Posted in WRD 422

WRD 422: Post 21

Ah, las paletas bonitas, how in love I am with you. I have always had mouth full of sweet teeth—I even lost one to a sucker in elementary school—so this discovery at La Michoacana was just right for me. Packing everyone on our field trip into the small establishment was a bit of a worrisome feat, but it gave me plenty of time to eye the massive menu board.

The atmosphere of the room itself was probably one of the most effervescent I’d ever seen, with walls the color of hydrangeas grown in six pounds of garden lime—in other words, not pink, but pink. Complementing this color was a veritable rainbow of cold confections, many of which were infused with the hues of the fruits they bore. The scents wafting throughout the room were those delightfully crisp tones found in any location featuring ice cream: cool, fresh, and enticing in a way no savory food can beckon.

The paleta de crema de fresas con crema (strawberries and cream paleta, made with milk; contrast paletas de agua, an ice-based option) was sweet without being syrupy, complementing the natural acidity of the strawberry. It was cold without hurting my teeth—a rare bonus for anything in the realm of frozen treats.

Would I go back to La Michoacana? In a heartbeat. In fact, I already have plans to do so.

Posted in WRD 422

WRD 422: Post 20

Images for Research Review:

Source: Lagi, Gard-Murray, and Bar-Yam

Corn price (blue line) and curves showing the causes of price increases according to our quantitative model (red dashed line). The green dashed dotted line is the supply and demand equilibrium impacted by the demand shock due to increasing corn to ethanol conversion. The quantitatively modeled speculation contribution to prices is the difference between the total and the supply and demand curve. The corn price without ethanol shock or speculation would be essentially constant (black dotted).(Lagi, Gard-Murray, and Bar-Yam)

Source: Wise
Source: Wise
Source: “Biofueling Hunger”


Videos for Research Review:

Green Star Products, Inc. “Some Biofuels Add Significant Food to Your Table.” YouTube. Business Wire, 9 Nov. 2007. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.

Billy, Yves, and Richard Prost. “Seeds of Hunger.” YouTube. Icarus Films NY, 10 Sept. 2009. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.



Posted in WRD 422

WRD 422: Post 19

“Quote Tamales” for Research Review:

Tortillas are nothing less than a staple food in Mexico. They are an essential part of the diet of the majority of Mexicans, and in recent years, this has become problematic. One might think, given how much corn must be produced in order to craft all of these tortillas, that corn would be produced in mass amounts around Mexico to the extent of a surplus of exports; this, unfortunately, is not the case. In fact, Mexico is today a major importer of corn—a dependency that Mexico has been desperately trying to reduce through support programs for small farmers (“Biofueling Hunger 3). However, these efforts have been largely negated by the actions of the United States, “including subsidies for ethanol conversion and deregulation of financial markets” (Lagi, Gard-Murray, and Bar-Yam). And, of course, there was NAFTA.

The rise of Mexico’s import dependency, in large part due to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has left the country vulnerable to rising US corn prices. Since 1990:

■ Mexico’s agricultural trade balance swung from a small surplus to a $2.5 billion deficit in 2011;

■ Mexico’s import bill from the United States soared from $2.6 billion to $18.4 billion in 2011; and

■ Mexico’s imports of corn went from 7% to 34% in recent years. (“Biofueling Hunger” 3)

These effects impact Mexican citizens on a painfully tangible level. As the average cost of food consumed by a family experienced an increase of 53% between 2005 and 2012, Mexico’s poorer populations experienced a much higher difficulty, and in some cases impossibility, of purchasing enough food to eat (“Biofueling Hunger” 10). This hit women and children the hardest, leaving five million children hungry.


Food price hikes have resulted in riots across over 30 countries (Lagi, Gard-Murray, and Bar-Yam). The rioters wanted justice, and they wanted answers—but it wasn’t until May 2012 that answers could be provided.

Many factors have been proposed as causes for the price increases, from adverse weather to meat consumption in China, from increases in oil prices to exchange rates. In a recent paper, we tested these factors one by one, and constructed a model that explains what is behind the odd behavior of food prices. The results show there are just two main causes: increasing corn-to-ethanol conversion in the United States and excessive financial speculation. (Lagi, Gard-Murray, and Bar-Yam)

Financial speculation—conducting a transaction at the risk of losing everything invested, in the hopes of gaining a significant profit (“Speculation Definition”)—was the sole cause of a 76% increase in corn prices and import costs to Mexico between 2007 and 2008. Additionally, while import-dependent countries such as Mexico were suffering from these effects, exporters were benefitting. In other words, the poor get poorer while the rich get richer—and so long as the top dogs keep getting the best bones, it’s not in their interest to effect change.


