How corny

Today’s Spanish word of the day was choclo, meaning sweet corn, coming from the Quechua version, choccllo or chocclo. Maize, a more commonly used word in English, comes from maiz, a Taino word. This little blurb on language reminded me of a passage in The Omnivore’s Dilemma in which Pollan writes about the use and waste of corn in America’s Corn Belt, and the feelings of an academic from Latin America who was appalled to see the disrespect and waste. There was a note, also, about the number of words used to mean or describe corn in Latin American Spanish, many of which were rooted in indigenous languages. Which makes sense since corn was (and is still?) a staple food. Rather like the many different words for tuna in Japanese.

Off to learn more.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “How corny

  1. In my part of Latin America we use only maíz and choclo, but this actually supports the argument you mention, because corn was never a staple food here in the pampas. That would be beef for us, and we have different names for each tiny little piece of the cow.

  2. jmc

    Corn/zea mays originated in Mexico or Central America, and it spread upward to North America. Or maybe I’m imagining that. Is there a staple grain in the pampas? Or is it all about the beef? And, since I keep pushing Pollan’s book, there’s a brief but interesting section about feeding cattle, and how they are suited to eating grass rather than corn. Which explains the difference between the average American cow raised for beef and the average Argentinian (or other pampas-raised) beef.

  3. Is there a staple grain in the pampas? Or is it all about the beef?Mostly all about the beef. There’s wheat, I guess, and these days lots and lots (and lots) of soya bean, but beef has always been king. People got used to eating it because before good refrigeration systems were developed, the cows were killed to export their hides and the resulting mountains of beef couldn’t be sold abroad, so it was either sell it very cheap here or throw it away. I read a book a couple of years ago that theorized that the abundance of cheap beef created a violent society here in the 19th century. The theory is that since people could just work a couple of days a week and not starve, there was no “bloodless” way of social control (the masses couldn’t be controlled by those who controlled their jobs, through the threat of unemployment), so any control had to be through the threat of violence. Can’t remember all the details now, but it was a pretty convincing argument.And, since I keep pushing Pollan’s book, there’s a brief but interesting section about feeding cattle, and how they are suited to eating grass rather than corn. Which explains the difference between the average American cow raised for beef and the average Argentinian (or other pampas-raised) beef.I think I read somewhere that corn-fed cows need to be injected with some kind of hormone so that they can tolerate the corn, and that does make some difference in the taste. Plus, I think most American cows spend quite a bit of time in feedlots, while cows here just roam all their lives and are only rounded up for their vaccinations and stuff a couple of days a year at most, and then to be sent to the slaughterhouses. From what I’ve seen of the end product, the pampas beef is much leaner, since the cows themselves are leaner, from walking all day (there is some fat, but mostly all together on the side, so you can just cut it out) and the taste is more… intense, I’d say.

  4. jmc

    I think I read somewhere that corn-fed cows need to be injected with some kind of hormone so that they can tolerate the corn, and that does make some difference in the taste.Hormones and other things, too, according to Pollan. (My main source of food journalism.) It would influence flavor, but it may also make them more susceptible to illness which could easily spread in a feed lot. Pollan was *not* very flattering toward the American beef industry.

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