The last time I shopped for groceries in Denver, Colorado, my bill was $108. My purchases weren’t extravagant, no prepared food nor empty calories. Discounting the cost of some face cleanser and vitamins, the provisions provided by my purchase fed me for four days.
Last week, I spent about the same amount, 1,600 pesos ($123), at one of the two Walmart grocery stores in Mazatlán, Mexico. The provisions lasted more than two weeks. Why? Price controls on food in Mexico for one thing.
Yes, it's a green onion.
Food prices have traditionally had a political impact in Mexico. In 2008, Mexicans took to the streets to protest the rise in tortilla prices. While that statement would have made me giggle a few years ago, tortillas constitute more than half of the daily calories and protein of Mexico’s poor.
As a result, the Mexican government imposed price controls over a 150 basic food stuffs. Many are items you generally cook with; eggs, oil, milk, meat and sugar.
According to Forbes magazine, food prices in the U.S. have skyrocketed over the last several years. While overall food prices may rise less than 5% by conservative estimates (some sources claim it to be far higher), food inflation in 2012 was the highest on record in 36 years. The highest increases in food costs are almost always on the items in the “periphery” isles, and beef, dairy and produce.
Every health-conscience menu planner knows that is where you should be shopping the most. In fact, the dietary goal is to avoid the center isles, where the processed food is, as much as you can. We all know it costs more to eat healthy, and this is an example. Since the highest percentage figures are an average, the highest median price is on healthy food.
Moving to Mexico has been a real relief. I never look at my grocery bill on the way to the car and think, "Really? Those four bags cost $150?" Instead, I look down and think, "That looks about right."
Be warned, although you do pay less for food in Mexico, you do have to adjust your meal planning and cooking. Milk, butter, hamburger, sugar, salt, brown sugar, sour cream, cheese all taste different. Availability still compares to that of the smallest American towns. Good cheese is what I miss the most.
Cooking has been one of the more interesting experiences of my living in Mexico because so many of the basic ingredients for recipes taste different In my first six months in Mexico, I prepared more inedible meals than I did in 18 years of marriage.
I don't know what I'd do without Pinterest when it comes to menu planning. Some ingredients tastes so strange and availability in Mexico is so different that I keep separate boards for the two countries. An unpublished one is are my recipes in the funnel to be tested.
Every recipe that makes it to my Recipes That Translate board has been kitchen-tested in Mexico. I am running about one success for every four new dishes I publish, even knowing what I know about the flavor of things.
Another resource you can go to once you are in the country is the local English-language library section or bookstore. While I haven’t given up on my catalog of New York Times recipes, every expat community has an enterprising and restless retiree who has compiled a local cookbook.
Reminiscent of the cookbooks I grew up with in rural Oklahoma which were compiled by farmers’ co-ops and civic women’s clubs, these local cookbooks capitalize on the ingredients readily available in Mexican grocery stores.
While locally-compiled cookbooks are often amusing (one recipe for cookies from my "Taste of Oklahoma" cookbook for Wash Pail Cookies begins with instructions to, “get out your wash pail” and makes 450 cookies), locally sourced recipes can be the inevitable solution to meal planning in Mexico.
You will uncover previously unexplored opportunities in low-cost items such as fresh pineapple, mangoes, avocados and limes. Should you decide to just go out, world-class cuisine might be found for a fraction of the cost. You never have to go hungry in Mexico.
For updates, offers and information from Ventanas Mexico on living full or part-time in Mexico
"What Does Food Cost in Mexico? - - Ventanas Mexico
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Hi, I am a partner with Ventanas Mexico, which provides advice and resources to those considering explore full or part-time expat-life in Mexico.
I authored "The Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of all the best tools on the web with interactive links for learning Spanish, which changes your life as a expat. You can learn post-50. I did. These are the tools.
You can also check out the recent "If Only I Had a Place" a book on renting for less, luxuriously in Mexico," which includes a list of rental concierges in all the places you'd consider to live in Mexico/