The History and Culture of Food and Drink: Mexico and Highland Central America

John C Super & Luis Alberto Vargas. Cambridge World History of Food. Editor: Kenneth F Kiple & Kriemhild Conee Ornelas. Volume 2. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

The diversity of the natural environment in Mexico and highland Central America has influenced the development of food and dietary patterns. From the aridity of the great Sonoran Desert in the north, through the temperate basins of the Valley of Anahuac, to the tropical forests of the south, different climates and soils have conditioned what and how people ate. Within the larger regions, hundreds of microregions have had their own environmental and dietary characteristics, and for millennia cultures have modified these environments to suit their food needs. Three especially profound events that have influenced environment and diet are the emergence of agriculture, the arrival of Europeans (1519), and the technological and organizational changes of the twentieth century.

Early Diet

Before the advent of agriculture, hunting, fishing, and gathering provided the nutrients for Mexican diets. Most large mammals had become extinct by about 7200 B.C., and four plants in particular—mesquite, nopal, maguey, and wild maize (teozinte)—increasingly complemented a diminishing amount of animal protein provided by fishing and hunting. Even after the rise of sedentary societies dependent on agriculture, food gathering continued to provide essential nutrients for most indigenous groups. Densely populated communities in the central highland valleys and seminomadic peoples in the arid north enriched their food supply by collecting larvae, insects, and grubs, in addition to small mammals and reptiles.

As food production became more abundant, the quantity of collected foods declined, and it was on the base of domesticated crops that Mexican civilization rested. Maize, squash, beans, tomatoes, chillies, amaranth, several cactus varieties, and many fruits (among them avocado and guava) constituted the diet of the vast majority of Mexicans.

Maize was the main food of the sedentary peoples of all of highland Middle America. In the highlands of Guatemala one Quiché Maya word for maize is kana, which means “our mother.” Maize was so important to some cultures that without it there was a cultural sense of hunger, even if other foods were available (Herrera Tejada 1987: 230-3). Maize is a particularly fertile and nutritious plant, capable of providing abundant calories and nutrients. When it is eaten with beans, another staple of the highland diet, the lysine, isoleucine, and tryptophan deficiencies in maize are overcome, and provides a pattern of amino acids similar to that of animal protein. Moreover, the traditional preparation of maize, which involves soaking the kernels in a lime (CaO) solution, releases niacin for the consumer and provides significant amounts of calcium.

Maize’s centrality to the diet can be seen in the diverse ways that it was prepared. First eaten raw for its juices or toasted over a fire, its preparation as a food gradually took many shapes and forms. When ground finely and added to liquid, it formed the gruel known variously as atole, pozole, or pinole. As a masa, or dough, it was a food for the most versatile of cooks. In addition to diverse tortillas (thin griddle cakes) and tamales (dumplings steamed in corn husks), maize was cooked in myriad other shapes with such names as peneques, pellizcadas, sopes, and tostadas. In addition, it could be popcorn, a preparation now well known the world over. Maize has served as a plate to support other foods (as in a taco), as the base for complicated dishes (for example, an enchilada), and as a napkin.

Another important food for the sedentary people of Mexico was squash, by which we mean a number of plants belonging to the genus Cucurbita, which includes pumpkins, squash, and zucchini, among others. All were fully employed as food sources. Their stems constituted an ingredient of a soup now called sopa de guias; the tasty yellow flowers have also long been a part of soups, stews, and quesadillas, and the fruit itself can be boiled. In recent times, brown sugar and cinnamon have been added to form a thick syrup that transforms the boiled fruit into calabaza en tacha, the classical dessert for the Día de los Muertos. Pumpkin seeds are usually left to dry in the sun and then are toasted and eaten with a dash of salt. By weight, they have a higher content of isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine than maize, beans, amaranth, and even egg whites. These seeds are also known as a medicine to get rid of tapeworms.

As already mentioned, many wild foods, some of them peculiar to Mexico’s Central Valley region, were essential to the diet. Tecuitlatl (Spirulina geitleri), an algae collected from the surface of lakes in the valley, was particularly important as a source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. According to sixteenth-century reports, sufficient amounts of the algae were available to make it nutritionally significant.

