Friday, January 31, 2014

What's in Your Cup?

Have you ever stopped to think about where your coffee comes from? Think beyond the store…way beyond it. When was the last time you actually thought about who grew the coffee beans you ground up this morning to make coffee?

In his article “Justice at a Price: Regulation and Alienation in the Global Economy,” Daniel Reichman discusses how the global coffee market is regulated and brings up the topic of fair trade. He asks the following two questions in his article:  

(1)             “Who knows what nefarious forms of exploitation are happening on the other side of the world?”(102).
(2)            “In a world where individuality is valued, how does one simultaneously depend on mass-produced goods and assert individual creative autonomy?” (109).
In this post, I would like to discuss Reichman's questions and ask a few questions of my own concerning fair trade.
To address all these questions, let’s first look at the documentary film Black Gold (2006). The film documents Ethiopian coffee production by telling the stories of various Ethiopian coffee bean farmers and relating the struggles they face. The bottom line is that the farmers are grossly underpaid for their coffee beans, when one considers the price it sells for on the shelf. The film shows how Tadesse Meskela, the manager of Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union helps the farmers. Early on in the documentary, he talks with the farmers saying that he is going to find a better market for the beans, so the farmers can get a better price. They applaud. Later the film Meskala says that he eliminates 60% of the middlemen between the coffee grower and the consumer by selling the coffee directly to the roasters.  
That is the idea behind fair trade - eliminate middlemen so the coffee farmers can get more money for their coffee. But as I watched the film, I couldn’t help but think the following: Where is the money from the 60% reduction of middlemen going? If the profit was going to the farmers, wouldn’t they be even a little better off? Meskala has the money to travel around the world in a plane in search of a better market. Shouldn’t the farmers have money to buy enough food to eat? Why are the farmers getting next to nothing for their coffee and barely getting by? 
This made me think of how I view fair trade as something that benefits the farmers. The basis of my belief is rooted in the assumption that the officials in charge of selling the coffee actually distribute the profit to the farmers. We believe fair trade helps farmers only because we place our trust in those in charge. If those in charge aren’t letting the farmers see the profit, then what good is fair trade?  
That brings me back to Reichman’s questions…. Do we really know “what nefarious forms of exploitation are happening on the other side of the world?” (102). No, I don’t believe we know everything that goes on. Just because “‘fair’ certification for coffee guarantees that farmers (or grower cooperatives) have been paid a minimum price... per pound of unroasted coffee…and that workers are treated fairly on farms” doesn’t mean all that actually happens (103). We believe the guarantee because we trust it is happening as they say it is, not because we know for sure that it is. For all we know, the “nefarious forms of exploitation” are still occurring (102). We really don’t know. 
Reichman’s other question is “how does one simultaneously depend on mass-produced goods and assert individual creative autonomy?” (109). In answering this question, think of how many coffee drinkers and coffee name brands there are out there. (A lot.) Yet not everyone drinks the same brand. Reichman points out that “food and clothing are important elements of the creation of one’s social identity, so consumer brands like McDonald’s, The Gap, Nike, and Starbucks are the most targeted symbols of homogenization” (109). We have various reasons why we choose one brand over another. The reasons could be based on anything ranging from money, popularity, or personal preference; and those choices create and shape our identity. While there is one product (coffee), there are many brands and types of it to choose from which enable us to “assert individual creative autonomy” (109).
Reflecting on the rising popularity of fair trade, could fair trade be considered “a brand”? A brand in the sense that choosing fair trade is perhaps becoming more of a popularity based decision to keep up with the Joneses? Are fair trade products becoming more of just a conscience-satisfying decision, so people don’t feel too bad about the exploited farmers in the far reaches of the world, instead of a truly ethical choice? 
I don’t think fair trade works in every farmer's case…. Because I find it hard to imagine that all the officials in charge have dealt with the all the farmers ethically and have remained uncorrupt. But, although we can’t be for sure whether or not the farmers are getting their fair share, there remains a chance that some do, and wouldn't those farmers be worse off without fair trade? In the end, even if only one coffee bean farmer has been helped, I’d say fair trade has done some good. 
As a side note here before I close, my class is going on a fieldtrip to a local coffee roaster next week. Where do they get their coffee beans? I wonder how the small business owners are making it in this economy. It will be interesting to see what the owners have to say about fair trade and coffee production from a small business owner’s perspective.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Snow days, hot cocoa, and culture

Yesterday (Jan 28) was my first college snow day ever!! And today's my second! It rarely snows where I live, so this is all exciting!

my little sis and me
When the snow finally fell yesterday at around 8:30 p.m., I went outside with my little sister and had a whole lot of fun in it! We played snow Frisbee and then made some little snowmen. Then we came back inside and made some hot cocoa. Yum!

