Amaranth as an Indigenous Food: Production of Heritage and Food Activism

Receipt: March 3, 2021

Acceptance: June 16, 2021


This text analyzes how turning of foods into heritage is a social process that produces indigeneity via food activism. It presents the case of the Enlace Group for the Promotion of Amaranth in Mexico (Grupo Enlace para la Promoción del Amaranto en México) a player in the argument over food sovereignty, which propels the production, transformation and consumption of this grain. It illustrates its food events, organizational practices and the narratives that provided amaranth with a series of values related to its place in the Mesoamerican diet, which, updated as indigenous and ancestral food, helped it become known as an intangible heritage of Mexico City (CDMX). We display the relevance of this type of activism for the production of indigeneity in the scope of food heritage.

Keywords: , , , ,

amaranth as an indigenous food: production of heritage and food activism

Abstract: This text analyzes how turning of foods into heritage is a social process that produces indigeneity via food activism. It presents the case of the Enlace Group for the Promotion of Amaranth in Mexico, a player in the argument over food sovereignty, which propels the production, transformation and consumption of this grain. It illustrates its food events, organizational practices and the narratives that provided amaranth with a series of values related to its place in the Mesoamerican diet, which, updated as indigenous and ancestral food, helped it become known as an intangible heritage of Mexico City (cdmx). We display the relevance of this type of activism for the production of indigeneity in the scope of food heritage.

Keywords: heritage, food activism, amaranth, indigenous food, indigeneity.


As part of the patrimonialization1 cultural activities promoted by the unesco in 2003,2 the creation of food heritage is aimed at safeguarding cuisines or products considered "traditional",3 local and little known. "From above" aims to promote economic development, the interests of the gastronomic industry and tourism (Bessiére, 1998; Matta, 2013). "From below", it contributes to the discursive construction of place, identity and culture (Littaye, 2016) and in "processes of ethnogenesis, defense of identity and territory" (Guzmán Chávez, 2019: 12) when indigenous populations find an opportunity to negotiate visibility and ethnic recognition before national and international instances (Bak-Geller Corona, 2019). In both cases it directly impacts communities, social and interpersonal relationships, and the broader processes of negotiating what such cuisines, culturally appropriate foods and "authentic foods" are and are considered to be (Stanford, 2012), and critically interrogates the dynamics of globalization in light of local, regional, national and transnational practices and interactions. Although the best known initiatives are those promoted by governments and international bodies, what recent studies show is that food heritage is made possible, understood and valued in the daily lives and practices of community actors (Pérez Ruiz and Machuca, 2017; Suremain, 2017, 2019a; Bak-Geller Corona et al., 2019).

In Latin America, heritage initiatives have emerged as a result of the organization of various actors around food sovereignty, the right to healthy food and the valuation of local cuisines and products (Rebaï et al., 2021), in the face of the effects of agribusiness and the rapid changes in diets, commensality and eating habits. A consequence of this process is "the revitalization of traditional ingredients recognized for their nutritional values, agricultural advantages or their sustainability with respect to food security" (Sébastia, 2017: 7).

Research on heritage takes into account "the institutional, economic, political, social, cultural and identity processes of valorization of agrodiversity, food and gastronomy" (Rebaï et al., 2021: 15). They note the changes experienced by crops and ways of cooking and eating in the face of expanding markets, agricultural policies, dissemination and information in the media (Rebaï, 2021: 15). et al., 2021), the emergence of a consumer base in search of authenticity (Littaye, 2016) and "the symbolic valuation of the indigenous roots of local cuisines" (Suremain, 2017: 175).

Heritage operates as "a marker of identity and distinctive element of the social group" that "provides historical depth and permanent pattern in a world in continuous change"; as a temporal link it is indistinguishable from tradition and is considered a "reservoir of meaning necessary to understand the world" (Bessiére, 1998: 26). Creating it implies debating notions of ancestrality, legitimacy and authenticity in certain cultural practices (Guzmán Chávez, 2019), discussing how "one's own" culture is placed at the service of specific interests (Bak-Geller Corona et al., 2019) and ponder the intervention of official instances that "activate" the patrimonial initiative (Medina, 2017). Patrimonialization is expressed as "an action exercised by subjects on something that was not heritage before and that is intended to be so" (Pérez Ruíz and Machuca, 2017: 5).