Animal foods complemented the many plants that were the basis of the highland diet. Along with domesticated rabbits, dogs, and turkeys, the Aztecs enjoyed a variety of wild animals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Many of these food sources have remained parts of nutritional regimes into the twentieth century. Indeed, the turkey has subsequently gained greater importance in the cuisine. Despite the availability of wild fowl and then of domesticated ducks and chickens introduced by the Spaniards, the turkey survived as a culturally important food in Mexico. In contrast, Mexican hairless dogs (xoloitzcuintli) are no longer eaten.

The pre-Columbian diet of Middle America was also complex. The region dominated by the Maya had as much diversity as the central highlands. Along the coast and river estuaries, fish and shellfish provided essential nutrients. Cultivated maize was supplemented by plants such as chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa) and ramón (Brosimum alicastrum). Ramón may have been an especially significant foodstuff. Under cultivation, this tree produced large quantities of edible seeds that had a protein content between 11.4 and 13.4 percent, substantially higher than local grains (Puleston and Puleston 1979). Several root crops provided carbohydrates for the diet: jícamas (Pachyrhizus erosus), camotes (Ipomoea batatas), yuca (Manihot esculenta), andmalanga (Xanthosoma sp.) (Vargas 1984: 278).

The quantity and quality of food in early diets remain open to interpretation. Anthropological evidence provides insights into specific sites during narrow time periods, but it does not help in the problem of generalizing for the region. One approach to the question of diet has been to analyze the carrying capacity of the land (population density versus potential food resources) on the eve of the arrival of Europeans. But even if it were possible to determine the precise carrying capacity of any region, it would not necessarily reveal how much people ate. Based on carrying capacity, estimates for the central region of Mexico range from 1,400 to 2,629 calories per person per day (Ortiz de Montellano 1990: 80).

One line of investigation that has revealed new insights into the quality of the diet has focused on Aztec cannibalism. The investigation took its modern form when Michael Harner published a widely cited article that emphasized protein deficiency as a reason for Aztec cannibalism (Harner 1977). According to his reasoning, the dense population of central Mexico, so dependent on a maize diet, lacked adequate numbers of domesticated animals, and hunting and gathering could not have supplied sufficient whole protein to compensate for its lack in the diet. Climatic uncertainties and recurring droughts in the late fifteenth century further contributed to deficiencies in the Aztec food supply.

Debate over such issues has led to different conclusions. One, which counters the protein-deficiency argument, stresses that the Aztec diet delivered plenty of good-quality protein. In addition, there is evidence showing that Aztecs suffered from gout, a condition associated with too much protein (Ortiz de Montellano 1990: 86, 121). Also useful in the debate is recognition of the success of Mesoamerican agricultural practices. Systems of terracing, irrigating, fertilizing, and the justly famous chinampas (artificial islands that could yield as many as four harvests a year), all combined to produce abundant quantities of food. Intercropping, or the growing of several crops together, was also beneficial. Intercropping was particularly useful when beans were planted with maize because the nitrogen-fixing beans helped increase maize yields (Ortiz de Montellano 1990: 94-7). In addition, the traditional milpa practice of planting squash and maize and letting edible wild herbs grow next to the latter served both to deter pests and to provide additional foods before the corn harvest, a time when there could have been scarcity.

Food preparation and consumption practices also contributed to good nutrition. As mentioned, maize, when prepared as a masa and eaten with beans and amaranth, delivers proteins comparable to those from animal sources. Other culinary staples added to the nutritional well-being of indigenous peoples as well. Chillies, full of vitamin C, were commonplace in the Aztec diet. So were tomatoes, as significant sources of minerals and vitamin C, and quelites (wild edible herbs), rich in vitamin A.

Far from being a monotonous and boring series of dishes, Mexican cuisine had great culinary variety, the result of an imaginative mixture of ingredients and methods of preparing them. Sauces or moles were common, and different combinations of chillies gave them different flavors. One such sauce is pipián, a thick mixture with a special texture made from ground squash seeds. A well-chosen combination of sauces could add different flavors to vegetables and meats while also providing more protein.

Mesoamericans also knew how to ferment several vegetable products, the best known of which is the sap of maguey (agave), used to produce the mildly alcoholic beverage pulque. They also fermented several maize products. Pozol was and is a popular preparation made with a combination of several varieties of corn, whereby the masa is made into small balls, which are covered with leaves and left to ferment. The balls are then dissolved in water to make the pozol. Mexican biologists and chemists (Cañas et al. 1993) have found that this kind of fermentation enhances the amount of protein the drink contains because of the growth of microorganisms.

