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What is a taco? According to the Webster dictionary it is a “Mexican dish consisting of a fried tortilla, typically folded, and filled with various mixtures, such as seasoned meat, beans, lettuce and tomatoes”. In Spanish the word “taco” is used to describe a light lunch. In Planet Taco, Pilcher states, “Eighteenth-century Spanish dictionaries also defined taco as a ramrod, a billiard cue, a carpenter’s hammer, and a gulp of wine a combination recalling the English colloquialism, a shot of liquor.” However later in the 19th century the word taco became referred to as a “small bite of food”. In essence tacos are not some recent food invention and fact they have been around for hundreds of years. Tacos have been around ever since 1,000 and 500 B.C. back then the tortilla was used an edible spoon to scoop all of the delicious ingredients. Tacos have become a very serious thing over time, they even have their own day of the week as many Americans like to refer to as taco Tuesday.
In Jeffery Pilcher Planet Taco, Pilcher discusses the ultimate meaning of the word taco and the origin that it descended from. Pilcher states that the origin of the taco comes from Mexican “silver miners “who were the first to invent this delicious hand-held entrée. Pilcher theory also suggests that taco has been around since the 18th century making it to have been around for as long as 300 years. In addition Pilcher states that the mines are where the study of taco begins because in those times “taco” was the word that they coined when unearthing ore. For example when Mexicans who were looking for work came to the United States they brought a taco with them. At first the taco was seemed to be a meal for the lower-class. However once the children of the migrant workers grew up and begin to have more advantages than their parents economics wise the “taco” was able to become more mainstream to the world. Since the children of the migrant workers grew up eating this delicious hand-held dish, this was something they were able to carry into their adulthood. Once this came about the “taco” begin to gradually make its place in the world as we know it today. The taco finally was established in the United States, but Americans did change it up a bit adding their own touch to the foreign dish, thus creating a contemporary spin on the native Mexican dish. However, in today’s society most Americans eat the authentic version of the taco. Even though there are some restaurants that serve the original taco, they are very few and number because most Americans prefer the authentic version of the taco. Pilcher goes into detail when describing Mexico and how half of the nation had come to the United States as immigrants because majority of the Mexican population deny the idea of being Mexican. When Pilcher describes Mexican food he discusses how Mexican food has been a trend globally for about 500 years now. In addition the most famous Mexican foods are chile, corn, and chocolate, these are the key elements when it comes to the makeup of Mexican food. In Planet Taco Jeffery states “Important patterns in the global history of Mexican food”. Three items in particular corn, chiles, and chocolate illustrate the varied reception of new foods in the early modern world. Maize, as a sturdy and productive crop, spread around the world in the centuries after contact, but because of its usefulness to impoverished farmers working marginal lands, it acquired a plebeian image. In much the same way, prolific and flavorful chile peppers attracted a wide following as a spice for the poor. Only chocolate attained elite status in Europe, and it went no farther in the early modern period, gaining little ground in Africa or Asia before the nineteenth century”.
In essence tacos being a basic food in Mexico and the increasing culture in the United States, goes all the back to about the 1950s and 1960s. In addition Mexican food has gradually spread globally and has been seen more as American food.
In Planet of the Taco Pilcher argues that the burritos and tacos that people think originally came from Mexico were actually produce in the United States. The burrito exemplifies this peculiar geography of global Mexican, eaten widely around the world, but virtually unknown in most of Mexico. According to Pilcher “one observer declared it to be possibly the single heaviest fast-food item in the world.” Equally important the burrito’s origins are as obscure as those of the taco. Pilcher states, “That there are no culinary definitions for the word, although donkeys bearing food were a common motif in colonial”.
Furthermore, Pilcher also discusses the new age struggle of globalization and national sovereignty and the precise authenticity of Mexican food, which goes back hundreds of years. Pilcher states “Mexican national cuisine throughout the nineteenth century such as, corn and chiles spread widely around the world, but they were often associated with poverty, illness, and immorality. The Mexicans who searched for a more national cuisine were spilt between nostalgic “Creole”. Pilcher states “The nostalgia of exile also shaped the reactions to the regional Mexican cuisine prepared in the U.S. after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo”.
When it comes to the “Chili Queens of San Antonio” Pilcher describes them as “these vendors who were depicted as sirens of the Old Southwest, seducing unwary visitors with hot tamales and rapacious sexuality, thereby spreading “Montezuma’s Revenge” and racial contamination”. Pilcher states,“ Chili queens and tamale pushcarts came to represent a form of “safe danger, “allowing tourists to indulge the momentary thrill of hot food, rough booze, cheap sex, and petty crime, but within a folkloric setting that seemed to pose little permanent risk to Anglo society. The Chile Queens of San Antonio were described this way because of their poverty, sensuality, and disease. They were considered to be contaminated and like prostitutes because their work was considered illicit.
According to Pilcher the French nation became the continent leading consumer of Mexican food. “Mexicans imported French champagne, cookbooks, and even chefs. Such skilled European migrant workers not only contributed to Mexico’s stock of cultural capital, but they were also welcomed in the hopes that they would counterbalance the indigenous races and “whiten” the nation. The elite infatuation with French goods and their apparent disdain for the national heritage became the subject of popular mockery.
Planet Taco has stated how authentic Mexican food have been invented by promoters of culinary tourism. While elaborating how Mexican food has been shaped by using dishes such as wheat flour tortillas and chili con carne. This book also discusses how the Chili Queens and other Mexicans Americans struggled to be accepted by in the Anglo-dominated society. Overall this book illustrates how Mexican food has evolved over time and how Mexican cooking has been used for politically purposes by outsiders to make profits.
- Pilcher, Jeffrey M. 2012. Planet taco: a global history of Mexican food. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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