This process generates a tension between "ordinary patrimonialization" - a kind of social practice that escapes from the formal field of institutions and organizations that we understand to be typical of "food heritage configurations" - and "ordinary patrimonialization" - a kind of social practice that escapes from the formal field of institutions and organizations that we understand to be typical of "food heritage configurations".4 (Suremain, 2019b: 12)- and institutional heritage: "the process of selecting what deserves to be valued can be doubly problematic, because of the profile of those who decide and because of the selection criteria themselves. It can then lead to a reinvention of the "ancestral" - a term that appeared only recently - of the "typical" or the "traditional" (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1983)... and which corresponds to a process of cataloguing that entails an "objectifying" interest" (Rebaï et al., 2021: 16).

Throughout the continent we observe how this cataloging process endows an arsenal of notions to define heritage initiatives, such as "Argentine cultural product" (Álvarez and Sammartino, 2009), "community indigenous food" in Bolivia (Suremain, 2019b) or "gastronomic routes" (Suremain, 2017), and super-foods in Mexico (Katz and Lazos, 2017). As Ayora-Díaz points out, "all these affirmations, declarations, certifications of the patrimonial character of food forms, of practices and techniques of food elaboration, of culinary systemsgastronomic, enclose a political background and negotiation of visions of the world inhabited by social groups, and the legitimization of their narratives of the past and their present" (2019: 212).

In order to contribute to the analyses on the production of food heritage that investigate actors, their organization and practices (Bak-Geller Corona et al., 2019; Rebaï et al., 2021), as well as in the negotiation of indigenous elements entering the global circuit in the era of "ethnic resurgence" (Matta, 2013), in this text we present the "food activism" (Siniscalchi and Counihan, 2014; Counihan, 2014b) of the Enlace Group for the Promotion of Amaranth in Mexico (gepam). The follow-up we initiated to account for the absence and emergence of amaranth and the social organization around it (Curiel, 2016) led us to observe the practices and discourses that the Group deployed in various public events. In this text we ask what role food activism plays in the production of an "indigenous food". And understanding heritage as a material and symbolic production that involves observing the decontextualization and subsequent recontextualization of certain elements (Frigolé, 2010), we attend to the symbolic, discursive aspects and material objects that such activism used to achieve the naming of amaranth as heritage of Mexico City (cdmx) and their inclusion in the basic food basket.

We approach these questions through the concept of indigeneity elaborated as the "historical, social, political processes through which certain people, groups, practices, objects can be identified and/or can be claimed as indigenous" (López Caballero, 2016: 10), which question both the idea about "our common origin", located in the pre-Hispanic past, and the legitimization of contemporary indigenous peoples by their "indissoluble and transhistorical link with that past" (López Caballero, 2010: 137).

While the exclusion of the Indian and the indigenous characterized the discourse of the kitchens of the 20th century, it was not the first time that the Indian and the indigenous were excluded. xix (Bak-Geller Corona, 2019), recent research in the field of food heritage reveals the value-added5 that appears in foods identified as indigenous in a context "characterized by the neoliberal and mercantilist logic that transforms culture into a consumer good" (Bak-Geller Corona, 2019: 44) when it produces foods that "stamped as Indian, are fashionable [as they are represented] as authentic, true or pure foods" (Suremain, 2017: 174). An example is the "Mayan chocolate" route (Suremain, 2019a). We proceed to present the discussion on heritage production, food activism, and indigeneity, and subsequently, the emergence of the gepam. We include a semblance of amaranth to locate the relevance it has acquired in recent years as a food and crop. The food events are illustrated based on information gathered from field notes taken between 2016 and 2018, participant observation, informal conversations and newspaper follow-up. In the last section we concentrate the final annotations.

Heritage, food activism and indigenous foods

Food heritage is defined as "the set of tangible and intangible elements of food cultures considered by a society or group as a shared inheritance, as a common good" (Bak-Geller Corona et al., 2019: 19). Its creation responds in part to the demands of the tourism market (Bessiére, 1998, 2013), characterized by a trend of "return to the local". Their dynamics vindicate marginalized foods through complex processes of negotiation, representation (Stanford, 2012), tensions and contradictions around what they want to include and promote as a heritage initiative (Matta, 2013). As pointed out by Rebaï et al.,

if heritage and patrimonialization can become pragmatic tools for the recognition of populations excluded from the major globalization processes, patrimonialization can nevertheless lead to the sanctuarization of spaces (Cormier-Salem et al., 2002) or provoke, in certain contexts, the fixation or folklorization of practices and knowledge (Dhaher 2012; Cornuel, 2017) (Rebaï et al., 2021: 16).

As a historical practice, heritage requires a discourse on the past -selected, manipulated- as long as one of its conceptions and uses refers to the origins of certain entities (Frigolé, 2010). In "a society concerned about the loss of its own traces" (Bessière, 1998: 28) and in need of "situating socio-cultural and identity referents in relation to its own conceptions of time and space" (Medina, 2017: 107), links are produced between cultural practices considered "traditional" or "ancestral" and contemporary populations, to "justify the present through the use of a more or less fictitious past" (Bak-Geller Corona et al., 2019: 23).