My whole family was out in the snow today! We had fun together building a snowman, and then came inside to enjoy a cup of hot cocoa... again. (Dad didn't want any... that's why there are only three cups in the picture...see below. He doesn't like hot cocoa).

While enjoying my cup of hot cocoa, I got thinking about culture...

Back in elementary school, I remember learning about how the Aztecs and Mayans used cocoa beans as money. Talk about money growing on trees! Literally!

Little sis making hot cocoa
Only the rich were allowed to drink this legal tender. And the drink wasn't as sweet as we know it today. In the article "The History of Chocolate" on, I read that this bitter Aztec money/drink under went several flavor "refinements." It started with Cortes' addition of cane sugar, making it acceptable to the Spanish. The Spanish continuing making renditions of the drink by adding "newly imported spices, such as cinnamon and vanilla." When some bright guy decided the drink would taste great if served hot, it became a hit with the Spanish nobility. Eventually the drink spread throughout Europe and America.

According to the International Cocoa Organization, the top producers of cocoa are Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, and Indonesia.

Cocoa is also one of those "fair trade" items, similar to coffee. In his article, "Justice at a Price: Regulation and Alienation in the Global Economy," Daniel Reichmann discusses fairtrade and coffee. Reichmann says, "[f]air trade is a non-governmental process that certifies and labels commodities that have been produced under 'socially just' conditions, according to the standards of an international agency, the International Fairtrade Labeling Organization (IFLO)" (102).

That's good in theory, but what about in practice? We don't everything that goes on over in the other side of the world. How do we know if the cocoa we bake with and drink is grown under fair "social conditions"? (102). Shortly put, we don't really know. (I discuss this more in more detail in the context of coffee in my next post, "What's in Your Cup?")

Although we won't know all the ins and outs going on the far side of the globe, I dare say things are at least a little better now with Fairtrade, compared to back then in the Aztec era when it was sans Fairtrade. I presume the Europeans exploited the Mayans and Aztecs to get cocoa once they discovered it; and there were no organizations attempting to help with the social conditions.

However, even if we don't know for certain how the cocoa farmers who grew our cocoa were treated, or even under what conditions they labored, we can still be very appreciative of their labor to grow these delicious beans and enjoy them.

So there's a little culture/history/fairtrade lesson about cocoa for you today.....

Cocoa by the Cup

1 cup whole milk
1 rounded Tbsp. cocoa
1 level Tbsp. sugar (sugar in the raw)
a dollop of freshly whipped cream

Whisk first 3 ingredients together in sauce pan. Cook over medium-high heat until hot stirring occasionally.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

More on Belize and Coca Cola

Check out these pictures celebrating 50 years of Coca Cola in Belize. I particularly like the very traditional-looking ones and how they incorporate a modern twist of Coca Cola. But my favorite one is the cowboy.

Subsidy Satire - Letter from a West Texas Constituent

Today in class we discussed farm subsidies and how they affect the economy. Here's a little subsidy satire to think on....
Letter from a West Texas Constituent
By J.B. Lee, Jr.
March 20, 1963

The Honorable Ed Foreman
House of Representatives
Congressional District #16
Washington 25 D.C.

Dear Sir,

My friend over in Terebone Parish received a $1,000 check from the government this year for not raising hogs. So I am going into the not-raising hogs business next year.
What I want to know is, in your opinion, what is the best kind of farm not to raise hogs on and the best kind of hogs not to raise? I would prefer not to raise Razorbacks, but if that is not a good breed not to raise, I will just as gladly not raise any Berkshires or Durocs.
The hardest work in this business is going to be in keeping an inventory of how many hogs I haven’t raised.
My friend is very joyful about the future of his business. He has been raising hogs for more than 20 years and the best he ever made was $400, until this year, when he got $1,000 for not raising hogs.
If I can get $1,000 for not raising 50 hogs, then will I get $2,000 for not raising 100 hogs? I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself down to 4,000 hogs which means I will have $80,000 coming from the government.
Now another thing: these hogs I will not raise will not eat 100,000 bushels of corn. So will you pay me anything for not raising 100,000 bushels of corn not to feed the hogs I am not raising?
I want to get started as soon as possible as this seems to be a good time of year for not raising hogs.
One thing more, can I raise 10 or 12 hogs on the side while I am in the not-raising-hog-business just enough to get a few sides of bacon to eat?

