Globalization is when something begins to operate at an international scale. There are three main classifications of globalization, which are political, social, and economic globalization. Political globalization refers to the growth of the worldwide political system, or the political co-operation that exists between two or more different countries. Social globalization refers to the sharing of one’s ideas and information between different cultural communities and through different countries. Economic globalization is the interconnectedness of economies that occurs through trade and exchange of goods and resources.
Improving societies, technologies, and intensified globalization have spread different types of food through the world and through time.
The appearance of Europeans in the Americas made such a big impact politically, socially, and economically. Since the Europeans took over and conquered most of the Americas, it is apparent that they had power over political and social globalization by taking control of its people and converting them to their religion. They intended to assimilate the Mesoamerican people to be just like them and succeeded by the force of violence and deception.
In this paper, I will focus on the history of two important grains and seeds that the Mesoamericans globalized through trade and exchange of goods. Though it has a very long history in human culture, it can help gain insight of Mesoamerican culture and the globalization of food.
In 1494 Christopher Columbus believed that many of the European settlers that he had traveled with died of sickness due to the change of their environment: water, air, and food.
They believed that all humans shared one common ancestor and that they were all once alike. It was stated that the people from the Americas had traveled there from Europe on foot and that the color of their skin and hair changed from the hot strong sun. They then feared that if they stayed in the New World too long, that they too would lose their beard like the Indians. It was concluded that through poor diet and harsh climate conditions that the Indians had lost the ways of the Old World.
Columbus and the other Europeans believed that their diet was ideal since they were white, tall, and bearded–unlike the people in the New World. European explorers constantly complained that they got sick. Columbus claimed that only the way for them to get better was to reclaim their usual diet, blaming the food of the New World. In 1511, Spaniard Jerónimo de Aguilar, a Spanish settler, was shipwrecked off the Yucatan Peninsula. Fortunately, he was saved by Mayan Indians an lived with them until he was rescued. There he was well taken care of by the people of the New World and Aguilar had to get accustomed to their diet–which was new to him. After his rescue, he was questioned why he was eating so sparsely, and the other Europeans found that he was accustomed to the Mayan Indian diet and they believed that he was slowly turning into a Mayan Indian.
Though settlers suspected that they would fall ill to a new diet, they were always greeted with many different foods by the Indians. Yet a number of items met with a very positive reception with the Europeans. Some of these food items included pineapples, avocados, chile peppers (for those with strong stomachs), and cacao. They particularly liked “Indian bread” also known as maize, which is corn, and took a liking to it when it was made in different forms. This is particularly significant because Wheat was considered an important grain in the Catholic religion because bread symbolized the body of Christ. The Europeans believed that they were blessed with wheat and that the other side of the hemisphere were blessed with maize.
The domestication of foods made with maize suggests that it has been globally and culturally accepted through globalization. The conquest of the New World meant that corn/maize was torn from its original civilization and brought into Europe, and then the rest of the world. Though maize was first thought of as a grain for production means since it was a generous plant, and animal feed but not for human food. When maize became popular, it was taken from its original civilization and then considered a plant that lost its “humanity” since it was a traveling plant that only produced grain and seed. But for the Mesoamerican people, it never lost its humanity because it symbolized the seed of life–which weaved mesoamerican civilizations for thousands of years.
It is important to appreciate maize as a seed that represents the reservoir of life and history that was domesticated by the Indigenous people in Southern Mexico. The indigenous people had the ability to store nutrients, such as genetic information that enables the reproduction of most vegetables, and their ability to protect the history of our collective knowledge about maize. The indigenous people were able to learn and teach the development of desirable characteristics in corn through observation, crossbreeding, protection, and the exchange and search for seeds by Indigenous farmers over the course of ten thousand years of agriculture are summarized in the characteristics of the seeds. Within the seed, we learn the genetic material and patterns that allow for the reproduction of the maize, but also the knowledge that humanity has collected over the centuries and through which it has kept a level of scientific and technological development. Maize appropriates all the maize in the food chain (and ultimately the global food system) given the importance of our cereal in global food chains today in our time. Mexican maize varieties are the interest of not only crop improvements, but also for geneticists, genetic engineering, and the agricultural biotechnology industry. This is why corn is now the most studied plant in the world.
Maize can be used to make traditional and nontraditional foods and drinks. One of the most traditional and indigenous drinks made up of maize is called Tejate. The indigenous people of Oaxaca, Mexico believed that the Gods sent down Tejate was sent down to earth so that everyone can enjoy it as well. Tejate can be a cold or hot drink that consists of ground maize, chocolate, toasted seeds, and toasted flowers that is drank in a small shallow bowl. The Gods gave this drink to women at first, so now it is believed that it will be ruined if a man touches it. This is why it is ultimately a gift from the Gods. Cacao was considered a sacred food and was very valuable to the indigenous people.
So at times, Tejate was even used as a form of currency since it was so valuable. It has been discovered that the ancient Mesoamericans never used coins to purchase items. Instead, they would mostly bargain and trade with each other. Popular items that were traded consisted of maize, cacao, tobacco, and clothing. It is also believed that the European settlers used cacao to pay workers once they arrived. Later evidence shows that fermented dried cacao beans were used as a currency–like coins. Proof of this can be found in different scenes and murals on ancient Mesoamerican ceramic bowls. It shows cacao beans and other goods such as tobacco and maize being given to elites or given as some sort of tax.
