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‘Life in Debt’ is an ethnography set in Santiago, Chile by the anthropologist Clara Han. Han uses Political Economy theory to trace the influential trails that were lain down during the years of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990) and then furthered by increasing global economic interest in Chile. In my first essay I analysed how these economic and political decisions have become embedded in society over the passing years, along with a brief critique of the limitations of Political Economy theory. The following essay is an elaboration of this criticism, where I will apply two contemporary theoretical approaches to Han’s ethnography in the hope of divulging a larger picture of understanding of the how and why behind today’s socio-cultural constructs. My first approach is ‘multiculturalism’ because the influences at work are not limited to politics and economics – instead there is an array of factors that have arisen due to the shrinking physical and metaphorical borders of nations. The second is ‘feminist anthropology’ due to the fact that Han’s data is thick with gender roles and distinctions that impact upon the societal structure.
It is worth describing in more detail what life is like in La Pincoya, the section of Huechuraba where Han bases her participant-observations. To do this, I draw upon my own experiences in the field. I live in a suburb called Recoleta, which is joined to Huechuraba on its north-east side. I visit Huechuraba regularly because it is the home of my partner Luis’ family, some of whom live in La Pincoya and others who live on its periphery. Huechuraba and Recoleta share many of the same characteristics, and some of these may be evident in other suburbs of Santiago or even cities of the world (Bourgois, 1995: 29). Unlike Recoleta which is uniformly the same, La Pincoya is like an island in the middle of two distinctly wealthier areas: the business sector which is comprised of tall towers, apartment blocks and offices of international businesses, and Pedro Fontova Norte, a leafy residential section with gated and well-kept streets. Both La Pincoya and Recoleta contain ramshackle and badly-constructed houses, roads in ill condition and regular issues with flooding, water quality and electricity. Drugs are prevalent and many streets house dealers who sell cocaine and pasta base, the latter of which is a big problem but is relatively unheard of by those who come from wealthier backgrounds (I have met many people who were oblivious to its existence). Han points out that life in these areas is communal, with interconnectedness across a wider field of relationships, and this is correct (2012: 33). Neighbours can often be seen sitting together on their door steps and talking, or enjoying street parties during national holidays and football matches. The small stores which pepper the streets every few blocks (and sometimes group together in friendly competition) become places of regular social activity for residents (and as a result the service is slow). La Pincoya and Recoleta are generally considered to be poor and dangerous by other people, most notably because of the flaitestreet culture that is typical of low-income neighbourhoods. This construct was unheard of a generation ago and its roots can be traced back to the economic conditions that Pinochet advanced. Much of Han’s research concerns it, however she does not expand on it much despite it being hugely relevant to a conversation about La Pincoya. The flaite world has many participants and it directly relates to multiculturalism, so it is here that I will begin my new analysis of Han’s data.
The anthropologist Arjun Appadurai stated that anthropology faces a “changing social, territorial and cultural reproduction of group identity. As groups migrate, regroup in new locations, reconstruct their histories and reconfigure (…) ethnography [thus] takes on a slippery, nonlocalized quality” (1996 in Morris, 2015: 1). Actors now found themselves in a world that changed rapidly and, through globalisation, was filled with interaction and exchange (Inda & Rosaldo, 2002 in Morris, 2015: 1). Therefore, anthropology had to evolve to understand culture as something that was constructed and reproduced through unintended actions, both stabilizing and negotiable (Moore & Sanders, 2006: 17-18). Appadurai began by changing anthropological terminology to suit the new requirements. Ethnography became an ‘ethnoscape’ because its link to the word ‘landscape’ evokes connotations of ambiguity (Morris, 2015: 1). The influence of both high and low technologies was recognized as the ‘technoscape’ while ‘finanscape’ followed the hard-to-trace trail of economic capital (Morris, 2015: 1). The effect of these ‘scapes’ is known as ‘deterritorialization’ whereby detachment from location also detached the actor from identity (Morris, 2015: 1). The theorist Ghassan Hage writes that his guiding philosophy as a multiculturalist theorist is “how do humans struggle to make their lives viable (…) understanding people from their point of view” without resorting to any politics (1998 in Morris, 2015: 2).
Hage uses the term ‘passive belonging’ to categorize the way people construct their identities through such things as nation and culture (Morris, 2015: 4). Passive belonging refers to the feeling of belonging to a nation, rather than the idea that the nation is one’s own (Morris, 2015: 4). The word ‘passive’ is interesting here, as it belies the idea of quiet acceptance, or that a person’s voice is not loud enough to be heard by control systems. Its opposite is ‘governmental belonging’ whereby the actor feels entitlement and ownership over the nations (Morris, 2015: 4). Applied to La Pincoya, there are two types of belonging that are visible. Many people belong passively by accepting their position at the lower end of society, and an example of this can be found in Han’s introduction. It is the night of September 11 (the anniversary of the coup d’etat), and residents are waiting for the yearly confrontation with police (2012: 1). Bonfires are ready to be lighted and the streets are lined with people waiting for the arrival of the police so that protests can begin (Han, 2012: 2). However, that year (2005) the police did not come. The general feeling of disappointment permeated the air, as if the protest could not go ahead with the police audience. This is an example of passivity, because the protest did not have meaning unless it was given meaning by the state. The protest was a “performance”, “fear was mixed with a sense of the formulaic”, waiting for the “choreography dance of bullets, tear gas” (Han, 2012: 1-2).
