Synopses & Reviews
As late as the 1960s, tacos were virtually unknown outside Mexico and the American Southwest. Within fifty years the United States had shipped taco shells everywhere from Alaska to Australia, Morocco to Mongolia. But how did this tasty hand-held food--and Mexican food more broadly--become so ubiquitous?
In Planet Taco, Jeffrey Pilcher traces the historical origins and evolution of Mexico's national cuisine, explores its incarnation as a Mexican American fast-food, shows how surfers became global pioneers of Mexican food, and how Corona beer conquered the world. Pilcher is particularly enlightening on what the history of Mexican food reveals about the uneasy relationship between globalization and authenticity. The burritos and taco shells that many people think of as Mexican were actually created in the United States. But Pilcher argues that the contemporary struggle between globalization and national sovereignty to determine the authenticity of Mexican food goes back hundreds of years. During the nineteenth century, Mexicans searching for a national cuisine were torn between nostalgic "Creole" Hispanic dishes of the past and French haute cuisine, the global food of the day. Indigenous foods were scorned as unfit for civilized tables. Only when Mexican American dishes were appropriated by the fast food industry and carried around the world did Mexican elites rediscover the foods of the ancient Maya and Aztecs and embrace the indigenous roots of their national cuisine.
From a taco cart in Hermosillo, Mexico to the "Chili Queens" of San Antonio and tamale vendors in L.A., Jeffrey Pilcher follows this highly adaptable cuisine, paying special attention to the people too often overlooked in the battle to define authentic Mexican food: Indigenous Mexicans and Mexican Americans.
"Few will be able to resist chowing down after reading this mostly accessible history of Mexican food. Pilcher (Food in World History), a history professor at the University of Minnesota, makes it clear that 'Mexican food, like the Mexican nation, was the product of globalization.' Accordingly, he tracks the spread of Mexican cuisine from the kitchens of indigenous Mexicans, to the taco trucks of the American Southwest, to Old El Paso canned goods in Tokyo supermarkets, and beyond. Among Pilcher's many case studies are the intriguing tales of racial tensions surrounding an L.A. taco shop's 'African Tacos,' which were stuffed with black-eyed peas; and that of Thomas Estes, a young American gym teacher who opened 'Europe's first Mexican restaurant,' stocked with paraphernalia donated by the PacÃfico brewery, in Amsterdam in 1976. Many of Pilcher's anecdotes are entertaining and informative, but the glut of stories too often leaves the author with little time to do justice to each. Nevertheless, folks looking to supplement their favorite meal with some food for thought need look no further. 46 photos. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Planet Taco asks the question, "what is authentic Mexican food?" The burritos and taco shells that many people think of as Mexican were actually created in the United States, and Americanized foods have recently been carried around the world in tin cans and tourist restaurants. But the contemporary struggle between globalization and national sovereignty to determine the meaning of Mexican food is far from new. In fact, Mexican food was the product of globalization from the very beginning -- the Spanish conquest -- when European and Native American influences blended to forge the mestizo or mixed culture of Mexico.
The historic struggle between globalization and the nation continued in the nineteenth century, as Mexicans searching for a national cuisine were torn between nostalgic "Creole" Hispanic dishes of the past and French haute cuisine, the global food of the day. Indigenous foods, by contrast, were considered strictly dï¿½classï¿½. Yet another version of Mexican food was created in the U.S. Southwest by Mexican American cooks, including the "Chili Queens" of San Antonio and tamale vendors of Los Angeles.
When Mexican American dishes were appropriated by the fast food industry and carried around the world, Mexican elites rediscovered the indigenous roots of their national cuisine among the ancient Aztecs and the Maya. Even this Nueva Cocina Mexicana was a transnational phenomenon, called "New Southwestern" by chefs in the United States. Rivalries within this present-day gourmet movement recalled the nineteenth-century struggles between Creole, Native, and French foods.
Planet Taco also seeks to recover the history of people who have been ignored in the struggles to define authentic Mexican, especially those who are marginal to both nations: Indians and Mexican Americans.
About the Author
Jeffrey M. Pilcher
is Professor of History at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Que vivan los tamales!: Food and the Making of Mexican Identity; The Sausage Rebellion: Public Health, Private Enterprise, and Meat in Mexico City
; and Food in World History
. He also edited the Oxford Handbook of Food History
Table of Contents
Introduction A Tale of Two Tacos
Part I Proto-Tacos
Chapter 1. Maize and the Making of Mexico
Chapter 2. Burritos in the Borderlands
Part II National Tacos
Chapter 3. From the Pastry War to Parisian Mole
Chapter 4. The Rise and Fall of the Chili Queens
Chapter 5. Inventing the Mexican American Taco
Part III Global Tacos
Chapter 6. The First Wave of Global Mexican
Chapter 7. The Blue Corn Bonanza
Conclusion The Battle of the Taco Trucks