Category Archives: globalization

The Message(s) In the Bottle (or Keg)

Amy Trubek with Elisa Ascione and Manuel Barbato

Why am I in Umbria spending time with craft brewers and tasting beers such as an American Red Ale and a Porter infused with Coconut? There are any number of reasons this seems absurd. First, I am not an enthusiastic drinker of beer, let alone a connoisseur. Second, Umbria is one of Italy’s wine growing regions, with two internationally known Designation of Controlled Origin Guaranteed (DOCG) wines, Sagrantino di Montefalco and Torgiano Rosso Riserva, as well as other well-known wines. Personally and professionally, a visit to the wine regions of Torgiano or Montefalco and a conversation with the owner of Lungarotti or Terre Margaritelli vineyards, is much more in my wheelhouse. Third, I live in Vermont, one of the hubs of the American craft brew movement, where hipsters and bros from New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts will drive up and wait in line for hours to purchase growlers of beer made by Hill Farmstead (named the World’s Best Brewery for the past five years)– or to hunt down the elusive Alchemist’s Heady Topper.

I had never researched beer, anywhere– until my colleagues, Elisa Ascioneand Manuel Barbato, asked me to join them in a research project. Both live in Perugia, work at the Umbra Institute (a study abroad program with a Food and Sustainabilityconcentration), and study the regional food and drink culture. They have witnessed a growing interest in craft beers among the younger generation of Italians, both those who want to produce them and those who want to go out for an aperitivo and choose from more than the long-time standards of Peroni, Moretti and Heineken. Who am I to say no? I am here for a short time and my knowledge is thin; theirs is thick and intimately connected to people and places.

Local beer is increasingly important to the culinary culture here. Umbria has local histories of making and drinking beer but these are not part of the food, drink and cultural heritage narratives crucial to the identity of the region, especially in relation to tourism. Those narratives celebrate Umbria’s wines, DOP olive oil, farro long grown in the region (which now also has protected denomination), and, of course, the salumeria and cheese. But, in the past 15 years, over twenty craft breweries have opened in region. When you go to a bar, trattoria or ristorante in the city of Perugia, there are now featured lists of local beers, almost an impossibility, in, for example, the late 20thcentury.

So, why is this happening? And what is the significance?  These are our questions. For us, anthropologists with previous research on culinary culture, cultural heritage, the connection to place and concepts of authenticity and quality, Umbrian craft brewers and craft beer are not reproducing or replicating other powerful narratives orpractices of this locality. The region is part of the identity, but it is not the primary inspiration. This is an intervention into a globalcraft beer culture, a transnational network of young people (primarily men) with a vision that integrates identity, quality, conviviality and a certain rebellion. One young man learned about craft beer during his European and American travels as a professional snowboarder. Another, a journalist by trade, realized that there had been a small brewer in the city of Perugia and wanted to bring that connection back to his home town. No one comes from multi-generational families of brewers. Only some cultivate and source their hops and malt from the region. Everyone wants to provide an alternative to the ubiquitous industrial beers. The shared zeitgeist concerns the scale first, the locale second, and tradition close to last. Foremost, the tastes of the beer involve the expression of the brewer.

Birra Perugia

We are in the preliminary stages of our research, but there is a shared sensibility between the craft brewers we have talked to here in Umbria and those studied in the United States. The current generation of craft brewers desire a connection to ‘somewhere-ness.’A beer that is generic or homogenous seems empty – of meaning, of calories, and of taste. Giovanni of Birrificio San Biagio, for example, talks about terroir in beer, referring to the health properties of the water of Nocera Umbra used for his beers. He wishes that, just as it happened for wine, regional beers could have geographical indications as a source of distinction in the growing craft beer market, even if parts of the ingredients are sourced from abroad. Antonio of Birra Perugia, connects his production to the history of the city, referring to the documents and pictures that he found about a city brewery that existed in the city center at the end of the 19thCentury. Interestingly, they all want to [literally] make the link between the beer and place, even when for now it does not really exist; in Umbria these brewers are not drawing upon a continuous peasant tradition, but rather a virtually connected community (for example, Instagram is a tool for both inspiration and information).  They rely on what anthropologists and sociologists call ‘networked ecologies.’ Many further questions arise that we intend to pursue: Does it matter that the narratives and practices for wine and beer are so distinct in Umbria? What does the fact that younger Italians prefer making beer over making wine bode for the future? Can you make the taste of Umbrian beer unique by slowly encouraging local agricultural production of hops and barley? So, although I continue to prefer a glass of vino to a pint of birra, in collaboration with Elisa and Manuel, I certainly see the message(s) in the bottle!