The Flaites, however, belong in an aggressive way that is akin to governmental belonging. These are people with little regard for rules, who embrace anarchy as their right after years of inflicted wrongs. We get a glimpse of this when during the same September 11 commemoration, “a few youths began to laugh and fire pistols in the air” (Han, 2012: 2). As a result of these two conflicting belonging types, the feeling of deterritorialization is exaggerated, which then forces people to find some way of identifying themselves. Belonging to a low social class or a type of social construct such as the flaite phenomenon, becomes “a mobilizing concept (…) to define their distinctiveness within an increasingly global and globalized world” (Moore & Sanders, 2006: 18).
The passive nature of La Pincoya’s residents can be linked to the political, such as the devastating memories left behind after the dictatorship, and the economic, such as the push and pull of capitalism. People are held entrenched within class systems that are a direct result of both, as Han correctly observed, but globalisation, and therefore multiculturalism, had their part to play too. For example, much of Chile’s slang is borrowed from English (“did you catch that?” became “cachai?”) and there are certain elements of flaite culture that can be traced to European culture. For example, the standard dress includes sports labels, running shoes and tracksuits in a similar vein to Britain’s ‘chavs’, whom they also share similar social characteristics with. Further, the term flaite has been linked to the English ‘fly’, which in Spanish is volar, a word that refers to the ‘high’ of drugs, also a common denominator of of flaites and England’s chavs (Han, 2012: 243).
In Hage’s terms, borrowing from other cultures can be viewed as the process of enrichment (in Morris, 2015: 3). To illustrate, Hage gives the example of White Australians who, by placing themselves at the centre of Australian belonging, can “walk around and enrich themselves” with what they want from multicultural offerings (1998 in Morris, 2015: 3). The flaites in La Pincoya operate in a similar way, although against the other classes of Santiago. They want to buy many of the same commodities, such as Kevin’s desire for a car or Senora Flora’s purchase of stereos and televisions. This enrichment through purchasing power reveals the overwhelming presence that capitalism has over the residents of La Pincoya, and this is furthered by what Hage labels as the “Crisis for Hope’ (Morris, 2015: 6). This arises from the effect of globalisation, which places the Western world as a modern, better ‘other’ for many of the residents of La Pincoya (Moore & Sanders, 2006: 18). “Dreams of social mobility [are] one of the main modes of hoping” Hage writes, and this transfers into “cultural capital” that becomes embodied in identity (2000 in Morris, 2015: 6). Han notes that for the people of La Pincoya, commodities are linked with identities (‘domestic relations’, 2012: 33) or connected to labour capital (‘Kevin and the Car’, 2012: 35), or a driving push towards drugs (‘pasta base’, 2012: 35). Acquiring status through commodities is also evident in uniform purchasing, with things such as clothes (see flaite dress above) or house-related items. Han points out that many of La Pincoya’s residents are in debt to department stores (2012: 31) while burglaries are a fact of life and often attributed to flaite culture. Such examples highlight the fact that multiculturalism, globalisation and political economic approaches are not secular but interconnected, and this connection must be utilised to provide a more detailed ethnoscape of La Pincoya.
Feminist Anthropological Approach
One of the approaches that would be beneficial would be a closer look at domestic dynamics, particularly because Han devotes much attention to men, women and offspring in her ethnography. Previous anthropological accounts have been labelled as considerably ‘androcentric’ or restricted to the gaze of the male anthropologist upon the male actors (Feminist Anthropology, Morris, 2012: 4). Han differs because much of her participation-observation occurs with the family matriarch, Senora Flora, and she includes in her gaze the relationships between Senora Flora and her spouse Rodrigo, as well as other couples within the wider family. This is an obvious foray into feminist anthropology because it takes into account how domestic relations can affect things like identity and culture, while also showing that it joins into a discussion of politics and economics in a web of connections.
Women, according to the feminist anthropologist Michelle Rosaldo, have traditionally been based in the home because a good portion of their adult lives is taken up by child rearing, thereby placing women in a domestic sphere more than in any other (1974 in Feminist Anthropology, Morris, 2015: 7). The home, therefore, appears throughout Han’s work because, as the anthropologist Janet Carsten affirms, “Kinship is made in and through houses and houses are the social relations of those who inhabit them” (in Han, 2012: 15). Han writes that the houses are referred to as ‘houses of blood’ because the relations contained within anoint them with extreme importance (2012: 16). Women in their roles as sisters, mothers, daughters and friends, sustain the house to strengthen the relationships not only within but outside the house as well – with neighbours – and the forging of these close bonds helps all the residents to “mitigate the forces of economic precariousness” (Han, 2012: 16). It was close connections such as these that allowed Han to integrate so successfully into what is generally regarded as a tight-knit, untrusting and wary community. In 1999, Han was invited into the poblacion through a meeting with a “feminist activist”, and she then followed a trail of female relationships that ultimately lead her to Senora Flora’s family: “through her daughter I met Ruby, and through Ruby I met Susana (…) they introduced me to their intimate kin, friends and immediate neighbours” (Han, 2012: 16). She was accepted readily because each member before on the trail had trusted her, and this in turn allowed her to become privy to sensitive information. Han engaged in “everyday activities such as helping to sew, looking after children, doing the laundry, learning how to wire a doorbell or rig an electricity meter” (2012: 17). She didn’t just participate with the women, therefore, but with the men also. This is interesting because it allows one to speculate that the sway held by women in the community was strong enough for Han to be accepted by the men.
