The most significant change, as far as health is concerned, to come along on the border has been the dietary changes and traditions that have changed over the years. Since the advent of processed foods and the invention of high fructose corn syrup, and the replacement of fresh ground corn tortillas made from heritage seed corn, to American denatured white flour corn tortillas there has been an explosion in weight gain and diabetes type 2. Folk medicine has onlly had very limited success against this scourge
According to a paper put out by the National Institute of Health
Mexican Americans are one of the fattest groups in what is one of the fattest nations on earth. Three out of four Mexican American adults (aged >20 years) were either overweight or obese at the end of the 20th century (7). Plentiful and unhealthy diets, many hours of television watching, and a reluctance to exercise are some of the factors blamed. For example, a study of Mexican children along the Mexico–U.S. border showed low intake of fruits and vegetables and excessive consumption of soft drinks and high-fat snacks (8).
Of course there are other factors as well. Most everyone has heard the “thrifty gene theory” that posits that people whose near ancestors had difficulty in obtaining sufficient nutrition, will be susceptible to a richer more calorie intense diet. It is certainly true that the Coahualitecans and other desert tribes had a low calorie diet and a constant ongoing search for sustenance. Other factors that may be included here are the sudden super abundance of milk and cheese products from cows and the increase in meat consumption as well. Not just meat but, well marbled and high fat meat and pork. Two factors are at work here that come from government sources: One is the Agriculture Department with the surplus commodity programs, the second is Food Stamps. Mostly these two programs of government largesse or beneficence produced a diet high in refined carbohydrates, high fructose corn syrup and high fat meats and processed foods that were previously unaffordable. Social change had arrived.
In addition to the welfare diet that was embraced by so many along the Rio Grande, for the first time in a long time, there arose in the 60’s and 70’s a substantial Mexican American middle class and their diet as well became sugary, refined carbohydrate heavy and rich and greasy. Also with rising incomes and the mechanization of Agriculture there was less physical work done. Again a significant factor. And the raising of ones own food plummeted as well. The Gardens, the fruit trees. the goats and chickens and the pure sustenance that they provided disappeared into the past.
Beliefs along the border concerning diabetes run a gamut… Of course many believe diabetes is caused family history, also a high sugar and fat intake, and a lack of exercise. On this they are in accord with mainstream medical thought. Coraje, tristeza, or deprimida, as well as susto can worsen or even bring on diabetes according to beliefs along the border. These are in order. Anger, sadness or depression, and sudden fright that can lead to a condition of timidity and withdrawal. Fortunately these can all be treated by a curandera, and there are specified rituals for each one. And there are various herbs as well. Chamomile or Manzanilla tea can work wonders in it’s calming effects, for example. I can experientially confirm this myself both personally and by observing others.
Cross border ties with Mexico are legion and plenteous. Many folk remember how healthy their Mexican relatives were in days passed, and still are in some of the few places left where modern American ways and diet have not yet reached.
The old ways when the Indians along theRio Grandewould gather mesquite beans and cactus pads and “tunas” have passed into history. In fact some are embarrassed to eat such things as “nopales” or cactus…They are thought of as poor peoples food. The juice of the aloe vera, or savila remains popular. But government health care encourages the use of pharmaceuticals and other drugs, many of which in a few years or so have proven to have killer side effects. The other mainstream medical treatment for advanced diabetes along the border is amputation. I think looking into alternatives is a good idea.
But there are some in modern science making common cause with the curative powers of nature’s foods and that is what we will be covering next.