Finally starting a blog! My first focus will be my trip to Chiapas, where I arrived today to explore the role of food aid in changing food cultures and the process by which populations adopt the norms of dominant groups.
Like many parts of the world, Mexico does not have a strong tradition of milk consumption. Cattle was introduced by the Spanish, but during the colonial era milk consumption did not spread to much of the country, which remained largely indigenous. Current American and European cultural and economic influence is quickening a shift to dairy-rich diets. During my trip, I aim to look at the role of food aid in this process.
Since the 1940s, the Mexican government has been subsidizing the distribution of milk to vulnerable populations, especially children and pregnant or nursing mothers. Around the world, milk distribution has been a hugely significant driver of cultural changes around milk consumption, serving to normalize milk as part of one’s daily diet. This process is especially apparent today in East and South-East Asia.
Chiapas is a largely indigenous state in the south of Mexico that has had relatively little integration into “Mestizo” Mexican culture. It is undeniable that Western consumption habits have recently gained a firm hold in Mexico and processed foods and animal products are very prevalent. Mexico has even surpassed the US in per capita soda consumption – and has the diabesity numbers to show for it. Whether Mexico is therefore still a good place for this study is a question I’ll have to answer – has dairy already become completely normal and commonplace?
For now, my sense is that along with the colonization of local food systems by Big Ag, the positioning of dairy as a dietary cornerstone is still unfinished business. And so far, anecdotal evidence seems to confirm this. For example, a woman who has worked in Chiapanecan communities told me of seeing indigenous women give donated milk to their dogs, because “they don’t drink milk”. In San Francisco, I interviewed a young migrant from Yucatan who related how his mom started pushing him to drink milk when he was around the age of 18, for only then had she become exposed to public messaging regarding its importance.
Like other populations that do not traditionally consume milk, indigenous Mexicans have high rates of lactose intolerance. Given this, the heavy focus on milk in social programs raises further questions on ethnocentrism, normativity and the relationship of people to the norms of dominant groups. I’ll start to explore all if this here!
Welcome, and feel free to contact me with your questions and feedback.