Friday, October 21, 2005

Mixed Messages In LAT's Column One Today!!!,0,215135.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Interesting Column One in today's Los Angeles Times on how fast food is changing the diet - and health - of Mexicans - and how instant ramen noodles (largely manufactured in the LA area - which makes for a good local angle) are supplanting beans and rice as the national dish of Mexico due to its convenience and its low price.

Or... not.

Below are several excepts from the article:

Marla Dickerson Times Staff Writer October 21, 2005

COAMILPA, Mexico — Only 3 years old, Leon Gustavo Davila Hinojosa is still learning to speak Spanish. But the precocious youngster already knows a bit of Japanese: "Maruchan."That's a brand of instant ramen noodles that to him means lunch. Leon's grandmother stocks them in her tiny grocery store in this hamlet 40 miles southwest of the capital. The preschooler prefers his shrimp-flavor ramen with a dollop of liquid heat...

... As part of a food assistance program, the Mexican government distributes ramen to c.ommissaries in some of the most remote pockets of the country, where it is supplanting rice and beans on many tables.The product is so pervasive that a national newspaper recently dubbed Mexico "Maruchan Nation."Purveyors say you don't have to strain your noodle to figure out why. Nearly 60% of Mexico's workforce earns less than $13 a day. Instant ramen is a hot meal that fills stomachs, typically for less than 40 cents a serving ....

.... Nutritionists likewise are alarmed that instant ramen, a dish loaded with fat, carbohydrates and sodium, has become a cornerstone of the food pyramid.With the majority of the population now urbanized and on the go, Mexicans are embracing the convenience foods of their neighbors in the U.S. while abandoning some healthful traditions. The result is soaring levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, particularly among the poor....

.... The most economical version is sold in plastic-wrapped, dehydrated squares that consumers typically heat in saucepans on the stove. The average U.S. price is 14 cents per package, thanks to highly automated manufacturing in plants on American soil. Most of Mexico's ramen is imported and served in insulated, disposable cups, which drives the price up to about 35 cents...

.... in Latin America, Mexico is the noodle champ. Its consumers ate an average of 9.4 servings in 2004 ....

.... A cup of instant ramen costs 4 pesos, or about 37 cents in Diconsa-affiliated shops. A serving of beans costs pennies in comparison. Still, the average Mexican's consumption of frijoles has dropped by more than half since 1995, according to an agriculture trade group. Per capita consumption of tortillas has declined precipitously as well.....

Ok - so what does this all mean? Well - color this cowboy confused.

To begin with, it is clear sales of ramen are skyrocketing in Mexico. But is it responsible for the 50% drop in frijoles and a large drop in the consumption of tortillas?

I don't think so.

According to the article, the average Mexican eats 9.4 servings of ramen a year. Figuring three meals a day that comes out to about...1100 meals a year - not counting snacks. This means ramen is eaten at less the 1% of all meals in Mexico. However, if one factors in snacks and people who eat more than one serving at a meal and... well, you get the point.

If fast food is transforming the diet and the waistlines of Mexicans, something other than ramen is likely the prime driving factor. Also the statement that ramen is now a "cornerstone" of the Mexican food pyramid when it is eaten at only 9/10 of 1% of all meals is... well... to put it tactfully... salsa flavored male cow crap.

Lastly, as for saying that price is a major reason why ramen is so popular, if beans and rice are only 'pennies' (which to me reads three or four cents - less than a nickel and certainly well less than a dime) per serving, why is this the case if the prices given for ramen are between 35 cents and less than 40 cents a serving? I assume that statement is comparing ramen to other food choices, but those choices and their prices are never mentioned, so it is hard to know what to think.

Overall, an interesting, informative article on many levels, including some very well observed cultural ones; the only problem is that in trying to use the rise of ramen in Mexico to opine on a few larger issues, there are not simply not enough facts cited to support those claims.

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