The crispy crimson killer

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By Stephen Torres

Spending a year in Mexico City provided some insight into the possibility of what is deemed edible. Like most cultures throughout the world, insects and their kin are considered delicious little morsels to not only chilangos (residents of the capital) but most folks throughout the country. They even have that sort of "adorable and delicious" relationship with some bugs that we share with say bunnies or piglets. One such example would be el chapulin (the grasshopper.)

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Adorable, delicious ... deadly?

Chapulines are a longtime mainstay of mexican culture stretching from the days of Tenoch all the way down to the lovable El Chapulin Colorado, a goofy superhero icon of mexican TV. Beyond that, however, they are also a tasty snack enjoyed my millions that are often compared to dried shrimp. You can get them pretty much anywhere in a bag to go with lime and chile or perhaps in a taco.

On this side of the border, however, they can be a little scarce and finding them even in the most extensive mexican grocery store can be tough. As a result, like most stuff down there, when you're feeling a little nostalgic or homesick you just ask someone to stick some in their knapsack on their next visit home.

While researching where one might procure the crunchy snack in the Bay Area- if at all- I came upon a piece written by Claudia Melendez Salinas for the Monterey County Herald last March. It seems the little guys started getting some bad press due to a rash of lead poisoning in the small community of Seaside. The local Oaxacan community hails mostly from the Zimatalan region of that state. According to the article and a recent posting on the UCSF website (04-03-07) the contamination is due to residual deposits caused my the heavy silver mining in the region.

A team of researchers led by Margaret Handley from UCSF found that children younger than six had blood lead level six percent higher than the national level in and around Seaside. Lead can cause learning and behavioral disabilities, lowered immune systems, seizures, coma, and death. It is at it most dangerous in children and pregnant women.

The research team is now collaborating with anthropologists and field researchers in Mexico to start education and outreach both here as well as in Mexico. What lies ahead could be difficult, however.

The chapulin, in addition to its creepy friends has long been a staple in many of Mexico's most impoverished regions. Not only are you telling people that they can no longer rely on significant source of their protein, but you are also trying to make a significant cultural change on both sides of the border. The indigenous, rightly, may not trust in their government, but they have always trusted in their land. Land that is toxic from decades of environmental neglect.

Mexico's current administration is more focused, these days, on maintaining its power in the region since the upset of its last election. Much like their chums up north, the president's PAN party is never very concerned with environmental issues. It seems to me that any support on their part or interest in how some defunct silver mines may be slowly killing some local indigenas seems somewhat unlikely.

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