The following is the established format for referencing this article:Monterrubio-Solís, C., A. Barreau, and J. T. Ibarra. 2023. Narrating changes, recalling memory: accumulation by dispossession in food systems of Indigenous communities at the extremes of Latin America. Ecology and Society 28(1):3.
Food feeds knowledge and practices through generations, sustaining biocultural memories. However, prevailing economic models and state policies have driven processes of accumulation by dispossession, defined as incremental social-ecological processes by which people lose their means of production and social reproduction. We conducted a cross-hemispherical study exploring food systems of Indigenous communities inhabiting forested landscapes in Latin America. We used mixed methods that included passive and participant observation, focus groups, free lists, food diaries, oral histories, and calendars in Mapuche communities from the Chilean Andes, and Tzotzil communities from Chiapas, Mexico. Food items and their preparations have changed in both locations. Both food systems show patterns of accumulation by dispossession associated with processes of colonial history, state policies, land privatization, soil depletion, and shifts in local food preferences. Despite these distant but comparable accumulation by dispossession processes, we advocate that biocultural memory remains linked to food-related experiences and sets the basis for dynamic and resilient local food systems going forward.
Local food systems are the result of extraordinary agricultural traditions embedded in our own cultural identities (FAO 2014). Agriculture and practices related to the procurement and preparation of food hold strong links with the territory and shape the basis of biocultural memory (Toledo and Barrera-Bassols 2008, Nazarea et al. 2013). Biocultural memory refers to the human reliance on intergenerational relationships, not only to one another but within territories, where the physicality of agroecosystems, material and symbolic meanings, as well as institutions join to constitute biocultural memory (Halbwachs 1992, Nazarea 1998, Toledo and Barrera-Bassols 2008, Barthel et al. 2010, Barthel et al. 2013a, Barthel et al. 2013b). In campesino and Indigenous agriculture, biocultural memory includes symbolic and material realms, which are maintained and transmitted through generations by imitation, verbal interactions, and collective ceremonies and practices. It is in domestic spaces like kitchens and homegardens, as well as walks through the forest gathering wild edibles, that biocultural memory is nurtured (Gispert-Cruells 2013, van der Ploeg 2014, Barreau et al. 2016). Biocultural memory within food systems offers important insights for understanding the functional and relational aspects of the culture and environment of the peoples using them (Coser 1992, Toledo and Barrera-Bassols 2008, Veteto and Welch 2013). On the other hand, it sheds light on the way Indigenous peoples, in their own specific ways, attribute value and adapt knowledge from the past to contemporary processes and circumstances of their territories. However, both the symbolic and the material realms of food are facing a worldwide process of biocultural homogenization (Barreau et al. 2019).
Historical and contemporary drivers of change such as colonial processes, economic and agricultural state policies, land grabbing, displacement, forest degradation, and shifts in land use, have affected many Indigenous peoples by reducing their ability to grow a wide variety of crops and limited the gathering of wild edible plants (Barreau et al. 2016, Orozco-Ramírez et al. 2017). Acculturation, migration, and lifestyle changes have replaced locally cultivated and wild foods with industrialized products associated with discourses of progress, modernity and development (Uauy et al. 2001, Kuhnlein et al. 2004, Barreau et al. 2019).
We propose that Indigenous food systems are being affected and transformed through processes related to what Harvey names, “accumulation by dispossession” (Harvey 2004b). Accumulation by dispossession is defined as the liberalization of resources, including work force, to incorporate them into capitalistic forms of production, depriving local communities from the relationship their previous generations had established with their territories (Harvey 2004a, Guerra and Skewes 2010). Harvey (2004b) elaborated from Marx’s primitive accumulation when he described the historical process of the English feudal states, which degraded and transformed the means of labor into capital of a mass of people by usurpation and privatization of common lands:
[C]ircumstances of reckless terrorism, were just so many idyllic methods of primitive accumulation. They conquered the field for capitalistic agriculture, made the soil part and parcel of capital, and created for the town industries the necessary supply of a ‘free’ and outlawed proletariat (Marx 1867, chap. 27).
Harvey’s accumulation by dispossession is an extension of the practices described by Marx in the original dispossession, as well as the prevalent form of accumulation of neoliberalism (Harvey 2004b). The state and the market play an important role in defining and legitimizing dispossession processes. For example, policies for food commodification, displacement of Indigenous communities, land use conversion, privatization of previously communal resources, and agricultural extension, among others, have an accumulative effect over social-ecological systems, often leading people to lose their means of production and social reproduction (Guerra and Skewes 2010, Perreault 2013).
Once the link between production and consumption is broken for campesinos and Indigenous peoples, collective erosion of the biocultural memory and the dismantling of social networks in local communities are defining factors for capitalism to present itself as the only option for human existence and provision (Eiss 2008). After turning small-scale producers and gatherers into consumers, what remains is a permanent sense of scarcity and satisfying local needs becomes increasingly dependent on the global market through the purchase of industrialized products (Díaz Méndez and García Espejo 2014). Thus, the many expressions of accumulation by dispossession are applied as an explanatory framework for multiple, intertwined drivers and processes that interact with power relations for social-ecological transformation. According to these interactions, it is possible to identify the key features that allow for local responses to dispossession (Guerra and Skewes 2010).