Contact and Dietary Change

The arrival of the Spaniards in Middle America initiated dietary and cultural changes that have continued until today. The precise extent and pace of such changes remain subjects for research and interpretation, but the broad outlines of the process can be addressed.

Although the Spaniards expected to replicate their traditional food patterns in the New World, the extent to which they fulfilled this expectation depended on local geographic and cultural forces and on policies of trade and commerce. In the Caribbean, climate and culture hindered the establishment of Spanish alimentary regimes. There, Spanish culture survived through adaptation to local conditions and through an elaborate system of trade that supplied the islands. Wheat, the staple of the Spanish diet, was central to the trade.

In Mexico and the highlands of Central America, soil and climatic conditions encouraged the establishment of wheat production. The quantity and flavor of wheat grown in the valleys of the central highlands and in the broad plain of the Bajío became renowned throughout Middle America. Production of wheat often exceeded demand, and in the eighteenth century wheat exports fed soldiers and sailors garrisoned in Havana. As wars increased in frequency, the demand for wheat grew, and Mexico lost the Caribbean market to the United States, not because of insufficient grain for export but because of the higher cost of transporting Mexican grain.

Wheat was always a political issue in Mexico following the Conquest. In the late 1520s in Mexico City, legislation mentioned the importance of a supply of “white, clean, well-cooked and seasoned bread, free of barley and sand” (Actas del Cabildo 1889-1916, 1: 146-7). By the eighteenth century, when the capital city may have been consuming over 40 million pounds of bread a year, the problem of sufficient wheat bread had become considerably more complex. The quantity and quality of bread available was the result of the interaction among hacendados (wheat farmers), molineros (millers), panaderos (bakers), pulperos (small shopkeepers), and harried public officials who tried to regulate prices and quality (Super 1982; García Acosta 1989).

Other grains, barley and rye in particular, were introduced to Mexico but assumed only regional importance. After wheat, rice probably had the most success of any of the imported grains among all ethnic and social groups in Middle America. By the middle of the seventeenth century, Panama was already producing enough of a surplus to support a small export trade to Peru (Castillero-Calvo 1987: 428). In Mexico, Indians came to depend on rice as a complement to or substitute for maize. External influences on the preparation of rice continued into the twentieth century. Morisqueta, rice prepared by a technique supposedly introduced by the Japanese, became common in the rural Mexican diet in the 1940s, and rice achieved even more fame as the basis for a drink known as horchata, prepared with rice flour, sugar, cinnamon, and ice (Horcasitas 1951: 162-3).

Even before they planted these grains, Spaniards introduced new sources of animal protein to Middle America. Pigs in particular were the animals of conquest—they were mobile, adaptable, and efficient producers of fat and protein. Their rapid proliferation presaged a century in which animal foods were more abundant than ever before or since. Sheep multiplied almost as rapidly. By the end of the sixteenth century, the Tlaxcala-Puebla region counted 418,000 head of sheep; Zimatlán-Jilotepec 360,000; and the Mixteca Alta 238,000 (Dusenberry 1948; Miranda 1958; Mate-sanz 1965).

Cattle followed pigs and sheep, transforming dietary patterns wherever they went. Enormous herds dominated the central and north-central regions of Mexico, where the landed estate system began to take shape in the late sixteenth century. Cattle were valuable for their hides; meat was of secondary importance, as reflected by the very low price of beef.

Meat-based diets were widespread throughout Mexico and Middle America, extending south to Panama. Indeed, meat may have been more abundant in the Panamanian diet than in that of the Mexican (Castillero-Calvo 1987: 432-4; Super 1988: 28-32).The period of abundant meat in the central areas, however, came to an end as the great herds exhausted the grasslands. But the period itself left a dietary legacy that continued through succeeding centuries. Fat from cattle had become the substitute for the European’s olive oil and butter. Ignaz Pfefferkorn, a Jesuit very concerned with his stomach, summarized the situation in the eighteenth century: “The art of butter-making is as unfamiliar in Sonora as it is in all of America” (Pfefferkorn 1949).

