Hope for a Beleaguered Planet....

Our book Milpa: From Seed to Salsa - Ancient Ingredients for a Sustainable Future explores through a blend of essays, recipes and documentary photography how the ancient agricultural knowledge and the wealth of 1000 year-old seeds and planting practices still in use among the Mixtec peoples of southern Mexico can help us to meet the ecological and food crises of today.

The essays, written in conjunction with campesino farmers, serve as a warning about the complicated dangerous effects inherent in the rapidly expanding distribution of GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds in Mexico, the birthplace of corn. Our documentary cookbook discusses alternatives for campesino farmers across the world and gardeners and consumers who care about food safety. Using the example of the Milpa planting system in the Mixteca Alta region of Southern Mexico just north of Oazaxa City, the book supports recent studies by UN investigators that show that small plots of land, heritage seeds and sustainable practices can in fact feed the world while enriching the soils on which we all depend for life…….

Milpa contains the traditional recipes lovingly shared by the local indigenous Mixtec women, allowing readers to re-create the culinary magic that flows from this ancient agricultural system. Recipes are painstakingly tested and photographed in traditional indigenous kitchens as well as in a professional modern test kitchen. Please purchase the book, below.....

All Rights Reserved: © Phil-Dahl Bredine, © Kathy Dahl-Bredine © Judith Cooper Haden Photography, © Susana Trilling SOMH.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Zaragoza Tilantongo, Oaxaca- Señora Epifania Palacios and Rosario Santiago Santos

Rosario Santiago Santos is a pretty goat herder and campesina and the young, gregarious granddaughter of Epifania Palacios, a village cook in the mountain pueblo of Zaragoza Tilantongo.  We arrived at their brick home about sunset after a breathtaking ride up the side of a mountain on a one lane road with a sheer drop off both sides, praying all the while we wouldn’t meet a car coming down in the opposite direction! After that little surge of adrenaline, I was happy to get out of the driver’s seat and walk down the pine tree lined path to their house, stretch my legs and slow down my beating heart!

As we arrived, they were just finishing the Mole Amarillo de Frijol Blanco and Nopales for the annual Feria de la Milpa to be held the following day. The kitchen was the standard Mixtec country kitchen in a separate building with a stone table set up to build a fire on, with a molded adobe ring to hold the flat unglazed disk called the comal. Next to that was her metate, where she massaged the dough and made little thick masa cakes that were pressed into large very thin tortillas on a big iron press.  Rosario amused us with stories while she made countless fresh tortillas on the comal. 

Nearby were two more molded rings to rest the round ollas where she had cooked beans, and the nixtamal, which is dried corn boiled in water and calcium oxide (cal) to soften. Lots of firewood was stacked in a corner. The large cazuela they were stirring held enough mole to serve small bowls to about 200 people. True to tradition, the people in the Mixteca are very generous and they insisted on giving us some to try. It was delicious, very filling with the beans and cactus pieces immersed in a tasty mole sauce bursting with the flavor of chile guajillos, cooked in combination with corn masa and herbs, and ever so picante! The belief in their household is that if the food isn’t “hot” or picante, it can make you ill! 

It is said that this dish or some rendition of this recipe is the traditional food to make when the family and others in the community come to plant corn.  Very appropriate to make for the Feria de la Milpa, where everyone in CEDICAM gathers to exchange seeds of corn, beans and squash! 

YIELDS 12 - 14
For the beans:
I pound white beans
½ medium white onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 hierba santa leaves, torn into big pieces
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 pound nopales, grilled, then cut into pieces

For the mole:
1 head garlic, peeled
1 white onion, in thick slices to grill
3-4 ounces chile guajillo, depending on how “hot” you want it
2 tablespoons Oaxacan oregano, or marjoram, dried
2 teaspoons cumin seed
3 whole allspice berries
6 oz.  prepared masa OR  (2/3 C. masa harina mixed with 1/3  C + 2 TBS water)
 sea salt, to taste
For the beans:
In a olla or clay pot with a lid, heat 3 quarts of water to boil.  Add onion and garlic and cook 15 minutes. Add the beans, lower the heat and cook 45 minutes or until almost soft.  Add the hierba (hoja) santa leaves and 2 teaspoons sea salt, continue cooking five minutes and add the nopales.  Remove from heat. 
For the mole:
On a comal, griddle or dry frying pan, roast the garlic and onion until translucent.  In a small pot heat 1 quart of water to boil.  Pour over the chiles and soak for 15 minutes, or until soft.
With tongs, remove chiles from soaking water and grind in the blender with, the roasted onion and garlic, oregano, cumin, and allspice until very smooth. Place puree in a food mill and strain.
Add the puree to the bean mixture and heat through about 10 minutes.
Place the masa in a blender with one cup of water and blend until smooth.  Add this mixture to the mole and cook for 15 minutes more.  Add salt to taste and serve with limes.

©Susana Trilling SOMH Sept.2011 Oaxaca
Photography @ Judith Cooper Haden All Rights Reserved



Friday, May 18, 2012


I admit it. I’m confused. It was just announced that, following in the footsteps of Germany, Hungary, Greece, Luxembourg, Austria and Bulgaria, food-friendly France became the latest member of the European nations to prohibit the planting of U.S. giant Monsanto’s Genetically Modified (GMO) seeds.  Huh? And it seems that Russia, Brazil, China, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand all require labels for GM foods. And Japan, Ireland, and Egypt have even decided to ban all GMO foods. What?  Why is this not front page news?