Harvey’s theory has been criticized by Marxist theorists who find the mixture of economic and extra-economic processes, as well as the conditions for capitalism with its problematic consequences, questioning the explanatory power of the theory (Das 2017). Nonetheless, the accumulation by dispossession has been considered a wide enough theory to explain changes within social-ecological systems, which research has often overseen as economic and political drivers of change.
This study explores shifts of food systems, as well as local responses of biocultural memory to processes of accumulation by dispossession within and across territories. Opening the scope of comparison among distant, but comparable, local contexts underlines the importance of relational approaches in which local and global scales are interdependent in social and ecological terms (Born and Purcell 2006, Darnhofer et al. 2016). How is biocultural memory interacting with processes of accumulation by dispossession within Indigenous food systems? To answer this question, we analyzed patterns of changes in accessibility and availability of foods, eating habits and the loss of knowledge related to food procurement in the households of two geographic extremes of Latin America. First, we develop a general historical account on the recent transformation of food systems in Chile and Mexico. Then, we provide the results of comparable empirical studies, conducted by the authors, on food systems in two Indigenous forested regions from southern Chile and southern Mexico.
Historical transformation of food systems at the extremes of Latin America
Chile and Mexico represent the two geographic extremes of the Latin American continent; both are examples of agrarian systems based on inequity and exclusion (Kay and Salazar 2001). Although we focus within the post-dictatorship time frame in the La Araucania region of Chile and the post-NAFTA period in the Chiapas Highlands in Mexico, southern Chile and southern Mexico share similar patterns since the Spanish invasion (Fig. 1).
For the Mapuche Indigenous people of southern Chile, state encroachment into the land upon which they live started on the second half of the 19th century. By 1950, one third of Mapuche territory had been despoiled through land privatization, forced displacement, undetermined land lease agreements, and other forms of assimilation to the new Chilean state (Bengoa 2000). The agrarian reform period between 1964 and 1973 expropriated half of the agricultural lands of the country. However, during Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973–1990) not only was this massive transfer of lands to landless campesinos stopped by the counter-agrarian reform, but also the campesino activists, syndicate leaders, and Indigenous people and campesinos who benefited from the agrarian reform were subject to torture, kidnapping, and disappearance by the authoritarian state. This terror campaign stopped major efforts of collective organization, and the campesinos and social movements that dared to challenge the power of the elites (Kay 1980, 1981). Still, after the agrarian reform and counter-reform, the expropriated areas reached 5036 lands covering 9,149,800 ha for the benefit of 54.924 campesino families but not for Mapuche families (Avendaño Pavez 2017). Since 1990, these historical inequities led, with the return of democracy, to numerous territorial reclamation movements, which are rooted in the marginality that Mapuche people have suffered from after their lands were invaded and sold to colonizers while their population was restricted and displaced to “reductions.” Anyhow, many Mapuche communities have mobilized through their territory, including the La Araucania region, aiming to recover their sovereignty over their ancestral territory, while the state and the army have consistently defended the private property (Kay and Salazar 2001).
After wheat was adopted and replaced other native staples, its cultivation established in the La Araucania and other regions of Chile and gained a significant role in the entire agrarian cycle of the campesino and Indigenous agriculture (1862–1867). Collective cultivation of chacras, religion, art, cooking, and handcrafts have shaped the biocultural memory around wheat in Chile (Mariángel and Fuentealba 2019). Despite its biocultural importance, the depletion of soils and the disappearance of collective agricultural work in communities have led to lower yields, making it cheaper to purchase wheat than to produce it for small-scale campesinos. On February 2021, wheat imports in Chile reached 143, 000 tons (ODEPA 2021).
Chiapas is the second state of Mexico with the highest biocultural diversity and a remote region of the country where national processes like the agrarian reform left the power of large landowners almost intact and remaining as the dominant elite. By 1940, Indigenous communities in Chiapas were bound to the party-state, called PRI (Institutional Revolution Party), which repressed and integrated the campesino movements as a political force in its advantage. By 1980s, Chiapas produced 54% of Mexico’s hydroelectric power, 13% corn, and 4% beans while Indigenous peoples in the Highlands, and elsewhere in the state, were subject to changes in their social forms of production from campesino to laborers for construction and migrants to the United States (Morton 2002). According to the National Agrarian Registry (2014), 59% of Chiapas' surface is in communal forms of land tenure, either Indigenous communities (801, 752 ha) or ejido (since the agrarian reform: 3 552, 030 ha). However, in practice, many communities and ejidos behave as groups of private properties, with access and titles being exchanged and sold within community members in an informal way.
