This morning I awaken to the smell of the wood fire. The smoke drifts through the air like a voice into my sleeping room, calling me. Magdalena is at the outdoor comal preparing tortillas. This is the season for blue corn.
This is ancient corn — maize — organic, grown from kernels cultivated here in the Tlacolula Valley for 8,000 years. In 2010, UNESCO named the archeological site and caves at Yagul as a World Heritage Site. Here, they found evidence of corn cobs in the caves as the indigenous population shifted from hunter-gatherers to farmers, laying the foundation for cultivated agriculture in all of Mesoamerica.
This particular blue corn that Magda uses is grown on a rancho in the foothills outside of Teotitlan del Valle on the road to Benito Juarez in the Sierra Madre del Sur, an hour up the mountain. She buys it already ground and then mixes the masa to the consistency of her liking, adding water to the dry corn powder.
Then, she will take a fist-full from the larger balls of dough, put it on the metate, knead it by hand, then knead it with the mano de metate (the granite stone that looks like a rolling-pin). She will then form a small ball and put it between two pieces of yellow plastic and form it into the tortilla shape on the tortilla press. Lots of upper body work!
Corn is sacred. It is the sustenance of life. Indigenous corn is pure, not hybridized by Monsanto, and is full of nutritional value. When eaten with beans and squash, it forms a complex protein. Chef Susana Trilling and photographer Judith Cooper Haden are vocal advocates in Oaxaca for the anti-Monsanto movement. working in the Mixteca to preserve indigenous corn and the milpa crop-growing traditions.
Coming Up, April 2-9: Portrait Photography Workshop
Last night for dinner I ate this blue corn with organic lettuce and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and lime juice, a hunk of Oaxaqueño cheese, and black beans. I could taste the earthy deliciousness. The coarse bits of corn told me this was real food.
Of course, it takes Magda’s wise and skilled hands to create this wonder. She is now close to 70 years old. Women live here until well into their 80’s and 90’s. She is carrying on a tradition that not many of the younger generation will adopt. It is hard work. The outdoor fire is stoked with wood gathered from the campo (countryside). The labor of tradition is in the souls of the grandmothers.
Soon it will be time for breakfast and we will eat this wonderful flat corn bread. I can hardly wait!
Coming Up, April 2-9: Portrait Photography Workshop. There’s a space for you!
Locavores in Oaxaca: Eat Local and Who Makes Our Food
People in the Oaxaca valley have eaten locally grown corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, poultry and fruit for centuries, long before the term locavore came into existence. The farm-to-table movement in the United States is one example of eating fresh food produced within 100 miles.
Weighing beans, Teotitlan del Valle Market
During the years I lived on an organic farm in Pittsboro, North Carolina, and shopped at farmer’s markets (a habit I formed early in my adulthood), we learned to eat around the seasons. I read somewhere that this is one of the healthiest things we can do for our bodies.
One by-product of the CNTE Section 22 Teacher’s Union strike in Oaxaca is the intended or unintended consequences of returning to locally grown food. The blockades are preventing the big box, semi-trailers filled with imported goods from entering Oaxaca to deliver their loads to Walmart, Soriana and other giant retailers like Coca-Cola.
Magdalena with corn husks to prepare tamales
I’m reminded of the signs in Pittsboro, NC when I visit: Shop Local. I’m sure you see this where you live, too.
In conversations around town, I’m hearing a mixed bag of blessings and complaints. Everyone loves Walmart, yes?, because of low prices. Others say local Oaxaca city markets like Benito Juarez, Abastos, Sanchez Pascuas, Merced stock everything they need and it’s important to support local merchants so they stay in business.
Organic corn, dried on the cob, ready for planting
Yet others are inconvenienced because they can’t get a particular variety of yam, brand of toilet paper, or giant coca-cola bottles for less.
There has been a strong movement here against genetically modified corn promoted by Monsanto. I have wondered whether the blockades of the big retail semi-trailers aren’t just an extension of that.
Quesadillas with fresh corn tortillas hot off the comal
I hear that by privatizing education, doors will open to international conglomerates to sell, at a profit, sugary drinks and snacks to school children, whose families are already at risk for diabetes and diet-influenced diseases.
Here in Teotitlan del Valle, I do all my food shopping locally at the daily market. Then, fill in what I need at the Sunday Tlacolula market. Yes, they sell toilet paper and paper towels there, along with all the cleaning supplies one needs.
I wonder if this blockade isn’t a good thing to help us raise our awareness for how much and what we need in comparison to who provides it for us. What we eat is important. We have asked the question: Who makes our clothes?
Now, it’s time to ask again here in Oaxaca: Who makes our food?
Yesterday, the fields next to me were plowed and planted with corn. Native indigenous corn, not genetically modified. I know that’s good.
Plowing the milpas to plant corn, squash, beans
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Travel & Tourism
Tagged blockades, bloqueos, CNTE Section 22, corn, eat local, education, farmers markets, food, locavore, Mexico, milpas, Monsanto, multi-national corporation, non-GMO, North Carolina, Oaxaca, organic, Pittsboro, schools, social justice, strike, teacher's union, Walmart