Apr 212016
 

Mexico is by far the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of avocados. Production topped 1.3 million metric tons last year, well ahead of the USA (240,000 tons) and Chile (205,000 tons). Mexico’s avocado exports have risen by a staggering 414% over the past eight years to more than 600,000 metric tons in 2015, worth close to US$2 billion.

logo_brands_avocados-from-mexicoThe state of Michoacán is by far the most important single state in Mexico for avocado farms and accounts for 8 out of very 10 avocados sold in the USA, according to the Association of Avocado Producers, Packers and Exporters of Michoacán (APEAM). APEAM says that more than 50% of all the avocados consumed in the world come from Michoacán. In the town of Tancítaro, one of the main centers for avocado-growing, APEAM estimates that nine out of every 10 pesos can be traced back to avocado production. Mexico’s avocado industry employs more than 300,000 people in total, 100,000 directly and over 200,000 indirectly.

Many avocado farms are quite small. Mexico has more than 12,000 avocado producers with individual farms under five hectares in size. As noted in this previous post, the clearance of land for avocado cultivation can barely keep up with the ever-increasing demand.

Problems with drug cartel activity continue. As we noted a few years ago, narcos insist on their cut of the profitable avocado business and have made life difficult for growers, traders and truck drivers. The Wall Street Journal has reported that this makes Michoacán avocados the equivalent of African blood diamonds. Avocado producers reportedly have to pay cartels up to 1,000 pesos (US$60) a hectare to avoid problems.

Cartels aside, export success looks set to continue for a while longer, since China and South Korea have now opened their markets to receive Michoacán avocados.

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Apr 142016
 

Mexico is the world’s ninth largest coffee producer and second largest producer of organic coffee. However, coffee production in Mexico in recent years has been affected by adverse weather conditions (untimely rainfall, frosts, excess humidity) which have been ideal for the expansion of coffee rust disease (roya del café) in many production areas. The 2015/16 coffee production forecast is for 3.3 million 60/kg bags (sacks), the same as the 2014-15 total production, and much lower than historical production outputs of around 5 million bags.

About 35% of Mexico’s coffee production area is located at elevations of 900 meters or higher above sea level; another 43.5% grows between 600 and 900 meters. Coffee grown at the higher elevations is generally higher quality than that grown at lower elevations.

Mexico's exports: coffee

Coffee, one of Mexico’s most important agricultural exports

Mexico has about 500,000 coffee farmers, looking after 600,000 hectares of coffee trees in twelve states. Plantations in the states of Chiapas, Veracruz, Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Puebla account for about 93% of total production. Almost all coffee-growing areas have been affected by outbreaks of coffee rust. The most affected states are Veracruz, with about 70% of the area affected, and Chiapas with about 60% of the area affected. About 40% of the coffee planted area nationwide has been affected somewhat by coffee rust.

Coffee rust is a fungal disease that can cause plant defoliation. In moderate cases, leaf defoliation reduces plants’ ability to produce fruit (the seeds of which are the actual coffee bean). In serious cases, the trees will die. The rust has spread northward from Central America, and reached Chiapas 4-5 years ago.

coffee

The Agriculture Secretariat (SAGARPA) has responded by installing about 35 nurseries in states most affected, growing coffee plant varieties resistant to rust. But these trees will need about 4 years to come into production so government officials do not expect coffee production to rebound until 2019. Sagarpa’s objective is to renew at least 250,000 hectares before the end of this administration’s term in 2018.

The SAGARPA program, aiming to increase coffee production and productivity, includes US$83 per producer as incentive, technical assistance packages of up to $140 dollars per hectare, and 500 coffee plants to renovate coffee plantations, as 80% of plants are old and less productive and often rust-prone.

However, coffee organizations complain that resources are not reaching the affected areas fast enough and that program implementation has been too localized instead of having a nation-wide strategy.

Some state governments and international companies are offering support for various types of price-enhancing certifications such as organic, Fair Trade etc. Some indigenous communities are planting their coffee trees among other trees like lime and avocado to diversify production and provide shade that helps coffee quality and enhances eligibility for value-added certifications like Rainforest Alliance and Shade Grown.