Corn is not only a cash crop for Mexican campesinos and Indigenous peoples. It is also at the basis of the cultural identity and is charged with material and symbolic meanings. The Zapatista Army for National Freedom (EZLN) in Chiapas raised explicitly against the neoliberal policies that came into force on January 1st, 1994 (Dyer et al. 2018). That day, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into force. It formally started the transition in Mexico from corn production enhanced by State subsidies along the entire maize–tortilla chain to the current “Free Market” (Appendini 2014). According to Appendini (2014): “... the state did not withdraw its involvement but, rather, has had a key role in the construction of the “free” maize market, with the result that domestic supply for the market is concentrated in the hand of relatively few agent and in relatively few regions.” Despite initial protection, from 2007, the commercial agreement started prioritizing corn imports instead of supporting small-scale agriculture of the grain, further threatening Indigenous livelihoods leading to the so-called crisis of the tortilla (Morton 2002, Appendini 2014). Since 1994, corn imports have increasingly supplied the national demand of corn, from 2.5 million tons between 1980 and 1994 to 6.2 million tons between 1995 and 2011 (Moreno-Sáenz et al. 2016) and reaching 179 million tons in 2020 (Carbajal 2021).
In Chile and Mexico, large farms were established during the 19th century and remained until the second half of the 20th century. In both countries, the development model based on the export of raw materials to join the global economy had set the definition of economic and agriculture policies since the 19th century. Industrialization, infrastructure, and automation of the farming sector have been promoted as part of neoliberal policies that have affected local food systems, further marginalizing campesino and Indigenous communities in both countries. Export policies became more prevalent from the establishment of the neoliberal regimes, first, from 1973 in Chile and from 1994 in Mexico (Kay and Salazar 2001). For the Mapuche, the reduction of communal property through displacement and privatization, policies emphasizing extensive and mechanized monoculture, and education policies providing de-contextualized food aid and industrialized products, have had accumulative effects on the local food system (Barreau et al. 2019). In parallel, the 1994 constitutional reforms meant that many former communal lands could be privatized, opening the space to a process of atomization of the land tenure and thus severely reducing the surface for agriculture at the household level. For the Tzotzil people from Chiapas, the atomization of land tenure and lack of access to lands apt for agriculture for a growing population, soil depletion, and NAFTA have resulted in the increased costs of native corn cultivation in small-scale agriculture (Gómez-Martínez 2013, Dyer et al. 2018).
Study localities and ethnographic contexts
Mapuche (meaning people of the land), are one of the Indigenous peoples of South America whose name reflects their interdependence with the territory (Rupailaf 2002). However, this relationship has been under constant pressure throughout colonial history. After independence in the early 1800's, the Chilean government promoted the immigration of European settlers to different parts of the country (Bengoa 2014). In the Mapuche territory in southern Chile, the settlement of European farmers not only displaced the Mapuche people from their lands, but it also burned and cleared great expanses of temperate forests in order to open lands for agriculture and cattle (Rozzi 2003). Mapuche people living in rich soil areas were displaced to low productivity areas, sometimes with extreme weather conditions. The community has been the space where Mapuche families have re-structured their socio-political organization (Nahuelpan Moreno 2012, Bengoa 2014).
Menetue is part of the Pucon Municipality within La Araucania region (Fig. 2), and it is an area of difficult access. Menetue represents an agroecosystem at the foothills of the Andes in which there are Mapuche communities interspersed with non-Mapuche fundos (large farms) belonging to outsiders, which are characterized by an intensive logging history and cattle ranching. People in Menetue are grouped into 15 families who own small farms (< 5 ha) dispersedly located as there are two fundos that spatially fragment the community. Houses are immediately surrounded by highly diverse homegardens, a quinta (orchard), and chacras (potato fields), which are followed by well-defined grasslands for cattle and crop fields (Ibarra et al. 2019). There is a pampa or nguillatwe (arena) for the celebration of the Nguillatun. People in Menetue practice agriculture and animal husbandry, raising mostly cattle, sheep, and chickens. Because farms are small, nowadays these agro-pastoral practices are mostly for subsistence (Olivares et al. 2022, Fig. 3).
San Jose Buenavista, Chiapas
The Highlands of Chiapas region is located in the central mountain chain of the state of Chiapas. Nowadays, Tzotziles and Tzeltales in this region are dispersed within several municipalities. San Jose Buenavista (hereafter San Jose) is in the south-western edge of the municipality of San Cristobal de las Casas, hereafter SCLC (Fig. 2). San Jose is a rancheria, which was founded in the middle of the 20th century by the Tzotzil people. It is located 13 km south of SCLC and has a population of 450 people living in an area with difficult access (Table 1). The current distribution of population and the state of agroecosystems in San Jose are also a product of a forced resettlement process related to the agrarian reform and the allocation of Indigenous communities in areas with steep slopes and fragile soils (Fábregas Puig 2012). After colonization, Tzotzil people were displaced from the rich soil lands of the SCLC valley to the mountains. Then, with the land reform in the 1940s, Indigenous peoples received lands with fragile soils and steep slopes. These conditions, along with the population growth, led to the fractioning of allotments from a quarter of a hectare to up to two hectares of land (Ochoa-Gaona and González-Espinosa 2000).