Cacao consisted of so much value, it was more than a luxury drink, it was currency used by the Mesoamericans. When used in food or drinks, it was usually mixed with other items, such as maize, chile, fruit, or honey. It was found that cacao cultivation might have started in the Gulf Coast area with the Olmecs. This means that the Olmecs were consuming liquid chocolate by 1650 BC or earlier. This information suggests that the Olmecs had knowledge and access to cacao. Since pre columbian times, chocolate and the cacao tree have been valued by people and the gods. Cacao was integrated during sacrifice rituals and later during Catholic rituals as well. It was used as medicine during ancient times. During the sixteenth century, codices reveal that cacao was important to maintaining a balance among spiritual and earthly planes in the underworld, Earth, and sky. It has been documented that elites collected cacao seeds to signify their wealth and power. It is highly believed that cacao originated in the New World due to its incorporation of Mesoamerican culture and globalization of it. But cacao represented a whole different type of food for the Mesoamericans, it was also a food of the Gods.
Cacao was most popular for making chocolate drinks within the Mesoamerican communities and was sometimes mixed with maize as well. The most desired part of the drink was the froth that would float on top on the liquid. The froth was made by putting the drink in a bowl and pouring it back and forth into a different bowl or putting it into a ceramic bottle with a spout–which would force air into the drink, enhancing the froth that was formed. This made the drink physically stimulating and was considered an experience while drinking. Cacao was being made in special ceramic bowl and bottles made by the Mesoamericans. These bottles with spouts were used for social events, such as weddings and births of new children being born–celebration events as well.
The ancient Mesoamericans were one with nature and believed that everything that was alive had a soul. This consisted of plants, fruits, vegetables, animals, water and the ground. The plants gave them great food and wealth and had a special place and story in their religion and ancient myths. According to the Mayan belief, cacao was discovered by the Mayan Gods in a mythical mountain. It was later given to humans who were created from Maize by the “divine grandmother” Ixmucané. Cacao then became to the Mayans one of the godliest of all foods and was celebrated in special holidays that consisted of gift giving and sacrifices.
The connection between maize and cacao is that both were sacred to the Mesoamericans. There is a sacred Mayan book called the Popol Vuh, where maize is a symbol of life and death for human beings. Popol Vuh is made up of several parts and stories, but most importantly is very influential due to its historical documentation of the globalization of cacao. The Popol Vuh, or “Book of Counsel” shows the valuable insights that the Mesoamericans, including their perspectives and views of cacao and maize. In the first part, it explains how the final attempt to make “true people” was only by making their body out of maize. The six deities, or gods, who are covered in green and blue feathers, created the sky, the ocean, the animals, and later humans. However, the first few times they attempted the create the humans resulted in failure.
Humans made out of mud were too weak, humans made out of wood were ignorant to complete duties. The gods later came upon the “Mountain of Sustenance” where they found marvelous cacao and maize and decided to form the present human race with it. This is probably why cacao and maize are such a prized possession. This is also important to consider because it is similar to the Catholic religion where the bread symbolizes the body of Christ. Maize is a staple food for the Mesoamericans, while cacao is considered more of a social and ritual bond. It just so happens that both maize and cacao grow from the trunks of their plants, though they were never planted and grown together. These plants tend to have human-like features, both having a head, arm like and heart like fruits for features. This can indicate that it connects to the idea of human life and sacrifice. When the heads and hearts are harvested from the plants, it also symbolizes heads and hearts being torn out of bodies for sacrifices.
Spanish colonizers documented and translated the Popol Vuh, which is how the Mesoamericans effectively introduced cacao to not only the Spanish settlers that just encountered their civilization, but also all Europeans to come. The documents of Popol Vuh shows the knowledge and beliefs that the Mesoamericans had, and is still one of the few significant accounts of Mesoamerican mythologies today. By documenting the Popol Vuh, spanish settlers quickly indirectly learned which crops were considered valuable, including the undiscovered cacao tree and its delicious fruits, marking the beginning economic globalization. The Popol Vuh affected the Mesoamericans and the Europeans very differently. Though the Europeans quickly adopted chocolate into their lives and diet, it also lead to the colonization of Mesoamerica.
Globalization is often divided into three categories since it refers to the increasing integration of production, development and communication among countries on a worldwide scale. Though all three are interdependent, economic and political forces are usually the driving factors of globalization–social changes generally occur as a result of those activities. Social globalization pertains to human interaction within cultural communities, concentrating on topics such as family, religion, work and education. Social globalization is apparent in the similarities of social trends between two different cultures, from consumerism to arts and humanities. For example, cacao or chocolate is very popular worldwide and became globalized once the Europeans tried and liked the Mesoamerican diet. It not only was sacred to the mesoamericans, but also because very popular and high in demand all over the world.
Globalization is often assumed to lead to a decrease in culture and biological diversity. Though this isn’t the case with cacao and maize since many indigenous people in Latin America still make Tejate as a tradition. It has also gotten very popular in other regions of the world due to migrants who travel and bring their culture’s traditions with them–especially among people from Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s amazing to know that people are still making such a traditional drink that has so much history. Tejate’s ingredients contain many of which have been grown in the Latin American region for centuries with techniques that have been developed by the Mesoamericans for millions of years. The traditional role of Tejate hasn’t changed drastically since many rural households still enjoy it today the way it’s made–though it’s more common in older households who still pertain cultural values. It has been found that Europeans did bring sugar cane from the Old World, and was eventually integrated into preparing Tejate. Though there have been some minor changes such as some adding cane sugar or using electric tools, Tejate is still an Indigenous drink filled with much history that can be enjoyed all over the world. Most importantly, it marks the increase of associations of different people from different parts of the world.