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, Authenticity, globalization, Italy

Review: Eating Nafta

 

Eating NAFTA by Alyshia Gálvez

Eating NAFTA: Trade, Food Policies and the Destruction of Mexico. Alyshia Gálvez. University of California Press. 2018. 260pp. ISBN:9780520291812.

Joan Gross

Oregon State University

Alyshia Gálvez has written a very important and timely book about the connectedness of international trade agreements, migration, diet-related diseases and the loss of biodiversity. She focuses on the two decades plus since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect in 1994 and its impact on the lives of Mexicans on both sides of the border. Gálvez interweaves large scale statistics from reliable sources with her own ethnographic encounters with people from various walks of life, rural and urban, labor migrants and politicians. She complements her decades-long ethnographic fieldwork with discourse analysis and policy analysis, linking the micro with the macro. She pays particular attention to the changing lifestyles of rural Mexicans who no longer can support themselves with milpa agriculture since the USA began dumping subsidized corn in Mexico. Not only have their diets changed, but they can no longer maintain multigenerational households as they have been sucked into a cash economy and family members have migrated to cities and abroad in pursuit of cash. She tells us that today Mexico imports 42% of its food and has a 55.1% poverty rate. She tells us that the top three causes of death and disability are now diet-related chronic diseases. She tells us that in 2007, 12.8 million Mexicans were residing in the USA. She proposes in the Introduction that we consider this as a kind of structural violence. “’Gringos’ clamor for handmade tortillas, while Mexicans have become the world’s top consumers of instant noodles” (p. 10).

Chapter Two provides an ethnographic look at the elevation of traditional Mexican food into the world of haute cuisine, blessed by René Redzepi, the celebrated Danish chef. Gálvez examines “the role of narrative capital in telling certain kinds of stories that simultaneously romanticize specific elements of cuisine (like hand-ground landrace corn), while cleaving them from the historical conditions of their production and the people responsible for their development and custodianship over millennia” (p.30). Mexican cuisine was inducted into UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2010. Gálvez addresses the timelessness of the UNESCO description, while providing examples of changes in Mexican cuisine since the Spanish conquest, and notably since NAFTA. Some farmers of landrace corn fed it to their animals because the price and demand was so low, but today, top chefs are paying premium prices for ancestral corn that they serve along with huitlacoche, insect larvae, mezcal, and other traditional Mexican foods that have been newly discovered by elite chefs and diners. Gálvez stresses the importance of stories and who gets to tell them. She recounts stories that Mexican farmers tell about hybrid vs. criollo corn. Hybrid corn “requires more water and pesticides, costs more, and behaves like a spoiled baby” (p. 60) according to Nahuatl-speaking farmers of  Asunción Miahuatlán. Other farmers justify the higher cost of raising hybrid corn with market demand for the larger ears eaten as corn on the cob.

Chapter Three shifts from corn to goats, but repeats the messy pattern of some people deciding to continue raising criollo goats which taste better while others follow the advice of government agronomists to invest in fancy goats. Gálvez rehearses for us the history of Mexico’s development policy and the constant desire to make agricultural production more “efficient.” She argues that small-scale agriculture is compatible with other subsistence and economic activities and it ensures biodiversity and environmental sustainability. Central to her argument is the contrast between a market-driven food security model promoted by free trade agreements, such as NAFTA, and a food sovereignty model that calls for democratic control of the food system. As marginalized rural residents are blamed for Mexico’s “inefficiency,” their displacement has led to increased consumption of US products and labor migration to the US, both actions subsidizing the US economy.