Very truly yours,
J.B. Lee, Jr.
Potential Hog Raiser

Of Globalization, Belize, and Coca Cola


In his book, Home Cooking in the Global Village: Caribbean Food from Buccaneers to Ecotourists, Richard Wilk focuses his discussion on how food and globalization have affected Belize throughout its history. He argues that perhaps there are two opposing factors at work in globalization, factors that are not unique to Belize. He points out that there is "a revival of ethnic pride and identity" while at the same time Belize is becoming "more and more Americanized every year" (23). Then he asks, "[w]hat if the intensification of local cultural identity, and increased adoption of foreign imported culture are really part of the same process, two sides of the same coin?" (23).

When pondering Wilk's question, I thought of Coca Cola. Wilk brings out how the logo is one of the "most prominent symbols of globalization" (5). Invented in Atlanta, Georgia, Coca Cola first came on the scene in 1886 and is now sold in every country except two. This iconic American beverage has definitely become a global phenomenon. But that doesn't mean the standard drink is the same everywhere. Almost every country has its own unique spin on the flavor. And you can sample them at The World of Coca Cola in Atlanta.

After a bit of research, I still couldn't find what Belize's specific flavor is. However, what I did find out is that Belizans mix Coca Cola with rum. Wilk mentions that a regular drink among the buccaneers was a "hot or cold punch made from mixing rum with water, sugar and some kind of flavoring" (44). Perhaps this modern Cola-rum mixture is a carry over from the drink preferences of the buccaneers and pirates who settled in Belize way on back in the 1600s.

So back to the two-sided coin globalization question.... Is there any supporting evidence to say that globalization is a combination of two opposite factors working together? Considering that Coca Cola is sold globally, that nearly every country has its own flavor, and that Belize makes a Cola-rum mixture reflecting its past, I would say yes. At first glance, "intensification of local identity, and increased adoption of foreign imported culture" may seem to contradict each other, but perhaps they complement each other more than it appears on the surface.

*All text and page references from Home Cooking in the Global Village: Caribbean Food from Buccaneers to Ecotourists are taken from the paperback English edition (2007) published by Berg*

Thursday, January 16, 2014

To Feed or not to Feed: Breastfeeding is the Question

What do you think of breastfeeding in public? Is it acceptable? How about at home? Did your opinion charge based on where the baby is fed? If so, why did it change?

Culture is one framework that constructs our view of breastfeeding as appropriate or inappropriate based on the place of feeding. What does the view of breastfeeding say about the culture that constructed it?

To answer the question, let’s examine the view of breastfeeding in two countries, The United States of America and Mali. What does the view reflect about American and Malian culture in general?

The American View of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding in public is not widely accepted in America. Mothers are told to go to the bathroom to feed their babies and pump milk. In a recent NBC News article, “Pumped up:Breastfeeding mothers fight for rights at work,” Allison Yarrow, a NBC News contributor, writes about one mother’s experience going back to work after having a baby. Bobbi Bockoras “planned to pump breast milk during breaks so she could continue nursing her infant daughter…” The Affordable Care Act (ACA) gives mothers the right to pump at work “in a clean, private, non-bathroom space,” but her supervisors told her to go to the bathroom instead. She ended up pumping in a dirty locker room and with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) filing a law suit…. To make a long story short, the locker room got tidied up, giving the mother her “clean, private, and non-bathroom space.”

While breastfeeding mothers encounter opposition, advertising from clothing stores, several magazines, and countless films that show much more skin then a  covered woman nursing are readily allowed. Somehow the media is welcomed, while the mother and baby are frowned upon and sent away. Apparently showing skin is not at the heart and core of the issue as this ironic cultural juxtaposition points out.

So why does American culture view breastfeeding in this light? Are people just uncomfortable seeing it? Naturally inclined to think against it? Why such the avoidance?

Perhaps the rejection of breastfeeding in public reflects how American society may tend to view family – more specifically infant family members. They are regarded as an inconvenience, as something that gets in the way and takes up time that could be spent pursuing a degree or career. 

