"Our food system could have been so different."
"The old, epic story of agriculture in North America had two heroes, long sung and much venerated. One was human ingenuity. The other was corn.
That story went something like this. On this continent, agriculture—and therefore civilization—was born in Mesoamerica, where corn happened to be abundant. The more advanced people there began cultivating this knobbly little plant and passed their knowledge north, to people in more temperate climes. When Europeans arrived, corn ruled the fields, a staple crop, just like wheat across the ocean. If the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent was agriculture’s origin point for Europe, Mexico was agriculture’s origin point here. This very human innovation had unspooled in the same rare way in these two places. Superior men tamed nature and taught other superior men to follow.
Part of this story is true. The first ear of corn—although calling it corn might be a stretch—likely grew somewhere in the highlands of Central Mexico, as far back as 10,000 or so years ago. The oldest known bits of recognizable corn, a set of four cobs each smaller than a pinky finger, are some thousands of years younger than that. They were uncovered in Oaxaca, in 1966, and that site, cuna del maiz, the “cradle of corn,” is in concept a landmark of human advancement on Earth. In appearance, like many archaeological sites, it is unimpressive, a cave so shallow that even the designation “cave” is questionable. But sometimes a whole history is preserved by chance on a dry cave floor. Sometimes a handful of seeds can help confirm a theory about the dawn of agriculture, or help unravel it."