As production techniques continue to evolve, some producers have increased plant density from 2600 plants per hectare to 5000 plants per hectare.

Shade grown coffee

Shade grown coffee

Recent figures suggest that about 96% of Mexico’s coffee is of the Arabica variety. The remaining 3-4% is the Robusta variety, used in the production of instant coffee. Mexico is importing large quantities of Robusta variety coffee beans as the large Nestle plant in the city of Toluca has been increasing its output of instant (soluble) coffee. However, Nestle has also increased the use of Arabica coffee in its products. SAGARPA is now supporting the planting of Robusta coffee to decrease coffee bean imports and to support Mexico’s goal of becoming a major producer of soluble coffee.

Mexico is also producing excellent organic coffee, a trend which is increasing among producers. However,  coffee rust has hit areas of organic coffee more than conventional plantings. According to SAGARPA, about 7 to 8% of growers are cultivating organic coffee, mainly for export.

About 40% of Mexican coffee production is marketed for local consumption, according to AMECAFE, and the remaining 60% is for export. The USA continues to be the main international market for Mexican green coffee beans.

Domestic consumption

Coffee consumption in Mexico has been increasing, with estimates of up to 2.6 million 60 kg. bags total usage this year, and consumption (of roasted and soluble coffee) at between 1.3 and 1.5 kg/person.

The importation of coffee is expected to rise in 2016, in order to meet domestic demand.

Increased consumption has been driven by government and retail advertising and by the growing number of specialty coffee shops in Mexico. (Starbucks alone has opened 500 coffee shops in Mexico). Soluble coffee still makes up about 68% of domestic consumption but ground coffee consumption is increasing among the middle class, whilst high-income consumers often want fashionable value-added imported coffee.

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Jan 272016
 

Mexico has a long history of honey (miel) production. Honey was important in Maya culture, a fact reflected in some place names found in the Yucatán Peninsula, such as Cobá (“place of the bees”).

Faced by the arrival of Africanized bees – The diffusion of the Africanized honey bee in North America – Mexico’s modern commercial beekeepers initially feared the worst. With time, they became less antagonistic to Africanized bees, since, whatever their faults, they proved to be good honey producers.

Honey production in Mexico

Main honey producing states in Mexico

Honey production has been on the rise in the past decade. Over the past five years, Mexican hives have yielded about 57,000 tons of honey a year, making Mexico the world’s sixth largest honey producing country. Preliminary figures for 2015 show that Mexico produced 61,881 tons of honey.

Mexico is also the world’s third leading exporter of honey with total exports (both conventional and organic honey) of 45,000 tons in 2015, a new record, worth over US$150 million. Mexico’s principal export markets for honey are Germany, the USA, the U.K. Saudia Arabia and Belgium.

Postage stamp depicting honey exports

Postage stamp depicting honey exports

Other major exporters of honey include China, Argentina, New Zealand and Germany.

There are 42,000 beekeepers nationwide, operating 1.9 million hives; the main producing area remains the southeast, especially the states of Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo. Jalisco, Chiapas, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Puebla and Michoacán are also important for honey production.

The domestic consumption of honey in Mexico has risen from under 200 grams per person in the 1990s to more than 300 grams in 2010. This is mainly due to the use of honey in processed foods such as cereals, yogurts and pastries.

Graph of honey production in MexicoThe major value of bees in an ecosystem is not for their honey production, but on account of their vital role in the pollination of trees and food crops, a contribution valued in the US alone at more than 10 billion dollars.

Views about the pollinating ability of Africanized bees, compared to European or native bees, are mixed. Some farmers dislike having to cope with potentially aggressive bees. Others claim that Africanized bees are far more efficient pollinators than European bees since they forage more often and at greater distances than their European counterparts. The available evidence does not appear to suggest that the arrival of Africanized bees had any impact on crop yields in Mexico.
Which Mexican honey should you buy? For a cautionary tale about choosing the best Mexican honey in overseas stores, see Honey, what’s on that label?