Ethanol production within the United States, which converts about 40% of its corn to ethanol, has contributed to the conversion of approximately 15% of the world’s corn (Wise 2). In other words, globally, 15% of corn is made inedible and turned into biofuel due to U.S. involvement, which has occured as such:

The growth in U.S. ethanol production has been dramatic and quite recent, stimulated by high oil prices, government subsidies and tariff protection, and a mandate for increasing biofuel use that has nearly 10% of U.S. gasoline sales accounted for by ethanol.

Biofuels expansion in general, and U.S. corn ethanol expansion in particular, are widely seen as among the major contributors to the recent surge in food prices. . . .  These, in turn, have had a direct impact on the food-import bills of developing countries, many of which have become heavily dependent on outside sources of basic food commodities in the last 25 years. (Wise 2)

This redirection of corn production removes a fairly large percentage of corn from the global market equation; without current biofuel policies, this corn would typically be used to feed people and livestock (Wise 4). This consequently reduces the supply while doing nothing to meet the demand, resulting in price hikes on agricultural commodities. The more biofuel is produced, the more expensive food becomes.

Biofueling Hunger: How US Corn Ethanol Policy Drives Up Food Prices in Mexico. Action Aid International USA, 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Lagi, Marco, Alexander S. Gard-Murray, and Yaneer Bar-Yam. “Impact of Ethanol Conversion and Speculation on Mexican Corn Imports.” New England Complex Systems Institute (2012): n. pag. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Speculation Definition.” Investopedia. New York City: InterActiveCorp, n.d. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.

Wise, Timothy A. “The Cost to Mexico of U.S. Corn Ethanol Expansion.” Global Development And Environment Institute (2012): n. pag. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Posted in WRD 422

WRD 422: Post 18

Tortas at Taquería San Miguel:

You know, social anxiety really sucks. It especially sucks when you’re debating whether to stumble your way through a conversation in English or Spanish. So, though the sign outside enticed me with its proud proclamation of “Tenemos Tamales,” I grew nervous when I couldn’t locate tamales on either the menu or the separate listings of the specials. For someone without social anxiety, the brain might process the situation thusly: “I cannot locate information on the tamales, so I should ask the man behind the counter about them. I will ask in English, as it is the language that is most comfortable for me, so that I do not accidentally mar my intent.” For the brain afflicted with social anxiety, the brain provides this report: “OH GOOD GRAVY TRAIN WE CAN’T TALK TO A PERSON! Are you crazy? Don’t use Spanish; forget the four years of education on it, because you’ve just forgotten all the relevant words. You’re nervous, which means you’re going to mumble, and he won’t be able to hear you. Forget anything resembling a conversation. Pick something on the menu that you can read clearly and order that instead. Kiss your beloved tamales goodbye.”

All that aside, the torta de jamon con huevo y salsa verde was delicious, and my friend thoroughly enjoyed her own torta de carne asada. I highly recommend Taquería San Miguel as a friendly and open restaurant, which deserves far more customers than were in it when my friend and I arrived. Go, give them your business, and get the tamales. Then tell me about them, so that I may go in armed appropriately on my next visit. Thanks.

Posted in WRD 422

WRD 422: Post 17

Tostitos-brand queso and salsa, with shredded cheese and chicken, sandwiched between two tortillas and cut in half for ease of consumption: the throw-it-together meal of a college student with an immutable hankering. The chef was my roommate Alexis, and though I did not stay to view the finished result, the progress report was promising:


According to The Cambridge World History of Food, quesadillas were not prepared before The Conquest. And that’s about all it has to say about them. They include a tortilla, cheese, and whatever else you’d care to put in them, so they’re as flexible as a tortilla. For a broke college student (read: a college student), it’s an easy treat that can make for a savory meal.

