Reader Question: How to Eat Healthy in Modern-Day Mexico?

by Ann Marie Michaels on February 22, 2010

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Last month, I posted on this blog the story of Paula, a woman I met on an airplane who had grown up eating traditional food (raw dairy, cod liver oil, and organ meats) in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Shortly after posting that, I got this interesting email in my inbox:

Hello Ann Marie,

My name is Hilaire. I am from Oregon and I just recently moved to Guadalajara Mexico. I am married and we have four beautiful daughters (ages 1-7 yrs.) Last night I was desperately searching online for someone in my area who knew where to find good healthy raw milk.

I suppose I was hoping to find an expatriate who had read the research of Weston A. Price and knows all about nourishing traditional foods. A local chapter please?! That is when I stumbled upon your blog entry about Paula from Guadalajara. I was disappointed when I found it was not you that was from Guadalajara, but I was happy to hear someone from here still knows how to eat well.

Although I speak Spanish fine, I am after all a “gringa” that knows little about the ways of life down here. I have found that there are people who eat traditional foods like you mentioned Paula eating, but many of them also drink milk out of a box in which the second ingredient is vegetable oil. They might make refried beans that used to contain lard, but they’ve been misled into using the “healthier” vegetable oil instead.

I am in a very urban setting. Sure they have every animal part imaginable ready for purchase at the mercado, but my American mind can’t wrap around the lack of refrigeration and the lower standards of cleanliness. I find myself walking down the aisles of Wal-Mart wondering if I am better off there or taking my chances in the crowded open air markets (think more India than France).

I know that that is how things used to be, but when it comes down to actually buying stuff for my family, the fear sets in. I come from the beautiful and fertile Willamette Valley where things are pretty and clean and I could trace most foods back to their source nearby.

This is a huge city where honey could be fresh raw honey or a mixture of corn syrup and other things (I was told by locals not to buy honey unless I knew the source). Raw milk is legal here, but it is sold by people riding on bikes or motorcycles with containers strapped on the back. Where did it come from, is it safe, how do I know?

OK, so what is my point? I guess this is a desperate plea out into the land of cyberspace for any advice, help, or even better, connections, on how to feed my family traditional nourishing food in Mexico (especially when it comes to animal products).

Anything helps.

Thanks,

Hilaire

Thank you so much for writing, Hilaire. I wanted to post this on my blog because I thought maybe you would get some good responses from my readers in the comments. Also because I want this to be searchable on the internet so other people in your shoes can find it.

Response from Sally Fallon Morell of the Weston A. Price Foundation

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I wasn’t sure how to answer your questions so I emailed Sally Fallon Morell, author of Nourishing Traditions and the President of The Weston A. Price Foundation.

Here’s what Sally wrote:

Dear Hilaire, I can understand your concern about cleanliness, but it this case, the raw milk is your best bet because it has it’s own build in safety mechanisms. I am sure that if you hang out at the market you can find someone with a goat who can bring you goat milk they have milked no later than the day before. Of course, get lard there and bones to make into broth. All these things will give you immunity if you happen to have problems with the other food.

Hope this helps, Sally Fallon Morell

Response from Mare at Just Making Noise

mare

I also sent an email out to Mare Beard, author of the Just Making Noise blog. I was especially interested to hear what Mare had to say, since she was raised in the United States and recently moved to Costa Rica with her family. (The photo above is a picture of Mare eating her first bite of liver pate when she had lunch with me at Anisette in Santa Monica last month.)

Mare’s answer is a bit longer, and I hope it helps Hilaire — and anyone else out there with these same questions and facing similar challenges. I sent her Sally’s answer so she responds to that as well.

I totally understand your fear… new country, new place, new language and… new food. It took me a few months to get used to the changes from food to cleanliness (or sometimes lack of it), but I had to remember that our standard of cleanliness is a little over the top and not exactly healthy.

I totally agree with Sally’s respond on locating raw milk. We’ve been drinking & kefiring raw goat’s and cow’s milk since we moved here over a year ago… no sickness or problems. Not all the raw milk we drank was organic, but it is grass-fed and we ALWAYS ask lots of questions about their animals. Especially about the antiboitics… thankfully every farmer we talked to do not sell the milk if a cow has been given antibiotics. They also said they only use it for emergency because it’s expensive. Like you, we see farmers driving around in their trucks selling fresh milk from that morning. Goat’s milk is favorable here and I was blessed to be able to find a farmer who had enough goat’s milk to sell to us. My encouragement to you is to keep asking, keep looking and you WILL find clean sources of milk directly from a farmer. It takes time and perseverance… it was hard, but so worth it. You will be surprise with how much you can find in a foreign country that you can’t find so freely in the states. I especially love how cheap clean raw milk is here!!