Sources:

  • (a) La producción apícola en México by Carlos Angeles Toriz and Ana María Román de Carlos. (date unknown)
  • (b) “Mexico ranks sixth in honey production” (reprinted from El Economista on mexicanbusinessweek.com), 2011.

This post was first written in October 2011, with updates in October 2015 and January 2016.

The geography of Mexican farming, agriculture and food production: index page

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Jun 222015
 

This index page lists the major posts on Geo-Mexico related to agriculture, farming and food production. Additional agriculture-related posts can easily be found via our tag system.

Post highlighted in red are new additions to the index since the last time it was published.

Enjoy!

General posts related to agriculture and agricultural products:

Individual crops and products:

Other Geo-Mexico index pages:

May 042015
 

The Haciendas of Mexico: An Artist’s Record, by Paul Alexander Bartlett, first published in 1990 and now available as a free Gutenburg pdf or Epub, is a great starting point for anyone interested in the history, economics, art and architecture of the hundreds of colonial haciendas which still grace Mexico’s rural areas. Bartlett made one of the earliest artistic records of more than 350 of these haciendas, dragging his family around the country for years as he obsessively explored lesser-known places. The photographs and pen and ink illustrations in his outstanding book were made on site from 1943 to 1985.

bartlett-hacienda-1

Pen-and-ink drawing of Hacienda de Teya, Yucatán, by Paul Bartlett.

Bartlett’s hacienda art work has been displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum, the New York City Public Library, the University of Virginia, the University of Texas, the Instituto Mexicano-Norteamericano in Mexico City, and at the Bancroft Library, among other places.

Paul Alexander Bartlett (1909-1990) attended Oberlin College and the University of Arizona, before studying art at the National University of Mexico (UNAM) and in Guadalajara. He was an instructor in creative writing at Georgia State College, Editor of Publications at the University of California Santa Barbara (1964-70) and wrote dozens of short stories and poems. His books include the short novel Adios, mi México (1983), and the novel When the Owl Cries (1960).

Writing must run in the family. Bartlett’s wife was the well-known poet and writer Elizabeth Bartlett (1911-1994). The couple met in Guadalajara in 1941 and married two years later in Sayula. Their son Steven James Bartlett is a widely published author in the fields of psychology and philosophy.

In the foreward to The Haciendas of Mexico: An Artist’s Record, novelist James Michener writes that:

I first became aware of the high artistic merit of Paul Bartlett’s work on the classic haciendas of Old Mexico when I came upon an exhibition in Texas in 1968. His drawings, sketches, and photographs evoked so effectively the historic buildings I had known when working in Mexico that I wrote to the architect-artist to inform him of my pleasure.”

Gisela von Wobeser observes, in her introduction, that,

When Bartlett began his hacienda visits in the 1940s, he found many of the hacienda buildings in ruins, exposed to the ravages of time and vandalism. Buildings had been converted into chicken coops, pigsties, public apartments, and machine shops. Others served as sources for construction materials, from which were scavenged rocks, bricks, beams, and tiles for the habitations of the local population. In some cases the destruction was total: All the hacienda’s structures were removed, and only the name of the place alluded to the fact that a hacienda had ever existed there.

At other haciendas, buildings were adapted to new uses. They were transformed into hotels, resorts, government buildings, barracks, hospitals, restaurants, and schools. The exterior of the buildings were generally left intact; interiors were completely changed.

The best—preserved hacienda buildings were those that continued to function as country properties or vacation homes. In these, Bartlett often found furnishings and utensils from the epoch of Don Porfirio, surrounded by the old traditions of Mexican country life.”

von Wobeser makes the useful distinction between three types of hacienda: those where grains were the main output, those specializing in cattle-rearing, and those for sugar-cane cultivation and processing.

