Food for a community

A message from Life co-author, Helen Stephenson:

One of the best things about travelling is trying different food. But just as interesting as the  food itself is the experience of sharing the meal with other people. I’ve been very lucky to have shared some fantastic home-made food with friends and acquaintances in a number of countries. One of my fondest memories is of family beach picnics on 1st January, somewhere quite near to the equator – a memorable start to each new year.

Milpa Alta is a region of twelve villages and towns to the south of Mexico City. In Milpa Alta, traditions are still very important and one of the most famous traditional events is a community meal. It takes place every Christmas and is called La Rejunta. More than a meal, it’s a feast, where about sixty thousand tamales and fifteen thousand litres of hot chocolate are made and consumed. Tamales are made from corn. They are typical of the region:  the name Milpa Alta means ‘High cornfield’. The feast is offered to the people who go on the long walk to El Señor de Chalma about 80 kilometres away. It’s an important event on the religious calendar for local people and as many as 20,000 people take part.

The planning and organisation of La Rejunta takes the whole year. Every year, different people are given the job of majordomo, which means they’re responsible for organising the meal. There’s a waiting list for the opportunity to do this and currently the next available year is 2046. This year’s majordomos are Virginia Meza Torres and her husband Fermín Lara Jiménez, who put their names on the list 14 years ago.

One year before the meal, men go to the forest and collect wood that they store near the home of the majordomo. It has to be dry when it’s used to make the cooking fires. Local farmers grow most of the corn, meat and vegetables that are needed as ingredients. In the week before the feast, hundreds of volunteers arrive to help with the preparation and the cooking. No instant or ready-made foods are allowed. Amazingly, everyone seems to know what they have to do. On the day of the feast, the majordomos and others have stayed up all night cooking. Fermin is in charge of the numbers – making sure there are enough tamales for everyone.

For the people of Milpa Alta, eating together is one of their most important traditions. One woman, Josefina García Jiménez, explains that sitting together at the table is like a glue that keeps people together. ‘It feels like I am passing down a tradition, and when they are adults, they will remember what I have done. Here we have time to cook, time to think about the ingredients, time to show our kids through cooking that we love them.’ The time that everybody stays at the table after the meal has finished is just as important as the food. They talk, tell stories and laugh together. At Christmas, La Rejunta is a giant version of a family meal.

feast (n) a large, special meal
glue (n) a sticky substance used to stick things together
instant (adj) made quickly by adding hot water
tamales (n) a type of food made from corn with different fillings


community (n) all the people who live in a particular area
corn (n) a tall plant with yellow seeds that people eat as a vegetable
event (n) something like a party or ceremony that is organised to happen at a particular time
ingredient (n) one of the different types of food you need to make a dish
local (adj) from near to the area where people live
ready-made (adj) already made and ready to eat
typical (adj) usual and normal for a particular place or person
version (n) something that is slightly different from another similar thing
volunteer (n) someone who does a job because they want to and without being paid

Listen to a recording of the text: 

Reading comprehension: 

Read the article and choose the correct option.

1. What is the article about?
daily life in Mexico
farming in Milpa Alta
traditions in Mexico

2. In Milpa Alta, eating with other people is ...

Read the article again and choose the correct option.

3. La Rejunta takes place ...
in Mexico city
in several villages
once a year

4. What’s unusual about La Rejunta?
A huge amount of food is made.
The event lasts for many days.
The ingredients are very unusual.

5. How do people get to El Señor de Chalma?
by bus
by car
on foot

6. What do the majordomos do?
cook the food for La Rejunta
grow food for La Rejunta
organise La Rejunta

7. According to the article, which statement is true?
Not many people want to be majordomos.
People wait a long time to be majordomos.
Virginia Meza Torres has been a majordomo for 14 years.

8. According to the third paragraph, which sentence is true?
All the food for the meal is from the local area.
It takes a week to organise La Rejunta.
The majordomos do everything themselves.

9. Fermin ...
cooks the tamales.
counts the amount of food.
tells the volunteers what to do.

10. According to the last paragraph, the important thing about family meals is ...
being together.
the cook.
the food.