Although marginal in the field of food heritage, local products or indigenous cuisines are perceived as "environmentally friendly, inherently healthy, representative of an identity or as a complex reflection of authentic flavors", reframing them conceptually from notions of locality and historicity (Finnis, 2012: 5-6). Considered as heritage, they operate as a means to vindicate that in the present certain populations maintain ancestral, pre-Hispanic, autochthonous, millenary, traditional and authentic, i.e. indigenous, practices.

Heritage claims are also raised by local actors who promote their active entry into the market (Finnis, 2012; Counihan, 2014a), who, in some cases, elaborate representations of food as localized traditions specific to indigenous populations (Littaye, 2016). It has been documented that people "recuperate" food practices to rethink their identities, strategically represent them to a wider public, gain legitimacy and generate economic income (Di Giovani and Brulotte, 2014).

This "ethnic revival" can be seen as a celebration of the cuisine of the "other", as a source of entertainment or cultural capital, as it involves adaptations, re-appropriations and translations (Matta, 2013), which in some cases produce "heritage anachronisms" (Suremain, 2019a). These are the result of the intervention of state, international and academic agents with sufficient expertise and power to produce them, as well as of civil society agents who promote heritage initiatives through their activism, although they require official instances for their social recognition (Medina, 2017).

Although Mexican food has enjoyed a good reputation and international expansion since the last century (Pilcher, 2008), it was not until 2010 that the government achieved its recognition as an intangible cultural heritage before the unesco (Stanford, 2012; Santilli, 2015). Since then, the number of restaurants has increased, chefs and events that advocate for the "rescue and conservation" of "traditional" cuisine and "pre-Hispanic gastronomy" (Escofet Torres, 2013), as well as the promotion of programs to support them. Local and federal government instances encourage some women to present their "indigenous" cuisines as "traditional culinary art" in fairs for tourism, placing them at the center of a global and modern gastronomic trend in which endemic foods and foods are reimagined and represented, but also those who elaborate them (Hryciuk, 2019; Suremain, 2019b; Jaramillo Navarro, 2020).

In the last century xxiThe "idea of pre-Hispanic heritage" is recurrent in many of the aspects that make up our idea of nation (López Caballero, 2010), among them food. Bak-Geller Corona points out that currently "the ingestion of pre-Hispanic dishes natives is seen as an effective resource for the process of Indianization, in which the subject assimilates more than just the nutritional properties of the food; he is incorporating into his entrails the values of purity, authenticity and rootedness that characterize the ethos indigenous" (2019: 40).

It has been documented how the Mexican government, the gastronomic industry and tourist instances make use of this narrative to promote cuisine or some foods that are associated with "Mexican", "indigenous" or "pre-Hispanic" (Stanford, 2012; Brulotte and Starkman, 2014; Suremain, 2017, 2019a, 2019b; Hryciuk, 2019; Jaramillo Navarro, 2020). But the role of food activism in these dynamics has been less addressed.

Siniscalchi and Counihan (2014) point out that food activism is an effort to promote social and economic justice in a different food system away from the agribusiness paradigm. According to the authors, such activism includes "people's discourses and actions to make the food system, or parts of it, more democratic, sustainable, healthy, ethical, culturally appropriate and of better quality."

The organization to improve food and the defense of endemic products has been studied in the Alternative Food Networks, which promote clean agricultures, the distribution of organic food and the socialization of diets with fresh products (Gravante, 2018); also in the social movement organized in defense of native maize and against the introduction of transgenic varieties in Mexico (García López and Giraldo, 2021). We resort to the concept of food activism to explain the social organization, commitments, and interests that the gepam has as an assembly of actors that promotes food sovereignty, social economy and local diets for the improvement of food health, which influences the generation of public policies and the discourse that produced amaranth as an "indigenous" food. In practice we observe such activism in meetings, publications, management of social networks and public events where the discursive, performative elements and the "politicization" that we relate to its structuring in the organizational aspect are deployed (Gravante, 2018).

Brief history of amaranth

Mesoamerica is one of the areas of origin of agriculture where different species of chili peppers, squash, corn and amaranth (León, 1994: 8) -huauhtli in Nahuatl- were domesticated and were basic grains in the pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican and Inca worlds cultivated more than 6,000 years ago (Iturbide and Gispert, 1994). In the Valley of Mexico, Zimatlán in Oaxaca and Tehuacán, Puebla, there are historical and archaeological references to the importance of this grain in daily and ritual life (Reyes Equiguas, 2009; Velasco Lozano, 2001).

