Lent cuisine reflects Mexican history and culture

Mexican culture places a high emphasis on food for ritual use, so when it comes to Lent, it’s hard to isolate the history of communities…

A Mexican butcher cuts meat for a meal. Mexican food traditions for Lent are telling of the country’s regions and its history. (Shutterstock)

Mexican culture places a high emphasis on food for ritual use, so when it comes to Lent, it’s hard to isolate the history of communities and their food from this religious event.

The 40 days in the Catholic calendar that involves fasting, abstinence and vigils, serves as a chance to illustrate some of Mexico’s history through the story of food.

“We see the kitchen not in isolation, but as part of the history of the communities, their relationship with the environment,” anthropologist Catherine Good told EFE news.

She’s touting the food culture diploma offered at The National School of Anthropology and History (ENAH). The research highlighted the ritual context that food has in local and religious festivals of Mexico. Lent happens at the time it does because of the seasons for example.

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“The period of Lent is the period of heat, where there is much less fresh produce because it’s right before the rain. It really depends on the ecology of the regions,” she explained.

Nowadays, the Lent food is more lenient because “the Church is not as strict with the Lent diet as it was 40 or 50 years ago, although there are still special dishes”.

Although abstinence and fasting are part of the diet during Lent, Mexican cuisine has a wealth of pre-Hispanic elements that were adapted well to Catholic demands, such as cactus. Cactus originated from Mexico and is present in all ancient cultures.

Today’s Lent diet is marked by fasting and abstinence from certain products, such as the well-known no red meat on Fridays.

Mexican anthropologist Laura Corona, co-author of “Cooking and food culture of Mexico,” gives a few examples of what can be eaten during Lent Festivals that are celebrated in the central state of Morelos from Ash Wednesday until Easter: “Traditional cooks prepare stews and use seasonal and local ingredients and produce. Stews are usually very spicy and contain some meat, “said Corona.

Mexican culture places a high emphasis on food as a ritual or religious phenomenon.

Many Mexican recipes have influences dating to the Mayans and Aztecs. (Shutterstock)

Regional food fairs focused around Lent occur in communities such as Cuautla, Tepalcingo, Atlatlahucan and Mazatepec and receive thousands of visitors, including tourists and pilgrims who join religious holidays, according to the Morelos Tourism Institute.  These fairs allow for the cultivation of an ample social relationship and unique cultural identity in these small villages, counter to the current trend that focuses on the so-called junk food, according to Good.

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“The economic crisis limits purchasing power and sometimes junk food is cheaper than the more traditional, artisanal food, so people eat badly out of necessity, not because they don’t know how to eat better but because it is what is at your fingertips.”