Someday you may see a glossy picture of me on a brochure smiling broadly from aboard a catamaran heading towards Mazatlán’s Stone Island. Until then, the picture someone really should take is of me grinning as I leave the grocery store or while I unpack a grocery cart full of bags totaling $63 dollars U.S.
Mexicans like their hot sauce.
Other reports give good reason to believe that a greater percent of Americans' income in the future will be spent feeding themselves rather than enjoying themselves.
While I couldn't find hard data, I know that grocery shopping is generally less expensive in small towns in the United States. The prices in Elkins,West Virginia, an hour and a half from a ski resort where lived a few ski seasons are lower than the prices in Denver's grocery stores.
Better still is to live in Mexico. According to a snazzy little website called Expatistan which helps you compare the cost of living between any two major cities you plug in, food prices are 106% lower in Mazatlán than Denver.
That percentage would be in keeping with the general rule that the cost of living is about half of what it is in the U.S. for a comparable lifestyle.
The Mexican government controls prices on items like eggs, chicken, flour, cooking oil, and some produce. These items might be a quarter of what they cost in the U.S. When you look at your receipts here, you easily see which items are price controlled if you know what they cost in the U.S.
You quickly learn to avoid grabbing American brands out of habit, like Clorox for example, and stick with Mexican brands.
I don't scrimp and eat largely what I eat at home (throwing in a few more bean tostadas) and my grocery bill runs about $75 a week; that's eating practically every meal at home. The same bottles of white wine I buy for $11 - 13 in the U.S. -$5-6 here.
Open air markets are even less expensive than the Walmart and larger supermarkets. I prefer bigger grocery stores because they are up to American standards on packaging and cleanliness.
Every guide on Mexico will tell you to soak your produce for 20 minutes in Mycrodyn or some other anti-bacterial. To be honest, I always used to forget to wash the produce after big trips to major grocery stores. I buy only bags of lettuce, pre-made salads and spinach.
When I realized that I wasn't getting sick, I stopped doing it because it is a pain in the neck, especially with a load of leafy vegetables.
If anything will change that bad habit, its recent news about pesticides on food no matter what country you live in, not fear of Mexican produce specifically.
In general, I would say the quality is poorer in Mexico in terms of flawlessness, but then I think we Americans waste a lot on having to have perfect produce.
In Mexico, you should be more careful with fruit and produce from open markets.
While they are fun places to mill around and pick up authentic Mexican ingredients like spices, special sugars and sweets, I have found the quality inferior to larger grocery stores, although I have heard the opposite in accounts from other expat cities.
Pineapples and avocados are a good deal.
The cut fruit that the vendors sell from carts is beautiful and I hear delicious but this is where my expats friends tend to pick up their occasional intestinal disturbances. I myself avoid these disturbances by only snacking on things covered in chocolate.
Will your diet in Mexico be healthier?
If you are able to learn how to cook with local ingredients to take the place of healthy ingredients that are not available in Mexico, it will be easier to have a healthy diet. This blog Frutas y Verduras (Fruits and Vegetables) can be a great start.
The author has taken a unique approach to distributing the book. The cost is based on how much you need it. If you're just curious about Mexican produce, it's $2.50. If you live in Mexico and really need to know what you are supposed to do with the exotic looking fruit and blocks of what looks like black sugar in the wicker baskets at the market, you pay $15.00.
Although the traditional Mexican diet of corn tortillas and beans might be healthier, unfortunately the level of obesity here is approaching that of the U.S. Many blame soft drinks. The soda tax rejected by New York City last year was implemented here in Mexico to discourage consumption.
And they consume a lot. More Coca-Cola is sold in Mexico than any other country in the world, leading a pack of 728 countries. Step into line in any convenience store in Mexico early in the morning and you will see practically every construction worker in that line with his 1.75- liter bottle of Coke.
I can't deny soft drink's power here. Perception is reality. Years ago, people told me the original recipe called for cocaine. In Mexico I think it still does. At home, I never think of drinking it. In Mexico I can't resist it.
Many still think Coke in Mexico is made with real sugar cane instead of high fructose corn syrup but tests have not indicated a difference in sugar type. It remains a mystery, like why your nails grow faster near the ocean.
As far as costs go, if you cook simply you can probably live on $200 a month for food as an individual, and I've read the same figure in various forums and guides. For me, with my various addictions, like good chocolate, the bill runs about a 120 (dollars) every 10 days.
Unlike Mexico's sunsets, pace and spirit, food prices in Mexico may be hard to write a song about but they are something to sing about (with a little help from James Taylor) :)
"Oh, Mexico...prices so good that you just gotta go..."
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About the author, Kerry Baker
I am a partner with Ventanas Mexico which provides insight and resources to people considering expat life in Mexico, including most recently "If Only I Had a Place" on renting luxuriously in Mexico for less.
I also wrote the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web. Don't get mired down in Google trying to find free online tools to teach yourself Spanish. Find them in the Guide.