Wheat and meat were the staples of the diet, providing the energy necessary for the establishment of Spanish society in Mexico. Along with the staples came scores of other foods, most of them basic to the Spanish diet at home. Among the vegetables common in the sixteenth century were onions, garlic, carrots, turnips, eggplants, and lentils; common fruits included peaches, melons, figs, cherries, oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit. Most of these foods had become regular items in the diet by the end of the sixteenth century and remain so today.

Olives and grapes did not follow this pattern. Both were essential to the Spanish diet, but neither had lasting success in Mexico. After an auspicious start, the cultivation of both was deliberately limited to ensure that southern Spain had a captive export market. Much olive oil and wine was still being imported at the end of the eighteenth century, but their dietary importance had declined because of Spanish mercantilist regulation and changing food preferences.

Sugar has a special place among the foods that came to the New World. In Mexico, Hernando Cortés was the first landholder to devote large areas to the cultivation of sugarcane. Production soon increased and sugar was exported; at the same time it became widely appreciated by the Mexican people. Its availability and price made it a good substitute for the relatively more expensive honey and the syrup fabricated by boiling the sap of the maguey plant. With a cheap and readily available sweetener, Mexicans were soon experts in preparing a wide variety of desserts and sweets that became characteristics of the cuisine (Zolla 1988).

Formation of the Creole Diet

The blending of indigenous and European foods and food techniques began immediately after the Conquest. The result was the emergence of a comida novohispana, which in turn became the basis of Mexican regional cuisines. Some elaborate dishes are elegant testimony to the fusion of the two food traditions. Mole poblano is one of the most highly regarded, with its chocolate base seasoned with different types of chillies and nuts. To this dish Europeans contributed foods and spices that they brought with them from the Old World: onions, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The fowl in the dish, almost secondary to its flavor, was either turkey (native to Mexico) or chicken (introduced into Mexico after the Conquest). Although dishes such as mole and chiles en nogada (chillies stuffed with minced meat and fruits, covered with a thick nut sauce) rightly deserve notice, an even more basic fusion was taking place. As mentioned, European livestock began providing the fat that native cuisine lacked, and fat from pigs, and then from cattle, was quickly absorbed into the Indian diet. Even dishes that might have seemed to be pure reflections of pre-Hispanic dietary regimes came quickly to depend for flavor on fat from Old World animals. Frijoles refritos, gorditas, quesadillas, and other traditional Mexican dishes were not prepared before the Conquest. The technique of frying itself was introduced only in the sixteenth century. Indeed, most of the dishes so closely associated with Mexican cuisine—carnitas, tortas, tacos, and tamales—are prepared with animal fats, cheeses, onions, garlic, and bread, all of which were introduced by Europeans.

The diffusion of these foods among different indigenous groups has been a matter of some discussion. Chickens, pigs, and goats quickly became familiar parts of Indian economic activity and regular items in the diet. When prices were low enough, meat from cattle and bread from wheat were also eaten. But there are questions of how rapidly and to what extent beef and wheat were integrated into the diet of indigenous groups. A traditional interpretation is that there was little fusion of the different food traditions and that the “Indians continued their almost exclusively vegetarian diet: corn in liquid and solid form, beans, vegetables and chile; for bread, meat, and other foods were far too expensive for them” (Gamio 1926: 116). Recent research on the colonial period, however, suggests that fusion was much more extensive and that Native American diets did include wheat and meat, foods traditionally associated with a European diet (Castillero-Calvo 1987; Super 1988).

The development of a new diet did not necessarily require the addition of new foods. For example, pulque, already mentioned as the fermented juice of the maguey plant, emerged as the most widely consumed beverage of the central highlands because traditions that had limited its intake before the Conquest weakened in the sixteenth century. The resulting widespread consumption continued into the twentieth century. Although pulque provided needed carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins to the diet, it also contributed to the image of widespread alcohol abuse among Indians and mestizos in Mexico.

Commercial production of this beverage spread with Spanish society and the emergence of the hacienda. The technology of pulque production remained essentially the same as before the Conquest, but new storage vessels of leather and wood made it possible to produce larger amounts of pulque more easily. Drinks from sugarcane (many different types of aguardiente were popular by the eighteenth century) were also accepted by indigenous cultures but did not replace pulque as a daily beverage. Of all the foods and beverages of indigenous cultures in Mexico, pulque remained the most politicized, sparking medical, moral, and economic controversy into the twentieth century (Calderón Narváez 1968; Leal, Rountee, and Martini 1978; Corcuera de Mancera 1990).

