As travelers we delight in trying the local fare and experimenting with tastes, flavors and textures. Especially in countries famous for their corn crops there are many varieties of corn aside from that which we typically encounter in our own supermarkets. In Colombia there are many different varieties which are still cultivated by local natives and farmers. Maize (and corn) is a heritage crop that goes back thousands of years to Mesoamerican cultures who came before the Spanish conquistadors. Today they are preserved by the indigenous communities and organic minded communities of farmers who are dedicated to their ancestral heritage. However these crops are at risk today due to big business which has insidiously overreached international borders and seeks to destroy any and all which threaten their profits. As countries like the US, Canada, Peru, Chile and many others sign away their rights to clean agriculture the earth mourns and travelers will go hungry for want of authentic foods.
In the following video, a native community who cultivated maiz, platano, yucca and sugar cane witness a police swat team and 40 tractors coming in to mow down their heritage. This is an affront to the native people, to travelers and to humanity as a whole. These grounds are private property cultivated by organic agriculture and with their own seed bank cultivated in the way of the ancestors. Witness the Colombian government not just impoverishing their native tribes who depend on this food source, but all Colombians who suffer as a result.
This seems to follow a pattern that is happening world wide to indigenous heirloom seed varieties. Governments that claim to care for their people and who wish to promote world peace and harmony are violating their sacred duties in order to accommodate their corporate masters. Colombia has been torn by conflict which has displaced thousands of farmers that now live impoverished lives in big cities. Now we see the native communities being torn asunder as the government stoops to the level of the FARC or ELN and violates the rights of the people who were here long before their Spanish ancestors. This is a concern for the people of the world because we have allowed big business like MONSANTO to interfere in not just our local agribusiness but in our heritage. I’m sure many native tribes in the US, Canada and even Africa can relate.
Here are a few of the local specialties which travelers can enjoy while visiting the Coffee Axis, thanks to heritage seed varieties and farm culture.
Chocolo is a sweet flavored native corn variety which is characterized by robust oversized kernels. Arepas (or flat but thick Corn cakes) made from this corn variety are the most palatable to many foreigners due to the sweet cake-like taste attributed to the variety. In the Coffee Axis region you can fine fresh Arepas de Chocolo at roadside vendors who cook in wood-fired ovens and stuffed with butter and farm cheese.
Plantains come in a few different varieties, one is Guineo which is primarily used to make soup. While many departments now cultivate GMO plantains you can still find farmers who produce native varieties. Some of the most common preparations are plantains roasted and stuffed with cheese or fried as patacons (like a large banana chip) and eaten with fish and local dishes. Beans are also cooked with pieces of plantain.
Sugar cane is another major staple in the Colombian diet. When the cane is cut you can chop the hard outer shell off and suck the sweet juice out of it. When run through an extractor sugar cane is juiced with lime to create a cool, refreshing drink called “guarapo.” In the trapiche (or wood fired cooking vats), sugar cane is boiled down into a thick syrup which hardens into hard bricks. These bricks are then broken into pieces and boiled to create a hot drink which is traditionally drunk with meals.
These are only a few of the cultural foods which are being watered down and polluted by GMO seeds, corporate farms and the loss of land due to conflict. By failing to preserve the quality of taste and the life giving nutrients we are robbing our children (including my half-Colombian son) of their native heritage. In many parts of Colombia it is now considered a status symbol to be able to drink American soda pop, eat artificially flavored chips and follow it with an imported American chocolate bar. Instead they are poisoning their bodies with lab created chemicals as their local farmers lose the market share and the Colombian people lose their heritage. ((And don’t get me going about the Chinese invasion of Colombia, mowing down rainforest, sucking out resources like a leech….with zero benefit to the Colombian people)). And for what? So they can compare themselves to Americans? America is over. The party up there has ended due to these same overstepping corporations. Wake up Colombia!
I feel passionate about this place that I have come to appreciate and love as my home. I have my moments when I just long for a Whole Foods, a small car and full moon drum circles. However even so, now I can buy my food fresh from within a couple hours of the city. The water here is clean and plentiful. And the people so much more passionate about life. I am listening to the national soccer team play in the Copa America tournament. The enthusiasm doesn’t just come from a next door neighbor, across, below or next to me. It comes from the ENTIRE neighborhood! If only the people would divert some of that energy to preventing the powers that be from paving paradise. We don’t need any more parking lots!! We need a clean environment! Clean agriculture by Colombians FOR Colombians! My son was born here and that means that I have an interest in a good future. GOL!!!!