Posted in WRD 422

WRD 422: Post 16

Potential articles for use in Research Review:

Biofueling Hunger: How US Corn Ethanol Policy Drives Up Food Prices in Mexico. Action Aid International USA, 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

  • Overview of ethanol, biofuels, and food prices
  • Case study of Mexico’s import dependency and US ethanol expansion
  • Action plans for Mexican and US governments

Lagi, Marco, Alexander S. Gard-Murray, and Yaneer Bar-Yam. “Impact of Ethanol Conversion and Speculation on Mexican Corn Imports.” New England Complex Systems Institute (2012): n. pag. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

  • Test conducted of various factors that could explain rising food prices, with construction of model
  • Results: increasing corn-to-ethanol conversion in the United States and excessive financial speculation determined as main causes
  • Impact of US policy changes, including subsidies for ethanol conversion and deregulation of financial markets

Wise, Timothy A. “The Cost to Mexico of U.S. Corn Ethanol Expansion.” Global Development And Environment Institute (2012): n. pag. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

  • Expansion of US production and consumption of corn-based ethanol
  • Impact on poor consumers and net-food-importing developing countries
  • Estimation of direct impacts of U.S. ethanol expansion on Mexican corn import costs

Many articles discovered anticipating Mexico’s actions as the leader of the 2012 G20 Summit in regard to biofuel policy changes. No articles yet found discussing if any changes were actually pushed through as a result of the summit.

Many back-and-forth policy changes regarding corn in recent years; examples:

Posted in WRD 422

WRD 422: Post 15

While every cook introduces her own personal flavor to Mexican food, her tastes as well as the food change through the encounter . . .. Now firmly established as a global cuisine, Mexican food will continue to evolve, together with the tastes of its countless aficionados. (188)

Planet Taco writer Jeffrey M. Pilcher effects, to my mind, the perfect summation of the perception of “authenticity” with this quote. One might wish to visit Mexico to taste more “original” Mexican flavors, but even those have been altered over generations to become something new. Indeed, each region to which Mexican food is brought will put its own spin on it, not out of malice, but out of ingenuity. And the same goes for other foods as well; as cultures spread throughout the world, as we all grow closer to each other, cultural blending is bound to occur, and this is a good, important, valuable thing. The expansion in breadth of appeal for the various types of food in existence—which are certainly far too numerous to count—is evidence that people of all cultures may bond over the experience of consuming good food together.

For these reasons, I couldn’t care less whether the flavors that enticed my palate on Saturday were “authentic” or not. They were delicious, and made with the whole-hearted involvement of people who are proud of the food they create. That is what matters.

So whether you’re slurping up birria in Jalisco or in Lexington, or chowing down on hard-shelled tacos from the Bell, each iteration of the evolution of Mexican food is, in itself, a miniature revolution. The changes and the results are parts of a natural process that shows we are all growing together, sharing our experiences, and becoming more wordly as a result. So share a popsicle and a paleta, or whatever you desire; you’re part of the process—the vivacious maturation of a more connected globe.

Posted in WRD 422

WRD 422: Post 14

Cruising down Whittier Boulevard, under the landmark steel arch, I had my choice of placed serving birria (braised goat) from Guadalajara, Ensenada fish tacos, Salvadora pupusas, and a dozen other regional specialities. (3)

Chef Carlos Hernández Cedillo, a native of Guadalajara, moved to Buenos Aires with his wide, an Argentine pastry chef, in 1997. He worked in a succession of Mexican restaurants, trying to raise the standards of their cooking, and eventually opened his own place, Quinta Escencia (The fifth sense), on the fashionable Avenida de la Libertadora. Although he made his own tortillas from nixtamal in-house, his efforts to introduce regional dishes such as birria, pozole, and tortas ahogadas met with a lukewarm reception. The most popular menu item among Argentine customers was a massive sampler platter of fajitas, tacos, and burritos—all with beef. (173)

These quotes from Planet Taco by Jeffrey M. Pilcher are the sole two instances of the word “birria”—which is quite the shame, given that they do no justice to the dish. In both cases, the  bowl was passed over and ignored, in favor of something different.

The glossary describes birria as “Spicy goat stew, a specialty of Jalisco” (263). Indeed, the place where I first tried the dish was a homey little restaurant called Birrieria Jalisco. The birria came in two forms—stew and platter—with the choice of either goat or beef. I tried the birria en su jugo chivo (the goat stew) and was wowed, to the point that I described the taste to my sister in the fairly colorful terms of “Imagine if pork and venison made sweet, sweet love.” I sprinkled on some cilantro and a dash of lime juice after trying my first few bites, making sure that I had experienced it in several ways. Each was in turn better than the last.

