Hang on to your seat. This is going to be hard driving piece of investigative journalism.
PSSSST!!! I know where to find Mexican bologna.
My interest was piqued late last year when I learned about the arrest of a man smuggling Mexican bologna into the US inside a spare tire in a vehicle headed to New Mexico. Then weeks later, another Mexican bologna smuggling case was reported where the captured meat underneath bags of corn chips was destroyed in a “USDA approved incinerator”. Then last week, a third case in which a whopping 188 pounds was “intermingled” with a woman’s luggage in the trunk of her car and discovered on its way to New Mexico.
Now let me be clear here. I am not intending to poke fun at our neighbors to the south, their culture or their dietary preferences. I just find it amusing that people have resorted to smuggling bologna into the United States. It would be just as amusing to me if it came from Canada or Iceland.
It was reported by one arrested smuggler that you can sell Mexican bologna in the United States for more than twice what you paid for it across the border. So I can understand the financial interest in taking a smuggling risk.
But I mean really — it’s still just bologna, the red-headed stepchild of processed meats. And why Mexican bologna instead of just plain old American bologna?
So after my latest post, my son challenged me to find out more about Mexican bologna. He said I should probe deeply into whether there might be a possible Oscar-Mayer bologna cartel in Mexico. And maybe, he suggested, there could be payoffs of customs agents with large slabs of bologna if they looked the other way when a processed-meat laden Oscar-Mayer Weinermobile trundled across the Bridge of Americas in Juarez. With conspiracy theories gone amuck these days, how could I resist testing my investigative journalism instincts.
But mostly, I wanted to see if I could actually buy the stuff in Las Cruces and then see if it tasted any different from what I remembered bologna tasting like the last time I ate it. That might have been about 23 years ago.
On Monday, I began checking out carnicerias (meat stores catering to Mexican palates) in our area. It turns out there are several. Interestingly about half of them were closed on Mondays. The two I went to said they did not sell Mexican bologna and said they did not know where you could find any around the area, unless you went to Juarez. I called a store in Dona Ana and asked about availability and was told they were aware of it, but said they never carried it.
I asked the person who answered the phone why Mexican bologna was so popular.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve never tried it.”
On Tuesday, I went to one of the stores that was closed the day before. It was open.
In fear that I might have been tailed by the meat police, I parked around the corner and quickly ducked inside. The walls were covered with photos and posters from Mexico. Poncho Villa was the subject of many of the photos. The names of the meats or dishes inside the display counter were mostly unknown to me.
I asked the young lady behind the counter if they had Mexican bologna. She stared at me blankly and I realized she did not understand English. She went to her supervisor at the cash register and asked her to interpret what I was seeking.
The supervisor acknowledged that they did have Mexican bologna.
“It is $14.95 per pound,” she said.
I gulped. I can still buy some steaks at that price. I asked if I could buy just a few slices. I was told a pound was the minimum.
In the interest of investigative journalism, I agreed.
There were furtive looks and hushed conversations between the supervisor and the counter woman. Then both shuffled behind a curtain in the back of the store. About three minutes later, the supervisor came back with sliced bologna wrapped in a clear plastic bag with no labels to indicate how much it weighed or what the ingredients might be.
As the woman took my debit card for payment, I asked her what made Mexican bologna so special. Her first response was: “It’s from Juarez.”
Okay, I understood that, but is it better than regular American bologna?
“I don’t know,” she confessed, looking rather embarrassed but obviously pleased that I was leaving without causing an international incident..
I left the store, looking behind me for flashing red lights and sirens wailing as I drove away.
Now let me be clear. I have no evidence that the bologna I bought from the store was brought into the United States illegally. I’m sure it was imported through proper channels or it wouldn’t have been so easy for me to buy. My intention for this important journalistic investigation was simply to see if I could find any and then sample some to see what the hypoe was about.
My son had suggested that I buy some all-American bologna for a taste comparison. I stopped by a nearby grocery store and picked up the American standard for bologna, Oscar Mayer, for considerably less than what I had paid for my find at the carniceria.
When I got home, I placed both on the counter. Our rambunctious goldendoodle, Chester, made an immediate evaluation of the merchandise. The Mexican bologna was his clear favorite in the sniff test.
So now it was time for the taste test. My son had suggested I cook the Mexican bologna first, since there was no label regarding ingredients, recommendations for cooking, health warnings, etc.
So my helpful investigative assistant (My wife Margo), fried each kind on our stove.
So first, the standard of the bologna world — Oscar Mayer. It tasted like, well, bologna has always tasted to me. Soft and mushy, salty and a hint of “you shouldn’t eat a lot of this.”
Then the Mexcan bologna. It was drier, thinner and had a slightly different taste that I can’t quite describe. Not bad, just different. And again, it had hints of “you shouldn’t eat a lot of this.”
Next we conducted a taste test for Chester, our goldendoodle. Understanding that he’ll eat almost anything he sees humans put in their mouth, it was not entirely a clear cut case. He began drooling as soon as he sensed he was going to get something, and then in a blur he had eaten both samples in separate dishes — I’m sure going first for whatever was infinitesimally closest to his mouth.
I tried again with samples in each of my hands, hoping I would be left with fingers after he grabbed his preferred bologna. In the end, it was the Mexican bologna, which I think is not the best endorsement for human consumption.
Oh, and then I discovered this afterwards. I was actually charged $4.95 per pound for the Mexican bologna, not the $14.95 I was originally quoted. I’m not sure whether that was because of an error in communication by the clerk at the carniceria or perhaps they gave me a discount in hopes I would not turn them in.
So my investigation is complete, leaving me wondering what the buzz about Mexican bologna is about.
And it’s now lunch time. I’m going to have a bologna (baloney to me) sandwich.