With meat… we buy our meat from a butcher that several locals recommended and we’ve loved it. They have fresh beef delivered 3 times a week and I’ve seen the carcass hanging… that’s my favorite time to buy meat because I know it is fresh. Again, like with the milk… keep asking around and you will find locals who care about cleanliness and freshness. I know the place I buy my beef doesn’t look “clean” for the typical American, but it is very clean for a typical Costa Rican. Maybe you could even find the source of meat from whomever you buy milk from. All the beef is pretty much grass-fed. I do know that the beef we buy is 95%-98% grass-fed because our guy is very picky and likes to bring the best to his customers. There are some beef that have been fed chicken manure, but he doesn’t sell that (thankfully!!). Again, ask questions.

I also agree with Sally with buying the bones to make bone broths… so good and so plentiful! I love how pretty much every part of the animal is available and is consider NORMAL to use! If I tell our buchter I want to make broths or soups… he would bring out all the bones and parts that are commonly used for that purpose. The oxtail is a favorite and I would often have to request it so they would save it for me.

I don’t fully agree with Sally on buying lard. Our butcher sells fresh lard and I would totally use it if I couldn’t find butter, coconut oil or palm oil. I do use olive oil, but I try to stay away from cooking it as it is not a stable fat for cooking. Maybe I don’t know enough about lard, but the pig’s diet is terrible here in Costa Rica. They are mostly fed veggie oil waste along with corn, chicken poop & food from trash. From my understanding of how the pig’s body works… they don’t have the ability to detox, so toxics (and antiboitics) can build up in their fat and body. Lard is pig fat and I’m not comfortable using it because of what I know and have researched on pigs. If I can find a farmer that raises his pigs free-ranged and naturally, then maybe I would use it. I try to make our own butter as much as possible, but I do buy regular butter from the store because I know it is better then vegtable oil and margerine. I also use a lot of coconut oil which I bring from the states, but thankfully have found a source here in Costa Rica. I do know that palm oil is popular here, but haven’t really looked for it. Maybe you can find a source there?

I do not buy fruits, veggies or meat at the supermarket… mostly because they all taste like cleaning products that the stores uses and I know that my veggies, fruits and meats are fresher from the farmer’s market whether they are organic or not. As always I ask questions about how they grow their produces and enjoy knowing that pretty much everything they sell is directly from their farms. There are several organic farmer’s markets around Costa Rica… have you been able to locate any outside of your area? I’m sure there are some.

Overall, I stay away from all the processed foods and stay close to wholesome foods even if they aren’t organic. We know God will bless our efforts to eat healthy and we choose to be grateful for what we can find.

If you have any more questions… please let me know! I hope I was of some help!

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Gourmet Mama February 23, 2010 at 6:23 AM

I live in Guatemala and at first, had similar problems. What I’ve found is that everything is available, you just have to know where to look!

It really helps to talk to a local. In the market, you can talk to the butchers and if you aren’t comfortable buying meat that is out for so long (makes me nervous, too!), then ask them if they butcher daily and just go early in the morning to get your meat . . . it will only be a couple hours old.

Around here, there are people who walk through the street with goats and you can stop them and buy as much or as little milk as you like. I suspect that would be more difficult in the city, but you could probably find a milk man who sells raw milk . . . they usually ride bikes with a trailer of milk or drive a pickup and ring bells to let people know they’re coming. They come through quite early, between 5 and 6 am.

Hope that helps!
.-= Gourmet Mama´s last blog ..The Ultimate Deviled Ham =-.

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cheeseslave February 23, 2010 at 4:50 PM

Gourmet Mama -

What great feedback – thank you so much!

