Planet Taco

A Global History of Mexican Food

by Jeffrey M. Pilcher

As late as the 1960s, tacos were virtually unknown outside Mexico and the American Southwest. Within fifty years the United States had shipped taco shells everywhere from Alaska to Australia, Morocco to Mongolia. But how did this tasty hand-held food--and Mexican food more broadly--become so ubiquitous?In Planet Taco, Jeffrey Pilcher traces the historical origins and evolution of Mexico's national cuisine, explores its incarnation as a Mexican American fast-food, shows how surfers became global pioneers of Mexican food, and how Corona beer conquered the world. Pilcher is particularly enlightening on what the history of Mexican food reveals about the uneasy relationship between globalization and authenticity. The burritos and taco shells that many people think of as Mexican were actually created in the United States. But Pilcher argues that the contemporary struggle between globalization and national sovereignty to determine the authenticity of Mexican food goes back hundreds of years. During the nineteenth century, Mexicans searching for a national cuisine were torn between nostalgic "Creole" Hispanic dishes of the past and French haute cuisine, the global food of the day. Indigenous foods were scorned as unfit for civilized tables. Only when Mexican American dishes were appropriated by the fast food industry and carried around the world did Mexican elites rediscover the foods of the ancient Maya and Aztecs and embrace the indigenous roots of their national cuisine.From a taco cart in Hermosillo, Mexico to the "Chili Queens" of San Antonio and tamale vendors in L.A., Jeffrey Pilcher follows this highly adaptable cuisine, paying special attention to the people too often overlooked in the battle to define authentic Mexican food: Indigenous Mexicans and Mexican Americans.

  • Oxford University Press; September 2012
  • ISBN: 9780199908486
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF or secure ePub format
  • Title: Planet Taco
  • Author: Jeffrey M. Pilcher
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press

In The Press

"For those willing to sign on for the ride, it's a fascinating gold mine of information thoughtfully explained, usefully organized, and thoroughly documented. Eating a taco is eating history, indeed." --MM Pack, The Austin Chronicle
"Pilcher's proper emphasis on regional cuisines enables him to rescue the Tex-Mex taco from those elite Mexicans (often based in Mexico City) who reject it as a commercial invention: in fact, Tex-Mex cooking evolved organically in the border region, combining North American ingredients with Mexican sensibilities. Viewing food as a force of history, Pilcher imagines that 'the thin edge of a taco may one day help bring down the militarized border.'" --Foreign Affairs
"Many of Pilcher's anecdotes are entertaining and informative...folks looking to supplement their favorite meal with some food for thought need look no further." --Publishers Weekly
"A browser might take Planet Taco for another 'follow that food' tale .Yet this book is far more ambitious, tracing the growth, emergence and spread of an entire national cuisine. Jeffrey Pilcher uses the lowly taco as an emblem of both the complex origins of Mexican food, and its eventual global expansion .All of these delicious bits and pieces are held together by a narrative sweep that emphasizes mixture, controversy, constant class struggle, and the global forces of colonialism and capitalism."--Times Literary Supplement
"[Pilcher] manages to capture the essence of the demand of this very special food within America's borders. The narrative is lively and convincing, and he manages to include even a few recipes and inspiring photographs that encapsulate the history of something special within US borders. Pilcher's ability to tell a good story while showcasing some of the problems with 'Yankee ingenuity transforming Mexican culture' within the US raises both an appreciation for the consumption and understanding of Mexican fare, but also of the nature of globalisation and the long arm of American business."--American Review
"A magisterial history of cuisine in greater Mexico from the domestication of maize to the present and includes detailed discussions of how food has historically functioned as a marker of social and regional distinctions . Planet Taco will be widely read, and deservedly so, because it complicates seemingly familiar historical categories--nation, ethnicity, and culture, among others-- through a culinary idiom that his readers already think they understand." --Hispanic American Historical Review
"A pleasure to read Planet Taco celebrates Mexican cuisine as an exemplar of global food culture today - a complex product of historical contingency, the search for meaning, and economic constraints. The unique history of Mexican food reminds us that these elements shape our lives in profound ways wherever we live-and whether we take our chili red or green."--New Global Studies
"This book reveals that the struggle for Mexican culinary authenticity is not merely one between American transnational food corporations and Mexicans, but has taken place for over two centuries in many arenas--between creoles and indigenous groups during the post-colonial era; Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants in the United States; and between Mexican regions and cosmopolitan elites in the capital."--Food, Culture & Society
"Rich, exceptionally well written, and thoroughly researched The study's particular strength is the way Pilcher grounds a cultural history of Mexican cuisine in a detailed understanding of shifting immigration policy, changes in industrial technology, Cold War foreign policy and the Green Revolution, and social change in twentieth-century Mexico and the United States."--Review 31
"Meticulously researched and comprehensive Pilcher's concluding chapter provides a masterful analysis of the elements that shape and impinge upon the quest for food authenticity in general." --CHOICE
"As a work designed for a broad audience, the book is accessible, written concisely and at times rather humorously As such, the book would be useful in undergraduate classes of all levels, whether in Latin American or world history. At the graduate level, Planet Taco would be helpful in world history seminars that include Mexico among the topics. Beyond the historical argument, which is an expansion of the work Pilcher began many years ago, this book is quite informative and enjoyable to read."--H-World
"Impressively well-informed and sprightly .Pilcher takes us through the many permutations of Mexican cuisine with a sure hand."--Journal of Latin American Studies
"This synthesis not only shifts our understanding of Mexican food's global story, but also offers a number of fascinating case studies that lend insight into Mexican food and globalization. The book, though a serious history of Mexican cuisine of interest to specialists, will surely appeal to a general audience as well .Pinning down an authentic Mexican food, as Pilcher shows, may be an unwinning wrestling match."--History: A Review of New Books

About The Author

Jeffrey M. Pilcher is Professor of History at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Que vivan los tamales!: Food and the Making of Mexican Identity; The Sausage Rebellion: Public Health, Private Enterprise, and Meat in Mexico City; and Food in World History. He also edited the Oxford Handbook of Food History.