The term “traditional diet” is used variously in public health and nutrition literature to refer to a substantial variety of foodways. Yet it is difficult to draw generalities about dietary tradition for specific ethnic groups. Given the strong association between migration and dietary change, it is particularly important that dietary advice for migrants be both accurate and specific. In this article, I examine the cultural construct of “traditional foods” through mixed method research on diet and foodways among rural farmers in Guanajuato, MX and migrants from this community to other Mexican and U.S. destinations. Findings reveal first, that quantitatively salient terms may contain important variation, and second, that some “traditional” dietary items –like “refresco,” “carne,” and “agua” – may be used in nutritionally contradictory ways between clinicians and Mexican immigrant patients. Specifically, the term “traditional food” in nutritional advice for Mexican migrants may be intended to promote consumption of fresh produce or less meat; but it may also invoke other foods (e.g., meats or corn), inspire more regular consumption of formerly rare foods (e.g., meats, flavored waters), or set up financially impossible goals (e.g., leaner meats than can be afforded). Salience studies with ethnographic follow up in target populations can promote the most useful and accurate terms for dietary advice.
Smith-Morris, Carolyn, "The traditional food of migrants: Meat, water, and other challenges for dietary advice. An ethnography in Guanajuato, Mexico" (2016). Anthropology Research. 26.