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Stephanie L February 24, 2010 at 1:27 PM

My husband’s grandparents live near Guadalajara (about 30 minutes north) and I’ve been going for long periods of time over the last 8 years in addition to living there for about a year in 2008/2009.
Recently I’ve been very disappointed with the food there. Although everything is fresh and tastes great they have started to adopt the same processing as the US. At first I was able to get a lot of organic fresh picked produce. But now even our family’s own crops are grown using seeds they have to buy from the Mexican government which come from Monsanto! The people are totally oblivious to the fact that their crops are GM and don’t even understand the concept.
Our family lives on a small ranch and few people there still use the raw milk from their cows. There is a huge dairy in the next town that ultra pasteurizes the milk and it’s sold in all the little stores and pharmacies. For some reason they all think it’s better! I was excited to learn to make fresh cheese and butter from all of the women but they look at me crazy and want to know why. I’m told it’s easier and better if you buy it at the store (ultra pasteurized of course).

Some still use lard but the marjority use vegetable oil now. The cows are fed corn stalks because it fattens them more than the grass. Chickens and Pigs are raised in small, crowded places like in the US and given antibiotics and hormones.

However, I think you will be able to find good raw milk, meat, and produce if you search one of the small towns or ranches on the outskirts of the city. A lot of the families that are too poor to buy the new processed foods still eat very traditionally. Guadalajara is a huge city and sometimes you just have to get outside of it to get the good stuff. Like Houston, I have to go out to the small farms on the outskirts to get raw milk and good, local produce.

I understand the sanitation issue. Simple handwashing is not practiced over there and I have yet to find hand soap in a restroom. It’s just something I have to overlook while I’m there.

Good luck and enjoy the beautiful weather there!

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FoodRenegade February 24, 2010 at 6:25 PM

During the time that I lived in Mexico, I was always impressed by the various mercados and street vendors. They’re always willing to talk to you and tell you everything about how they raise their animals/food. It’s great that the people growing the food are also the ones selling it to you! We’re so disconnected from our food here in the U.S.

Anyhow, finding truly quality sources of good food does take a little investigative work. You might have to talk to three or four different goat milk vendors before you find the one raising their goats on the mountain pastures just outside the city rather than the ones in stalls in the city feeding their goats scraps and grains. You might have to talk to several different veggie farmers to find the one growing and saving all their own seeds rather than ones using government seeds.

I second Gourmet Mama’s suggestion about picking up fresh meat from the local carniceria rather than the mercado. I used the mercado to buy veggies/fruits and meet local merchants.

I will say, though, that open air markets and slaughtering places tend to actually be more clean than closed facilities! Joel Salatin discovered that at his Polyface operation when testing his open-air chicken slaughtering set up. It’s the sunshine, the breeze, and the openness of it all that keeps it clean. So, if it’s good enough for Joel, it ought to be good enough for us. Just stick to open air markets rather than the indoor ones.

If you have a problem with the language or are afraid they won’t give you straight answers because you’re a gringa, why not bring along a native speaker (like your maid or neighbor or fellow church goer)? It might be a little awkward, but it’s worth it!

All in all, I’ve found that it’s far easier to get real food in Mexico than it is to do here in the states. Here, everything good is illegal and expensive. There, you can find just about anything (good & bad), and it’s all cheap!
.-= FoodRenegade´s last blog ..America Needs More “Brothals” =-.

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Sarah February 24, 2010 at 10:00 PM

Wow, couldn’t believe this post! I’ve been in the same predicament over in Baja. My family and I have been living in Rosarito Beach for over a year now, and I have been on the hunt for raw milk, raw cheese, organic fruit and veggies, and non irradiated almonds. I’ve recently made a few discoveries. Just north of us in Tijuana there is an open air market (Mercado Hidalgo) where many farmers come to sell their crops. It’s not ALL farmers, many of the little stalls are like little shops, but I have found some great products. Almonds grown in Chihuahua, truly raw and not irradiated! Organic apples, although they must be purchased in bulk. Fresh lard without preservatives is a common sight. Besides this mercado, I’ve started asking locals in the more rural areas for raw milk (leche bronca). There are goats, sheep, and cows grazing all over these hills, I just had to track down the owners. I’ve done that, now I need to assess the sanitation. My hopes are high! I want to make my own raw cheese, as traveling into San Diego every week or two to Trader Joes or Whole Foods is pricey and a pain in the butt! By the way, if you live or travel in Mexico, always carry TP, hand sanitizer, and a little liquid soap if you want. Keep frustration in check!

