Yucatan, Steeped in Tradition and Ancestral Knowledge

Perhaps more than in other places in Mexico, the ancient traditions, customs and rhythms are part of daily life in Yucatan. In some parts of the region, the Mayan language prevails over Spanish, and in some cases Spanish is not spoken at all.

The peninsula is rich in many ways: culturally, is home of the Mayan civilization, in terms of biodiversity, here exists a very close relationship with the jungle; and geologically with a soil rich in minerals, formed mainly by limestone rock. As a result of these cultural, geological and biological characteristics, Yucatan food is one of the best three regional cuisines within Mexican food.

Photo credit Tripinyourshoes.com
Photo credit Tripinyourshoes.com

The elements of the Yucatan diet come mainly from the traditional agricultural system that is the milpa, which intersperses crops of corn, pumpkins and beans, in addition to having a wide variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables. The most used proteins are egg and pork.

Slow Food, in collaboration with the local organizations U’Yits Ka´an and Hombre Sobre la Tierra, has worked for almost 4 years in Yucatan supporting more than 100 local producers who dedicate their effort and work on 3 traditional foods considered as Slow Food Presidia of Yucatan: the creole Pumpkin Seeds, the Xunankab Bee Honey and the freely grazing Hairless Pig. The support to the Presidia consists of the protection of unique regions and ecosystems in which the development of an endangered product is supported, traditional processing methods are recovered, and endemic species and local plant varieties are protected.

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One of the main challenges facing the Mayan population is not having access to markets where they could sell products at a fair price and profitable price. On the other hand, for consumers it is increasingly relevant to know where their food comes from, how it is grown or produced and who is the producer. This represents a great opportunity to show the hard work being done to have good, clean and fair products on the table, which is why Slow Food decided to close this circle, helping producers to value their product, transform it, bring it closer to the consumer and tell the story behind the food to consumers.

The work started with commercial training and costing sessions with the producers so that they understood of what the value chain consists. New packaging and labels were designed for their products, the artwork allows each producer to write their name and origin. The idea is to create a link between producers and consumers. And finally, to strengthen the bond, we recorded videos to narrate the origin of each product and the people behind them. We show the work and dedication they put into each gram.

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Pepitas de Calabaza

Such is the case of Don Manuel, a farmer by tradition, producer of the community of the Presidia of the pumpkin seeds, who inherited the milpa from his father and uses native seeds that have been cultivated in the Yucatan peninsula for at least 4,000 years. Don Manuel works long hours under the rays of the sun hoping that Chaac (God of rain) will allow him to have a good harvest year. After several months of work, he harvests so that, in collaboration with his family and colleagues, they process the seed to give it added value. The seeds are roasted, peeled by hand and then packaged. This activity has allowed them to significantly increase their income and today they are motivated to keep going.

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Abeja Melipona

Just like the milpa, meliponiculture is a heritage from the Mayan grandparents. In the pre-Hispanic period, honey was used in traditional medicine and as a commercial currency. Doña Nevy, who is part of the community of producers of the Xunankab bee honey Presidia (Melipona Beecheii), performs a ritual every year asking for flowering and food for her bees. Also, now with her Presidia partners, she has taken up an ancient Mayan celebration in which various offerings are made to thank for the harvest. Melipona honey is attributed a great number of benefits and is used to treat eye, skin, digestive and respiratory problems. This stingless bee has a special relationship with the jungle, since many plant species depend on it for pollination and therefore its reproduction, in the same way, the bee could not survive without the jungle.

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Cochinito Pelon

The hairless pig is the third Slow Food Presidia of Yucatan, this dark-colored animal is raised under free grazing conditions and is traditionally used for the preparation of one of the most representative dishes of Yucatan cuisine: the Cochinito Pibil. Free range grazing pig farming is an activity with a low environmental impact, the animals live without cruelty and out of any confinement, eating only vegetables and by-products of the crops, which allows us to offer high quality meat and low fat. Throughout these years of collaboration with such valuable people we have witnessed collaboration between groups and especially between families. A clear example is the family of Doña Mari, Don Primitivo and their son Wilen, where the preparation of the Cochinita Pibil is a family activity.

These stories are a few of the reality that each of the producers of the Presidia live not only in Yucatan, but in the rest of Mexico.

Our commitment has been to tell their story and provide them with the tools to offer their products in an increasingly competitive market, where far from entering a price war they can stand out as being incredibly good, clean and fair products.

From here the decision is in each one of us, now you know that, by buying products made with Slow Food Presidia, you are supporting working people and the support of their families.

Article written by Diego Pinzón Mañé, Project Coordinator for Slow Food in Yucatan. 

These Presidia were started in 2016, in collaboration with W.K. Kellogg Foundation, as part of the Slow Yucatán project, which promotes a sustainable system of food production and consumption in order to improve the life of indigenous Mayan communities and bring them economic, cultural, social and health benefits.

Photo credit Tripinyourshoes.com
Photo credit Tripinyourshoes.com
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