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The rich get richer, and the poor get… fat (Coke, tortillas, and multinationals)

31 January 2007

Coca-Cola announced that they’re introducing Coke Zero (none of the sugar and all of the taste) in the Mexican market.  I guess you can’t be too rich or too (Carlos) Slim… but you can be poor and fat. 

Manuel Roiz-Franzia in the 27 January 2007 Washington Post looks at the nutritional crises that may result from the tortilla crises… and the role of the mulitnationals. 

Poor Mexicans get more than 40 percent of their protein from tortillas, according to Amanda Gálvez, a nutrition expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Modern-day tortilla makers such as Rosales use “an ancient and absolutely wise” Mayan process called “nixtamalizacion,” Gálvez said.

The process is straightforward. Large kernels of white corn are mixed with powdered calcium and boiled, then ground into a dough with wheels made of volcanic rock.

The resulting tortillas are more pliable and more durable than those typically found in U.S. stores. Mexicans say tortillas are their “spoons” because they use them to scoop up beans, and can serve also as their “plates” because they’re sturdy enough to hold a pile of braised meat and vegetables.

The tortilla-making process, Gálvez said, releases antioxidants and niacin, which allows them to be absorbed by the body, and the membranes on each corn kernel provide important dietary fiber. As a result of eating tortillas, Mexican children have a very low incidence of rickets, a bone disease caused by calcium deficiency that is common in developing countries.

“It is absolutely crucial for our population to keep eating tortillas,” Gálvez said.

Gálvez said she believes the price increase is already steering Mexicans toward less nutritious foods. The typical Mexican family of four consumes about one kilo — 2.2 pounds — of tortillas each day. In some areas of Mexico, the price per kilo has risen from 63 cents a year ago to between $1.36 and $1.81 earlier this month.

With a minimum wage of $4.60 a day, Mexican families with one wage earner have been faced in recent months with the choice of having to spend as much as a third of their income on tortillas — or eating less or switching to cheaper alternatives.

Many poor Mexicans, Gálvez said, have been substituting cheap instant noodles, which often sell for as little as 27 cents a cup and are loaded with less nutritious starch and sodium.

“In the short term, the people who can buy food are going to get fatter,” she said. “For the poor, the effect is going to be hunger.”

Some tortilla makers claim Cargill is among those unfairly raising prices, an allegation that Tamayo, the company’s spokeswoman, calls “absolutely false.”

Mexico’s corn behemoth is Grupo Gruma, owner of the Maseca tortilla brand and the world’s largest tortilla maker. Mota said the company may control as much as 80 percent of the Mexican tortilla flour market. The company has already drawn his ire by allegedly buying a competitor without the competition commission’s approval.

Mexico, which counts corn as one of its major agricultural products, now faces a shortage. As part of Calderón’s plan to combat high tortilla costs, he gave emergency approval — as suggested by large corn brokers — to import more than 800,000 tons of corn from the United States and other countries.

But just the year before, Mexico was exporting corn. The administration of Calderón’s predecessor, Vicente Fox, allowed brokers to export 137,000 tons of corn, which farming groups say should have been warehoused for future use.

Rafael Rodríguez, finance director of a farming trade group, said the contradictory decisions by the two presidents are proof of government favors to big corn companies.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 31 January 2007 9:46 pm

    Pretty good, accurate article, BUT there is one error. ALL corn tortillas, whether made in México, the U.S. or wherever are made from nixtamalized corn, NOT just the ones in México, and it’s powdered calcium oxide (lime) not “powdered calcium” that used in the process. The “tortilla flour” referred to is dried, ground, nixtamalized corn, not really flour at all.

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  1. AIRInforma – Sconfiggere l’obesità: alimentazione sana per le persone, sostenibile per l’ambiente
  2. Sconfiggere l’obesità: alimentazione sana per le persone, sostenibile per l’ambiente – AIRInforma

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