Henrietta Moore wrote that “feminist anthropology has gone beyond an anthropology of women in many ways” at the very least because by nature it included a whole realm of other strata (Lewin, 2006: 20). We witness this when Han introduces us to Leticia and the possibilities contained within the female role. In Chapter Four Han explain that under the leadership of Salvador Allende (in power before Pinochet), there “advanced a ‘double celebration’ of women’s class militancy and their unique roles as mothers” (2012:132). Some critics have argued that this splits women into restraining categories, and Han writes that, while the advancement of women as mothers and militants is striking, it also highlights the limitations in place by sexuality (2012: 132). Leticia, a woman who was exiled to Argentina in 1987 for being a female militant, and who was separated from her from her children until 1995, is a good case in point (Han, 2012: 129-131). She suffers from what she terms the “neoliberal depression” due to self-inflicted feelings of guilt towards her children, and this sees her “speak in a language that the others do not understand; not even my own children understand me” (Han, 2012: 130). It is thus difficult for Leticia to reconcile her two roles as militant and mother, because she had chosen to take on both the traditionally feminine and the traditionally masculine role at the same time (Han, 2012:132). Han explains that men and women are defined by roles that work together to give life to the “sovereign in different, but conjoined ways” (2012: 133). Men are the figurative heads of the households, while women are pulled towards both state and their husbands (2012: 134). Her role also has the ability to directly affect the male because his role as head of the household is not always fixed, for example he may be prevented “from being a proper head of household by [the giving of] illegitimate children” (2012: 134). Further, while reproduction is considered as the way to be a good citizen for a woman, for a man it is likewise, “the certainty of paternity becomes a crucial aspect of political community” (Han, 2012: 134).
The intimate concerns of Leticia from a mothers perspective allows us to come full circle and tie in with the previous sections. Due to concern with the negative connotations behind La Pincoya life and flaite culture, many mothers are praying for sons who are ‘caseros’ or homebodies, rather than men of the street, or caballeros Han, 2012: 16). A great degree of responsibility is placed upon the mother for how her children – particularly her sons – succeed. Leticia cries, “look at all my children (…) Julieta did not finish high school (…) Johnathan lost everything (…) there is no case to be made [for the little ones] they had to repeat a year in high school” (Han, 2012:136). Rather than place blame upon factors such as public education which is admittedly of low calibre (and is frequently in the press as the subject for protest), or the push and pull power of things such as social pressure and media, Leticia blames herself: “the only thing that unites all the children is the mother, and I say, perhaps, it was I who the cause. I failed” (Han, 2012: 136). These feelings of blame and guilt provide good opportunities for further study into identity constructs, and particularly how it ties into the Chilean views of the education system, thus proving that it is a multi-faceted issue and certainly not limited to gender.
The above has been my attempt at reworking Han’s data in a way that helps provide a more detailed picture of life in La Pincoya. Rather than approach her work with a radically different theoretical framework that would perhaps downplay the role of political economy, I have endeavoured to instead place further rungs on the metaphorical ladder, in the hope of bringing us closer to the top. It would be impossible to ignore the importance that the political and economical have had on the formation of the superstructure, but likewise the consideration of other impacts is necessary. Multiculturalism and globalisation have been directly involved in the construction of identity, particularly for their role in the making of a new construct, flaite street culture. Further, this also relates to the political and economic landscapes in a way that can only be described as interconnected. Feminist anthropology, on the other hand, takes us into the home rather than the street, by helping us to know the inhabitants of La Pincoya and the domestic relations within. This is not a world separated from the state, however. Instead, it impinges in “multiple ways (…) layered into people’s lives” as the case of Leticia highlights (Han, 2012:17). Therefore, these two new theoretical approaches have only served to strengthen the bonds between capitalism and those structures which influence identity, culture, tradition and memory. I close here with the affirmation that ‘Life in Debt’ is an exhaustive treasure chest of anthropological insight, it’s only limitation being the same one that confronts all anthropologists, namely, how can one seek an answer to a question when it is hopelessly intertwined with a score of others?
Word Count (inclusive of titles and references): 3239
Bourgois, Phillippe (1995). “From Jibaro to Crack Dealer: Confronting the Restructuring of Capitalism in El Barrio”. In Jayne Schneider and Rayna Rapp (eds), Articulating Hidden Histories: Exploring the Influence of Eric R. Wolf. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 125-141
Han, Clara (2012). Life in Debt: Times of Care and Violence in Neoliberal Chile. University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
Moore, Henrietta L and Todd Sanders (2006). Anthropology in Theory: Issues in Epistemology. Maiden MA: Blackwell Publishing, pp 1-21.
Morris, Carolyn (2015). “Lecture 11: Multicultralism-Hage”. “Lecture 12: Feminist Anthropology. In 146.213Anthropological Enquiry. School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Massey University, Palmerston North: extramural.
Wolf, Eric R (1982). Introduction. Europe and the People Without History. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 3-23.
Flaite is not a self-identified term. It is the general term attributed by the residential majority however it often has negative connotations due to its association with drugs and crime. They refer to themselves as chorizos however this is little-used by outside actors. Due to the fact that flaite is the majority-used definition and given that the negative connotations are a necessary part of the identifiable construct, I will continue use the term.