Birria en su Jugo Chivo

The meat was thick, juicy, tender, the stew wholesome and substantial, not a single flavor left by the wayside. The small bones remaining within it clacked between my spoon and the bowl as my nose inhaled the fresh scent of cilantro and the swirling, heavy aroma of the broth. The bowl was a big as my head and filling to boot. It was one of the most pleasant food experiences I’ve had in my life.

Let no reader of Planet Taco be disparaged by the sparse descriptions and “lukewarm reception.” Birria is the cure for what ails you when hearty, savory food is desired.

Posted in WRD 422

WRD 422: Post 13

Quotes from Planet Taco by Jeffrey M. Pilcher:

“But feeling that I had  not truly experienced carne asada, the grilled beef that is the centerpiece of norteño (nothern) cuisine, I recently traveled to Hermosillo 250 miles south of Tucson, Arizona, in the heart of Sonora’s cattle country. Getting there was no easy task, for although it is a state capital, it is poorly served even by Mexican airlines.” (1)

I thought this was a bit odd for a state capital, until I recalled that Frankfort is by no means a major population center, despite being Kentucky’s capital. However, my confusion returned upon reading that the Colegio de Sonora is based in Hermosillo. As Pilcher described his trek around the city, it became clear that this was indeed a commercial center like unto Lexington, if not larger; thus, my confusion over the lack of air traffic remains.

“As connoisseurs of global street cuisine can attest—and as my experiment readily confirmed—fast food in the United States is not particularly fast. Street vendors can prepare elaborate dumplings, noodles, sandwiches, and, of course, tacos as quickly as any chain restaurant can serve a nondescript hamburger, never mind the time spent waiting at the drive-through window.” (4)

I have been both cheated and lied to, and I demand retribution. I will accept said retribution in the form of free food prepared quickly and given to me in forms both hot and delicious. I’m waiting, America.

“Recent biological research indicates that the fantastic myth of the Popul Vuh may well have happened, but in reverse, with humans taking an active role in the creation of maize. While most crops were domesticated through a mundane process of gradual experimentation, often on multiple occasions, the origins of maize were little short of miraculous. Botanists once thought that maize, like its cousin teosinte, was derived from a common ancestral plant, now extinct. However, recent genetic analysis has shown that it was domesticated directly from teosinte through a single, incredibly rare mutation. . . . Crossed back with neighboring strands of teosinte, to propagate the mutation, maize fluorished under human protection, and to this day, it cannot reproduce in the wild.” (25)

This paragraph was a bit of a rollercoaster ride for me. As it began with “. . . the fantastic myth of the Popul Vuh may well have happened . . .” I became ridiculously excited; this was something I’d never heard of before in human history. Then the words “but in reverse” stopped me short, as I thought, “Oh, well, of course, humans created maize, duh. Every crop was domesticated at one point. This isn’t anything new.” I skimmed my eyes idly down the page, not expecting to find much of interest, when I was stopped once again by the word “mutation.” A single mutation is a blip in the DNA, a simple whoops moment in the formation of a living thing—meaning that an entire domesticated species developed because a single odd plant was stumbled upon at the right time. Teosinte gave rise to maize, which gave rise to corn, which exists in our foods, our drinks, our gas tanks. All the result of a chance encounter. Geez, humans are lucky sometimes.

“In the days of the Aztecs, the Taco Bell dog would have been in the gorditas.” (27)

Should I be laughing at this? I feel bad for laughing at this. I think it was the shock value more than anything else; I didn’t expect a paragraph about material resources to end in quite such an abrupt manner, but it sure was memorable.

“Definitions of race therefore depended as much on culture as on physical appearance, and the baker’s guild of Mexico City reinforced this artifical hierarchy by producing breads appropriate for every rank and income.” (30)

Okay, a few things here. First, there was a baker’s guild in Mexico City. I imagine this wasn’t the only one of its kind, but as the self-proclaimed world’s greatest lover of baked goods, any news of a guild dedicated to baking makes my heart lighter. Until, that is, the guild reinforces racial hierarchies. Why do imperialists have to ruin everything?

“. . . Mónica de la Cruz, a mulata accused of sorcery by the Inquisition in 1652, was a vendor of tamales.” (34)

Gonna be honest here, I did not expect the Spanish Inquisition. [Forgive me.]