Theses Doctoral

Milk against Poverty: Nutrition and the Politics of Consumption in Twentieth-Century Mexico

Zazueta, Maria del Pilar

This dissertation examines how and why food consumption and nutrition became legitimate public policy issues in Mexico between the 1930s to the 1980s. In the post-revolutionary era, Mexican public officials began to systematically consider diet a social problem that affected not only individual well-being but could influence the economic development of the nation. This belief resulted in the implementation of policies with the goal of improving the quality of the Mexican diet. Several government actors participated in formulating and executing food and nutrition policies.

Economic authorities, doctors and nutritional experts became convinced that food consumption could be managed, rationalized and perfected to obtain optimal results both in terms of expenses and health benefits. For economic officials, the primary goal of food policies was to maintain the stability of the factors of production, primarily labor costs, to encourage industrialization. Thus, from the early 1930s, the Mexican government regulated prices and intervened in food markets to control the supply side. Since the 1970s, government officials also sought to influence the demand side through the behavior of consumers. Diet came to be regarded not only as an object of health intervention and macroeconomic policy, but also as a crucial component of the new consumer culture.

The Mexican government also promoted the study of food consumption scientifically, looking for ways to optimize food consumption with low wages. This scientific research done at public hospitals helped solidify diets as a legitimate sphere of intervention. Most doctors and nutritional experts agreed that Mexicans in general were malnourished due to the quality of their diets, which lacked animal proteins. Based on the findings of their studies, which indicated that diets had effects on mental development, these experts insisted that malnourishment was the explanation for the poverty and backwardness of Mexican society.

Milk production and distribution is presented as a case study of the multiplicity of processes and actors involved in food consumption and nutrition policies in Mexico. For both doctors and economic planners, it was not enough to recommend increased consumption of animal proteins if these products were not available in the market or were not affordable enough for low income consumers to buy them. Government officials implemented policies to increase the production and consumption of the product. This dissertation traces how the milk sector was transformed and how the interactions between local producers, government agencies and transnational companies shaped an incipient industry in the early twentieth century into an important economic sector in several regions of Mexico.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Piccato, Pablo A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 30, 2013