It is impossible to reduce the complex changes that took place in the diet during the colonial period to a series of statistics measuring calories and other nutrients. Nevertheless, the weight of the evidence suggests that the collision of cultures in the sixteenth century resulted in an initial improvement in nutrition among the poorer classes. The gains made were difficult to sustain as the colonial period drew to a close, and by the end of the eighteenth century the nutritional status of the individual was probably lower than it had been two centuries earlier (Borah 1979-89; Castillero-Calvo 1987; Super 1988). It is also important to note that until the late nineteenth century, Mexican regionalism was very pronounced, which encouraged the continued independent evolution of local cuisines.

The Nineteenth Century

Patterns of food production and distribution were disrupted by the struggle for independence and subsequent economic dislocations. But independence did not lead to the development of new alimentary regimes. Despite new influences affecting food preparation techniques for the wealthy (French food fashions, for example), most Mexicans continued to rely on diets that had changed very little from the colonial period.

The emergence of new agricultural and land-tenure patterns in the second half of the century may have reduced dietary quantity, but it is difficult to generalize for the entire region. Some of the prices for basic foods—maize, beans, rice, and chillies—did increase sharply, especially during the final years of the nineteenth century and the first few years of the twentieth. But such prices usually reflected trends in central Mexico that were not representative of the country as a whole. During the nineteenth century, regional variation continued to characterize food availability, prices, and consumption in rural Mexico.

As during earlier periods, the complex labor relationships of the haciendas influenced the availability of food. These in turn had regional variations. For example, in the Puebla-Tlaxcala region of central Mexico, although the peones alquilados (daily, weekly, or seasonal laborers) might have had high wages, they seldom received food rations. In contrast, the peones acasillados who lived on the haciendas often received fixed amounts of food and had the right to work a small amount of land, called a pegujal, for their own benefit. An interesting dimension of rural labor arrangements was the obligation of the servicio de tezquiz, whereby daughters and wives of rural workers prepared atole and tortillas for hacienda personnel. This, as with fieldwork, was paid for both in specie and in kind. In the latter case, the women received up to one almud (4.625 liters) of maize for performing this service (Coatsworth 1976; Cross 1978; Borah 1979-89; Nickel 1982: 125-48).

The traditional view is that a marked decline in nutrition occurred in the late nineteenth century. There is, however, some evidence to counter this view, which is based on wage and price data that can be misleading when local labor relationships are not understood. In many areas of rural Mexico, peasants continued to hold on to their land, producing for subsistence and then for the market. Workers who were entirely dependent on their employers often had access to rations that provided for their own—and their families’—basic caloric needs. Salaries, although low, were sufficient to buy some meat and nonessential foods. This is not to suggest that diets were good, or perhaps even adequate. But they were, it seems, not as bad as traditionally described.

The Twentieth Century

Like the struggle for independence that began the nineteenth century, the Mexican Revolution (1910-17) created disruptions in the production and distribution of food. As severe as these were in some areas, they were essentially transitory and had little lasting impact on food and diet.

More important were two gradual processes that would shape the history of food in the twentieth century. First was the continuing commercialization of food production, a process with origins in the advent of sixteenth-century European agricultural practices. It gained momentum during the colonial period and then surged under the rule of Porfirio Díaz (1876-1911) in the late nineteenth century as more and more land was devoted to agricultural products for an export market, particularly cattle, sugar, coffee, and two nonfood crops—cotton and henequen.

The latest step in this process has been the increase in the production of fruits, vegetables, and meats for the U.S. market, beginning in the 1960s. Related to this was the leap in the production of sorghum (used for cattle feed), which has become a leading crop in Mexico (Barkin 1987: 281). Similar to soya in Brazil, sorghum emerged to satisfy the demands of the export market rather than internal needs. One consequence has been increasing pressure on resources traditionally used to produce foods for local consumption.

