Category Archives: globalization

Review: Burgundy: The Global Story of Terroir

Burgundy: The Global Story of Terroir

Marion Demossier. Burgundy: The Global Story of Terroir. Berghahn. New York. 2018. 270 pp. ISBN: 978-1-78920-627-2 paperback. 

Richard Zimmer, (Sonoma State University)

Marion Demossier’s   engrossing analysis of Burgundy—the wine, the place, the brand—should be imbibed (pun intended!)  on many levels—and slowly, for best appreciation.  Terroir, the particular way the specific characteristics of soil, geography and climate affect the taste of wine (and other foodstuffs),       is the focus through which Demossier  examines the history, branding, and rebranding of Burgundy wines.  She also delineates the changing social structure of production over the centuries into modern times.  It is also the prism through which she explores the ways in which that evolution is affected by French history and politics, marketing within France, marketing internationally and in comparison to other wines, especially New Zealand Pinot Noir. She also delineates how Burgundy wines are marketed in non-European markets, in particular Japan and China.

Throughout her work, Demossier situates this evolution as a creation of a myth about Burgundy and its cultivation, engaging in the larger question of what constitutes authenticity, in this case, of a particular wine. Furthermore, as part of her study, she addresses her own journey as a female anthropologist in an overwhelmingly male field of study and industry.  Lastly, she speculates about the future of Burgundy as a brand and example by itself and in relation to other wine and food products sold internationally.

Burgundy is seen as a terroir brand, with even more specific reference to climats,  specific special vineyards. The  Burgundy region  is seen as a place “blessed by the gods (p.91)”  Demossier recounts a You Tube clip promoting the region’s attempt to apply to UNESCO for world heritage status.  In the clip, an actor dressed as a monk tells the story of Burgundy, the wine and the region.  Briefly, the actor /monk goes back to the Romans and then to the Benedictines.  The latter “’…tasted the soil…(p.91.)’” What constitutes the Burgundy brand is what Demossier shows through the story of one winemaker:  “…a complex fabrication of authenticity throughout the commodity chain, which in some cases resonates or imbricates into a global and hierarchised [sic—UK spelling is used throughout her work] world of values (p.73.)”

Demossier devotes Chapter 3 to “The Taste of Place.”  “Taste, colour  and nose were emphasised  as central to Burgundian wines…(p.81.)”  She is following the lead of Amy Trubek about terroir: “In her seminal book The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir,   Amy Trubek defines terroir as a ‘foodview’, that is to say a food-centred worldview understand their relationship to the land.  (Trubek: 2009. Cited by Demossier p. 83.; see Bibliography)”  As Demossier notes, Trubek situates terroir in France and “…underlines the role that institutions and social practices play in shaping the ways taste comes to define place and vice versa (p.83.)”  Yes, there is still definitional controversy about exactly what terroir means, as Rachel Black notes (2012; 12-13). But taste (and smell) is crucial to understanding how people connect to food (see Sutton 2010: 211 et seq.)

The “myth” of Burgundy wine is many sided, connected, and evolving, in part to meet market needs, historical forces in France and the world, and the ways in which it has been produced over time.  In France,  specific wine types are regulated by the government.  This regulation changes over time.  It is designed to brand and give authenticity to a particular terroir and cru—a vineyard producing  a wine of high quality.  The myth then “demands”  the authenticity of government labelling.  It  also “demands” a “philosophy” of taste, and that philosophy includes a picture of who produces it and how it is enjoyed (p.97 et seq. ) One novelist, Elizabeth Knox, ironically points out the contradictory notions of the components of authenticity.  A New Zealand visitor (where wine is being made in the most modern conditions [Demossier 201:271])concerned about cleanliness in her/his visit to a winery in France,  is told by the  tour guide: “‘Since when was wine all about hygiene?’ (Knox 2000:281.)”

The iconic image developed for  the Burgundy brand is of a vigneron—the person who makes the wine, the diners who drink the wine, the setting in which they drink it, and, of course, the food that accompanies it. As noted earlier, taste–and sociability p.103) are the tropes of the brand—with a background of the wine grower close to the terroir producing this mis en scene. And, as Demossier notes, until recently, the vignerons were men. Now, many women of the Burgundy families  have made their mark (p.46.)

The reality behind this picture is more complex. Especially in the twentieth century and continuing into the present, different actors play different roles in the production and marketing of the wine.  On the production end, some vineyards had been worked by tractors and then later by hand.  The “hand” workers became workers hired to work the land, often helped deliberately by horses to address environmental concerns.  Initially, the vine growers continued practices from the past.  But younger vignerons, especially women winemakers, concerned with organic concerns and climate change, and having attended higher education and technical training, are setting new directions in Burgundy.  And the  wines they market as a result are redefining part of the brand of Burgundy vintages.

