Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Alyshia Gálvez's "Eating NAFTA"

Alyshia Gálvez is a cultural and medical anthropologist and starting in the Fall of 2019 will be a professor of food studies and anthropology at The New School. Her books include Patient Citizens, Immigrant Mothers Mexican Women, Public Prenatal Care and the Birth Weight Paradox (2011) and Guadalupe in New York: Devotion and the Struggle for Citizenship Rights among Mexican Immigrants (2009).

Gálvez applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Eating NAFTA: Trade, Food Policies, and the Destruction of Mexico, and reported the following:
A reader interested in grasping the basic argument of Eating NAFTA: Trade, Food Policies and the Destruction of Mexico would be well-served by opening to page 99. Page 99 falls in the middle of chapter 4, “NAFTA: Free Trade in the Body,” and on that page, I explain how NAFTA represents a much more drastic change to the food system in Mexico than any prior technological or economic innovations did.

While every historical phase following European conquest and colonization of the Americas implied a march away from indigenous foodways and systems for food production and distribution, none of those prior changes threatened the centrality of a corn-based diet for Mesoamerican people. Even though the Spanish, and later, criollo elites and even modernizing revolutionaries favored wheat over corn and greater consolidation and mechanization of agricultural production, corn and corn tortillas, especially, continued to make up the bulk of the diet of the vast majority of Mexicans well into the 1990s. Small-scale corn production continued to ease economic transitions, modernization, and urbanization, feeding the bulk of the working class and peasant populations in times of change.

NAFTA, however, not only resulted in a massive shift away from small-scale agriculture (discontinuing state programs for subsidizing and supporting distribution of agricultural products) but favored the expansion of industrial food production, distribution and retail. On page 99, readers will learn that Oxxo, a chain of convenience stores owned by Coca Cola subsidiary Femsa, opened its 14,000th store in 2015 and an average of 3 new stores per day, and that for every one that opened, 5 small scale “tiendas” closed. Oxxo, Soriana and Walmart are the main retail food sellers in Mexico, overtaking a food landscape previously dominated by farmers’ markets and food distributors of unprocessed foods. This is not only an expansion of consumption, bringing brand-named snacks and beverages into the reach of Mexicans across the republic, even in geographic locations formerly neglected by industrial food distribution systems, but also a transformation of consumption, making Mexicans some of the world’s leading consumers of soda and processed foods. This is not without consequences: the public health implications of this transformation, including the precipitous rise of Diabetes to number one killer in Mexico, are the subject of much of the rest of my book.
Visit Alyshia Gálvez's website.

--Marshal Zeringue