New study calls authenticity of Mexican food into question

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COLUMBIA - A new study released Wednesday calls into question the authenticity of Mexican food, and how it is perceived in the United States.

MU sent out a news release Wednesday, publishing some of the key findings from that study. MU sociologist Stephen Christ gathered data on Mexican restaurants and said it is not in a restaurant's power to claim whether its own food is authentic.

"The power to define something as authentic rests not with the restaurant owner but rather in the hands of mostly white, American consumers who have had little experience or knowledge of Mexican food or traditional styles of preparation," Christ said.

Jose Jalapeno's owner Megan Hernandez disagrees with some of the major points brought up in the study. The study said many consumers base their opinions on Mexican food by the type of foods they eat at home or at fast food establishments.

Hernandez said her customers use a different basis for forming their opinions of the food. Hernandez said no matter where a person is from, they seem to agree on the authenticity of food at her restaurant.

"They would say to me, 'this reminds me of being back home,' Hernandez said. She said customers from the United States tend of agree with that sentiment, too.

She said customer's have told her: "This particular dinner reminded me of our trip."

Hernandez and her husband opened up the restaurant in south Columbia back in 2013. She said the staff does everything it can to preserve the cuisine and culture of Mexico.

Hernandez said there is a big difference among different types of food establishments including fast food, Tex-Mex and full-service Mexican restaurants.

A manager at La Siesta in downtown Columbia said another factor that could cause some confusion over perceived authenticity is that different parts of Mexico have different types of food.

The study does look at other factors, including how these restaurants can affect the perception of other cultures.