The essence of this Burgundy brand, regardless of the price of the particular vintage, is that it is traditional, authentic, peculiar to a region, and seen as a counter to modernization (even if it is produced using modern methods.) Invited to a wine conference, Demossier  spoke eloquently about this topic: “ …I was able to unpack the construction of a historical narrative around the notion of ‘climats’, a twenty-first century invention, but one that is embodied in imagined notions of an enduring and thus authenticated social configuration (p.232.)”  The evolving  redefinition of the Burgundy brand maintains its authenticity, even with changes  in the nature of its production.  As such, it is one of a series of food products, non-food products, and other events that draw on people wanting what they consider to be an “authentic” experience See, for example, https://www.forbes.com/sites/propointgraphics/2017/04/16/nostalgia-marketing-and-the-search-for-authenticity/#64ff2ec767d6  for a business approach on authenticity, including its relationship to nostalgia, and Little for a specific discussion of what constitutes a dispute about authenticity by a prospective weaving buyer and the native producer of that item   (2019.)

Yet the branding and portrayal of Burgundy as authentic and anti-modern can be seen in a very different light as well.  Asian markets offer a fertile field for drinking Burgundy.  Demossier shows how newly affluent people are drinking Burgundy and other French wine as a mark of modernization and Westernization (p.165 et seq.)  Japan offers an additional dimension in terms of the mythologizing of wine, because much of its introduction into that market came from manga, Japanese comic books which are teaching and story  telling  media.  Demossier notes  South Koreans and Taiwanese  have  been introduced to wine drinking through their manga as well (pp.168-9.) Asian drinking of French wines  as a statement of modernization and Westernization is not an  isolated phenomenon. Whiskey was originally produced in  Scotland.  The Japanese entered the whiskey production market.  But they may have even outsourced that, so that “authentic Japanese whiskey Is questionable “…because of loose regulations…( Risen 2020: D4.)

Refreshingly, New Zealand, especially in its production of Pinot Noir, has written its own branding story, one of regionality, in contrast to  Burgundy’s terroir story (p. 190.)  Like Burgundy’s emphasis on food, in a national presentation which Demossier attended and spoke, the New Zealand industry paired tastings with local food specialties.  “’Marlborough…salmon; Central Otago…thyme, wild rabbit and apricots…the Pioneers artisan food (p.191.)’” And, like the newer vignerons in Burgundy, New Zealand producers are highly educated and experimenting with ecological methods—and including that dimension  in their branding 9p.217.)  Through the acquisition of World Heritage status, the Burgundy myth has achieved world status as a model for  production and marketing (p. 242.)

This excellent book is appropriate for upper division, graduate students and  professionals in a number of fields—anthropology, sociology, wine studies, marketing and business and  women’s studies.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

2017

Little, Walter E. Whatever We Weave is Authentic: Coproducing Authenticity in Guatemalan Tourism Textile Markets. In  Naomi M. Leite, Quetzil E. Castenada, and Kathleen M. Adams, eds. The Ethnography of Tourism: Edward Bruner and Beyond. Lexington Books. New York. pp.  89-105.

2000

Knox, Elizabeth.  The Vintner’s Luck.  Pacador (Farrar, Straus,  and Giroux): New York.

2020

Risen, Clay. Are Japanese Whiskies From Japan?  The New York Times,  June 3, p. D4.

2010

Sutton, David.  Food and the Senses.  Annual Review of Anthropology. 39. pp. 209-33.

2009

Trubek, Amy.  The  Sense of Place:  A Cultural Journey into Terroir. U California: Berkeley.

Websites

2012 Black, Rachel. A Sense of Place. http://www.bu.edu/bhr/files/2012/11/v1n1-Sense-of-Place.pdf (Accessed 06/13/2020.)

2017

“Modicum[sic]”.  https://www.forbes.com/sites/propointgraphics/2017/04/16/nostalgia-marketing-and-the-search-for-authenticity/#64ff2ec767d6  )p. 19. (Accessed 06/13/20.)

 

Leave a comment

Filed under anthropology, France, globalization, wine

Rick Bayless, Plucky Jollibee, and Globalization

David Beriss

I receive a lot of restaurant industry email. Despite the deluge, sometimes the emails provide glimpses into the industry that I would not otherwise get. For instance, I recently received an “Eat Beat” newsletter from Restaurant Hospitality with the headline “Rick Bayless opens fast-casual Tortazo in Chicago.” Because Rick Bayless is trained as an anthropologist, but also because he has been at the center of many discussions about food, culture, authenticity, and appropriation in recent years, I decided to read the article. In turn, this pushed me toward some thoughts about how to think about globalization.