Milpa cultivation is the basis of Tzoztil culture, and local food systems' knowledge and practices revolve around corn, beans, and pumpkin in an associative cultivation system called milpa. Currently, the capacity of the families in San Jose to cultivate milpa has decreased due to the effects of neoliberal policies promoted by NAFTA, population growth, soil depletion, and the resulting dependency on agrochemicals (Moreno-Sáenz et al. 2016). In addition, in the highlands of Chiapas, the demand for firewood has been a major driver of forest degradation and soil erosion, further deteriorating local agroecosystems (Ochoa-Gaona and González-Espinosa 2000).
The localities studied were selected on the basis of two features: i) representation of agroecosystems embedded within temperate forest landscapes and ii) Indigenous communities living in close relation to the land in peri-urban territories (Fig. 3). Data collection consisted of sharing daily routines with families over a six-month period for each locality. Fieldwork took place between November 2012 to April 2013 in Chile, and October 2016 to March 2017 in Mexico. The work was mainly conducted along with women, who were mostly related to food-provision activities. Hence, even though we tried to cover both genders, we recognize female knowledge and practices keeping biocultural memory as the basis of local food systems (Arias 1997, Deere and León 2000, Radel 2012, Bhattarai et al. 2015). After applying prior informed consent from local authorities and each participant, we worked with 20 women in Menetue and with 14 women in San Jose Buenavista using the snowball sampling method (Bernard 2011). We used passive and participant observation, food diary elicitation, focus groups, and food calendars to identify the most salient foods consumed in the households in each locality (Ibarra et al. 2011, Newing et al. 2011, Barreau et al. 2019). For analysis of food diaries, every meal of the household was registered and disaggregated into its ingredients, which were later classified according to their origin and the intensity of their processing: (i) locally produced and processed, (ii) market products and locally processed, or (iii) market-based and industrially processed.
Oral histories were recorded through informal interviews and semi-structured interviews (Bernard 2011, pp. 210-290), to explore biocultural memories around food practices, perceived factors of change in local food ways, food diversity, and agriculture practices. Data were transcribed and codified to identify the most salient subjects and identify the drivers of change within the food systems. Thematic analysis was used to analyze the qualitative data in order to develop a set of codes and to identify patterns of meaning of themes within the data (Braun and Clarke 2006). This information was triangulated with the literature review and among participants in order to explain the drivers of change within the broader regions of study supported by the dataset. We thoroughly read and reviewed the consent form to participants and a copy was left with the president of the communities in case anyone needed our contact information. This research was conducted under the approval from the Behavioural Research Ethics Board (BREB) from the University of British Columbia (ID # H12-02151; September 2012) and from the Comité Ético Científico de Ciencias Sociales, Artes y Humanidades from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (ID # 170714019; April 2018).
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Current components of the local food system in Menetue
In Menetue, we registered a total of 82 ingredients in the food consumed. Out of these ingredients, (i) 55% were locally produced (e.g., catutos), (ii) 16% were market products and locally processed (e.g., home-made catutos with wheat cultivated elsewhere), and (iii) 29% were market-based and industrially processed (e.g., noodles). Legumes, maize, and potatoes have been relegated, if existent, to a few rows in homegardens and chacras. As one Lonko recalled, "Before, there was a lot of Mapuche maize, the one with different colors. It had blue, red and yellow kernels all mixed in the same cob. Now those are hard to see, almost no one grows them" (GA, 96. Quotes are attributed by initials and age).
Even though locally produced food is still the most important source for people in Menetue in the harvest season (much lower in the wintering season), the occurrence of market products in the local diets, such as sugary drinks and hyper-processed foods, indicates profound changes in the food system (Fig. 4). These changes are consistent with a diet homogenization process in which local foods are gradually replaced by market-based products, increasing the economic dependence of the households to purchase food, especially during the wintering season. According to people in Menetue, wild edible plants were barely consumed in comparison with the past:
The yuyo has also disappeared because it grows more in the fields... and no one is sowing wheat anymore. First, the wheat came out, and then the yuyo (RP, 68).
Ten wild edibles were observed being consumed by community members: digüeñe (Cyttaria espinosae), yuyo or ngchon (Brassica rapa), nalca (Gunnera tinctoria), coligüe (Chusquea culeou), chilco (Fuchsia magellanica), maqui (Aristotelia chilensis), murra (Rubus ulmifolius), mosqueta (Rosa rubiginosa), murta (Ugni molinae), and piñones from the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana). Fruiting bodies of mushrooms were highly appreciated, particularly during fall and winter, as substitutes for meat, which needs to be purchased on the market during those seasons. Spring mushrooms, such as digüeñe (Cyttaria espinosae) and chicharron de monte (Gyromitra antartica), also come out when people are waiting for the coming harvest. However, people in Menetue indicated that patches of native forests have been degraded and biodiversity has been simplified in farms over the years, lowering the supply of mushrooms, which need the moisture of the understory, or the presence of decaying wood as a substrate (Hiscox et al. 2018). According to participants, the reduction in wild food diversity and consumption in local diets was related to land privatization processes, land use change, deforestation for cattle ranching done by big farm owners and the formal education system. Consequently, the patches of native forests available hold a higher harvest pressure and the biocultural memory related to the elements of the landscape, such as edible plants and fungi is less present in younger generations.