It was difficult for me to decide on a ritual to observe here in Chile given that there are so many religious or secular options from which to choose. In the end I chose to closely observe my son’s first birthday party celebration. I am in the advantageous position of being in a relationship with a Chilean man, which has meant that I am lucky enough to be intimately acquainted with Chile´s foreign customs and rituals, all of which were adhered to at the birthday party. The following is my observation as a participant, focusing on numerous aspects such as colors and symbols, in addition to an analysis of their wider cultural significance. I have also included how aspects of the New Zealand culture were included and received, as well as touching on the elements of Dieciocho which were also present.
The party was held in Emiliano Zapata in the Santiago suburb of Recoleta at the beginning of Fiestas Patrias (national celebration-see below). Recoleta is a working class area that is notable for its growing immigrant population, namely from Palestine, China and Peru. It is best known for the cheap shopping district of Patronato, which includes the La Vega central market, and the national cementary. It is a gritty, dusty area with few trees or grassy areas, but does have a large population of street dogs. In wider Santiago, Recoleta is located to the north, above the colonial centre with the Plaza de Armas, while to the east are the more affluent sectors. In these areas, one passes through what is affectionately named ‘Sanhatten’ because of its skyscrapers and shopping malls. The more east of the city one travels, the wealthier the people become, and there are gated communities and mansions. There exists in Santiago a high regard for hertiage: the wealthier inhabitants pride themselves on their German or Spanish ancestry to the point where a ‘classist’ attitude has evolved. Recoleta, which was traditionally an indigenous area, is generally regarded as a poor suburb. The houses on Emiliano Zapata are a mix of bungalows and apartment blocks, with barred windows, high gates, barbed wire and guard dogs. When I first arrived in Recoleta, I noticed only the smell and the broken footpaths and potholes, but after some time here I see the efforts the locals go to, to show their originality. Many paint their houses bright colours, or paint regularly to maintain its condition. Others plant cactus or palm trees in the arid ground at the front of their doors. Each morning I look out my window and see a lady sweep the footpath near her house. Furthermore, the houses generally give very little away on the outside as to what lies inside, I have observed many a central courtyard and quite sprawling interiors. To describe the house at which the party was located, it is a two-storey building painted brown with no front door, only a black gate. There is no way to contact the inside except by calling or banging on the gate. On the ground floor is a store selling cleaning products that rents the space, and out the back there is a large yard that is also rented out as car parking spaces for people staying in the opposite flats. Upstairs is our open-plan, two bedroom home that also has a small patio. Directly ahead from here is a very large hill that is green when not obscured by smog, to the right are flats and to the left are a number of houses on the same property, shared by families living together. Our house is located several metres from an intersection that has several general stores and a newly opened Chinese takeaway.
The party was held because my son Emilio was turning one. As a mother, I wanted to have a party to celebrate Emilio being with us. I also wanted to enjoy the company of friends as it was only a year ago that I had to experience giving birth. It was also a great opportunity to invite alot of other babies over at the same time to meet Emilio. Therefore for me, the party was a way to bring everyone together and to socialize. My partner was a little hesitant about the demands upon him as a host (see below). However, his mother convinced him that the first birthday was an important time, for Emilio but also for the adults to take the time to enjoy him. This is understandable from either a Chilean or New Zealand cultural standpoint, but in our case especially so given that Emilio spent his first nine months with only me in New Zealand. Regardless, birthday parties are celebrated because the sociable nature of human beings means that additional meanings are placed upon the biological process of growth (Davies, 1994: 1). However, from a further anthropological standpoint, it is possible to consider my mother-in law’s eagerness for a celebration as a way to “reduce the fears that often come when life’s events threaten their security and sense of well-being”, due most likely to Emilio’s particularly international upbringing (Moro & Myers, 2010: 83). Typically in Chile, a birthday party includes a light evening meal called once that is often held around eight, however I was reluctant to prepare food given the differences in cooking between New Zealand and Chile. Here, women are trained from a young age to prepare traditional meals that are rarely deviated from, and as such, the standards are high. I did not learn to cook until I left home, and certainly not Chilean food, hence my aversion to cooking for a number of people. Therefore, four in the afternoon was chosen as it made a suitable compromise.
We invited an American friend of mine and her Chilean boyfriend, the (separated) parents of my partner Luis, Luis’ older brother and his wife, Luis’ younger brother, a friend and his family, another friend and his family, a friend from university and a neighbour and their little girl. In total there were twelve adults, two children, one toddler and four babies around the age of one. Two of these babies are the offspring of two of Luis’ best friends, Andre and Felipe. Luis, Andre and Felipe were born and raised on the same street in Recoleta called Victor Cuccuini, and have been close friends since a young age. Together they have shared all the big moments in life, and along with several other people, have a group nickname, ‘Toxicuccuini’. Their three children, all around the same age, have been labeled ‘los bebes cuccuinis’ and are frequently banded together. This relationship echoes the process coined by Victor Turner known as communitas, whereby by moving through similar life phases together, these three boys “brings about a sense of community and camaraderi … [with] close bonds and will usually remain close friends throughout their lives” (Stern, 2011: 89). Today, most of the members of the Toxicocuccuini group of friends still live on Victor Cuccuini.
