Into Eating NAFTA, Coca-Colonization, and De-Coca-Colonization

Started off class today with some announcements, one that the lecture about Taco Literacy at The New School is online. I saw some you there, creeping around and also on the chat. We were joined by food studies students from around the country, and it sounds like from around the world.

I also made a quick announcement for our next class: Dr. Alyshia Gálvez will be joining us on Zoom to speak a bit about her research. We drew up some questions to ask the profe during class, and those can be found on our class Google doc. From our discussion on this day, it was clear to me that students were seriously thinking about some of the geopolitics of foodways, or food systems in the language of Eating NAFTA. Pilcher set the ground for us to start thinking about global trade and structural inequalities between the US and Canada in trade policies.

I started off, though, pointing out the different disciplinary tools Gálvez brings to her research project. She’s an ethnographer, she interviews people, like a reporter (kind of like the journalist-historian Arellano in Taco USA) and also an academic researcher (like Pilcher, though he focuses on archival records and written texts). Gálvez brings different areas of research methods and areas of scholarship into her study, but she would be firmly grounded in anthropology.

Before diving in, I made a list of notes students made when I asked about first thoughts about Eating NAFTA. The students had read the first couple of chapters. Here’s the list we drew up.

  • Focuses on “campesino” foodways in Mexico, of impoverished people in Mexico
  • Monoculture and foodways – production, but also industrialization and trade for agribusiness
  • Leaves us asking questions about where US consumers get their food: food systems, linked networks for commerce – same can be said for Mexico of course, especially when US markets become the model
  • Industrial food systems mean the “destruction” of local foodways practices
  • “We” take advantage of that: the food comes to us, imports/exports (exchanges) – I probed further whom that “we” referred to, and also what that means for “big” stores and how “little” stores have a hard time competing
  • Who benefits from the unequal trade exchanges? 
  • “The negotiators of NAFTA” couldn’t make conditions to benefit the United States, shouldn’t everyone benefit?” Good point. Maybe ask that previous question to consider which class of Mexican people benefited from privatizing national industries . . .  
  • How much governments (and companies) control what we eat: process foods, how much the deal through governments control deal for big companies, junk food companies and drown out local economies, healthy local foods
  • “Health effects of trade policy”: changes in how Mexicans eat
  • Obesity and type-2 diabetes skyrocketing in Mexico

Wow, these were some of just the initial thoughts. Put it this way, the students are still reading closely into some of the aspects of the course I knew they would build toward: political economy, foodways, and power. This part is interesting because we can turn to problematizing at this point, as students moved toward their independent research projects. We drew up a series of questions for Profe G for Monday based on some of these, so we’ll be ready for a good discussion. I didn’t have a video of class this time, but I will have one for class on that day.

Before I turned to a couple of things I wanted to share with students, I asked the taco crew to consider a couple of things.

  • Polarizing of Mexican people: manufacturing owners, but poverty among “workers” small family farms: factories, maquiladoras open, people leaving farms to work in factories in northern Mexico. Here, Celina pointed out connections to the Dust Bowl in the US. Yes, that’s quite true: the story of The Grapes of Wrath, also a story of migration and small farmers who lost found themselves competing in larger markets with industrial farms with armies of capital.
  • Myth: NAFTA: “unites” nations through trade. Indeed, the policies unite markets, but their are “structured inequalities” embedded within the policies that reproduce inequalities. The largest inequalities are not for one nation or the other, rather, the greatest inequalties face working people, particular the poor in all nations.

I ended class with a question about “Coca-Colonization” mentioned by Galvez, and what this metaphor might mean for our own diets. Since the question about GMO came up over and over in the book, I thought we should take a dive into some provocative arguments from two sides of an issue about farming and scale. We checked out, briefly, the Monsanto website.

There, we saw there was much to read over in how Monstanto tells its story about science, farming, and modernity. We found this short commercial, doing the public relations work for the company, “Portal to a Better World”:

There’s much there to the arguments Profe G makes in Eating NAFTA and already hit upon the list we generated in class. I’ll just say this: the computer-generated farmer is high tech, and that equipment, of course has costs.

I ended with an alternative vision, maybe a decolonial approach if you will. That would be the de-coca-colonization, I believe. Here, with Prof Vandana Shiva, a dynamic scholar who understands the importance of ecology and foodways for sustainability. He she describes how industrial farming tells one story, but there’s an alternative truth to be told about “Who Feeds the World?”: 

It’s hard for me to write anything further beyond what Profe Shiva points out here, but do notice she brings an attention to the land, to relationships with the land, and with life to the land. That will be important to think about further with Galvez’s book for the next few weeks.

Next class, if we have time, we’ll check out this documentary, “The Fruits of Mexico’s Cheap Labor”:

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