The arrival of European colonization altered the relationship of the Mesoamerican populations with amaranth, to the point of marginalizing it to small plots where it was abandoned due to the transformation from traditional subsistence agriculture to commercial agriculture, the use of the land to raise livestock and crop substitution, among other factors (León, 1994).

Since the 1950s, amaranth has regained scientific interest:

In 1967, the expert Jonathan D. Sauer postulated that the three most economically important species were domesticated in different regions: Amaranthus caudatus in South America; A. hypochondriacus in central Mexico, and A. cruentus in southern Mexico and Guatemala, just where the Incas, Aztecs and Mayas, the three most prominent pre-Hispanic civilizations in the Americas, flourished (Ibarra-Morales et al., 2021: 8).

In 1972, botanical physiologist John Downton discovered that amaranth seed contains twice as much lysine as wheat, three times as much as corn, and in fact as much as is found in milk. During the 1980s, NASA considered amaranth "the best and most complete food of vegetable origin for human consumption". The first Mexican astronaut, Rodolfo Neri Vela, carried amaranth in a spacecraft to germinate and flourish during an orbital flight. sacred plant astronauts eat" (Clarín, 2013). In September 1991, the First World Amaranth Congress was held in Oaxtepec, Morelos, with specialists from Argentina, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, United States and Venezuela in the areas of biology, botany, nutrition and agricultural sciences. Reports, reports, a memoir and several research articles were written that promoted greater interest among academics from unam, the Universidad de Chapingo and the Colegio de Posgraduados.

India and China are the main producers, followed by Kenya, Nepal, Peru, Russia and Mexico, while Israel, the United States and the Netherlands have companies that develop seed varieties for sale to countries that produce and export amaranth as a cut flower. Although it does not compete with wheat, rice or maize, amaranths enjoy a cosmopolitan distribution (Lloyd De Shield, 2015).

In Mexico, amaranth is currently produced in Tlaxcala, Puebla, Hidalgo, Morelos, Mexico State and City, San Luis Potosí and Oaxaca; it is also processed in cooperatives or small companies that make sweets, horchata and flour used to prepare cookies, churritos, wafers and other products for local markets.

In Santiago Tulyehualco,6 for example, has been planted since the end of the 20th century. xix and its population claims it as a "traditional" crop, associated to the community and peasant identity (Ramírez-Meza et al., 2017; Contreras et al., 2017; Herrera Castro, 2018). Since the 1970s, the Feria de la Alegría y el Olivo has been held, a food event that in recent years has involved actors from civil society, the private sector and the Mexican government, described as an "extravagant representation of amaranth" (Suremain, 2019b). Botanical and nutritional research and agricultural experimentation in Mexico have generated extensive knowledge about this plant, including strategies to strengthen its value chain, monitor the increase in hectares dedicated to its cultivation, document the techniques preserved for its production, analyze its place in local agri-food systems, emphasize its importance as a strategic crop and food to move towards healthy food models and its adaptability in the face of climate change (Espitia-Rangel, 2012; Sánchez-Olarte et al2015; Ayala Garay et al., 2014; Sanchez and Navarrete, 2018; Ibarra-Morales. et al., 2021).

The registration in 2010 of "Traditional Mexican cuisine, living, collective and ancestral culture" in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, whose file vindicated the richness and diversity of the food of the milpa (Suremain, 2017), promoted among diverse sectors -peasant, academic, gastronomic- the revaluation of "traditional" foods associated with Mesoamerican diets, such as cacao (Suremain 2019a), pulque, insects and amaranth (Katz and Lazos, 2017), which in 2016 was included in the list of the super-foods for its nutritional qualities, its pre-Hispanic origin and its "ancestry" (Curiel, 2016).

The Liaison Group for the Promotion of Amaranth in Mexico

The gepam was born at the end of 2013 at the Universidad Obrera in Mexico City, at a meeting between people studying agronomy, malnutrition and chronic degenerative diseases, and members of civil associations that sought to improve the conditions of the peasant population through the production and consumption of amaranth.

A general coordinator of the Group was appointed from academia and a work agenda was planned, which was inaugurated in 2014 with the First National Amaranth Congress at the University of Chapingo, with the participation of scientists and academics from Mexico and other countries. The Group was formalized with "The Amaranth Roads", a series of tours through different states to learn how this grain is grown, harvested, transformed, sold and the challenges faced by the sector.