As a secular not religious ritual, a birthday celebration is a curious thing. While there are no rigid rules to adhere to, most certainly they contain the “fundamental beliefs, values, and social foundations of a group” (Mono & Myers, 2010: 83). The process is circular: a birthday is a rite of passage, which is an ideological ritual that dictates ones place in society, of whose place is determined by both society and rite of passage (Mono & Myers, 2010: 84). In the case of this particular birthday party, there was certainly an undercurrent of battle between the cultural forces of Chile and New Zealand, both of which were trying to make their mark. Symbolically, a birthday is an important time in one’s journey through life, however the very first birthday appears to cement the future of the child as it marks a stable condition that is recognizable by ones culture (Turner, 1967: 94). In other words, the rite of passage is a transitory period whereby one has “shed their previous identification and place in society but have yet to take on the mantle of their new status” (Stern, 2011: 89). In the case of this birthday party, Emilio lost his status as a baby the moment the party began and instead entered into one of liminality (Stern, 2011: 89). Of the features identified by Victor Turner as most often present, I can confirm that there was evidence of a transitory state, absence of property as well as the strong camaraderie of a communita and the inference of a sacred-like attitude towards Emilio (Stein, 2011: 90).
To detail the order of events, the party began with the first arrival of guests around four (the American). The Chilean family members arrived at five, and I was told that “they came especially early as they know foreigners are punctual.” The friends of Luis arrived around six. Upon arrival, each person greeted with a kiss and a hug, asked how the other person was and presented a gift to myself. All the gifts were placed under the table as there was little other space to place them. Everyone took a seat around the living area and the babies were placed upon the floor, mostly watched by Felipe and Luis’ parents. The mothers mostly talked amongst themselves, and several of the men went outside onto the patio. The older children, Martin and Ignacio, played often out on the patio as well, and I remember that it was an unusually hot day. Inside, refreshments were provided over two tables. On the first table there was a very large cake modelled upon the children’s story book “Dear Zoo”. It had two levels, was yellow and had animal figures made out of the icing. On the cake was the name ‘Emilio’ and underneath on the cake board was the words, “Feliz 1st Cumple.” This cake received much attention throughout the afternoon with many of the children unable to believe that the animals were edible. Also on the table were mini cupcakes with blue icing, biscuits in the shape of Trucks with the number 1, sandwiches, a potato salad, cut up strawberries and pineapples, and muesli bars. Above the table were two birthday cards pinned to the wall, some balloons and an owl bunting with the letters of Emilio’s name. On the adjacent table were serviettes with Feliz Cumpleanos written on them, plastic spoons, plastic cups, straws and paper plates, along with bottles of Coke, water, beer and homemade Strawberry juice. I observed that the guests were reluctant to help themselves at the tables, and remained seated until all the guests had arrived. Luis then proceeded to take each plate around the room offering to each of the seated guests. He said that this was normal custom in Chile and that it is not normal to ‘help yourself.’ As a host, his job was to ensure that each guest had plenty to eat and drink, and as a result, barely sat down. Myself, as the other host, felt quite uncomfortable with this. Of the food, the cupcakes were eaten rapidly and so were strawberries dipped in chocolate.
In terms of symbols, there were two strands at work. As we have seen above, there were balloons, cards and a bunting with the infants name. There was also music played with both English and Spanish songs. However, it is important to mention that there were decorations in the house independent of the birthday. Dieciocho is a national holiday marking Chile’s independence, and is celebrated as a week of parties known as Fiestas Patrias (patriotic parties). During this time, each house is legally obligated to fly a Chilean flag outside their home, symbolizing that they are a nation together. However, this time is typically a joyful time for Chilean families, who enjoy trips to fondas (fairs), watch military performances such as aerial shows, eat asados (barbeques food) and dance the national dance, the cueca, while wearing traditional dress. Throughout the week, houses are decorated in the colours of the flag: red, blue and white. At the party, there were garlands and wreaths in these colours across several walls. There were also traditional cueca songs played that attracted cheers and clapping. Therefore, the attitude during the celebration was considerably patriotic.
The afternoon was spent talking amongst each other, however people stayed generally in specific groupings, with the men and women separate. Conversation revolved around the children and also the house (it had been newly decorated). The outside area was very popular. Around seven, it was time for the cake. Everyone came inside, and the door was closed, lights off. The cake remained on the table as it was heavy and a candle in the shape of a number one was lit on the top. Luis stood next to me and I held Emilio, while everyone else were around us. ‘Happy Birthday’ was sung in Spanish: “cumpleanos feliz/deseamos a ti/feliz cumpleanos Emilio/que los cumplas feliz/” which is literally translated as “happy birthday/we desire for you/happy birthday Emilio/have a happy birthday”. It was sung loudly and there was much clapping and cheering at the end. The cutting of the cake marked Emilio’s entry into the liminal stage, of “transition or marginality. The individual is neither one thing or another, but ‘betwixt and between’” (Bowie, 2006: 149). After a slice of cake was eaten, we began opening the presents. This act represented the postliminal, representing Emilio’s successful pass through liminality into a new state as a one year old (Bowie, 2006: 149). What I note as striking is that in the preliminal state, Emilio played happily with everybody but during the liminal he was held closely by his parents, specifically his mother. During the opening of the presents he was again held but this time by his father. At the conclusion of the present opening, Emilio crawled away himself and spent the rest of the evening with the older children of Luis’ friends. This is notable because these actions appear as partnered to the symbolism of the rite of passage. When Emilio had completed his part in the ceremony, he was independent enough to move away as an individual who had been “reintegrated into society, but in a transformed state” (Bowie, 2006: 149). The presents themselves were particularly extravagant, consisting of a swing, toys, clothing and sports items. Everyone watched the opening of the presents with heightened anticipation, there was clapping and the whole process was filmed (rather than just photos, which were taken throughout). This rapt attention is fitting given it was the last stage of Emilio’s rite of passage.
