One of those Mexican gifts to world agriculture that has returned as processed goods and a bane to the Republic is chicle (from the Nahuatl tziktli — “sticky stuff”). Possibly as far back as the Olmecs, people in southeast Mexico have been chewing chicle sap to clean theirs teeth.
Like so many other “good idea at the time” things that haven’t worked out all that great for Mexico, the commercialization of chicle owes a lot to General Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón. In 1869, the 74 year old Santa Anna — still plotting a comeback from his less than lavish exile in a Staten Island, New York City boarding house, of course wanted to keep his pearly whites looking good and present a dazzling smile to the masses whenever he got around to returned to Mexico, but in the meantime….
Whether he was behind in the rent, or his landlord was just nosy, there’s no way to tell,but the landlord, candy-maker Thomas Adams got into Santa Anna’s chicle stash and adding some sugar coating and mint flavoring invented Chicklets. OK, so adding sugar to a natural tooth cleaner isn’t exactly the recommended way to obtain a cleaner, brighter smile, but if one anyone who has ever had the opportunity to eat a ripe zapote — which has the consistency of custard and the flavor of bubblegum — can understand why the cheap commercial version of chicle is so popular with the Mexicans. They love the stuff. A lot. Mexican chew an average four pounds of gum a year.
Four pounds of gum works out to about a stick and a half a day per person… which leaves behind a wad of “sticky stuff” and saliva stuck on sidewalks, under bus seats, hanging on walls and generally creating a mess. While a stick of gum only costs about half a peso, according to Federal Deputy Juan Manuel Diaz Franco’s research, it costs 2.50 pesos to remove a wad of gum. The Federal District spends 2800 pesos a day just on gum removal, and how much is spent by private citizens (just in time alone) is incalculable.
ederal Deputy Juan Manuel Diaz Franco is seeking to recoup some of that cost, through legislation that would impose a fifty percent tax on a pack of gum plus 0.15 pesos per stick… the revenue to be divided between the federal and municipal governments. It’s not a bad bill, but there’s one sticky situation that comes up… while there’s no gum lobby per se, there is a sense that those most affected by the tax bill would be the gum sellers. It’s not exactly taking candy from a baby… but it is taking the income from candy sales from cute little moppets.