In September 2015, the First Meeting of Amaranth Producers was organized, with the support of the delegate of sagarpa7 in the state of Puebla. For two days, more than 300 members of the productive sector met in a space for dialogue, reflection and exchange of experiences. Members of academia facilitated, listened and contributed to the registration of the meeting, but did not give their opinions. The origin of those who participated -different states, communities and ethnolinguistic populations- allowed "a dialogue between these diversities to find resonances among producers",8 which emphasized the experiences shared to value them as "own knowledge" of those who produce and relate to amaranth, according to an enthusiastic member of the Group, who assured that the Encounter guaranteed an "ecology of knowledge".9 At that event, actions were agreed upon to position amaranth as a strategic crop and food and to strengthen ties between amaranth farming organizations. In 2016, the general coordination of the Group passed to a member of a civil association, who turned to the generation of alliances with other organizations that seek to counteract the negative health effects of the consumption of industrialized products, such as the Alianza por la Salud Alimentaria, El Poder del Consumidor, Alianza por Nuestra Tortilla and the Red de Sistemas Agroalimentarios Localizados (sial) of the unam.

Table 1. Institutions that are members of the gepam. Source: Own elaboration.

That same year, with the financial support of the local government, the Group organized the first National Amaranth Day at the Monumento a la Revolución in the cdmxThe project was supported by local government agencies and the participation of producers, processors, promoters and members of academia.

Soon the agencies in charge of promoting public policy for rural development and food improvement recognized the Group as an interlocutor, which made it easier for three federal deputies from Morena,10 representatives of states where amaranth is produced, provided resources and infrastructure in February 2017 in order to hold the Second National Amaranth Congress, entitled "Generating public policies", in an auditorium of the Legislative Palace of San Lazaro. More than 350 people attended, including amaranth producers, processors and promoters from different states, academics and activists, who discussed the importance of innovating the amaranth value chain and actions to promote its cultivation and consumption. In the declaration drafted by the convening and attending institutions, they designated amaranth as a "biocultural asset" and established their commitment to vindicate it "as a strategic grain to strengthen food sovereignty in Mexico". A few days later, the national newspaper's supplement dedicated to the countryside The Day published its 113th issue11 with the title Moorings (the one that does not wither, the one that does not die), with 24 contributions of which twelve were written by members of the academic community and the rest by members of civil organizations and journalists. The content highlights 1) the importance of amaranth in pre-Hispanic times and its marginalization during the Spanish colonization process, and 2) the urgency of diversifying rural production, food consumption and improving local economies and health, to promote food sovereignty. Striking is the repeated use of adjectives such as sacred, millenary, ancestral, pre-Hispanic, Aztec and paramount to characterize amaranth, as well as explanations of its importance in the cosmovision of Mesoamerican peoples, linked to spiritual life and the veneration of their gods (Dimas González, 2017). While there is no historical record showing that amaranth was outlawed by decree during the colony (Velasco Lozano, 2017), its supposed prohibition is mentioned several times. After July 1, 2018, the Group had approaches with the director of. segalmex12 to discuss the inclusion of amaranth as a strategic crop and food in the Sustainable Development Law and in the basic food basket. In October, the World Amaranth Congress was held in the state of Puebla, which received almost 700 participants from various countries and states of Mexico, organized by the Group and coordinated with government institutions, civil organizations and associations, universities and a binational alliance with Chilean academic institutions, which contributed to financing the event. In five years the gepam succeeded in positioning amaranth as a productive and healthy food option, establishing a link with "different food and culinary practices that are associated with peripheral, non-elite populations and cultural groups such as indigenous people" (Finnis, 2012: 1). Their activism was undertaken "from social spaces and by actors who have the capacity, power, legality and social legitimacy to do so" (Pérez Ruíz and Machuca, 2017: 6). The food events operated as spaces where practices were negotiated and narratives that promoted their patrimonialization were re-actualized in the cmdx.

Food events

In this section we illustrate the performativity and politicity of the gepam through its food events. These are "cooking festivals and contests, recipe books, product lines and trademarks, restaurants, gastronomic tourism projects, community museums, among others" (Bak-Geller Corona et al., 2019: 21), as well as its media presence.

Mexico City's intangible cultural heritage

During the inauguration of the iii Fiesta de las Culturas Indígenas, Pueblos y Barrios Originarios de la Ciudad de México, the then head of government indicated that it was a cultural festival to show all the richness that a "pluricultural and multiethnic" country like Mexico has. Between August 27 and September 4, 2016, the public circulated through the Zócalo among stalls of handicrafts, clothing, textiles, food products, prepared food, and enjoyed an artistic and cultural program of folk dances and traditional music.

