By: Sam Rothberg
We all get where we’re going because of history. It precedes us and tends to shape our world. More specifically, we eat because of how the people before us ate, what they craved, what they paid large amounts of money, or gold, for. We eat the way we do because of slave labor, because of newly opened shipping routes thanks to world discoverers, because of greedy royalty in Europe, because of how the people before us ate and what they would do to accomplish that not-so-simple task of survival.
I’m searching for a better idea of what migrant workers in Vermont originally ate before they traveled to the U.S. in hopes of a better life for their families. Of course, not all the migrant workers in Vermont come from the same country, and although most of them are from Mexico, the culture and foodways of the different states and regions of Mexico range greatly. Through this blog, I hope to better understand the original cuisine and foodways of the migrant workers in Vermont. Although they do come from various places, the Huertas program director, Naomi, mentioned that more than 90% are from Mexico while others are from places geographically close to Mexico like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Naomi also mentioned that a majority of the Mexican migrant workers are from the southern state of Chiapas.
Nevertheless, it is important to understand the foodways of this population because they are key players in our economy yet they face real threats of food insecurity and hunger as well as obesity-related diseases such as diabetes. In order to better understand their current foodways, I look to first understand how their original food system, more specifically that of Mexico, became what it is today.
There are two diets that largely affect the Mexican diet today: that of the Spaniards and that of the indigenous before the Spaniards arrived. Both of those diets have fused and transformed to make a rich diet today. Among disease and war, the Spaniards brought important food crops like wheat, rice, animal protein such as pig, sugarcane and important vegetable crops like onions, garlic, carrots, lentils, lemons, limes and much more.
Of course, the two independent diets began to emerge into comida novohispana, which created a cuisine based on the blending of Old World and New World foods. One example being the mole poblano—a dish containing onions, ga
rlic, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, chicken or turkey served with tortillas. What was most important, though, was that the Europeans provided fats to the indigenous diet, which completely transformed the cuisine. The technique of frying food, and including cheese in dishes became a mainstay in the food culture, which is why wonderfully engorging dishes like gorditas, quesadillas, tortas and tacos are still so popular today. Beverages evolved as well. Pulque, emerged as one of the most common alcoholic beverage produced from the fermented juice of a maguey plant. And, as rice was introduced as a compliment to maize, the popular drink of rice, flour, sugar, cinnamon and ice called horchata emerged.
Despite all of the culinary introductions the Europeans made to Mexico, what was and still remains the core of Mexican diet is the holy grail of corn, beans, and chiles complimented by the mother of all Mexican foods: the tortilla. The chile is the “most culturally meaningful of the three” according to Joy Adapon in her book, “Culinary Art and Anthropology”(Adapon, 7). Of course, the traditional planting of the Milpa—corn, beans and squash together has highly influenced the Mexican diet producing popular dishes such as sopa de flor de calabaza which is made from all components of the Milpa including a fungus called huitelachoche that grows on the Maize, or corn, plant. The soup also contains ingredients important to Mexican cuisine such as squash blossoms, epazote (a popular herb), poblano chiles and nopales, or cactus.
By understanding how the cuisine has been ever-evolving into a very distinct flavor, we can better understand the foods which migrant workers in Vermont require for a healthy diet. This is extremely important not only for maintaining a happy and sustainable life in such a wobbly and transitional world, but for supporting the food security of our migrant farm workers that provide so much to all of us here in Vermont.
Super, J. Vargas, L. The Cambridge World History of Food. Retrieved from
Adapon, J. (2008). Culinary Art and Anthropology. New York, NY: Berg Publishers.