May 5, 2012 marks the 155 year anniversary of the Battle of Puebla. This victory of Mexico over France is commonly denoted by the annual celebration of Cinco de Mayo. Mariachis, dancing, and feasting punctuate the day of celebration in Puebla, Mexico and in other parts of the world. Celebrants devour tomato-and-pepper-chunked guacamole, steaming corn and flour tortillas, cheese-bubbling tamales, carmel-coated flan, and much more on this momentous day pride for the people of Puebla.
Like many battles throughout time, the conflicts between the French and Mexican people did not arise overnight but simmered for a number of years. Following Mexico’s newly won independence from Spain in 1821, the country sunk into chaos for 20 years and was occupied by 20 different countries, including France. The contention between France and Mexico
began with the French occupation and it seethed and churned before erupting into what is known as the War of the Cakes or The Pastry Wars in 1838. This apt nomenclature arose from a singular event around a French National pastry chef, Monsieur Remontel, who demanded reparations for damages to his shop he alleged were caused by looting Mexican soldiers. Remontel’s claims mirrored France’s overall ultimatums placed on Mexico for the country’s exorbitant unpaid debts. This singular event proved to be the tipping point for the actuating battles between France and Mexico. With the French defeat of Mexico during the War of the Cakes, animosity began poisoning the Mexican landscape and eventually leading to the Battle of Puebla.
In turning the focus to present-day, it is apparent that Mexico is experiencing a food-themed battle of a different nature. Mexico is ranked as the 2nd country in the world with the highest obesity rates. To remedy the obesity epidemic, the country is looking to its food options for a reformation in eating habits and attitudes. According to a report conducted by Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN), Mexico is one of the top 20 producers of organic foods in the world. However, Mexico’s organic products have primarily been exported to other countries. GAIN’s research indicates that organic foods are available in Mexico, but the Mexican people have yet to invest in an organic lifestyle. The typically high cost for organic foods deters many Mexican people with meager incomes from purchasing organic foods. Furthermore, the health benefits of organic foods are not commonly know in Mexico. Within its own borders, organic food is not in high demand; therefore, Mexico is further compelled to export.
However, Mexico is beginning to incorporate changes in the perceptions and practices of its organic foods. For example, farmers markets abundant in organic foods are proliferating around the country. Educational materials and discussions in schools and other forums are transpiring around the topics of organic food and health. Additionally, Mexico is working to shift organic certification management from predominantly foreign companies to more local companies.
Whether the food is fiesta fare, cakes and pastries, or organic pabulum, food creates and follows the ebbs and flows of Mexico’s fertile history. When celebrating Cinco de Mayo this year, consider the impact that food has made on Mexico and your own country.