According to the article, Tortazo  focuses on tortas. Although Bayless first became famous for his high end restaurants in Chicago, he has since branched out into retail (his hot sauces are available in grocery stores) and other kinds of Mexican food-focused restaurants, both fancy and casual. Tortazo is a logical extension of this career, which you can read about here and here.

What caught my eye, however, was his partner in this new restaurant. Bayless is working with Jollibee Foods to develop these new restaurants. This is not their first endeavor together – Jollibee apparently bought 47% of another of his restaurant concepts, Tortas Frontera, back in 2018. And this is not Bayless’ first collaboration with a multinational corporation either. His company Frontera Foods, which makes, among other items, Frontera salsas, is now owned by ConAgra Brands, a multinational headquartered in Chicago.

However, it was neither Bayless nor ConAgra that really attracted me to this story. Rather, it was Jollibee. I first read about Jollibee in articles by anthropologist Ty Matejowsky. In that context, I thought of Jollibee as a plucky Philippines-based chain of fast food restaurants that resisted the onslaught of McDonald’s in its homeland. In fact, that same company has opened stores around the world, often in countries that have substantial Filipino populations (including the United States).

McDonald’s is probably the American brand most often invoked when people discuss the intersection of globalization and Americanization. George Ritzer famously developed a theory of social organization around “McDonaldization” and that concept has been extended to ideas about the spread of fast food around the world. Anthropologists have (also famously) studied the ways in which local populations around the world have made McDonald’s and other American brands their own, by reinterpreting the American model in their own cultural terms. This interaction between local cultures and global brands has been explored in other areas, including packaged ramen.

By opening their own restaurants around the world, companies like Jollibee might at first seem like the empire striking back. More than making sense of American institutions in their midst, Jollibee, McDonald’s Filipino competitor, is now showing up in McDonald’s homeland. Impressive.

Or maybe this is not exactly what it seems. Perhaps the tendency to associate these global corporations with nation-states sometimes misses other important characteristics. The same article that recounted Bayless’ new concept also pointed out that Jollibee owns the Smashburger and Coffee Bean & Tea chains. So much for plucky little Filipino upstart. Jollibee Foods Corporation is a multinational owner of many brands much like ConAgra. Is this a world of nation-states, cultures, and associated foods, or a world of multi-national corporations?

None of this is meant to criticize Rick Bayless, Jollibee, or ConAgra. But I do want to call attention to the complex realities that are often hidden behind the narratives we read. The entrepreneurial chef, the imperial American multinational, the resilient little company in the post-colonial world are all elements in the story lines we love to read about. But how real are they? In this instance, the chef is definitely real. After that, apparently, it is multinational corporations all the way down.

Leave a comment

Filed under anthropology, globalization

Review: Food Anxiety in Globalising Vietnam

cover

Food Anxiety in Globalizing Vietnam. Judith Ehlert and Nora Katharina Faltmann eds. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. 330pp. ISBN 978-981-13-0743-0

.Shao-Yun Chang (Tulane University)

In 2018, Vietnam battled outbreaks of African swine fever, a highly contagious disease that prompted concerns over poultry products especially from China. A Vietnamese coffee manufacturer reportedly used batteries and dust in its production. Food anxieties are rampant in Vietnam, reflecting concerns over national security and expressing worries in more intimate realms around health and consumption. Food Anxiety in Globalizing Vietnam addresses these issues by contextualizing rapidly changing politico-economic dynamic around food in the socialist state.

Food Anxiety in Globalizing Vietnam is divided into three parts: Bodily Transgressions, Food Safety, and the Politics of Food Security. The authors come from multiple perspectives, ranging across development studies, sociology, economy, history, and anthropology. This multi-disciplinary approach provides a comprehensive outlook on food anxiety, addressing both state-level policies and developmental projects, but they are also attentive to everyday practices and discourse. The three parts also follow a scaler approach, moving from micro-processes to the macro, from private realms to public sphere, and from Vietnam towards larger regional interactions with China and Southeast Asian countries.

In their introduction, co-editors Judith Ehlert and Nora Faltmann position food anxiety as processes of incorporating food into the physical body. These processes involve boundaries – boundaries between inside and outside and between the self and the world, emphasizing how anxiety reflects “questions of integrity in terms of material ‘realities’ but also regarding the transgression of discursive structures” (15). Food transgresses not just in the visceral sense as people ingest what they eat; it also transgresses boundaries of class, gender, and capitalist relations, especially in Vietnam where economic reforms or Đổi Mới have exacerbated people’s concerns with food because of the country’s rapid and compressed modernization. In this volume, the individual authors trace historical trajectories from the precolonial era to the contemporary period. They focus on recent state-level projects intended to ensure food security by integrating food production into the global capitalist system and welcoming neoliberal agricultural practices.