On the last day, the head of government carried out the protocolary act to grant the joy of Santiago Tulyehualco the designation as "intangible heritage of Mexico City". In an atmosphere of jubilation, various actors in local politics and academia congratulated themselves for this recognition not only "to amaranth and joy as objects, but to a whole culture that is behind them, as well as the knowledge that people keep to turn amaranth into an exquisite sweet". A promoter of the initiative, a member of the gepam-In an interview with the press, he pointed out that "this ancestral knowledge is unique to this community, because only in this place there are chinampas from which the seedlings are obtained and then taken to the slopes of the hill to finish growing, a process that lasts about six months.Milenio Digital, 2016). The representative of the Amaranth Product System of Mexico City also stated: "we harvest the yellow gold to transform it into white gold and prepare various dishes, desserts, waters, tamales and atole. Huautli comes from the Nahuatl language and translates as the smallest particle, giver of life. Amaranth is a prodigious food from the past that is reborn in the present and will prevail in the future.

A few days later, an open television news program aired a report to publicize the new heritage of the Mexican capital. With music of snails and rattles and images of archaeological pieces such as the sun stone, the presenter's voice indicated that "amaranth has been part of the food of the center of the country for more than five centuries due to its very high nutritional properties".

In the middle of a field of colorful plants, a producer interviewed in Tulyehualco pointed out that amaranth is used in tamales, atole, cookies and "the traditional joy". The presenter pointed out that amaranth was so highly valued in "pre-Hispanic times" that it was paid as a tribute to "the Aztecs". Another producer pointed out that at that time it was consumed by warriors, to whom it gave strength, which is why the Spaniards prohibited it, fearing the loss of confrontations during the colonization process. It was explained that it was in the high part of Xochimilco where amaranth managed to be preserved over time and concluded by showing an amaranth plant in hand: "reserved for kings, priests and warriors, it gradually recovers the level it reached before the arrival of the Europeans" (Azteca Noticias, 2016). A year later, during a weekend in August 2017, an Amaranth Fair was organized at the west end of the monument of the Revolution, convened by the. gepamthe Secretariat of Rural Development and Equity for the Communities (Secretaria de Desarrollo Rural y Equidad para las Comunidades (sederec) of the cdmx and the Amaranth Product System.

Lilac, yellow and orange specimens of the amaranth plant adorned the stalls offering various foods made from amaranth. In the middle of the fair, there were several rows of chairs and a small stand covered by a huge tarp. Behind the stand, a canvas printed with a large photograph of a field planted with amaranth announced the event "The World's Greatest Joy in Mexico City". At 11 a.m., a group of government representatives, producers and members of the Group inaugurated the event, welcoming the celebration of "the healthy ancestral grain, part of the diet of our ancestors and the pride of Mexico City". Members of the organizing committee ran from one place to another, gave interviews or stopped to greet guests. On the first day of the fair, a group of students from a cooking school prepared "The greatest joy in the world" with popped amaranth and honey. While the public - mostly families - wandered among the stalls to eat13 or buy products made from the seed,14 from farmers and processors in the southern part of the country. cdmx and other states. With the participation of three academics, two producers and a member of a civil society organization, there were panel presentations on the challenges facing the Mexican countryside, amaranth planting from the perspective of the small producer and its transformation within the value chain, and the major public health problem derived from the consumption of ultra-processed products. At the end of the panels, groups of folkloric dancers and musical bands from central Mexico performed.

The decree to establish National Amaranth Day

On October 11, 2017, as part of the. xxii National Fair of Rural Culture organized by the University of Chapingo, the then general coordinator of the gepam released to the local press a document signed by representatives of academic institutions, producer organizations and civil associations that stated:

The agreement establishing October 15 as the National Amaranth Day, with the purpose of recognizing its cultural, ecological, social, agricultural and food importance, since it has been the fundamental basis of peasant development since pre-Hispanic times and is of great importance for the future of nutrition in Mexico and the world.

Surrounded by members of the Group, he proposed a major campaign to promote the production and consumption of the grain and expressed his wish that in the future it would be planted throughout the country, so that it would be consumed mainly by the producing communities. At the same time, a group of people shaped a map of Mexico with popped amaranth seeds on a table where there was a figure emulating a pre-Hispanic monolith. An amaranth producer, speaking to the press, emphasized that amaranth is a "food of the past that dates back 10,000 years", and called for "returning to our roots".

Another woman, a member of a civil association, took the microphone to explain that the map was drawn up to think about today's Mexico, which they intended to "fill with seeds from 10,000 years ago and with honey and caramel, the spirituality that our country also lacks. She pointed out, like her fellow producer, the importance of "returning to our roots" and ended her speech by saying emphatically: "I am so proud to be Mexican". Later, a professor from the University of Chapingo indicated that several instances of that institution have joined the campaign to "revalue amaranth in Mexico and in the world", asserting that what was happening that day "will remain for history" and that he hoped that every October 15 would be a day to celebrate the plant, for the benefit of those who "produce it, of society and of the whole world".

