Have you been eating the dead? Finding balance through natural medicine in Mexico City
Sigmund, Kimberly Renee
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After a century of biomedical dominance in Mexico, multiple forms of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are now openly being practiced throughout the country. However, almost all CAM are unrecognised and unregulated by the Mexican Government. Currently, a resurgence of interest in natural healing methods is visible in both the proliferation of shops selling ‘natural items’ and clinics for natural healing. This interest is influenced by the population’s overall dissatisfaction with the corrupt and underfunded national health system, the lack of conformity by biomedical doctors to Mexican social norms, and the lack of results that patients see after using biomedicine. This thesis explores this phenomenon through a version of CAM in Mexico called naturismo, or natural medicine. Drawing on ethnographic data, I discuss the unique medical epistemologies that are utilised within naturismo which, as I will demonstrate, separate naturismo from both traditional medicine and biomedicine. Using rhetoric about the dichotomy between a clean or dirty body as an indicator for health, and the necessity of a vegetarian diet and ‘natural’ remedies to regain health, the practitioners of naturismo (los médicos naturistas) attempt to challenge their patients’ perceptions about what it means to be healthy, and what a ‘good healer’ is. Their focus on the use of natural remedies and vegetarianism are packaged to patients as an alternative lifestyle and healing method, as well as the ‘traditional’ way that Mexicans lived before the Spanish conquest. This digression from modern medical and dietary norms is discussed in reference to the ‘toxic’ and ‘dirtying’ effects of allopathic medications and the Mexican urban diet that relies heavily on processed foods and a profusion of meat. Overall, I argue that naturistas appear to be subverting biomedical dominance and challenging modern healthcare and dietary norms in Mexico by looking to and glorifying a pre-Hispanic ‘natural’ and healthier past. Likewise, the desire of naturistas to clean out and balance their patients’ bodies through natural remedies and vegetarianism appears to mirror a desire to oppose the hegemonic biomedical system in order to ‘balance’ the wider medicoscape and, by extension, modern Mexican society, which they see as inherently corrupt (dirty) and class-bound (unbalanced).