After this stage had been completed, several people left. The immediate family stayed and partook in once. This is a custom unique to Chile and has ambiguous roots. One legend says a long time ago, eleven ladies used to clandestinely get together to drink alcohol and their code word for organising was ‘once’. Today, it does not involve eleven ladies or alcohol and instead is similar to breakfast but taken in the evening. In Chile, breakfast is typically light while lunch (at two in the afternoon) is the main meal, however as more and more families are apart during the day, once has gained more importance as important family time. Usually, freshly baked bread (preservative free) called marrequetas are served warm with ham, cheese and sometimes either stuffed tomatoes or avocado. Mashed up avocado with lemon and lots of salt almost always accompanies once, along with a spicty tomato mix called pebre. However, on the night of Emilio’s birthday we ate empanadas that were made in next doors garage. Empanadas can be fried or baked in the oven depending on what kind of filling they have, and we had either prawn and cheese, cheese or meat fillings. This was the culmination of the evening, as we all sat together and reminisced about the afternoon. Emilio was getting irritable at this point and was ready for bed, which appeared to dampen the spirits of the grandfather who could not fathom the baby being tired. At the conclusion of the meal, goodbyes were made along with the obligatory goodbye cheek kiss.
In terms of the broader socio-cultural significance, the first birthday celebration in Chile is equal to the Catholic baptism ceremony and is usually performed around the same time. The celebration has meaning for the adults as it is akin to ones affirmation within a family. In this case, Emilio’s birthday was a special one as his Chilean family were not present through his early life. It was especially significant to his grandmother, Viviana, who admitted that she was so emotional about finally having a grandchild. In South America, mothers are highly regarded and particularly close with their children. It is usual to live with ones parents until marriage, and then to live nearby and visit regularly. The birthday party provided an ideal time for bonding as the parents were busy hosting and attempting to socialize without needing to constantly attend to their child. This was especially obvious after the present opening ceremony when Emilio wandered off with a sense of new independence. Furthermore, this new stage appeared to have a dramatic effect upon Emilio, who finished the night by standing alone for the first time in his life.
Humans, when encountering danger, always respond uniquely, particularly through the use of symbols which include everything from pictograms to language. (Stein, 2011: 56). The symbols used during the party represented the slight power struggle between the New Zealand and Chilean cultures that were vying for equal footing. Spanish was only spoken, the majority of the guests were Chilean, the birthday song that marked the liminal period was sung only in Spanish despite English-speakers being present, and there were considerable displays of patriotic behaviour. In my opinion, the Chilean influence was certainly strongest, perhaps encouraged by the fact that many of the decorations were presented in Chilean colours. This then evoked a patriotic attitude because they were arbitrary symbols that provoked a similar agreement and response in the people that had been conditioned to recognise them as such (Stein, 2011: 57). The playing of Spanish music and traditional songs also set the mood of the event (Stein, 2011: 70). In terms of the broader significance of singing Happy Birthday, it is interesting and poignant that music during a rite of passage has its roots in religious ritual, of which it is a key element, as it helps to give birthday celebrations importance (Stein, 2011: 70).
It has now been several days since the conclusion of the birthday party. The sense of communitas is still strong thanks to the constant presence of the internet. Photos have been ‘shared’, ‘liked’ and commented upon along with much reminiscing. Inside the home, the decorations have come down except for the patriotic colours of red, white and blue. As we approach the day of the eighteenth itself, there is a heightened feeling of expectancy in the air. Emilio seems like a different boy, trying to walk and talk only after his rite of passage. It is evident that just as behaviours are learned so too are the meaning of symbols, all of which make an appearance during a first birthday party – from the power of the cake with its symbolic cutting, to the opening of the presents and the cheering that accompanies a national song. As a ritual, the birthday is closely tied to these elements but also to more tangible components such as a family. I observed the celebration as a bonding experience for the wider family unit (including friends formed during previous communitas) that also allowed the parents to spend time away from their child. The child himself responded to this with delight and embraced a strong sense of independence after the postliminal period had concluded.
Bowie, Fiona. The Anthropology of Religion: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 138- 173. 2006.
Davies, Douglas. Rites of Passage. Edited by Jean Holm with John Bowker. London and New York: Pinter, pp.1-9. 1994.
Mono, Pamela and James Myers. Magic, Witchcraft and Religion: A reader in the Anthropology of Religion. 2010. New York: Mc Grow-Hill, pp.83-86.
Stein, Rebecca L. and Philip L. The Anthropology of Religion, Magic and Witchcraft. New Jersey: Pearson. 2011.
Turner, Victor. The Forest of Symbols. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, pp. 83- 111. 1967.