The Malian View of Breastfeeding

In her article, “More Than Nutrition: Breastfeeding in Urban Mali,” Anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler studied the cultural and social contexts surrounding breastfeeding in Farimabougou, Mali. Dettwyler points out, “[w]omen take babies and young children everywhere – to the market, to the fields, on visits to friends, to rural villages, even to work… the infants nurse, sleep, and play while their mothers sell food or other market items.” Dettwyler continues saying that, “even in the formal sector, returning to wage employment does not necessarily mean giving up breastfeeding.” That Malians view public breastfeeding as a culturally accepted norm is demonstrated by the lack of friction mothers encounter when feeding their babies in social and work environments.
What is it that makes public breastfeeding so accepted at the cultural level? What does this acceptance indicate about Malian society?

Maybe the acceptance of public breastfeeding shows how Malian society as a whole view babies and family. Dettwyler says the babies go wherever their mother does, and they are “welcome in almost any situation.” They are not seen as a bother or a time-depriving inconvenience.

Putting it all Together 

Now that we have explored the views of breastfeeding from two entirely different countries and contexts, and seen what the views reflect about each society as a whole, what do we think could be done to provide American mothers with an environment to breastfeed their babies free of discrimination from the workplace and society?

Friday, January 10, 2014

About That Last Post...


So there’s the finished product: my quesadilla with a side of apple slices. Not much to say in regards to how my lunch reflects my identity from a social, cultural, and economical standpoint right? Think again! 

Our everyday food choices actually do reflect our identity in several ways, including social, cultural, and economical aspects. Here I will discuss how that food image relates to my identity in those three ways and also explore what factors helped cultivate that identity.  

Social Identity: Food and Creativity 

I tend to be a creative person, and I express that creative side of me in a number of ways including but not limited to drawing, sewing, and even cooking.  Making quesadillas is fun for me because I can be creative and experiment with them. How would it taste with this spice instead of that one? Should I use a different cheese? 

My enjoyment of being in the kitchen started when I was very young. At just 2 ½ years old, my mom would sit me up on the kitchen counter and I would help stir the icing and ice the cupcakes… actually the icing was already mixed, but I didn’t know that. When I was 3 and 4 years old I would stand on the kitchen stool and help make biscuits and other things. (I probably made more of a mess than anything else, but I had a great time “helping” and being with her in the kitchen). She always made it an enjoyable experience, and she encouraged my creativity. I believe these quality experiences at a young age (even if I don’t remember all of them because I was so young) influenced and formed my view of cooking as both an enjoyable activity and an outlet for creativity.  

Culture Identity: Where I’m From and the Choices I Make 

I was born and raised in the South, and I’m an American all the way through. How is that reflected by my meal? How did a dish with Mexican origins get on my plate?

First, other countries have influenced food in America. There are even ethnic aisles in grocery stores devoted to the different types of food from various countries. When I make quesadillas, I know they are of Mexican origin, but I have “adopted” them into my American identity.

Also, living in America has afforded me freedom and several opportunities that I am very grateful for. For starters, my pantry and fridge aren’t empty, and I don’t have to walk miles to find food and water. I can just hop in my car and drive to a nearby grocery store where hundreds of food items are readily available. I have the freedom to choose what I want to eat. I’m not limited to what I find that day, or only what I grow in a garden.  

This convenience and freedom to choose anything off the grocery shelf reminds me of the salad bar in Melissa Salazar’s photo essay “Salad Days: A Visual Study of Children’s Food Culture.” At lunchtime, the school children choose anything they wanted from the salad bar to construct their salad. After the children went through the line, the researchers snapped a photo of their salad. They were quite creative and made some rather “usual...combinations of food.” Like the children, I go through the fridge or “salad bar” pick what I want, and create something with what I’ve selected. 

Economical Identity:  Working with What I Have 

When I make my quesadillas, I work with the ingredients I have on hand in the fridge and pantry. And I don’t like to waste food, so at times I use leftovers in my quesadillas. In the one shown in the picture, I used the extra meat and black beans leftover from a Mexican casserole made for dinner the night before. This quesadilla then reflects my economic choices when it comes to food. 


That’s how my meal reflects my identity socially, culturally, and economically. Have you thought about how your meal choices reflect your identity lately??