Much Of The Food On Our Tables We Owe To Mexican Mayans

Many visitors and tourists to Mexico know little both of early Mexican history as well as the effects that Mayan cultures have had on our modern cultures and diets as well. Indeed a high percentage of our cultivated crops, which form the basis of our diets, were all developed and originated within early Mayan agriculture.  The ancient cultures of Mexico along with the Maya civilization compromise the larger entity known to archeologists as “Mesoamerica”.   Indeed early anthropologists not geographers named and gave the margins to the area now designated as “Mesoamerica”.  The designated area includes much of the great constriction that separates the masses of North and South America.

 The Peoples of Mesoamerica Primary Pursuit was Agriculture:
Above all, the peoples of Mesoamerica were farmers involved in the cultivation of vegetables and other foodstuffs.  Not only that but these residents and tillers of the land had been essentially isolated by geography and geographical ranges for thousands and thousands of years from the simpler cultivating societies of the American Southwest and Southeast by the desert waste of Northern Mexico itself.  What are referred to essentially as the “desert wastes of Northern Mexico”, has allowed only the movement of semi-nomadic, hunting aborigines who ranged and covered this area in pre-Spanish Conquistador times. Beyond the lower southeastern borders of Mesoamerica lay the “petty chiefdoms” of lower Central America, distinguished by a high production of fine ceramics and quantities of jade or gold ornaments, lavishly heaped in the tombs of the great.

The Influence of the Mayans & Mesoamerica Ranged Far in Central & South America:
Moving down the range – further south yet, in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia was the Andean area most noted for its final glory, the immense Inca Empire. Yet having native populations as far back as the twelfth century before the Common Era B.C.E., as well as large temple constructions, even much earlier and preceding that.  The Andean area and Mesoamerica were twin peaks of American Indian cultural developments, from which much else in the Western Hemisphere can well be traced back to – as having been both developed and derived from.   Indeed much recent research in the Pacific Lowlands of Ecuador, the Caribbean coast of Columbia, and even to the upper reaches of the Amazon River has shown that the important criteria of “settled life” – that is agriculture, pottery and villages all came from the early Maya cultural experience, its technology and accomplishments in agriculture.

Our Culinary Habits & Kitchen Tables Owe a Debt of Gratitude to Mayan Farmers:
While many people and cooks may associate chocolate with the Mayans we owe much more of a debt to the agricultural experts of early Mesoamerica.  Corn – which forms the basis of much of American food production, and as the feed of cattle of other meat bearing animals is for the most part corn based.  Add in the Mayan contributions to our diets – tomatoes, black beans, sweet potatoes plus a lot more.  If you are vacationing to Mexico this coming year – and think the country or perhaps areas you are visiting are “primitive” compared to back home in the USA, now you have a much better appreciation of the culinary heritage of Mexico.
Sylvia Morelos
Morelos has a wealth of information in Mexican history leading back to the Mayan empires and the Chichen Itza temple areas.  Yet its the foods – information concerning the origins of the fruits and vegetables of Maya Mexico which fascinate her the most .  Those lucky enough this coming tourist season to be involved with culinary travel to Mexico – visiting and sourcing out their favorite restaurants and markets – have much to look forward indeed.