Food and Identity in Chile: the Relationship between Diet, Class and Economics
Attempting to generalise an entire nation’s diet and its impact upon one’s social and cultural identity is daunting, to say the least. The links between each factor are tangled like a giant spiders-web whose threads are small but sticky enough that they affect the others in multiple ways. It is when one steps back, however, that the greater picture can be seen. This essay called on me to make a choice between the type of identity I would focus upon but once I began writing I realised that there were no separate parameters upon which to focus, instead that many are in fact so related that they have become inter-connected. This is an idea that is supported by the theoretical framework suggested by French philosopher, Pierre Bourdieu, who pinpointed several locations from which to base a study around societal identity. This essay shall use his theories regarding field, habitus and capital to discern the relationship between gender, class and identity in Santiago, Chile. In order to narrow the scope, I shall be basing my findings around the general diet of the people, beginning with my chosen commodity, ultra heat treated milk (UHT), and the offshoots that it leads to.
Before beginning my analysis, it is necessary to first understand better the framework of Bourdieu. It exists as a certain way to ask questions and format our thinking during an investigation, and is a concept known as generative structuralism (Mahar, Harker & Wilkes, 1990:3). The genesis of generative structuralism is to discern how much of an identity is the product of one’s social structure at large, known as structure, and how much is derived from ones autonomous, independent choices, known as agency (Mahar, Harker & Wilkes, 1990: 1-3). Given that human life today consists of “complex political, social and philosophical – that is, shared – concerns”, the questions are driven by investigating the direction of one’s subjectivity (Mansfield, 2000, cited in Morris 2014). To explain this further, Mansfield writes that “Etymologically, to be subject means to be placed under. One is always subject to or of something. The word subject, therefore, proposes that the self is not a separate and isolated entity, but one that operates at the intersection of general truths and shared principles” (cited in Morris 2014). Bourdieu’s loci for analysis consist of the following areas for consideration. The first is the field, which can be better understood as a “field of forces” (Mahar, Harker & Wilkes, 1990: 8). These forces comprise of inner struggles enforced by actors who move around capital in order “to conserve or transform the field” (Bourdieu, 1983: 312). The actors entrance and subsequent role within the field is based upon ones knowledge, disposition and worldly understanding (Bourdieu cited in Mahar, Harket & Wilkes, 1990: 10-11). Positions in the field vary according to ones accrued capital which may be material or symbolic, and which gain status according to how sought after they are (Mahar, Harker & Wilkes, 1990: 10). It serves as a “basis of domination” that can be exchanged or converted into other types of capital, the most auspicious being symbolic (Mahar, Harker & Wilkes, 1990:10). Symbolic capital is regarded as the most important form of capital for it is here that all other types are recognised and accepted as legitimate (Mahar, Harker & Wilkes, 1990: 10). The movement of capital could therefore be described as an interplay between the physical and material into energy and status.
By choosing the word ‘field’, Bourdieu has likened one’s social topology to the competitive world of sport, and this is a useful allegory to understand what is generally considered a complicated term. Here Bourdieu relates this concept closer to the social sphere: “People play different games, which are autonomous, but at the same time, there are homologies between different games and, I think, there are general principles of the functioning of these games” (1985, cited in Mahar, Harker & Wilkes, 1990: 7). In simpler language, Bourdieu is suggesting that although one can and does make choices, in reality these choices are subjective structures which have pre-determined parameters. This directly relates to the food industry because, while it is true we can enter a supermarket or grow our own vegetables, what is offered is brought to us via an additional party. It is time to turn now to the situation in Chile, beginning with the trail set by the sale and consumption of UHT milk. UHT milk, as explained in my previous work, is the dominant form of milk drunk in Chile after replacing first raw then the pasteurised varieties. It has become a big business to the point whereby small providers are unable to compete, therefore making its field of sale very narrow. This field is driven by economic capital, as its actors seek to increase their monetary wealth. Of these, Nestle Chile and Fonterra-owned Soprole dominate the Chilean market and bring in billions of dollars annually. They sell a variety of dairy products from flavoured to diet, cheese to yogurt, all of which have been heavily processed using UHT while containing additives and preservatives. In addition, such methods of pasteurisation result in lowered nutritional value and, contrary to belief, remain at risk of contamination (Milk Facts, 2014, Harding, 1995: 118). Within this corporate field, therefore, very little consideration has been given into selling a product that is mostly beneficial to its consumers. Furthermore, Nestle Chile and Soprole have flooded the market with a multitude of options without any other competition. This has meant that the majority of dairy consumers in Chile have become entangled within the web of the economic field and as such are unconsciously forced into a limiting buying position.
Chileans have, in general, accepted this position and perhaps one reason for their complacency is due to the political field that has always been all-inclusive. There has been political unrest in Chile since the arrival of the Spanish, from 1537 onwards (Wikipedia 2014). Before then, the land was inhabited by warring Mapuche, among others, who are known for their resistance to the Inca, who were much larger in number. There has been much difficulty in uniting as a nation under an accepted leadership. In the 1970’s, Salvador Allende became president and began to transform the nation using socialist ideals, for example by increasing worker rights and nationalising Chilean companies. This was opposed by the United States, who funded campaigns to destabilize the Chilean nation (Wikipedia 2014). This resulted in a highly conflicted society, which alternated between extreme political viewpoints, made all the worse worse by crippling economics. In 1973, a military coup led by Agusto Pinochet overthrew the government of Allende and over the subsequent years human rights violations took place on a grand scale while at the same time suffering further economic crisis’. It is not difficult to conclude that emotional trauma was and still is fresh in the minds of many Chileans. In fact, many people that I spoke to in Santiago blame the governments of these years for unsafe business dealings that lead to contaminated milk being imported from Europe, resulting in a widespread drop in milk consumption. However, I have been unable to verify this information. The growth of Chile’s economy to one of international importance and a successful movement into democracy has lead to a feeling of trust towards the political field in general, along with an unconscious acceptance of business endeavours.
