Mayan temple

Historians have done their best to piece together a picture of the Mayan civilization that disappeared around 1,000 AD. Where they went—or why—still remains a mystery. But what they left behind (great pyramids, temples and stories), offers glimpses of an advanced culture that had a unique relationship to the world—one unlike the awkward and seemingly ill-suited connection modern culture struggles to maintain with the planet. The most popular story to emerge from the Mayans is the end of their long count calendar, which concludes a 5,125-year cycle on December 21, 2012. Some have predicted it signifies an apocalypse, a pole-shift or another means to the end of modern civilization, while others predict a subtler (and perhaps even more significant) shift affecting human consciousness and how we interact with the world.

Central to the Mayans was food—particularly corn. According to their sacred text, the Popol Vuh, this era is considered the age of the corn people, which was created by the gods after two races of people (mud and wood) failed to embrace and honor the world. The corn people had great vision and understanding, too great in fact, so the gods veiled their abilities, which caused them to slowly move away from nature; they forgot how to respect the gods and the natural law. This age of the corn people is now coming to its end, just as corn has literally saturated the Western diet. According to best-selling author Michael Pollan (Botany of Desire, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food), “If you take a snip of hair or a nail clipping from an American and run it through a mass spectrometer, as I have done, you will discover that most of the carbon in his or her body (and we consist mostly of atoms of carbon) originally came from corn.” So, did the Mayans predict the ubiquitous genetically modified high fructose corn syrup processed foodsuffs that have come to revolutionize our food system and turn us into corn people? Or how about another type of food revolution all together?

Daniel Pinchbeck is one of the foremost leading authorities on the Mayans and 2012. He is the author of 2012: The Return of Quetzlcoatl and co-founder of the web magazine RealitySandwich.com and the social networking platform Evolver.net. According to Pinchbeck, the Mayans weren’t the only civilization to point to 2012 as an important time (some other notables include the Aztecs and Hopi). “These World Ages end with a regeneration process, a cyclical cleansing destruction and beginning of the new.” But, that doesn’t necessarily mean a cataclysmic destruction of humanity. He says that it could, rather, just signify that we are in a process of transformation where the “Western scientific rational model has reached a limit, and at that limit we’re seeing a potential for integration with mystical traditions, shamanic traditions, and awareness that there are other aspects of the psyche that Western culture suppressed in its course of development.”

It doesn’t take a perspicacious eye to notice the acceleration of modernity, be it the advancing technologies or tragedies equally vying for the lead-in spot on CNN. And, says Pinchbeck, the acceleration is not just limited to the external reality, “We could be entering an experience where humanity self-realizes itself as a single organism, and therefore begins to collaborate and share the planetary resources with maximum efficiency, much as what happens in the individual body.”

And nowhere has human development become equally more and less efficient at the same time than in our food system. “The last century, we saw this triumph of industrialization that was applied to food,” and while monocrop agriculture has massively increased production capabilities, it’s also extremely detrimental to the soil and our diet because, according to Pinchbeck, “we’ve been pushing everything to maximum yield without thinking about long term consequences.”

Pollan suggests that it’s never a good idea to base an entire diet around a single species, and evidence of this can be found spiraling out in all directions from our exploitation of corn: “[F]ollow a Big Mac or a Coca-Cola or a Twinkie or a box of breakfast cereal or virtually any snack food or soft drink back to its ultimate source you will find yourself, as I did, in a cornfield somewhere in Iowa.” And the consequences are detrimental, as evident in the millions of pounds of antibiotics that lead to antibiotic-resistant deadly pathogens; or the excessive use of steroids and growth hormones routinely fed to livestock animals along with copious amounts of genetically modified foods—mainly corn, soy and canola—that have not been proven safe for humans or the environment after long-term exposure. The rising rates of obesity and type II diabetes in children as young as four years old have hit epidemic levels and caused the normalization of diet-related illnesses and a dependency on pharmaceuticals.

If ever a food revolution was necessary—or inevitable—there seems to be no more fitting time than now. It could come as an uprising, or a shift in consciousness, says Pinchbeck, through “recognizing and utilizing the Western aspects of technology and industry, but infusing a different philosophy around nutrition.” With environmental sensitivities on the rise (Pinchbeck has recently developed his own issues with monocropped foods including wheat), embracing practices such as permaculture seem to offer “a much more hopeful way of producing food.” Of course, we could see a shift in the other direction, too, as multinational seed and chemical companies like Dow, Monsanto and ConAgra continue to flourish and push GMOs and fast processed foods on Americans without labels or transparency. Because we can choose to eat organic, grow our own and vote on these issues, though, it is ultimately up to us and not Mayan calendars or prophecies, suggests Pinchbeck. “Hopefully we’ll move out of this idea of faster and faster, more and more, and move into this idea of quality and not quantity.”

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: Canon in 2D