What can we learn from Mexico's Street Food Economy?
The taco might be one of the best foods in the world. The mix of flavors, the variety, the ease, the complexity, the story...we clearly love tacos. And we aren’t alone--Americans eat over 4 billion tacos every year. While tacos are surely delicious (especially Al Pastor) they are also an incredible gateway into the entire food culture of Mexico, the informal economy, and even questions of innovation at home.
The Taco Trip is a highly customizable program set in Mexico City to use the taco and the entire system behind it to work on a variety of issues. We can use the trip as a springboard into micro, or even macro economics, or learn about problem solving with a local taco entrepreneur.
We can also use the trip to dive into the informal economy. The informal is a topic with deep ties to history, development, politics, and language. Mexico has a much larger informal economy than the United States, and living in these systems leads to all sorts of opportunities, challenges, and innovations.
Or we can use the trip to do a deep dive on food, culture, and food anthropology and hyper focus on the flavors, process, and experience of the taco. The taco trip is just like the taco: it’s many things...but it’s always delicious.
This trip takes place in and around the capital of Mexico: Mexico City. CDMX is one of the largest, most dynamic cities in the world. It’s the type of place we immediately fall in love with. The mixture of neighborhoods, people, transport, food, and style makes for an incredible microcosm to learn about the world.
In CDMX, we will trace the history of the taco and meet local tortilla makers before we visit with a variety of taco vendors around the city. We will of course try many tacos and soak in the different styles and settings even in one neighborhood or market.
In the historic center, we will explore one of the largest markets in the world with a local guide to see where the foods and supplies come from. We will visit some of the different taco stands in the city center and try the best Al Pastor Taco in the city (we challenge you to suggest a better one here or anywhere in the world).
We will take some time at a cafe in Roma Norte to think about changing dynamics in the city and the contrast that is present before we wrap up work on our projects.
This trip could be adapted to take anywhere from a weekend to 10 days, and we could also adapt the trip to visit other places in Mexico. A similar exploration in the city of San Luis Potosi would give a different type of access to some of the stakeholders controlling the informal economy. A visit to Puebla could dive into specific variations on tacos and take an even a closer look at the element of fusion present in both cities.
We could also take the group on some more rural visits to see where food products come from or trace the life and path of a particular vendor. This opens more opportunities to talk about food systems, nutrition, and public health.
If you are interested in this program you might also be intrigued by some of our other food-related programs in other parts of the world (such as Italy, France, or New England), or similar urban or informal sector explorations. Of course you can read about our innovation field trip approach and current open programs in CDMX too.
Finally, this program is a fantastic way for students to practice Spanish skills with a targeted research objective. Other Spanish-language opportunities with Atlas include investigations of renewable energy in Uruguay and multiculturalism in Southern Spain.