"400 years of oblivion end today": inclusion of amaranth in the basic food basket

Three months later, a public event was held in Cedral, San Luis Potosí, to announce an expansion of the basic food basket from 23 to 40 products. In the approaches to the segalmex the Group had agreed to the inclusion of amaranth in five presentations: popped grain flour, whole grain flour, granola, fortified amaranth churros and seed.

On that day, the President of Mexico, the Governor of the State, the heads of the Ministries of Welfare, Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Director of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development were present in front of producers of the Potosí countryside and members of rural organizations, as well as the Director of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. segalmexHe listed the 17 new products, among which he mentioned amaranth and chia, the only ones that merited some signs of jubilation among the public. He said:

It is worthwhile for those people who do not know that when we mention that amaranth and chia are included in the basic food basket, it is because these are two products of great nutritional richness, native to Mexico and produced in eight states of the country. When we talk about basic Mexican foods, we usually mention our sacred corn and beans, but we must remember that the original Mexicans who populated our territory also had amaranth and chia as daily food, as healthy ingredients in their diet, today in the Diconsa system by presidential instructions we vindicate and strengthen that ancient tradition of our people, 400 years of oblivion end today.

More applause was heard from those who produce amaranth, members of the gepamThe amaranth producers, who managed to sit in the front rows and put up a banner that claimed in large letters "La fuerza amarantera" (the amaranth force). A shelf on the stage displayed packages of the new products included in the basic food basket and a sack of amaranth carried by a producer. The event continued for another 40 minutes with speeches by officials, whose speeches included mentions of their interest in achieving food self-sufficiency in the country, producing food in the regions and improving access to food. The President of the Republic promised the promotion of rural development, support for small producers and payments because "we want what we produce to be consumed in Mexico". And regarding the inclusion of amaranth and chia, he concluded by saying that his goal is to "root Mexicans to their land, to their cultures".

Both in the fairs and in the television program we observed the circulation of a narrative constructed around amaranth regarding the link between "ancestral" and contemporary productive practices, and a vindication of its value associated with the heritage that the producers of Tulyehualco maintain as a "resource for cultural diversity".

As well as for the unesco international forums "have been the privileged scenarios for the emergence and discursive circulation of new figures and definitions of heritage as a resource for cultural diversity, the democratization of memory and the promotion of different social ensembles" (Álvarez, in Medina, 2017: 108), for the gepam These types of food events operate in the same way. Those who participated as speakers mentioned the relevance of amaranth in the Mesoamerican diet, its supposed prohibition during the colonial era and its current importance so that the people who produce it "strengthen their identity", "do not lose their roots" and maintain their relationship with this "ancestral crop". This narrative, which circulates among food promoters, rural producers, members of academia and even consumers, illustrates that

In terms of its identification and control, cultural heritage is a political and social construction of collective memory and, above all, a taking of a position with regard to the othercultural heritage expressions reflect values associated, on the one hand, with the identity through which a population recognizes itself (Bak-Geller Corona, "The cultural heritage expressions reflect values associated, on the one hand, with the identity through which a population recognizes itself"). et al., 2019: 18).

In the era of the "patrimonial effervescence" (Bak-Geller Corona et al., 2019) these events and the media content that produced amaranth as an indigenous food show that "the dynamics to build heritage consist of updating, adapting and reinterpreting elements of the past of a given group; in other words, combining conservation and innovation, stability and dynamism, reproduction and creation" (Bessiêre, 1998: 27; see Matta, 2013). But it also reinforces the idea that those of us born in this country have a common pre-Hispanic origin (López Caballero, 2010) and that "certainty" is confirmed in the consumption of indigenous foods.

The relationship of amaranth with "pre-Hispanic cultures" was established in events that included groups of dancers and "pre-Hispanic" music (conch shell, rattles and drums), lines of people to be shaved with copal, cleansing with herbs, scenographies with imitations of archaeological pieces, altars with candles and "traditional" food.
-and speeches emphasizing the "ancestral" and "millenary" character of amaranth that "our ancestors ate".

At several of these events, the following were offered tzoallia sweet made with amaranth dough and honey, covered with ground peanuts, little consumed today, which in these scenarios is identified with well-documented pre-Hispanic ritual practices (Velasco Lozano, 2001) and with the elaboration of similar figures that are still part of the rituality in Nahua, Mixtec and Tlapanec communities of Alto Balsas and Montaña de Guerrero (Broda and Montúfar López, 2013).

