On the Way to the Maize Mill

On the Way to the Maize Mill

The Guatemalan way of life is rapidly disappearing right in front of our eyes. Today’s entry is such a case, as the image of women taking their maize to mill to make masa (maize dough) is fading away. Recently, I read an article in Prensa Libre which stated that people are abandoning the use of ‘real’ maize to make masa in favor of corn flour because the price difference was now so tiny that it made economic sense to abandon the use of maize.

The implications of such change of behavior will be of tectonic magnitudes. See Guatemala and Mexico share the birth place of maize, which was and is the most important crop in human history. The richest diversity of maize can be found in Mesoamerica; in other words, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Thus, the switch from real maize will bring forth the disappearance of many naturally grown maize types.

But, how can the local milpa farmer compete against the giant industrial farmers of the U.S.A and their subsidized crops? Worst still is the fact that this giant industrial farmers use gene-altered maize seeds which have been manipulated to NOT grow maize again from the harvested crop. What a twisted business model that is and it will prove to be disastrous business practice for the future of human kind. Why? well, read the quoted passages below:

Maize is grown in what is called a milpa. The term means “maize field,” but refers to something considerably more complex. A milpa a field, usually but not always recently cleared, in which farmers plant a dozen crops at once, including maize, avocados, multiples varieties of squash and bean, melon, tomatoes, chilies, sweet potato, jicama (a tuber), amaranth (a grain-like plant) and mucuma (a tropical legume)… Milpa crops are nutritionally and environmentally complementary… Milpa is one of the most successful human inventions ever created. [ed. Just a fragment on the chapter about maize, 1491].

Why maize and not corn?
Funny you asked, I was going to tell about a great book with a very short name: 1491 by Charles C. Mann. In this book, the author makes a clear distinction between one word and the other. Maize can only mean one thing, while corn is often used as crop in other parts of the world.

All the cultures of the world found a way to include carbohydrates in their diet. Maize-based foods and tortillas are the carbohydrates for the Mesoamerican cultures. It is the equivalent of rice and wheat for Asia and Europe. Maize, however, is much more than a food group. Maize defines the Mesoamerica’s peoples. I have posted several entries regarding maize, but I believe I stated its importance more clearly in Mayan Pizza and Frijoles Colorados. Maize is one of the most important ingredients in the genesis of the human kind according the Popul Vuh, the Mayan equivalent of the Bible. [continue reading Making tortillas in Guatemala]

What solutions can you think of?

© 2008 – 2013, Rudy Girón. All rights reserved.

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  • Great capture.

  • Raidar

    It would be heart breaking to have such a way of life disappear. When I was living in San Andres (up in the Peten region) last year, it was quite commonplace to hear the mill start up in the morning. I’ve always been fascinated by tortillas, but having first hand experience was like a rocket of inspiration driving me to make delicious ones back home in Canada. Mine aren’t nearly as good..but one day!

  • Claudia

    I hope not Rudy, I hope not, everyone knows masa harina and maiz tortillas don’t taste the same 🙁 The Guate I had so dearly known is no more.

  • Things change but stay the same! Healthy diets can be just left behind with progress. But hopefully people can work out the good and bad about changes.

  • Eclipsedeluna

    I can still remember when I used to go to the mill with my great grandmother or my great aunt.

    My family is from Quetzaltenango,we all know that Xela is great place for culture. The ladies in my family would cook the maize and then take it to the mill (a block away) and have them mill it to masa! it would come out warm from the mill and the smell! is not comparable to when you mix maseca with water!… I miss those days and my hopes of going back to them when I go back to Guatemala might be fading away.

    this is a sad thing…

    love your site Rudy!

    • @EclipseDeLuna, thanks for sharing this touching anecdote and for your kinds words about the web site. You’re more than welcome to visit everyday and to subscribe to receive the daily updates. 😉