Next time you’re on the Malecón in Puerto Vallarta, buying corn on the cob and smothering it in cheese and Salsa Huichol, remember corn, a highly diversified and reliable food source, is a vegetable with a traceable history. You would not be having this tasty, flavorsome treat if it wasn’t for a complicated invention that took place over 8000 years ago. Much of the produce that we consume can be found growing in the wild; however corn was cultivated from a wild grass called teosinte by people living in central Mexico several centuries in our past. Teosinte had more of a semblance to a bean stalk when its first modification took place. Kernels were spaced and not snugged close together like the ears with which we are familiar. Colors often ranged from common yellow to the reds, browns and purples we call Indian corn in the US and Canada and usually see decorating autumn bouquets. Though good students are aware that corn (maize) has long been the subject of worship in Mexico, less common knowledge is how the country supports some of the world’s most treasured biodiversity. The purity of Mexico’s corn is in peril.
Mexico banned commercial planting of GMO corn in 1998 but still allows the importation of over six million tons a year, typically from the US. A huge portion of the imports are transgenic and Mexico’s most sacred product is now highly threatened and quite likely contaminated. Considering how deeply fundamental corn is to the Mexican culture this is not an insignificant matter, but an issue of great tragedy.
Corn is second only to rice as the world’s most essential harvest and has been regarded as miraculous in substantiate growth. Farmers have long made claims concerning the ability to hear corn grow, bursting as it does from the earth and leaning, twisting towards sunlight.
The art and architecture of Mexico rely heavily on the shape of the basic grain, which is found in every meal, dictates schedules of fiestas and significant events, and for centuries has provided the core source of sustainability and survival of the indigenous populace. Corn is considered a legacy in Mexico, a piece of the culture to leave to coming generations. With the introduction of GMO produce; artificially lowered
prices that have had a huge impact on expected income; and the disruption of contingent growth, Mexicans see their cultural paths going in the same direction as North American Indian tribes, simply at a slower and yet inevitable pace, facing extinction.
Groups in many Mexican states have formed to combat the destruction of such a central part of the way of life, accompanied by education by elders of the youth on the topic of the importance and security of maize. It’s often an uphill and underappreciated battle.
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