CORVALLIS, Ore. – Mexican cuisine has become wildly popular in the United States and throughout the world and the evolution of that popularity is the subject of a free public lecture at Oregon State University on Thursday, Jan. 24, by Jeffrey Pilcher.

The University of Minnesota professor specializes in the history of food. His talk, “Planet Taco: The Globalization of Mexican Cuisine,” begins at 7 p.m. in the C&E Auditorium at OSU’s LaSells Stewart Center.

Pilcher’s presentation is part of a 2007-08 OSU lecture series called “Food for Thought: History, Technology, Gastronomy,” sponsored by the university’s Horning Endowment in the Humanities, in collaboration with the Outreach in Biotechnology Program.

During the last several years, Mexican food has joined Chinese and Italian food as the three most popular ethnic varieties in the U.S., though most consumers realize that the tacos and burritos they love are no more representative of the cuisines of Mexico than chop suey and pizza are of China and Italy.

But the Mexican food consumed by Americans has changed, says Pilcher, who in his lecture will discuss this country’s early encounters with the cuisines, from the “chili queens” operating makeshift kitchens in San Antonio, to the taco shops of southern California. The resulting stereotypes from those experiences, he says, have carried around the world.

Pilcher is author of five books on the development of food cultures and the role food plays in forging national identities. His 1998 book, “Que vivan los tamales! Food and the Making of Mexican Identity,” won the Thomas McGann prize for best book on Latin American history.

The Food for Thought lecture series also is supported by the Wait and Lois Rising Lectureship Fund and the OSU history department.

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Elissa Curcio,