From National Symbol to Economic Goods: A Brief History of Maize Consumption in Post-revolutionary Mexico

Hiroyuki Tani



Maize has long been the main basic food in Mexico, especially among the peasants and poorer segments of urban dwellers. The Mexican Revolution, which partially was an upheaval of peasants and rural workers seeking land to exploit, and the successive governments which followed it, raised the peasants as the key actors in the post-Revolutionary society. The ideological importance of peasants and the needs of the urban workers for cheep food prompted the Revolutionary government to establish a series of official instruments to distribute the staple with considerable subsidies.


At the same time the post-revolutionary governments utilized the product as a symbol to create a form of national identity among Mexicans and to attempt to consolidate national integrity. But as the thirty years of “stabilized growth” came to an end in the 1970’s, maize became a heavy burden to the governments, which aimed to “economize” the Mexican society to gain more efficiency. This tendency eventually led to the end of agrarian reform (1992) and the signing of a free trade agreement with the U.S. and Canada (1994).


In the early 21st century the instability of the world grain market changed the scene. While the maize trade within the North America has been freed totally (2008), Mexican government renewed its support to its domestic production, this time not as an ideological tool but as a purely economic good. This paper tries to make clear: (a) the origin of the ideological use of maize, (b) political and economic effects of the state-subsidized supply system, and (c) the changes in the political use of maize in recent years.


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Hiroyuki TaniTani Hiroyuki is Professor in the Department of Hispanic Studies of Sophia University specializing in studies of the Latin American economy.  His current research interests include Mexican agriculture under the trade liberalization process, focusing on fresh vegetable exports (especially of tomatoes) and recent policy changes on maize production and distribution.  He co-edited with Linda Grove Transnational Networks: Production, Marketing and Consumption (Tokyo: Sophia University Press, 2008, published in Japanese) to which various presenters of this symposium contributed.