The milpa is a complex Mesoamerican system of crop association that dates back to the Neolithic period. The name “milpa” comes from Náhuatl, the original language of the Aztec people, and means “what is sown in the field.” The milpa has long represented the key to ensuring food security for many indigenous and rural populations in Mexico, and is the most effective way to safeguard and reproduce ancestral seeds. The composition of the milpa varies depending on the region, but the most typical crops (and therefore the most representative of the local diet) are corn, beans and pumpkins. These three plants coexist and establish synergistic relationships with tomatoes, chili peppers, quelites (wild greens), fruit trees and dozens of other vegetables, as well as mushrooms and insects who find an ideal habitat in the milpa. As they cultivate the milpa, the women of Chiapas protect and pass on their knowledge, strengthening their identity, preserving the fertility of the soil and providing their families with fresh, nutritious, local food. This means a lower consumption of industrial foods and the protection of local agricultural biodiversity.
Among the most symbolic products of Chiapeneco cuisine linked to milpa cultivation are tostadas, crisp corn tortillas. These are typically handmade by the local women, individually or in groups, using white, yellow and black native corn. The first step is nixtamalization, a pre-Hispanic technique which involves cooking the corn kernels in limewater. This makes the niacin (vitamin B3 or PP) in the corn available for uptake by the human body and helps prevent pellagra, a disease caused by a lack of niacin which used to be common in countries where people relied on corn as the only grain in their diet. Once the nixtamalized corn has been ground, it is mixed into a dough and formed into disks that are then cooked on a comal, a typical Mexican griddle set on top of a wood-burning stove. The tostadas can be made just from corn or incorporate ingredients like pork fat, beans, chili, a leafy green called chipilín, beets or other vegetables. They can be eaten on their own or filled with meat or vegetables.
Unfortunately traditional tostadas have been replaced on family tables, particularly in cities, by industrial versions, made from imported and sometimes transgenic corn. For this reason, there is an urgent need to strengthen the traditional milpa system and raise its profile, in order to preserve the flavors, foods, local economies and health of the people of Chiapas.
Slow Food and its partners have created the Presidium with the aim of increasing the availability of locally and agroecologically grown corn and strengthening the tostada production chain, making the role and knowledge of the women visible and creating awareness in society about the importance of supporting these processes. One of the main activities will be the creation in the municipality of Mitontic of a group of seed guardians and a seed bank for the preservation of local corn varieties, encouraging their consumption and processing. In other municipalities, the Presidium’s objective will be to strengthen a number of existing virtuous experiences, like the production of tostadas by the Artesanas de Tostadas de Maíz de Chiapas cooperative and the Mujeres y Maíz group, increasing production, improving the tostada production process and finding new markets for this product.
Comitán de Domínguez, Las Rosas, Mitontic, San Cristóbal de las Casas and Teopisca municipalities, Chiapas region
Presidium supported by
W.K. Kellogg Foundation
In collaboration with
Capacitación Asesoría Medio Ambiente y defensa del derecho de Salud A.C. - CAMADDS
Clan Sur A.C. (consisting of Ciserp A.C., Cofemo A.C. and Idesmac A.C.)
Comida Lenta A.C.
El Colegio de la Frontera Sur - Ecosur
For the Mitontic seed bank
Anita López Hernández
Tel. +52 1 967 5968094/+52 1 967 5982290.
Andrea López López
Tel. +52 1 967 7069231
José Alfredo Pérez
Tel. +52 1 967 651219
For the production and sale of tostadas
Blanca Díaz and Luz del Carmen Silva
Slow Food Presidium Coordinator
Yolotzin Magdalena Bravo Espinosa
Tel. +52 1 55 91863110