Tortillas: Let’s Taco Bout It

If you hadn’t been led there, you would’ve passed by its nondescript storefront, distracted by the vendors and locals that rushed about filling the cracks between the chaotic Saturday afternoon traffic.

The “tortilla factory” wasn’t necessarily a factory. It was a hole in the wall, run by a team of three. It was hot outside, and even hotter inside.

One man was in charge of a large bag of ground maíz on a rickety wooden tableHe ran back and forth between the table and the oven. With each stride, he gathered heaping handfuls of the mixture. In perfect harmony, the man and an older woman molded the corn into ovals and set them onto a conveyor belt that led to the oven. Almost simultaneously, the woman retrieved the tortillas fresh from the press. I noticed her hands and callouses—built-in hot mats from years of manning the machine. Once the tortillas were packed into small bags, a third man, dressed in leather, arrived to the storefront. He loaded the back of his motorcycle by the dozen and sped away to distribute the goods.

In the doorway, I noticed a sign taped to the wall. As required by law, the sign lists the price of the tortillas per kilogram. In 2007, amidst rising corn prices, the Mexican government passed the Tortilla Price Stabilization Pact to limit the commodity’s price volatility. The pact capped the price at 8.50 pesos per kilogram of tortillas. The idea? Every Mexican, if they can afford nothing else, can at least afford a package of tortillas.

That’s roughly 50 cents for 2.2 pounds of tortillas.

To cover rent, the tortillas-makers’ day begins before the sun rises and continues well into the night.

“This isn’t a profession that you choose,” our guide said, “it’s something that you’re born into.”

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