating real Mexican food. Though many of the ingredients used are the same or similar to the ingredients used in authenic Mexican Food, it has been modified to fit the tastes of the people eating it.


 Mexico is different from other countries. Their food is different from other food. This beautiful place and culture has become different because of their use of food and the way that they choose to incorporate it in every aspect of their lives. They use it to express their identity as human beings, to show love towards others and bring people together. Food for Mexico means culture and history, and it can never be repeated or made the same anywhere else.


Abarca, M. E. (2006). Voices in the Kitchen. College Station: Texas A&M University Press . Anderson, E. (2014). Everyone Eats: Understanding Food and Culture. New York and London: New York University Press.

Counihan, C., & Van Esterik, P. (2013). Food and Culture. New York and London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Embry, L. (2004, September 15). 16 de septiembre means food, family-style. Retrieved from Chron: style-1625121.php

Pilcher, J. (2012). Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pilcher, J. M. (1998). Que Vivan Los Tamales! Food and the Making of Mexican Identity. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.


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project 2: Cultural Cuisine assignment

Restaurants that serve authentic cultural cuisine are one way in which the culture of another society can be experienced in the US through food. For example, in the US, Chinese restaurants, especially those in Chinatown in Chicago, have provided a means for non-Chinese consumers to experience the cuisine and culture of China. For example, Won Kow has been serving food to Chicagoans since 1928.

Food and Culture

Food and Culture

Modules 3 and 4 address topics relevant to consuming food at restaurants serving “authentic” national cuisines. Module 3: Cooking examines public Cooking and national cuisines. One way to think about national cuisine, besides cookbooks, is a restaurant’s menu. Module 4: Eating considers restaurants and the when/what/where/who of consuming food in public spaces. Chapters and learning objectives in both modules may be of interest and use to you in this project.

You should visit ONE restaurant that claims to serve authentic cultural cuisine. The cuisine cannot be “Americana”. By this, I mean the usual assortment of comfort foods that are associated with American cuisine  (e.g., mac/cheese, burgers, pizza, m.”tloaf, etc.).

Eat at your restaurant (at least once!). Try something new. Talk to the staff/cooks. Observe other patrons. Observe the ambiance and decor. Study the menu and think about its content. Consider the context of the restaurant in the neighborhood.

Part 1: Assignment

For your Assignment, I ask that you select a total of 3-4 learning objectives from chapters 4-7. Pick learning objectives that can be addressed using the restaurant you selected. Thus, its best to visit the restaurant first and pick your objectives.

Your Assignment should include the following:

  1. Introduction: This is a very brief (~4 sentences) description where you ate, what you ate, and some relevant details you observed about the restaurant that makes it helpful for the reader to grasp the context of the study.
  2. Objectives: State your objective as a header in your Assignment. Then use ~1 page to explore how concepts/ideas/theories from your text can be observed in the restaurant. Please rely on your text and my lectures! I expect you to develop well-articulated arguments/statements that demonstrate anthropological ideas using the restaurant.

Your Assignment should be formatted exactly like project 1.

Your Assignment should be 3 pages (minimum) double spaced. A minimum of 750 words (~3 pages double spaced).

Grading Rubric:

The Assignment is formatting according the instructions and includes all of the necessary sections [3 points]

The Assignment is well written, proofread, and contains no grammatical errors [4 points]

The Assignment draws on the text to explore topics relevant to the experience of eating at the restaurant. The analysis reflects comprehension of the concepts in the text and their appropriate application to the meal experience. This is for each of your objectives. [16 points]

Book I referred to is: eating culture by Gillian Crowther


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