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Tamara May 21, 2012 at 10:56 PM

Wow! That’s encouraging for me! I’m just getting into this and live just south of you in Ensenada. My husband is a local and he doesn’t have any idea of where to start searching but you gave me some ideas. I really hope we can find places here because I’d hate to have to travel to TJ to buy things, might as well go to SD! Hahaha…thanks!

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Michelle February 27, 2010 at 1:15 AM

I too couldn’t believe this post! It’s very timely for my family because we are considering an extended stay in Guadalajara. It is comforting to know that there are some real food gringas to chat with if we ever make it!

My experience in other parts of Mexico (Veracruz) is that the 60 and 70-year olds are the equivalents of our great-grandmothers because of Mexico’s still-traditional culture. Like mentioned above, lard is still widely used, as are bones and broths. It is true that soy oil products and GM corn are infesting this traditional food. What’s sadder is that the younger generation – who have seen their moms and grandmas slaving away at the molcajete grinding corn – see soy oil as health food and GM corn as no big deal because it’s convenient. It may be true for Mexico that they are on the same road as we were 50 years ago. At least for now those who know can “Teach, Teach Teach” and I’d like to add – vote, vote, vote with your pesos. Good luck and saludos!
.-= Michelle´s last blog ..Morning Hash Browns =-.

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Ticodillo March 16, 2010 at 1:58 PM

I grew up in Costa Rica (missionary kid) I live in Iowa now , but a couple of years ago we spent 3 months back home. I know that at least in the capital city there were Farmer’s markets every Saturday in pretty much every little town. It was super convenient since it was 2 blocks from our house. The farmers would bring their product on Friday nights and set up their booths sell the goods until noon on Saturday pack up and go home. You could get all sorts of vegetables, eggs, cheese, fresh from the farms (veggies with dirt on them still!). (sigh) I rather miss it …
Here are some links about GMO the perversion that the UN is trying to do with the guise of helping feed the hungry (sniff, sniff, does it smell like monsanto? )
http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/40390/icode/
http://viacampesina.org/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=876:it-is-an-act-of-aggression-for-the-fao-to-meet-in-mexico-to-promote-gmos&catid=22:biodiversity-and-genetic-resources&Itemid=37

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AnjelA April 26, 2010 at 6:20 AM

Find an interesting blog great luck,with your pleasure added to favorites.The author thanks.

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LeahS July 20, 2011 at 10:52 AM

Amazingly great information! Way to hook people up!

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Erica July 21, 2011 at 9:18 AM

Great post!

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Sarah Cash February 6, 2012 at 4:32 PM

I really enjoyed your article on eating healthy in modern day Mexico. I’ve been living in Rosarito Beach, Baja California Norte for 3 years. I have been able to locate raw milk, usually goat, organic veggies, raw cheese, and pastured chicken eggs. The prices on the veggies are the same as the states, but everything else is cheaper! In 2 months, my family is moving to Mexico City, a huge metropolis. I know there are health food stores, but unfortunately in Mexico that means soy, vegetable oil, and “frozen yogurt”. I’m really hoping to find good fresh foods, especially raw dairy that’s trustworthy. I wonder if any of your readers know anything? I’d really appreciate it!

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Sarah cash May 26, 2012 at 12:05 PM

In response to Tamara, I just wanted you to know there is at least one ” health food store ” in Ensenada, I went there once. They will special order pretty much anything you want from the states. Also just east of you in Valle de Guadalupe, the local wine region, there is a winery called Mogor Badan. The French woman that owns it also has an organic garden and sells her produce Saturday mornings. She also sells it onWednesdays at La Mision (a little area just north of Ensenada). And there is a place called Rancho Cortes, also in the Valle de Guadalupe who make and sell their own cheese. You can request that it be made with raw milk too. I like the queso añejo. Hope this helps. I just moved to Mexico City 2 months ago, so now I’m in the same predicament all over again! If anyone knows where I can get good raw milk, cream, cheese, organic veggies, let me know please. So far all I’ve found is ridiculously overpriced “health food stores” in La Condessa or Polanco that charge 8-12 dollars for a loaf of gluten free bread, the same one that’s 3 bucks at trader joes. It’s not even good! Anyway, I appreciate any help!

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Renee December 18, 2012 at 12:01 AM

Costa Rica is waaaaaay better and cleaner with fresh produce then Mexico, just saying.

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