Biocultural memory in response to changing dietary patterns in Menetue
In Menetue, the day starts at 6:00 a.m., in the firewood kitchen, with the preparation of bread (pan amasado) and drinking mate. Historical land displacement of the Mapuche from their ancestral land has left an indelible mark on local biocultural memory. Currently, private large farms and state-protected areas have limited the actions of the Mapuche within the extended landscape that was once theirs. In response to this, wild plants (edible, medicinal and ornamental) are brought and planted in the immediate surroundings of the household or in homegardens by Mapuche people when they have the chance to trespass into private land or state-protected areas. In Menetue, homegardens provide access to some forest elements that would otherwise be out of reach (Bharucha and Pretty 2010, Ibarra et al. 2019). However, these strategies would not be enough to substitute for the walks in the forest for knowledge transmission (Barreau et al. 2016), as this hands-on knowledge requires a higher degree of involvement in order to learn (Setalaphruk and Price 2007).
Most adults recalled growing up and helping their parents to sow wheat, maize, oats, rye, flaxseed, and barley in large quantities, interspaced with patches of long rows of quinoa, as well as different varieties of potatoes, beans, peppers, and peas. Many of these varieties were displaced by wheat, which became a cash crop enhanced by the promotion of mechanization in agriculture promoted by state agencies. People also remembered local varieties of grains gradually disappearing from the landscape as farms became smaller, but wheat remained for longer as the most precious of all. Legumes, maize, and potatoes have been relegated to a few rows in homegardens and chacras. Even though wheat was brought by the Spanish colonizers, it was rapidly assimilated and became an important constituent of Mapuche culture (Guevara 1908, Bengoa 2000, Toledo Llancaqueo 2006, Montalba and Stephens 2014). After the arrival of the Spanish, wheat quickly replaced maize, mangu (Bromus mango) and madi (Madia sativa) in most locations as the staple grain of the Mapuche. It has been indicated that the ability of wheat to grow and ripen faster than other cereals was an important asset (Gumucio 1999). Hence, in the face of the processes of colonization, land privatization, and acculturation, local biocultural memory has shown its dynamic nature by incorporating numerous non-native plants into its agrobiodiversity and kitchen preparations over time (Hernández 2008).
For most families in Menetue, 2012 was the last year that they sowed wheat. According to participants, the low productivity of the soil and the lack of a threshing machine were the main reasons for ending the local production of wheat. The detriment of soils was related to (i) restricted space for agriculture that prevented crop-pasture rotation farming system; (ii) soil weakness, due to the absence of fallows and the excessive use of agrochemicals; and (iii) the perceived higher presence of agricultural pests. Participants indicated that this has not only depleted the soils but more deeply has disrupted local livelihood strategies and food systems, increasing their dependence on market-based products (Clark 2011, Eyssartier et al. 2011). The agroindustry and its promotion through state agencies has led farmers to depend on expensive fertilizers to produce traditional crops. Thus, today it is less expensive to buy wheat than to produce it (Clark 2011, Montalba and Stephens 2014). With the end of wheat production came the disappearance of the yuyo or ngchon (Brassica rapa), a relished wild green that comes out together with wheat and is present in many Mapuche preparations.
Finally, participants reported a shift from more collective farming as a disincentive to keep producing cereals or grains as they require more work and families today are less numerous than before. Along with the changes in the productive units affecting food production, according to villagers, the collection of wild edibles has also been affected. Perhaps the most iconic case is the seed or piñon of the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), essential food for Mapuche people in nutritional and symbolic terms (Huiliñir-Curío 2018, Cortés et al. 2019). According to participants, "Before, it was freer; you could pass straight through any piece of land. And now you cannot because if you go through the property of a rich, it is forbidden because it is private." (MÑ, 54).
In their belief system, families “owned” the piñones of some pinaladas as that was the family´s gathering spot for many generations, but the forest did not belong to them. Gathering trips were also instances for learning and interacting with each other: "Piñonear was a social activity in which you met other neighbors who were also hanging around with their families, and they made a fire and elders would sit up most of the night chatting among themselves" (PA, 50). Some community members remembered that elders would tell stories (epew) or historical narratives (ngütram) as a way of teaching children about life and especially how to behave in forests, teaching philosophies of respect and values for other life-forms (Castillo 2008, Söhn 2012). These traditional modes of communicating, teaching, and learning were also instances of nurturing relations (human and non-humans), validating Indigenous epistemologies, and sharing knowledge (Iseke 2014). Therefore, the loss of piñonear should be read beyond the mere fact of not eating piñones, as it may also deeply affect social cohesion and the transmission of biocultural memory through generations (Cortés et al. 2019).
