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Eat, drink, and I’ll be contrary

10 May 2017

42 percent of Mexicans live below the poverty line (defined as less than 5 US$ per day).  In the State of Yucatan, that percentage is 49%…. which  at least it’s less than half. So, what better place to find rich hippies and foodies from around the world flying in to spend 600 US$ (plus tax and gratuities) on a meal concocted and served by a team of Scandinavians?  Who then fly home again, feeling they’ve done something incredible.

Danish chef Rene Rezdepi … though Denmark has never been anyone’s idea of a Mecca for fine dining (Babette’s Feast excepted… and the Chef was French)… with a keen eye for the hipsters with too much money came up with the concept of “pop up restaurants”… ie., plonking down somewhere, serving overpriced food for a limited time only, then retreating back to the far north. In this instance, the “somewhere” is Tulum… best known for exploiting the local community and destroying the enviroment  in the name of tourism development, and “spiritual development”… you know, “self-esteem” through self-indulgence.

I’m sure the food is lovely… or so the foodie writers tell me.  I haven’t a clue.  I must admit food isn’t all that interesting a subject to me, and living in a country where food security is always an issue, what strikes me is variety of foods we find to eat… is based on what there is to eat. We don’t eat insects because it’s “exotic”, or because they have an unusual taste… we eat them because we have them, and they’re relatively nutritious.  And what’s not part of your daily routine is, I guess, “exotic” and merits shelling out some cash.  Though, about as exotic as we get is at Christmas, when we indulge in the exotic… semi-SCANDINAVIAN food… Bacalao:  Basque style codfish.  Or, other people do… I don’t particularly like it, and, from what I hear, people buy it more because its “tradition” to eat it at Christmas than out of any real enjoyment.

But one doesn’t have to travel very far to find bacaloa at Christmas… just about any fish market will have it, and enterprising neighbors will cook up a batch to sell.  Maybe a few hundred pesos a kilo, if that.  But Six hundred dollars (about 12,000 pesos, or 144 .5 salarios minimos.  Well, OK, it’s a 12 course meal.  In my local comida (and I’m in a pricier neighborhood of Mexico City than most), a three course meal runs 50 to 70 pesos.  So, for 12 courses, I might have to indulge in a bit of a moveable feast (like walking a block or maybe a block and a half during over the course of the dining experience) and plonking down around 320 pesos, including tax and gratuities).  Oh… the Danish guy’s “pop up” includes wine… so maybe another 50 to 100 pesos.  Lets get indulgent and call it $500 pesos altogether.  26 US$ … a week’s salario minimo, but within the budget of those of us with some disposable income.

Of course, we’re not going to have to travel for it.  Not really.  But, it’s worth it, according to the Danish diner director:

Redzepi has heard the criticism: Six hundred dollars is a lot to pay for a meal, especially a dinner that isn’t easy to reach. (My journey from Washington involved two planes, a ferry and a taxi each way.) “There’s a Protestant reaction to spending money on food” that doesn’t extend to indulgences including apartments, cars or clothes, he says, almost with a sigh. (Washington Post, 25 April 2017).

Okie-dokie, but apartments, cars, and clothes (most of which are bought to fit into an overall budget) last a bit longer than the digestive process. Certainly longer than the 144.5 days of labor it would take that 49 percent of Yucatecos to enjoy that single meal. Excluding transportation, taxes, and gratuities, of course.

Oh sure, it provides (temporary) jobs for a few Mexicans. Redzepi’s “Noma pop-up” also features “a view of the kitchen that captures the four local women whose sole job is making tortillas”: something you’ll also see in just about any “mom-n-pop” three (and sometime four) course meals for 50 pesos joint in the Republic. And, part of the proceeds go to “scholarships” for Mexican chefs… to learn, presumably from foreigners, how to make Mexican food.

And, OK… Denmark is a tiny country. Rezdepi’s claim of using “local” products isn’t quite true. Yeah, the coffee is from Mexico — Chiapas; the wine is too — from Baja California; and that “local” extends throughout the 194 million hectares that are Mexico. And beyond: one “signature” dish is “Rosio’s mole with dried scallops”. Rosio is from Chicago.

Yes, the whole thing is absurd (something even a few foodies noted), but it’s an obscenity in a country where malnutrition and the obesity caused by lack of access to decent local food are both major health problems, where wages are low and in an area already exploited and the people forced to give way for the self-indulgent foreigners. One might even entertain thoughts of the local Yucatecos, Mayans that they are, trying out some new variations on forgotten ancestral recipes: Roast hipster with a side of fried trust-fund baby anyone?

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And, speaking of ridiculous alimentary indulgences…

I suppose it’s good news, for investors in Constellation Brands and Heineken (Anheuser-Busch and SAB Miller brands) but Mexico now exports more beer than Germany. Unlike Germany, Mexico has water shortages everywhere, especially in those desert towns close to the US border where most of this beer (made with grains either imported from the US, or grown in lieu of food crops).

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Richard Baldwin Cook permalink
    10 May 2017 1:36 pm

    Thanks for this bit of brilliant writing. 🙂

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