In any community there are people who avoid each other because of unresolved conflicts or incompatibilities. But on special occasions in a Maya village, when someone kills a pig, it’s understood that everyone feasts, friend or foe. No invitation necessary. Old wounds are forgotten in conversation and in the enjoyment of pork, slow-cooked in the inimitable underground Maya Pib. Throughout the year, the sharing of meat is reciprocated and the cogs of community life and social harmony are lubricated once again.
The first cloven hooves to immigrate to Yucatán were likely those of the Spanish-Iberian hairless pig. It adapted so well to the climate and conditions here, it became a permanent resident, and over several hundred years naturalized into a breed with unique genetic characteristics. Robust enough to forage in field and forest, and with its easy-going temperament, Box Kekén, or black pig, could be easily managed in small herds close to home. It earned a place as an icon of Maya subsistence farming, providing a stable supply of local protein while preserving rural culture and social, food-centered traditions.
In the 1970s, with little consideration for the cultural and genetic importance of Box Kekén, government agencies and commercial vendors began promoting American breeds. “Production” was the goal. The new breeds gave birth to more piglets which grew larger, faster. The promise of increasing revenue for commercial and small-scale farms was irresistible and doors were opened for industrialized pork production. The humble Box Kekén diminished to near extinction.
But bigger is not always better, especially when it comes to small scale and subsistence farming. Most exotic breeds do not fare as well in Yucatán’s heat and humidity. Unable to sustain themselves by foraging on weeds and forest understory, they require more care to keep up with their health and dietary needs. They need corn! And more cornfields mean more deforestation, more chopping, burning, planting, and tending. Of course, more labor and feed inputs erode much of the gains in the production outputs expected from faster-growing breeds.
Fortunately, there’s a growing interest in preserving Box Kekén and Yucatán’s rich genetic diversity. We’re bringing back wild bees over genetically engineered domestics; Criollo corn over hybrids; and indigenous turkey over factory-farmed versions. Box Kekén numbers are increasing and with them an implied pride of ownership. And It is not just a sentimental idea. For rural indigenous people everywhere, securing control of their food means autonomy, even survival.
One day, by simply changing our food buying habits, we can all help to restore cultural connections between people, plants, trees, and animals and solve many of the issues of systemic poverty, environmental degradation, and species loss. It’s our choice.
By Lee Christie
Lee Christie practices small-scale farming following the principals of restorative agriculture and permaculture. Her focus is on learning about and growing ancestral foods. In 2002, she built and still manages Genesis eco-lodge in the village of Ek Balam, introducing international clientele to the way of life in rural Yucatán. For more information contact her via Rancho Regenesis website or WhatsApp 985 1010 277
Génesis Eco Oasis
WhatsApp 985 1010 277
Food, and the way we produce it, is one of the most important environmental and social issues on our plate right now. Fortunately, it is easy to help by choosing to buy quality, fresh, local food directly from farmers.
In Mérida, the Slow Food Mercado de la Tierra is held Saturdays 9 am – 1 pm at Centro Comercial Colón. This is a good place to connect with growers. You can also check their list of producers on Facebook Slow Food Merida.
Esta entrada también está disponible en: ES