The book describes haciendas in almost every state of the Republic. A handy map and list are provided of which haciendas are located in each state. There are more than 100 pen-and-ink illustrations and photographs in total in the book, which is arranged in seven chapters:

  1. The Hacienda System
  2. Through the Eyes of Hacienda Visitors
  3. Hacienda Life
  4. Fiestas
  5. Education
  6. The Revolution
  7. Mexico Since the Revolution

The accompanying text, written from a non-specialist perspective, is always lively, informative and interesting. The style of illustrations is varied, in keeping with the immense variety of haciendas that the author explored and sketched.

bartlett-hacienda-zapotitan

Pen-and-ink drawing by Paul Bartlett of Hacienda de Zapotitán, Jalisco

Coincidentally, the hacienda of Zapotitán in Jalisco (see illustration above), located close to Jocotepec and Lake Chapala, is the first hacienda to be featured in the on-going series of articles by modern-day hacienda explorer Jim Cook. Jim spends countless hours researching old haciendas, and regularly goes exploring with friends to see what is left on the ground today. His descriptions and photographs are easily the best contemporary accounts of the haciendas in western Mexico.

All in all, this is a really useful addition to the literature about Mexico’s haciendas, one guaranteed to answer many of the questions and doubts that visitors to Mexico often express about just how haciendas functioned and what working and living conditions were like, both for the owner’s family and the workers.

An archive of Bartlett’s original pen-and-ink illustrations and several hundred photographs is held in the Benson Latin American Collection of the University of Texas in Austin. A second collection of hacienda photographs and other materials is maintained by the Western History Research Center of the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Want to visit some haciendas?

Chapter 9 of my Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury (2013) focuses on the “Hacienda Route” to the south and west of Guadalajara, with an itinerary that includes visiting several haciendas within easy reach of the city.

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The production of Christmas trees in Mexico

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Dec 182014
 

According to consumer surveys, only one out of every five Mexican households decorates a natural Christmas tree during the holiday season; the other 80% of households decorate artificial trees. About 75% of natural trees are bought from traditional retailers, with the remaining 25% purchased from informal street vendors. Almost all purchases of natural Christmas trees are made between 10 December and 25 December.

As of mid-December 2014, sales of trees are reported to be down on previous years. Retailers claim that the prices for imported trees (ranging from 330 pesos (about 25 dollars) for a 1-meter-high tree to 1,500 pesos (110 dollars) for a large tree) have led to greatly diminished demand. Prices for domestically grown trees range from about 100 to 1,000 pesos.

The total annual demand for natural Christmas trees is about 1.8 million. Mexico currently imports about 1 million trees a year, almost all from the USA and Canada. Annual imports are worth about $12 million. Imports are governed by strict standards, last revised in 2010, to ensure that no unwanted pests or diseases are brought into the country.

As of mid-December, at least 5500 trees had failed the health inspection at the border and had been returned to the USA. Officials from Mexico’s Federal Environmental Protection Agency (Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente, Profepa) identified several problems in shipments of Douglas Fir and Noble Fir trees. At Tijuana, one shipment of Douglas Fir was found to be infected a resin moth (Synanthedon sp.), and one with flatheaded fir borer (Buprestidae). In Mexicali, a shipment of Douglas Fir was infested with the Douglas-fir Twig Weevil (Cylindrocopturus furnissi), while in Nogales, imported trees were found to be accompanied by unwanted European Paper Wasps (Polistes dominula). None of these pests are normally found in Mexico.

Mexicali is the busiest border crossing in terms of Christmas tree imports, accounting for 35% of the total, followed by Tijuana (25%), Nogales (16%), Colombia (15%), Nuevo Laredo (4%), San Luis Río Colorado (3%), Reynosa (1%) and Puente Zaragoza-Isleta (in Chihuahua) (0.4%).

In the 1970s and 1980s, most natural Christmas trees sold in Mexico came from Mexico’s natural forests. Beginning in the 1990s, specialist Christmas tree nurseries and plantations were started.

Pruning young Christmas trees in Mexico

Pruning young Christmas trees in Mexico to ensure they keep a good shape. Credit: CONAFOR.

According to the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR), Mexico has almost 17,000 hectares of land planted in Christmas trees. The area of Christmas trees has increased very rapidly in recent years. This year, CONAFOR has provided some degree of financial assistance to farmers with 4,551 hectares of tree plantations in 18 states.

