I teach a webCT class on Consurmer Culture and Identity
and one of the students, who is currently living in Albania,
uploaded some photos to the course website. One was a
photo of road construction and the poor infrastructure of
a downtown area in Albania, but what caught my eye was
the hive of activity going on at a street corner. Vegetables
for sale, food sellers, the shoppers looking over what could
become their supper. In an otherwise what many in the West
would consider a drab or even shabby environment, the colour
and vitality of the food literally jumped out at you.
That moment in the everyday life of some street corner in
reminded me of Atlixco, a small town a the foot of
the volcano Popocatapetl in the Puebla State of Mexico
where last June I spent 3 weeks. Like
, the small Albania
villages, towns and countryside around the city of
(1.4 m people) are poverty-stricken. Atlixco is increasingly
becoming the place for the wealthy of Puebla to snap up
Away from the gated communities that insulate those with
money, there is lots of garbage strewn everywhere.
The roads are constantly in a state of being repaired. There
are lots of buildings in various stages of decay--many in
everyday use despite the seeming rundown look to them.
A beautiful decay that challenges the notion of progress.
~ a door to someone's home in Atlixco ~
Yet the food that crossed my path as I traveled around Cholula,
Atlixco, Tlaxcala, or Cuetzalan was healthier and fresher than
anything I can find off the grocery store shelves here in
. I don't recall seeing much packaging. You had to
bring your own bags.
I had meal upon delicious meal in my 3 weeks, going to tiny
restaurants, some which were little more than a tarp over
a concrete cubby, plastic resin chairs, and modified barrels
for cooking on the spot. Even then, a TV up in the corner,
turned on. Small pickups would pull up and deposit the day's
fresh veggies for the cook/s ~ owners. I ate restaurant food
that has no equal in
. If you are ever in Canada be sure Puebla
to have Chicken Poblana, made from chocolate.
The people of
invented it. Puebla
~ La China Poblana Restaurant in Puebla City
Some of the food sellers in Atlixco are actually found outside
the market; the ones who can't afford to pay the price of a
stall or table. Most were women; lots were elderly women.
They just set up on the sidewalk, wherever they could find
an opening to lay out a sheet of plastic and display
These two photos I took directly across from each other.
The indigenous women selling their produce while, looking
down at them, an over-sized fashion billboard of blonde
babes crisscrossed with the power lines photographers
usually try to avoid getting into shots so as not to
"ruin the view" with the realities of real life living.
In Cholula and Atlixco you can't avoid seeing
the workings and problems of life.
Our Western excessively processed diet, controlled by the
food industry and agrochemical corporations, is a pitiful
excuse for food in comparison to the bounty of many much
poorer peoples' daily fare. Michael Pollan does great
investigative journalism on food in his new book
In Defense of Food (you can read the introduction to his
book on his website). Of course, the traditional foods
and eating habits of peoples in
is a complex site Mexico
with much variance, including class, use and dumping of
pesticides, labour exploitation, etc. And food (in)security
is a huge issue. Not having any food to eat at all
(this is exacerbated by neoliberal structural adjustment
policies that compel many nations to grow particular crops
for export markets, not what is traditionally grown or what
can feed local peoples). Also, there is lots of junk food
moving in everywhere, too.
But the idea of food as culture, as part of everyday life,
where one shops for food and exchanges conversation rather
than racing through a till and harried, driving home in a
rushhour, is still apparent. Food is not reduced to simply 'diet'
or 'nutrition' or 'healthy eating lifestyles', but is actually a
cultural practice, a part of what you do socially every day --
and you enjoy it.
~ a restaurant in Cholula where one lazy afternoon
Abetha, Adialuz and I were the only patrons ~
I sometimes spent entire afternoons sitting in restaurants
eating with friends, enjoying a cold Negra Modelo. Of course,
this shows my privilege of money + leisure + time + elite
education as I was in
for a 3wk summer institute on Puebla
globalization and women's rights held at the
Universidad de las Americas Puebla, the most expensive
university in ALL of Latin
--all expenses paid America
by York U research grant monies. Sigh. It can be seductive
to participate in relations of inequality.
So, one cannot discount the work that goes into growing
that food, or shopping for that food, or preparing that food,
or cleaning up after making that food. Someone has to do
the work of food. It takes a lot more time to eat healthy.
Oftentimes, the bulk of the work of food has fallen on
women, particularly in so-called
They are often the ones who do the most dangerous work
with chemicals, too, in the plantations for export crops.
That definitely has to be redressed, as well as the
imbalance of privileged people being able to 'drop into'
disadvantaged peoples' everyday lives.
But moving away from convenience, processed and
prepared foods, packaged foods, and other corporate
creations that have seduced us into destructive and
unhealthy relationships with food -- never mind the
junk food and food-like products (i.e. non-food that never
rots) -- asks much more of a person than simply more
time. It asks you to pay attention to how the food was
produced and the effects of that on the environment
and people. Many of us would rather not know the
stories behind the food we buy, or our role in reproducing
inequalities, injustices, and environmental degradation.