Genetically Modified Organisms simply refers to the manipulation of DNA by humans to change the essential makeup of plants and animals. Frankenfoods is the affectionate term used to describe GMO crops. While the initial lofty goals might have been increased production in hungry nations, or having weed killer resistant seeds (Monsanto’s Roundup) in the lazy ones, enough time has passed since their introduction that we now have creditable research showing that the side effects of Monsanto’s GMO strategy are among the most deadly and dangerous present threats to our world.

Monsanto has put at risk the very seed diversity of our planet by spreading GMO contaminated pollen in the centers of origin of critical food crops, and has patented the very commons of humanity, i.e. the seeds themselves. The very existence of organic farming in the U.S. has been threatened through widespread, uncontrollable airborne GM contamination. Our soil and water resources are contaminated with highly toxic glyphosate herbicide through Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready GMO seed system.  There are high abortion rates and low fertility in cattle (and horses, pigs, sheep, and poultry) that have been traced to GM Roundup Ready soy in animal feed. And let’s not forget soy-consuming humans. Additionally the existence of the Monarch butterfly in the U.S. is endangered by the promotion of large increases in the use of their herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) that has completely eliminated the milkweed plant in many states upon which the butterflies depend for reproduction and food. And, what about our bees?? And the super weeds and Bt resistant insects that are inadvertently created with the over application of herbicides and the Bt toxin that result from the application of these GMO systems.

Non-GMO Corn, OAXACA, Mexico

The economic viability of the entire U.S. agricultural system is endangered by vigorous distribution of inadequately tested GMO species that are being rejected right and left by key international markets. Monsanto has intimidated U.S. farmers with lawsuits that make it too economically risky for farmers to save and improve their own seeds from one year to the next. Attorneys for Monsanto have pushed for risky farmer contract arrangements that are causing hopeless indebtedness, and even causing high rates of suicides among farmers in some developing countries when GMO’s don’t produce as advertised in new environments.  Imagine, if you can, the millions of small farmers around the world who won’t be able to save seeds to feed their families because of vigorous enforcement of GMO patents, or even afford to buy Monsanto seeds at four times the price, these farmers that live on $2 a day or less.

Testing for these relationships between skyrocketing food allergy and chronic disease rates has become nearly impossible, and the consumption of foods containing GMO´s is also impossible to track due to the ferocious lobbying against GMO labeling on foods. This serves to keep us in the dark about the entire issue.  In 2009 the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) called on physicians to educate their patients to avoid GM (genetically modified) foods when. GM corn and cotton are engineered to produce their own built-in pesticide in every cell. The Institute for Responsible Technology recently discussed the only published human feeding study, which revealed what may be the most dangerous problem of all from GM foods. The gene inserted into GM soy or corn transfers into the DNA of bacteria living inside our intestines and continues to function. This means that long after we stop eating GMOs, we may still have potentially harmful GM proteins produced continuously inside of us. More simply put, eating a corn chip produced from Bt corn might transform our intestinal bacteria into living pesticide factories, possibly for the rest of our lives. GM foods just might be colonizing the gut flora of North Americans, where 80 percent of our immune system resides.  And then?

Beautiful Native, Heritage Corn, Nochixtlan, OAX., MX
Organic growing techniques can mitigate global warming, and it’s now clear that organic farming can benefit anyone, on any continent. A recent report of the UN Human Rights Commission on the right to food estimates that we can double food production in 10 years with agro-ecological farming techniques, in spite of Monsanto’s major myth that organic-farming methods can’t produce enough food to feed the world.

 But unless you grow your own food, or eat 100% organic, you are consuming these scientifically modified foods almost daily as they are not labeled here. YET. Genetically modified crops now include sweet corn, peppers, squash and zucchini, potatoes, rice, sugar cane, sugar beets, rapeseed (for canola oil), flax, chicory, peas and papaya. About 25% of the milk in the United States comes from cows injected with a GM hormone, honey comes from bees buzzing in GM fields. The Department of Agriculture says that in 2010, as much as 86 percent of corn, up to 90 percent of all soybeans and nearly 93 percent of cotton were GM varieties!!! Which means that most of our store-bought tortillas are riddled with it…. (GM pigs and salmon are next, folks……no joke.)

What to do? Experts agree that about our only power at this point against this giant corporation (that also brought us Agent Orange, DDT, PCB’s and dioxins) is to force the labeling of GMO foods, and then to not purchase them. We need to support our local growers who refuse to use genetically modified seeds and GM drugs on their livestock.  We need to ban Roundup, NOT use it to clean our precious acequias. We can help support California (and Connecticut) organizers who are gathering signatures for the historic 2012 California Right2Know/Label GMOs ballot initiative for voter approval this fall. As goes California, so goes the nation.  If GMOs ultimately fail, shareholders in Monsanto, (and other biotech companies such as Bayer and Syngenta) will see their investments drop like a lead balloon. So plan ahead -- pull out of funds which invest in Monsanto. If you are a gardener, save your seeds. Do our own research. Oh yeah, and write op-ed pieces to your local paper….and hope they get published.

If all the countries in the world, our own included, slam the door shut on GMO’s before it’s too late, we might have a chance of gaining back control of the future of our seeds, our food, our health and our planet.   Wake up, people!

© Judith Cooper Haden
Santa Fe, NM
All Photos © Judith Haden Photography.com