According to all of the adult community members interviewed, children's food tastes widely differed from their parents´ tastes, and this could be one of the most important reasons for the food system changes. Participants stressed that this has happened primarily because of the schooling system and the National School Food Program (PAE), which has neither been culturally sensitive nor substantially revised (Barreau et al. 2019). By providing children with food aid out of their cultural context, their taste perceptions increasingly differ to those of their parents, transforming their food preferences towers processed products. There are other aspects that affect local food systems, such as changes in cooking spaces, lack of time, and women’s disposition to make long preparations, as traditional foods usually require, which are linked to the incorporation of local society to the wage economy and the resulting transition from food producers and gatherers to consumers.
Current components of the local food system in San Jose Buenavista
In San Jose Buenavista, out of 95 ingredients registered, (i) 38% were locally produced, (ii) 10% were purchased in the market and locally processed, while (iii) 52% were market-based and industrially processed (Fig. 4). Even though there was a higher percentage of ingredients from the market, this could be explained not only because of the scarcity of fresh products due to the dry season but also as a reflection of the increased amount of products available due to women’s work in the city. Regardless of the season and the locality, market products were widely consumed in San Jose, especially when agriculture activities were put on hold between January and May. The constant transportation to the nearby city to spend long work or study hours restricts the time available for agriculture and makes market-based and processed foods more available to local population. According to the adult women interviewed, the variety of vegetables from other rural regions and processed foods from the market has increased their range of foods. Even though corn, beans, and squash remain the core of the food system in San Jose, there are other ingredients that have been incorporated, often to complement local foods, especially during the dry season.
The most salient local foods mentioned during the free-list exercises were three varieties of corn: white, yellow, and blue, prepared in more than eleven different ways; five varieties of beans: black, white, colorado, patashete or pacha (Phaseolus vulgaris), and botil (Phaseolus coccineus), from which the flowers are also eaten. Beans were followed by yellow pumpkin (Cucurbita angyosperma) and white pumpkin (Cucurbita ficifolia) from which flowers, stems, seeds, and fruits are consumed. All these cultivated products were also associated with wild foods growing in the milpa, such as nabo (Brassica rapa) and hierbamora (Solanum americanum).
Women acknowledged that many associated products of the milpa such as quelites (stems and leaves), mushrooms and other wild edibles are disappearing due to the indiscriminate use of herbicides. Herbicides and hybrid seeds are provided or subsidized by the agriculture secretary through technologic packages, gradually replacing native seeds diversity and further deteriorating the quality of the soil.
Biocultural memory in response to changing dietary patterns in San Jose Buenavista
In San Jose, normal days start at 6 a.m. by turning on the fire, and rinsing and grinding the corn that had been soaked and boiled with chalk the previous night (nixtamalización). Most women from San Jose learned to cook by helping their mother since they were children:
Since I was little, I helped my mom and I learned how to boil vegetables to use spices...I was raised in the hot land, we would eat beans and whatever animal my father could hunt (birds, squirrel), and tortillas made with pacha corn, would always be there; the fruit, was jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus). (MG, 32)
According to women, native varieties of corn are increasingly scarce in the region as they have to compete with the use of new and ‘improved’ corn seeds promoted by state agencies. Despite the promotion of hybrid seeds by the state, some families value their traditional seeds and agriculture practices for a number of reasons:
We use our own yellow corn seed, I like the black one better, but I would have to buy it from SCLC. We don’t use fertilizer, we only use Faena [herbicide]; we don’t know how to protect our crops without it...(MG, 32)
The hybrid seeds and industrial agrochemicals promoted and delivered to Indigenous communities through state programs are driving changes in the local food system. In San Jose, these changes have reached and affected the cultivation of the most important staple food: corn and its complex assemblage within the milpa. The reduction in the size of the agriculture plots, due to processes of migration and gentrification, means that people in San Jose have to rent lands to grow corn or work for other people in exchange for a proportion of the production. Moreover, corn production is becoming increasingly dependent on chemical fertilizers and herbicides promoted by the state agencies (Gómez-Martínez 2013). The availability of subsidized corn from the U.S. due to NAFTA in the local markets means that, nowadays, it is cheaper to purchase imported corn or processed tortillas than to produce them. This effect increases the vulnerability, in terms of the dependency, to purchase grains supplied through the market and the homogenization of local diets, while native varieties of corn are pushed to disappear.
Once the dough is ready, a woman from the household makes the tostadas (thin hard tortillas) on the family's firewood-saving stove, just as she was taught by her mother or another female relative. These tostadas will be sold in the public market of SCLC the next morning to Indigenous and mestizo people within the low-income range. In most of the houses visited, women sell corn products (mainly pozol, tostadas, and pinol) as a source of income. These products fulfill a food gap for people in the city who want to eat as they would in their community at an affordable price, creating an alternative to industrialized products. While a woman prepares the tortillas for lunch, she refers to the people in her community, many of whom use the improved seeds provided by the government:
[...] use a lot of fertilizer and then the seeds don't work the following year! My husband used them for one season in a piece of his land, but since we only put one application of fertilizer, the plant did not establish... What is the point of eating big corns when one is eating only chemicals? (BC, 35).