Chapter Four begins with a description of Doña Yolanda’s small store, filled with candy and other processed foods. Stores like this are typical in many poor countries, so I was glad that Gálvez spent some time explaining the attraction of getting into this type of business and the competition they face from larger chains, such as Oxxo and Walmart. She describes how processed food at first marked cosmopolitan modernity, but now is associated with lower status. Mexicans have embodied free trade and the nutrition transition in the form of widespread obesity, though Gálvez questions whether the cause is skyrocketing consumption of sugar or the myriad chemicals used in farming and food processing. She states that chemical exports from the US to Mexico increased 97% in the first decade after NAFTA was passed.

Chapter Five addresses strategies to combat obesity and diabetes in Mexico. Here, Gálvez points out that the solutions to this problem always seem to rest on the individual and don’t address changes in the larger food system. She, then describes three parts of the Mexican government’s response to diabetes and obesity: the soda tax and regulations on food marketing; the anti-poverty program, Prospera; and the Crusade against Hunger. She shows how the latter two strategies propel people towards a cash-based economy and away from traditional knowledge concerning healthy food. She ends the chapter with a discussion of women’s labor and how, even when working outside the home, women are expected to be responsible for the diets of their families. As their access to money increases and their time decreases, they are more likely to rely on prepared foods. The author points out that it is not fair that they and not the state should be held responsible for obesity.

Chapter Six looks at diabetes and asks about the role of migration in the rise of this disease. The focus is on the relationship between stress and diabetes on one hand and stress and migration on the other. She cites Mendenhall’s work on syndemic suffering which calls attention to the intersection of both diseases and epidemic social problems. Research is only beginning to explore the connections between diabetes and stressors such as separation from family members, discrimination, labor exploitation, poverty and lack of health insurance. The diets of migrants change, but also the migradollars they repatriate increase the consumption of larger quantities of processed foods back home.

Chapter Seven begins with watercress, a food that many Latin Americans have a nostalgic response to, but that never figures into stereotypes of Latin American cuisine. Gálvez asks “how many humble but clearly significant foods are forgotten in the transition to more urban lifestyles or with migration?” (p. 174). She also asks how much of our nostalgia for certain foods is nostalgia for the contexts in which they were produced and eaten and notes that migration intensifies nostalgia for specific places and tastes, especially when free circulation is prevented. Decontextualization enabled traditional foods to be appropriated and commodified like the expensive tamales offered by Williams -Sonoma or McDonald’s McBurrito. In response, food activists are promoting traditional foods and their health benefits as part of food sovereignty. At the same time that traditional Mexican cuisine is going global, global products like Coca-Cola have invaded indigenous culture and ritual and this, in turn, has become a useful marketing tool.

In the Conclusion, Gálvez tells the story of one Mexican migrant to New York who found his way back to the land with help from a non-profit called GrowNYC. The migrant in this story stands in contrast to the multitude of Mexican migrants who have become “’surplus bodies,’ and bodies as repositories of surpluses, storing the products of overproduction and uneven trade negotiations” (p. 192). Gálvez proposes that the rise of diet-related illness in Mexico is “a logical result of the prioritization of foreign direct investment, industrial agriculture, theories of comparative advantage, and a specific role of development that sees no role for small-scale agriculture” (pp. 192-193). At the end of the book, she takes us back to alternative movements such as GrowNYC that promote social justice, resistance and resilience  while promoting ways of eating that “build our connections to each other and to land and culture” (p. 199). Nevertheless, she warns that solutions require more than consumer activism at the local level.

Throughout the book, Gálvez often shifts her discourse from explaining to giving the reader insight into the conversations and observations that led her to make particular points. Sometimes these are descriptions of encounters; at other times, direct transcriptions from interviews in Spanish. These are not translated in the text, but merely summarized and commented on. (Interested readers can find the exact translations in the endnotes.) It’s a refreshing style that maintains reader interest in the topics at hand while also opening the research curtain. Gálvez successfully presents the complexity of a food system gone awry and the important role played by NAFTA. I highly recommend it as a text in courses dealing with food systems, social justice, migration and public policy, as well as courses on Latin America.

 

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, cuisine, diabetes, economics, globalization, Mexico, neo-liberal public policy