UNESCO Recognizes Mexican Cuisine as Cultural Heritage of Humanity

By Navarro, Carlos | SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, December 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

UNESCO Recognizes Mexican Cuisine as Cultural Heritage of Humanity


Navarro, Carlos, SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico


Food was on the minds of many Mexicans in November, after the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added Mexico's traditional cuisine to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Mexico's addition to the prestigious list came as the country wrestles with other aspects of its diet, including concerns about the growing rate of obesity among its citizens. In a report issued in November, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said obesity in Mexico is the highest among emerging economies. The county is making some efforts to address the obesity problem, including education and access to better foods in the schools.

A special committee meeting in Kenya in mid-November decided to include Mexico's traditional cuisine among 46 cultural treasures that were added to the UNESCO list. The list includes two other Mexican cultural traditions: the Parachicos festival in Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas state, and the Pirekuka, a traditional folk song of the P'urhepecha peoples in Michoacan. Parachicos is a nearly three-week festival honoring three Catholic saints that includes music, dance, religious ceremonies, and traditional cuisine. The Pirekuka is a diverse mix of musical styles that draws on African, European, and indigenous American origins, with regional variations identified in 30 of the 165 P'urhepecha communities.

Other cultural traditions selected by UNESCO for the list include the Peking Opera, Spain's Flamenco tradition, the Aalst Festival in Belgium, and traditional carpet weaving in the Kashan region of Iran.

Recognition could support cultural-preservation efforts

In Mexico, UNESCO's addition of a regional festival and a language was important, but the recognition of the country's cuisine was a source of national pride. "We are pleased by UNESCO's recognition of our culture and tradition," said syndicated columnist Cholyn Garza, who is also a human rights advocate and social commentator. "But this means that each of us now has the responsibility to commit to pass on these traditions to our children and grandchildren, so that we do not lose this valuable legacy. Mexico has much to offer the world, and we are responsible for preserving our patrimony, not only for our descendants but for humanity."

Gloria Lopez, president of the Conservatorio de Cultura Gastronomica Mexicana (CCGM), said the designation would motivate the Mexican agriculture and culinary sectors to continue efforts to preserve traditional cuisines. "As a conservatory, we will create a system of coordination that will bring together various players, including chefs, restaurant owners, tequila and wine producers, and farmers, all of which had been working independently," said Lopez.

The CCGM president said efforts would go beyond simple preservation of culture and cuisine. "Mexican cuisine has entered its golden age and will serve as an extraordinary platform to promote development in our country," Lopez told the Mexico City daily newspaper Reforma.

On its Web site, UNESCO described traditional Mexican cuisine as 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," said the UN organization. "The basis of the system is founded on corn, beans, and chili; unique farming methods such as milpas (rotating swidden fields of corn and other crops) and chinampas (manmade farming islets in lake areas); cooking processes such as nixtamalization (lime-hulling maize, which increases its nutritional value); and singular utensils including grinding stones and stone mortars."

"Native ingredients such as varieties of tomatoes, squashes, avocados, cocoa and vanilla augment the basic staples. Mexican cuisine is elaborate and symbol-laden, with everyday tortillas and tamales, both made of corn, forming an integral part of Day of the Dead offerings," said UNESCO. …

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