I have one of those Mexican street vendors who shows up on the corner near where I work any time the weather is nice. He has ejotes and mangos in his standard arsenal, and often he has pork and chicken tamales. They are awesome tamales! The steam and the grease combine with the corn flour and fillings to create mushy, flavorful tubes of hearty goodness. “Stick to your ribs” is the expression that comes to mind to describe the satisfying feeling after eating a couple. Oh, and did I mention that they are $1.50 each!
This cheap and fulfilling snack creates a query for me, though. I bet the corn is not organic and probably genetically modified. I bet the meat is not farmed-raised, grass-fed, or absent of antibiotics and growth hormones. I don’t know for sure, but my Mexican vendor doesn’t appear to be the type to source his ingredients from some place like Whole Foods. I have been to enough local Mexican grocery stores to know what’s most likely going into my tamale. And for $1.50 each, the ingredients have to cheap. Should I be eating these tamales, then? Does this counter my principles around good, wholesome food?
I frequent Green City Market on Saturdays and I see a gourmet tamale stand there that sells tamales for $6.00 each. Talk about sticker shock, especially when I am used to getting really tasty, authentic ones for a fourth of the price. Indeed, to this day, I can’t bring myself to pay $6.00. Sure, they are more gourmet and contain fresh, farm ingredients like braised pork shoulder or goat cheese. Thus, they certainly align more with my “green” food ideology. I suppose it’s like getting a burger at McDonalds vs. getting a burger at, say, Brown Trout or Uncommon Ground. You pay for what you get. But, really, $6.00!?!
At the end of the day, I want to patronize both tamale dealers. I want to give my money to the ramshackle Mexican vendor, because I want to support local commerce. I want to believe giving him $1.50 here and there means a lot to him. It’s certainly better than giving it to a conglomerate like Taco Bell. At the same time, I want to give my money to vendors who are using fresh farm ingredients. Every time I choose to give my money to socially and environmentally conscious businesses, I am letting the world markets know that I want better, healthier options.
Maybe someday I can convince the Mexican vendor to use better ingredients. Or maybe I drive food companies to start providing more wholesome products by how I spend my money. That way my Mexican vendor will eventually have easier access to cheap, healthy items for his tamales. For now, I am going to stick to the street tamale for the taste and value, and feel good about it because it’s supporting a small local business.