Netflix's Taco Chronicles is deliciously predictable

It's a food documentary that hits all the familiar beats. And it sends an unavoidably political message in the process.

A taco.
(Image credit: Illustrated | STILLFX/iStock, Netflix)

Food documentaries are predictable. You will see a meal expertly prepared in seconds; all the hours of labor that go into a dish will be evoked, but also compressed into a few tastefully shot jump-cuts. You will be told stories about the food's history and cultural meaning — how the Lebanese Shawarma came to Mexico and became the taco al pastor, for example — that make eating a simple meal feel like a journey in time and space. And you will visit with specific chefs or restaurants, whose personal stories will imbue the meal with a story and meaning. It's the same way good restaurants are predictable, because they employ the same expertly-Pavlovian techniques to make you want their food. One does not simply "taste" a dish, after all, something a variety of neuroscientists have shown, but which every cook or waiter already knew: telling stories about food — and putting on a show — utterly shapes the entire experience and joy of eating, and does so at an inescapably basic level.

We eat stories as much as we eat fuel made from plants and animals. Context is everything: tell a different story about two identical meals, or alter the presentation, or even eat them at a different time or place, and what happens in your gustatory cortex will be completely different.

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Aaron Bady

Aaron Bady is a founding editor at Popula. He was an editor at The New Inquiry and his writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, Pacific Standard, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. He lives in Oakland, California.