** Originally published at Munchies, on May 7, 2014:
“Why is it that we have allowed people who are totally incompetent in food to design our food?” Diana Kennedy was saying, her gray and white hair lifting lightly in the breeze. “Our food doesn’t have the flavor it used to have. I remember the chile poblanos, full of flavor, thin-fleshed, very dark green, and that big. Now ¡olvidalo!”
“Forget it,” she said. Today, there is actually a four in ten chance a chile poblano served to you anywhere in Mexico has been imported, most likely from China. Kennedy knows this, and the truth seems to burn through her entire being.
A living legend in food, Kennedy started exploring the markets of Mexico’s towns and villages more than fifty years ago, meeting cooks and gathering plants and recipes with the precision of a ethnobotanist. It has been her lifelong project of achieving total intimacy with Mexico’s native ingredients.
Sitting at Kennedy’s outdoor dining table with a tiny glass of mezcal before me, I struggled to imagine the flavor of the chile poblanos back then because fifty years ago, Mexico and the planet were simply different places than they are now. There were less people, for one, and probably a lot less contaminants in the air, in the soil, in the water. In our lives.
There was no transgenic corn in Mexico fifty years ago, and definitely none imported from the United States—as there is today—not in the land where science has agreed that corn was born.
At 91 years old, Diana is old enough to remember what that Mexico tasted like. Her palate fuels her ideas—and anger.
“People are losing taste, especially in the US, and then it passes to Mexico,” Kennedy told me. “It’s ridiculous, but then nobody has paid attention to the agriculture in Mexico.”
* All photos by Alejandro Mendoza.