Bread, Maize, Women, and Christian Identity in Sixteenth-Century America
This chapter looks at the physical and spiritual effects of “dirty” foods that concerned sixteenth-century Spanish and Catholics in North America. According to the sixteenth-century Milanese adventurer Girolamo Benzoni, the indigenous people of New Spain ate “dirty things.” In his recollection, the women who prepared the bread did “not care if any hair falls into it, or even some lice.” In order to make wine from maize, the women would “put it into their mouths and gradually chew it” and then “almost cough it out” into the pots where it would ferment. In such descriptions, maize wine, with its association with saliva and maize bread, prepared by “decrepit old women” or polluted with hair and lice, implicated the bodies of the women who had prepared it. For Christians, drinking such wine and eating such bread is akin to taking in that pollution, suggesting that in consuming indigenous bread and wine, their bodies would assimilate the bodies of the women.
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