Traditional Mexican Food: A World Cultural Heritage


I mentioned in an earlier post that in November 2010 UNESCO granted Traditional Mexican Cuisine the status of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Last week I attended a press conference where the people directly involved in the research and presentation of the project to the UNESCO received formal recognition from the government and gastronomy institutions. The event was organized by the Mexican chapter of CONPEHT (Panamerican Confederation of Hotel Management, Gastronomy and Tourism Schools) and CNT (National Tourist Confederation). The host was the ESDAI culinary school of the Universidad Panamericana in Mexico City  Institutions and individuals involved in the national gastronomy, students, researchers, teachers and members of the press were present in this important event that celebrated our food as a whole.

“This great achievement,” the press release read, “obtained through tenacity, experience, professionalism, team work and love to Mexico, reverberates in very social sector of our country as well as in the economic ones related to Mexican Cuisine.” But what is this and what does it mean for Mexico, its gastronomy and the people who are part of the culinary scene of the country?

According to UNESCO, “cultural heritage is not limited to material manifestations, such as monuments and objects that have been preserved over time. This notion also encompasses living expressions and the traditions that countless groups and communities worldwide have inherited from their ancestors and transmit to their descendants, in most cases orally.”

Specifically, in the case of Mexican cuisine, the Culture Sector of the UNESCO website says that “Traditional Mexican cuisine is a comprehensive cultural model comprising farming, ritual practices, age-old skills, culinary techniques and ancestral community customs and manners. It is made possible by collective participation in the entire traditional food chain: from planting and harvesting to cooking and eating.”

In a globalized world it is becoming more and more difficult to keep local traditions alive. This recognition by UNESCO is a call to all Mexicans to think about our traditions, culture, language and food and how important it is to preserve them. Mexico is a very diverse country. It’s 4th place in biodiversity in the world, after Brazil, Colombia and Indonesia, and the 2nd in cultural diversity after India. This diversity is reflected in our food. Even though the base of Mexican cuisine is corn, beans and peppers, the array of dishes that are prepared with these basic and other local ingredients is impressively big. Every region of every state of the country has a emblematic dish. Some states like Puebla, Oaxaca, Yucatan and Michoacan, among others, have so many different festive and every day dishes that a single cookbook couldn’t possibly cover them.

This UNESCO recognition is also a call to all the people involved in the Mexican gastronomy (chefs, academics, students, researchers, restaurateurs, cooks, writers and even bloggers) to learn more about our food and give it more promotion. We need to understand our traditions and food and know where our ingredients come from (GMO corn from the U.S.? Poblano peppers from China? Vanilla from Madagascar?). We need to support our local producers to make sure that the small communities that have been the guardians of millenarian traditions and recipes stay alive. In other words, we need to be proud of our food, our culture and of being Mexicans.

Miguel Torruco Marqués, president of CNT, ended his speech talking about something that I will never forget. He mentioned that the situation in our country might seem bleak at the moment, but we as Mexicans have more things to be proud of than afraid. And food is just one of those things we all should be proud of and work hard to preserve and promote. Our country has a lot to offer and with the hard work of all the people involved in Mexican food and tourism we’ll be able to overcome this difficult moment in our history.

I, personally, am proud of my background, culture and food. And in this humble space I will promote our food and culture. Mexico is a lot more than what you see on the evening news. Mexico is beautiful. Mexico is delicious. Mexico is magic.

¡Buen provecho!

Click on the image below to see more pictures of the event.

Press conference 02/16/11

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