Food activism in the production of indigenous food

In this paper we set out to show the relevance of food activism in the activation of heritage initiatives. The food events showed the symbolic and discursive aspects and the material objects that staged the staging of a narrative of the past and present that produced an "indigenous" food. The production of amaranth as an indigenous food happened by choosing, adapting, reinterpreting and decontextualizing the aspects that produce heritage materialized in food events and media content.

In the process, the gepam emphasized the heritage value of amaranth because of its ancestry and the legitimacy of cultural practices (Guzmán Chávez, 2019) of production and consumption associated with those who produce, transform and consume it, and this made it "their only valid source of belonging and the main border between them and us" (López Caballero, 2016: 13); that is, between those who belong to indigenous or originary peoples and those who do not. The Group's activism reaffirms that food heritage is one of the elements involved in contemporary processes of production of indigeneity (Bak-Geller Corona, 2019).

Without raising identity or territorial claims, the Group made visible the problems faced by amaranth producers, introduced the crop into the market with better sales conditions and "recovered" a product that is considered traditional, also promoting the fight against food poverty. Its actions generated alliances between rural producers, food sovereignty activists, academics, members of the public administration and the government. cdmx and the Chamber of Deputies.

The case presented here is part of the global trend of producing "ancestrality" for some foods that enter a type of consumption oriented to the "search for authenticity", "return to the local" (Littaye, 2016) or, as some promoters of amaranth said, of "return to the roots". We note that producing indigeneity in the food sphere by "representing social, cultural, political and commercial practices or performances of consumption" implies recovering certain foods and cuisines that are considered marginalized in order to place them in central symbolic and political spaces and include them in local and national food behaviors (Finnis, 2012: 2) or, in other words, to negotiate the "indigenous" elements that enter the global circuit in the era of ethnic resurgence (Matta 2013). It is common that some foods endemic to our continent and abandoned during the colonization processes, in recent years are being recovered in the key of heritage, to which values such as "pre-Hispanic", "Aztec", "millenary", "ancestral" are granted and that due to their "autochthonousness" they become part of the list of "super-foods”.15

In this social-cultural process it is defined who and what is considered indigenous, through claiming a food from aspects that are assumed to be essential and not "values" product of the organization of those involved in heritage initiatives, alliances, events organized in coincidence with a food market that demands "authenticity" and political interests of institutional and market actors. As a contemporary social choice made according to the particular values of the members of a social group (Bessière, 1998), the production of food heritage in Mexico draws attention to the recurrence to the narrative of the common heritage of the pre-Hispanic past (López Caballero, 2010); a mechanism that operates in our conceptions of identity, community, nation, people and territory, contributing to "a cultural production in the present that resorts to the past" (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, in Frigolé, 2010:13).

The activism of the gepam and the initiative he headed turn out to be consistent with the processes of re-imagination of some cuisines and foods that create heritage anachronisms framed in the global trend of patrimonialization. It brought into play "the strategy of certain sectors of society to claim certain cultural traits and attributes, which go on to shape homogenizing models and norms, discourses and practices" (Guzmán Chávez, 2019: 12), and paid to the ways in which "neoliberal multiculturalism observes ethnicity as a source of social and cultural capital, and cultural diversity as an economic asset or commodity in the global market" (Kymlicka, in Hryciuk, 2019: 95). In the same vein, it has been highlighted that, for the case of food and cuisines, "there is a similarity between the patrimonialization and commodification of the authentic, since the value of the past is the basis of the values that shape the heritage elements and also the value of the elements that are commodified as authentic" (Frigolé, 2010: 16).

Ayora-Díaz points out that the declaration of a heritage initiative has structural effects, since there is a "fractalization of the normative bureaucratic apparatus whose decisions and actions have consequences on the different groups involved, either because they are an active part of the process or because they have been excluded and left without representation" (2019: 215). It will be a motive for another inquiry to observe the effects of the naming of amaranth as a heritage of the cdmx and their inclusion in the basic food basket in the different sectors involved in the gepamThe company is currently negotiating to achieve its objectives and the dynamics of its food activism to continue promoting amaranth as a strategic crop and food.


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Charlynne Curiel holds a bachelor's degree in history from the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California. She studied for a master's degree in social anthropology at the ciesas-D. at the Rural Development Sociology Group at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Her current research interests are in the field of anthropology of unconventional food, women's relationships with kitchens and food in Oaxaca and the production of food heritage. She teaches in the BA in Social Anthropology and MA in Sociology at the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociológicas of the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca (iiis-uabjo).


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