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?

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