The first part, “Bodily Transgression,” situates class, gender, and familial dynamics in socio-political implications of food consumption across different historical periods. Erica Peters shows how in both precolonial and colonial periods, people with power and command were most prone to anxiety when their power seemed most vulnerable. For instance, Minh Mạng, the second ruler (1820-1840) of Nguyễn dynasty, established culinary methods to institutionalize wet rice cultivation, which alienated non-Việt practices. Anthropologist Nir Avieli depicts ambivalence of consuming jungle meats and goat meats in present day Hội An, showing how ritualized public killings are tied to asserting cultural intimacy. Judith Ehlert focuses on a gendered phenomenon – mothers’ food network and emerging public debate around child obesity. By focusing on discussions of food anxiety and motherhood, Ehlert argues food anxiety arise through women’s ambivalence with being caring mothers and feeding practices.

The second part of the volume, “Food Safety,” addresses the emerging and evolving power players of food production in Vietnam, including state, private sector, and the consumer. Muriel Figuié et al. lay the groundwork for understanding shifting food systems in relation to modernization processes in which consumers are now distanced from food production, generating anxieties around delocalized food and “unidentifiable edible object[s].” (145) Nora Faltmann dives deeper into the issue of distanciation by showing how the niche market of organic foods in Vietnam is still largely controlled by foreign corporations and governed by neoliberal logics. But citizens’ quest for organic and safe food is not limited to the niche market as Sandra Kurfürst shows in her chapter on urban gardening and rural-urban supply chains of food. She plays on the longstanding dichotomy between urban versus rural. Food anxiety disrupts the usual dichotomy of urban and rural, putting more trust in food from countryside as opposed to prevalence of polluted and alienated food in the city.

The final part, “The Politics of Food Security,” shifts towards national and transnational level of politics involved in food security. At the state level, Timothy Gorman examines Resolution 63, a legislative mandate targeted at food security and increasing rice production. Gorman shows the emphasis of food security is on food production instead of access to food. The fixation on the supply side intensifies agrarian transition, favoring large-scale mechanized production over smallholder farmers. In the last chapter, Hongzhou Zhang examines the dialectical relationship between Vietnam and China, a recurring theme in food anxieties discussed throughout the volume. In recent years, food security strategy in China has promoted imported foods and expanded overseas agricultural investment, giving rise to exponential increase in trade between the two countries. However, consumers are mistrustful of low-quality food from China, suspecting illegal chemical additives or containing gutter oil.[1] Interregional exchange further complicates issues of trust in food and edibility. Jean-Pierre Poulain closes the volume by foregrounding the idea of “compressed modernity” proposed by Kyung-Sup Chang, which describes evolving socio-economic dynamics happening in condensed time and space and pertinent to fast modernization of Asian countries such as Vietnam (303). The intensity of modernity threads together discussions throughout the volume, underscoring the evolving relationships in households, private and public sectors, and neoliberal logics in a socialist state through the consumption and production of food.

The volume provides multi-dimensional approaches for understanding food anxieties in contemporary Vietnam. Anxiety around food production, consumption, and exchange is neither a localized phenomenon nor situated outside of socio-cultural histories. Authors discern nuances at the individual level (should one consume goat meat which is rumored to provide aphrodisiac effects), the household level (what feeding practices make a good mother), the state level, and lastly, international projects of food security and organic production. The volume powerfully penetrates the surface of food-related outbreaks, which have dominated the news. Authors contemplate the multiplicity of relations involved in production and consumption, scrutinizing the implications of neoliberal governance and global capitalist structures specifically within food anxieties. However, several authors point towards food anxieties derived from the relationship between Vietnam and China. It would be interesting to see how food anxieties speaks to political tensions between two countries. Do issues of national security exacerbate food anxiety, particularly discourse around interregional exchange?

The volume will appeal to range of academic audiences. Authors speak to social scientists who are interested in understanding growing food anxieties in Asian countries that have experienced rapid modernization. The edited volume is also a great resource for classrooms to provide students insights into how neoliberal projects shape conceptions of food and how food is politicized in daily practices. Each chapter approaches food anxiety from a specific angle, presenting qualitative findings and interpretations on food anxiety in Vietnam.

[1] Gutter oil refers to sourcing oil from restaurant waste, sewages, and grease traps. Recycled oil is processed and sold as cooking oil.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Asia, globalization, neo-liberal public policy, Vietnam

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!

Leave a comment

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.

 

Leave a comment

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