The main areas of Christmas tree plantations are in the interior highlands in the states of Mexico, Veracruz, Nuevo León, Mexico D.F., Puebla, Michoacán, Durango, Coahuila and Guanajuato. These states share temperate climate conditions and are close to the main markets in major cities.

The most common species grown in Mexico are Mexican White Pine (Spanish: Pino ayacahuite), Douglas Fir (Abeto douglas), Mexican Pinyon (Pino piñonero), Sacred Fir (Oyamel) and Aleppo Pine (Pino alepo).

Trees are harvested at between five and ten years of age. Mature plantations of Christmas trees can generate revenue of between 300,000 pesos and 500,000 pesos ($23,000-$38,000) for each hectare. This means that Christmas tree farming has become a profitable form of sustainable development in some rural communities, offering greater profit potential than using the same land to grow traditional rain-fed crops.

The planting of Christmas trees is supported by CONAFOR’s ProArbol program, which offers landowners incentives to conserve, restore, and sustainably exploit forest resources. CONAFOR claims this helps to limit urban sprawl, and counteract forest clearance for arable land, as well as to increase the capture and storage of carbon, thereby mitigating climate change. In addition, conifer plantations generate rural employment, reducing the effects of one of the key “push” factors behind rural-urban migration.

Note: This is an updated version of a post that was first published in 2012.

Main source:

USDA Foreign Agricultural Service GAIN report: Mexico: Christmas Trees, by Dulce Flores, Vanessa Salcido, and Adam Branson. 12 May 2011.

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Dec 152014
 

A week ago, we highlighted the first of a series of four articles in the LA Times about the living and working conditions faced by migrant farmworkers in Mexico as they harvest crops that end up on dinner tables not only in Mexico, but also in the USA. The other three articles in the series are just as disturbing, but make for compelling reading.

la-mexico-farm-labor-map-alejandrina-2014-1212

The pilgrimage of 12-year-old Alejandrina Castillo during a single year as she accompanies her migrant farmworker parents. Credit: LA Times

The journalist and photographer responsible for this series of articles deserve high praise for their persistence and determination in exposing some of the “dirty little secrets” of Mexico’s agribusiness sector.

Links to the full series on the LA Times website:

Part 1: Hardship on Mexico’s farms, a bounty for U.S. tables – Farm exports to the U.S. from Mexico have tripled to $7.6 billion in the last decade, enriching agribusinesses, distributors and retailers. But for thousands of farm laborers south of the border, the boom is a story of exploitation and extreme hardship.

Part 2: Desperate workers on a Mexican mega-farm: ‘They treated us like slaves’ – A raid exposes brutal conditions at Bioparques, one of Mexico’s biggest tomato exporters, which was a Wal-Mart supplier. But the effort to hold the grower accountable is looking more like a tale of impunity.

Part 3: Company stores trap Mexican farmworkers in a cycle of debt – The company store is supposed to be a lifeline for migrant farm laborers. But inflated prices drive people deep into debt. Many go home penniless, obliged to work off their debts at the next harvest.

Part 4: Children harvest crops and sacrifice dreams in Mexico’s fields– About 100,000 children under 14 pick crops for pay at small- and mid-size farms across Mexico, where child labor is illegal. Some of the produce they harvest reaches American consumers, helping to power an export boom.

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Dec 082014
 

Every so often, a news article comes along which rattles our perceptions, causes us to think, and begs us to discuss big issues. This is one of those times.

Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Marosi and photojournalist Don Bartletti traveled across nine Mexican states, observing conditions and interviewing workers at some of the mega-farms that have powered the country’s agricultural export boom.

The resulting article, the first of a four-part series, was published yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, and offers lots of potential for serious discussions in geography classes around the world about agribusiness practices, supply chains, the persistence of inequalities, and a host of other issues. The article is accompanied by some great photographs and short, informative videos.

la-times-article

In “Hardship on Mexico’s farms, a bounty for U.S. tables“, Marosi and Bartletti find that thousands of laborers at Mexico’s mega-farms endure harsh conditions and exploitation while supplying produce for American consumers.