Women also sell the fruits from the orchard to people in San Jose; these fruits include nopal (Opuntia sp.), peaches (Prunus persica), murras (Rubus ulmifolius) and medicinal plants like chilchahua (Tagetes nelsonii), and ruda (Ruta graveolens), as well as flowers for ornamental purposes. With the money they get from selling their products, women get vegetables and fruits that would not normally be available in the locality, such as onion (Allium cepa), garlic (Allium sativum), tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), cucumber (Cucumis sativus), pineapple (Ananas comosus), mangos (Mangifera indica), and fish (several species). The shopping also includes processed bread and tortillas, soft drinks and sweets. Therefore, while the work of these women bridges a food gap in the nearby city, it can cause a food gap in their own community.
A concern among interviewees was related to the limited amount of land and forests in the locality available for new generations. Since the 1994 land reforms enhance the land market, the increasing demand for land created by outsiders moving from the nearby city is making lands unaffordable for agriculture. Also, the remaining patches of forests are rapidly simplified and deforested for firewood. This adds to the loss of wild species due to the use of agrochemicals, reducing the agrobiodiversity in the milpa, further degrading soils. The result for the local food system is an increased vulnerability for food provision and the increased reliance on market products (Soares Moares 2006, Calderón-Cisneros and Soto-Pinto 2014). As an alternative, those people from San Jose who are economically able, have opted for leasing lands downstream. Those families with lands in different altitude gradients reported cultivating a wider diversity of products throughout the year.
Applying their biocultural memory to prepare corn and other milpa products, women from San Jose have diversified their sources of income and, in some cases, their role as the main providers in their homes, reducing their economic vulnerability. However, since the process of preparing corn requires big quantities of both firewood and water, this has also meant an increase in the effort women invest to get these resources every day and further deteriorates the local environment. Moreover, the time available to prepare food for their family has been reduced and complex preparations have been relegated to special events, leading to a simplification in their diets.
In addition to the production problems in local food systems in Chiapas’ Highlands, there is a lack of cultural coherence in food subsidies. The food aid distributed by the government was reconstituted milk, canned fish, and vegetables, imported and industrialized corn flour, vegetable oil, and rice. While the justification for these programs is food security, the provision of these food products is also transforming taste perceptions among children, shaping them to prefer market-based diets.
Accumulation by dispossession in distant Indigenous food systems
The patterns observed in food systems in Menetue and San Jose Buenavista show the dispossession driven by public policy and market forces in favor of private accumulation. These forces include agriculture policies prioritizing imported grains, promoting hybrid seeds, and agrochemicals, thus reducing seed and food diversity within homegardens and milpas. Land privatization drives land atomization, further limiting the access to previously available wild foods, while land use change and agrochemical subsidies accelerate agroecosystems degradation. Finally, food-aid policies expose school children to foods that have no cultural identity and create habits of consumption of industrialized products. Consequently, biocultural memories associated with both local food systems are continuously evolving, incorporating and losing elements in accordance with the processes of hybridization and homogenization (García Canclini 2001).
The simplification of agroecosystems and local food ways is possible through interrelated forms of accumulation. In Menetue and San Jose Buenavista, Indigenous peoples are gradually turned into food consumers, further accelerating acculturation and are legitimized by state programs in the name of poverty alleviation (Ibarra et al. 2011, Barreau et al. 2019). After years of plot-size reduction and dependency on agrochemicals, it has become cheaper to purchase grains, such as wheat and oats in Chile, as well as corn and beans in Mexico, than to produce them, changing social relations of production and cultural reproduction. These cases are similar to those reported for Indigenous and campesino communities of Canada and Brazil (Damman et al. 2008, Lourenço et al. 2008). These changes have also been associated with the prevalence of chronic diseases among Indigenous groups (Myers et al. 2004, Damman et al. 2008, McCune and Kuhnlein 2011, Page-Pliego 2018, Barreau et al. 2019).
The processes explored here give an account of the processes transforming social and biocultural relations within territories (Díaz Méndez and García Espejo 2014, Harvey 2004b). Nevertheless, the responses from Indigenous peoples and their biocultural memory finding alternatives to capitalist production confirm that accumulation by dispossession requires constant reproduction (De Angelis 2001), and that strong biocultural memory and social networks have the potential to resist such processes. The latter has been explored in cases of social-ecological dispossession for extractive industries in bioculturally diverse regions like Ecuador (Latorre et al. 2015), Bolivia (Perreault 2013), and Chile (Guerra and Skewes 2010). Mapuche and Tzotzil biocultural memories allow local people the continuity of use, cultivation, and circulation of heirloom seeds, as well as the collection of wild foods (Ibarra et al. 2019, Solano 2019). Situated knowledge embedded in biocultural memories remains strong for species such as quinoa, wheat, potatoes, and piñon for Menetue, and corn, wheat, beans, and squash for San Jose. However, smaller and less salient species, such as wild foods, need a more proactive approach to be recovered and conserved.