The second process has been the industrialization of food production and distribution. The molino de nixtamal, a mill for maize flour, has had particularly far-reaching impact. Making tortillas by hand is a time-consuming process, once performed daily by homemakers, but with the introduction of the molinos in the early years of the twentieth century, and then of new methods of packaging and distributing tortillas, the traditional social roles of women changed. Freed from a daily four to six hours of labor with tortillas, women have had to adjust to new social and economic relationships. Cultural attitudes toward maize, still a sacred food among some highland Guatemala peoples, also changed as maize production was subjected to mechanization (Keremitis 1983; Herrera Tejada 1987; Vargas 1987).

The establishment of the molino de nixtamal is only one example of the growing consolidation of the processing and distribution of food. As in other societies experiencing rapid urbanization and industrialization, Mexico has seen its food systems undergo a profound alteration. National and transnational corporations influence everything about food from price to fashion, with the result that traditional foods and methods of preparation are giving way to national and global food processing and distribution systems. Such changes have also accentuated the loss of Mexican self-sufficiency in food production (Barkin 1987; Vargas 1987).

All of these changes have meant a new era in the history of Middle American food habits. Unfortunately, the new era has not yet shown the capacity to eliminate the nutritional problems that still plague many people, especially the poor in rural areas. Although malnutrition seldom reaches the level of starvation, high rates of infant mortality, low birth weights, and chronic illness and development problems afflict the poor. Average caloric intakes, some 2,600 per person per day in Mexico in the 1970s, obscure the regional inequalities in diet. People in rural zones of the south might consume less than 2,000 calories—an intake comparable to the poor of India, Kenya, or Vietnam (Pineda Gómez 1982: 104-7).

The Mexican government has created several programs to counter problems of malnutrition and the negative effects of the globalization of food production and distribution. It first directed its efforts toward the creation of a national marketing system, the Compañía de Subsistencias Populares (CONASUPO), whose mission has been to regulate the price and availability of food by intervening in national and international markets. A much heralded governmental effort was the Sistema Alimentario Mexicano (SAM), a program launched in 1980. SAM aimed to improve national nutritional well-being by focusing resources on the increased production and distribution of domestic foods. This was accomplished by providing technology, credit, and price supports to small producers, thereby encouraging them to contribute more effectively to satisfying national nutritional needs. On the heels of SAM came the Programa Nacional de Alimentación (PRONAL), an even more comprehensive effort that focused on creating an integrated national food system. New governmental policies that have favored free enterprise and international commerce have hindered public programs intended to increase food availability to the poor.

One solution to the problem of malnutrition is a reliance on the natural diversity and traditional foods of a region. The significance of traditional foods, such as quelites (cultivated and wild herbs), for example, has been increasingly recognized as a result of a classic 1946 study of the very poor Otomi Indians of the Mezquital valley. Despite the almost total absence of foods common to middle-class urban diets, especially meat, wheat bread, dairy products, and processed foods, the Otomi, who consumed quelites, showed few signs of malnutrition (Anderson et al. 1946).


Mexico’s food system has suffered a long and complicated evolution. Elements of the past combine every day with those of the present on Mexican tables. Old Mesoamerican foods such as chillies, squash, beans, avocados, and all kinds of maize derivatives are considered necessary in a meal. These are enriched with foods from the Old World such as pork, beef, lettuce, rice, oranges, and coffee. Some of the old foods still have a special place in social gatherings. For instance, a traditional wedding deserves a mole de guajolote just as the typical breakfast on the day of a child’s first communion is unthinkable without hot chocolate and tamales. Families going out at night patronize restaurants specializing in pozole, a stew with grains of corn, meat, and old and new spices. New foods appear continually: Coca-Cola is already a staple; hamburgers and hot dogs are everywhere; new Chinese restaurants and pizza parlors open every day. It is interesting to note that many of these foods become “Mexicanized.” For example, the large hamburger restaurants offer chillies and Mexican sauces, and one can order a pizza poblana with long strands of green chilli and mole on it.

The increased modernization and internationalization of Mexican food and cuisine is clearly not without negative consequences. The variety of foods that characterized nutritional regimes in the past is declining; vast areas of land that once carried edible wild plants and animals have been cleared for agriculture, cattle raising, and expanding towns and cities. Packaged and processed foods, often less nutritious than their natural counterparts, are becoming more widespread, and there is still acute and chronic malnutrition in several parts of Mexico, even as obesity is a growing problem in affluent sectors of cities. Despite these problems, Mexico has a wide range of natural and cultural resources that may be called upon to help ensure a future where good diets are available to all.