Maya Foodways: A Reflection of Gender and Ideology

  • Amber O’Connor


“Through analysis of food and eating systems one can gain information about how a culture understands some of the basic categories of its world” (Mary Douglas in Meigs 1997:100). It is through this lens of foodways analysis that I will explore the gendered nature of Maya foodways, the gendered division of labor1 in maize production and consumption, and my hypothesized continuation of gender complementarity in Maya food practices. As Counihan has noted, “Gender matters in food centered activities as it does in structuring human societies, their histories, ideologies, economic systems and political structures” (1998:1). The issue of complementarity of gender roles in food practices and in other activities attributable to cultural models is somewhat contentious in the academic world of anthropology, and requires further investigation. I have conducted fieldwork among the living Maya during the summers of 2007 and 2008 in an effort to shed further light on the issue, and in this paper I intend to complement field investigations of my own and of others with conclusions about earlier Maya cultural expression derived from archaeologists, epigraphers, ethnohistorians, and art historians. As Nash (1997) states, gender complementarity is something that continues to be expressed by the modern Maya, no matter how contentious its form. For the confines of this paper, I agree with Fischer, who observes that:


Gender Role Wage Labor Cooking Method Food Practice Roasted Meat 



With special thanks to my mentor, Brian Stross (University of Texas at Austin), whose advice and input has been invaluable. Thank you also to E. N. Anderson and Ken Rubin who have freely given their time and critiques. Finally, I owe a debt of gratitude to the Maya of Quintana Roo, especially Marcos Cante’ Canul and Sacerdote Maya, Don Luis who have allowed me to learn from them and from whom I hope to continue learning in the future.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amber O’Connor
    • 1
  1. 1.University of TexasAustinUSA

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