This is a must-read series for anyone interested in the Geography of Mexico, and we can’t wait to see the next three parts of this series.

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Mexico’s 2013 avocado harvest and exports

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Oct 042014
 

Mexico is the world’s largest producer and exporter of avocados. The avocado harvest for the 2013/14 season was close to 1.5 million metric tons, a new record. More than 90% of Mexico’s avocados are grown in the state of Michoacán, where 12% of all agricultural land is currently under avocado orchards.

Avocado-growing states

Avocado-growing states

Mexico produces about 1.5 million metric tons of avocados a year, on 170,000 hectares in 27 states. The principal producing states are Michoacán 1.2 million tons, Jalisco 87,000; State of México 56,000; Nayarit 34,000; Morelos 27,000; Guerrero 14,000.

Avocado exports have risen sharply and, in the first half of 2014, totaled 353,000 metric tons, worth 800 million dollars, 29% higher than for the same period a year earlier. The most important markets for Mexican avocados are the U.S., Japan, Canada, Central America and Europe, but demand for avocados in Asia, especially China, is rising very quickly.  Exports to China rose 724% for the period to 1,260 metric tons, worth 3 million dollars.

Exports to the USA of avocados were worth 651 million dollars, 31% higher than a year ago; exports to Japan reached 62 million dollars, up 29%; and to Canada 41 million dollars, up 33%.

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Diana Kennedy and regional cuisines in Mexico

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Aug 302014
 

Diana Kennedy is the world’s foremost authority on regional Mexican cuisines. Born in the UK, she moved to Mexico in 1957 with her husband, Paul Kennedy, a New York Times correspondent. Over the next half a century, Kennedy traveled the length and breadth of Mexico, collecting stories, cooking techniques and recipes, and writing about regional cuisines from all over the country.

kennedy-cuisines-of-mexicoHer first cookbook The Cuisines of Mexico was published in 1972 and quickly became a classic. She has written several other books about Mexican cuisine, including

Now in her nineties, Kennedy continues to live in an eco-friendly house in s small village near the city of Zitácuaro in the western Mexico state of Michoacán. The Mexican government awarded her the Aztec Eagle, Mexico’s highest award for non-Mexicans, for her truly outstanding contribution to the country.

In this recent BBC radio podcast, Diana Kennedy is interviewed about her lifetime’s work, including the thousands of hours spent driving along dusty dirt tracks in her pick up truck in search of yet another unrecorded gem of Mexican cuisine.

Her travels often took her to indigenous villages, way off the beaten track, where she would study how and what the local people cooked, discovering along the way, all kinds of things never previously written about.

Podcast (mp3 file) of BBC Radio 4 Food Programme about Diana Kennedy :

 

The initial leads for the next trip often came from the maids of friends in Mexico City, maids who were prepared to share their family recipe secrets with her.

Kennedy documented varieties of corn and beans that are rapidly disappearing, as are the small family farms where they were grown. In most locations, she would start by exploring the local market. Marveling over the incredible fresh produce she encountered wherever she traveled, she recorded every detail; sadly, some of these markets have long since disappeared.

The “Mexican miracle” of the 1960s and 1970s, with its growing economic prosperity brought a tide of imported foods into Mexico. These reached deep into the countryside. In many places, traditional foods were forgotten, replaced by imported items such as wheat bread and pork chops.

Dietary changes have continued to plague Mexico, leading to a dramatic increase in obesity. Note, though, that despite the claims made on this BBC program, Mexico does not yet lead the world in obesity – though it is the fourth most obese country in the world (excluding small island states). Clearly, BBC researchers should read Geo-Mexico more often.

Kennedy’s 1972 book, The Cuisines of Mexico was a ground-breaking look at the regional world of food in Mexico. UNAM, Mexico’s National University, is keeping Kennedy’s work alive by making digital copies of all her notebooks, some of which date back to the 1950s.

For more about Mexican cuisine, visit the amazing award-winning blog Mexico Cooks! and also browse the huge selection of recipes, articles and tips about all aspects of Mexican food and cooking in the “Cuisine” section of MexConnect. ¡Buen provecho!

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