Biocultural memory: keeping local food systems moving forward
Discourses of progress and development translated into policies legitimate accumulation by dispossession and try to dilute memories of life before capitalism (Eiss 2008). Biocultural memory has kept cultures and biodiversity resisting throughout Latin American colonization processes (Toledo and Barrera-Bassols 2008) and, nowadays, through neoliberal regimes. Territories and practices that sustain biocultural memory are much more than mere nostalgia; they are the background necessary to maintain biocultural diversity and to imagine new and resilient realities for local food systems (Assmann and Czaplicka 1995, Barthel et al. 2013b).
Local choices for conservation or dismissal of heirloom seeds, agricultural, and food practices are the accurate expression of the dynamism and adaptability of biocultural memory (Maffi 2005, Ibarra et al. 2020a). Heirloom seeds and wild foods are used and conserved in order to give the characteristic flavor to preparations embedded in biocultural memory (Veteto and Welch 2013). Furthermore, wild foods and their persistence in gathering practices and preparations are more than a substitute to staple foods, but they are a complement to, and sources of, diet diversity (Kuhnlein and Receveur 1996, Barreau 2014, Grey and Patel 2015).
The biocultural memory of these local food systems persists despite all odds. The deliberate continuity of practices such as homegarden tending, milpa cultivation, walks through remaining patches of forest in search of wild edibles, and food preparations are essential for biocultural memory to stay current and dynamic across generations (Barreau et al. 2016, Marchant et al. 2020). Intergenerational transmission of biocultural memory is key to face the processes of accumulation by dispossession. Such dispossession is expressed in the struggles in which Indigenous peoples across Latin America have to defend their right to access to forests, land, and clean water, as well as to keep their forms of organization and production, native seeds, languages, food, and other cultural practices.
Biocultural memory can restore relationships with the territory and the world of meanings related to it (Nazarea 1998, Barthel 2013, Schmieding 2018, Ibarra et al. 2022). However, as we have shown, due to the rapid changes in social-ecological means of production, more proactive recovery processes of biocultural memories are required (Ibarra et al. 2020b). Retrieval of knowledge and practices related soil care, native seed conservation and reproduction, ecological restoration of agroecosystems, and collective forms of production are needed for local foods systems to adapt and respond. The challenge of nurturing biocultural memory and the world´s agrobiodiversity through fair and inclusive means, faces the same challenge of recognizing women as key subjects to achieve dynamic and adaptive food systems.
 North America Free Trade Agreement, between Canada, U.S.A. and Mexico, which marked the formal entry of Mexico to the neoliberal economy.
 Nguillatun: The most important religious celebration for the Mapuche.
 Rancheria: A settlement surrounding farms, either private of their own (INEGI 2007).
 Lonko means head in Mapuzungun and refers to the head of a family, as well as to the spiritual and moral leader of the community.
 Pinaladas: Monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) forests, which are places for piñon (seeds of the monkey puzzle tree) collection.
 Piñonear: the act of gathering piñones.
RESPONSES TO THIS ARTICLE
Responses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a response, follow this link. To read responses already accepted, follow this link.
We are grateful to the communities of Menetue, Chile, and San Jose Buenavista, Mexico, for their generosity and willingness to participate in this research. We thank Francisca Santana for her help with map preparation. CMS thanks the support of a Postdoctoral Fellowship from UNAM/CIMSUR and FONDECYT/CONICYT, project number 3180204. This research was also supported by the ISE Darrell Posey Fellowship, the Rufford Small Grants Foundation, ANID Laboratorio Natural Andes del Sur de Chile LN 200007, the Center for Intercultural and Indigenous Research CIIR - ANID FONDAP 15110006, the Center of Applied Ecology and Sustainability CAPES - ANID PIA/BASAL FB0002, the Cape Horn International Center for Global Change Studies and Biocultural Conservation CHIC - ANID PIA/BASAL PFB210018, ANID/REDES 190033, the Vicerrectoría de Investigación from PUC (GRANT: 7512-023-81), and ANID/FONDECYT Regular 1200291. We thank the anonymous reviewers for their careful reading of our manuscript and their many insightful comments and suggestions.
The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author, JTI.
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Table 1. Distance to the closest city, and physical and ecological characteristics of study areas in the localities of Menetue (Chile) and San Jose Buenavista (Mexico).
|Menetue, Chile||San Jose Buenavista, Mexico|
|Coordinates||39º 19’ S, 71º 43’ W||16º 40’ N, 92º 38’ W|
|Distance from the closest city (km)||26, Pucon||13, San Cristobal de las Casas|
|Mean annual temperatures (ºC)||10.7||15.1|
|Mean annual precipitation (mm)||1945 mm||1057 mm|
|Elevation ranges (meters above sea level)||300 to 2847||800 to 2800|
|Vegetation type||Deciduous forests dominated by Nothofagus species and mixed deciduous with conifer forests. In higher elevations, landscape is dominated by the conifer Araucaria araucana||Pine–oak and cloud forests combined with seasonal agriculture|