Sidney Mintz wrote that it is the economic and political fields such as the above who determine what is eaten, what is prized, what is disdained and the people whom are doing the consuming (1986: 185). This leads us now to a discussion regarding the social aspects that are affected by said structures. The question I asked myself is that there must be more to this story than the economic and the political, and there was. Researchers such as Ball (2004) explain that cultural, social and economic capital are at the apex of class structures, and its unequal access to them that maintains class distinctions (cited in Mellor, Blake & Crane, 2010: 118). Chile is a highly segregated society. My own research in the field has lead me to poorer middle class neighbourhoods such as Independencia, to upper middle class such as in Vitacura and finally inside the gated communities of the elite, who live in the outskirts such as in Lo Barnechea. There is a wide disparity between the economic capital available in these fields, however, the working and middle class attempt in a variety of ways to at least increase their social capital. This is achieved through a “particular set of social practices (…) [in order to] facilitate social and cultural capitals” (Mellor, Blake & Crane, 2010: 117). Increasing ones social capital is particularly serious in Chile because of its connection with other fields. Good jobs can only be given to those with degrees from certain universities, of which have fiercely strict entrance policies based upon the Pre-Universitario test taken in high school. This test is biased, however, because of the disparity between public and private education, the latter of which is exclusive and expensive. The elite keep themselves distinct from the other classes not only by economic and social capital, but by certain habitus perpetuated by said capital. For an example, the elite learn through the embodiment of certain habitus around them, such as by speaking a distinct form of Spanish known as ‘cuico’. In addition, because the elite have had sufficient capital to buy food they have had the option of choosing where they buy, and their drive for class distinction has resulted in them turning to places such as supermarkets for their options. Supermarkets have grown quickly in Chile and within them whole aisles are dedicated to processed foods such as UHT milk. As the elite began to support such businesses, so too did the rest of the social classes who turned to food as “a cultural realm where individuals can effectively engage in status displays” (Johnston & Baumann, 2007, cited in Mellor, Blake & Crane, 2010: 119).
Highlighting these practices allows for closer attention to be paid to gender. Chile was for a long time based upon traditional gender roles which saw the women remain at home to take care of the children and oversee the feeding of the family. The importance placed upon the woman to provide a food that does more than nourish infers that “it is an elaborate performance of gender, social class and identity” (Bourdieu, 1984, cited in Warin, Turner, Moore & Davies, 2007: 98). For this reason, the roles of men and women are kept strictly enforced, because “Feminine and masculine identities are not natural or given in biology, but must be constructed, and should be understood, therefore, as cultural achievements” (Moore, 1994: 42). Therefore, increasing ones social capital was made possible by emulating the buying practices of the elite, while at the same time enforcing one’s gender and status (Mellor, Blake & Crane, 2010: 116-117).
This then brings the cultural capital of Chile into the equation, particularly as food has always been “an important marker of identity (…) to demonstrate their cultural knowledge” (Mellor, Blake & Crane, 2010: 123-124). Today, many dishes and food habits Chileans consider as their own, incorporate these dietary changes. For example, one popular dessert are pancakes are laden with store-bought and artificially sweetened ‘manjar’, or condensed milk. Sugar has been replaced by artificial sweetener, while fizzy drinks have become are now among the top three items most bought today by Chilean families (Albala et al, 2008: 1). This rise of heavily processed foods has meant that a rapid nutritional transition has occurred across the board and resulted in a stark change in the nation’s general health (Bambs et al. 2008). In particular, said industrialization of food has been “associated with changes in lifestyle towards unhealthy dietary (…) patterns” and lead to a marked increase in health problems such as hypertension (Bambs et al. 2008). The Chilean identity, therefore, has become entangled with the results of their drive for different sources of capital which are “motivating their consumption, thereby entering intimately into the organization of their very personalities: who and what they think they are” (Mintz, 1986: 185).
Finally, I would like to return to the economic field. This is because, as Bourdieu himself pointed out, the formation of the social identity and its reality is dependent upon a dialectical fluctuation between ones personal economics and ones objective and subjective social structures – and this is complex (Mahar, Harker & Wilkes, 1990: 3). Mintz argues that “We are made more and more into what we eat, whenever forces we have no control over persuade us that our consumption and our identity are linked” and this has certainly occurred in Chile (1986: 211). However, these forces operate on a much grander scale than the Chilean class system – in fact, there is an international field that exists, moving around international capital and lead by an international team of actors. In the beginning section I pointed out that the leading suppliers of milk are Nestle Chile and Soprole, which is owned by Fonterra. Nestle Chile is part of the larger Nestle Group which is one of the world’s key international market players while Fonterra is the largest global processer of milk (Fonterra, 2014). In order for these companies to retain their position and continue earning economic capital, it is necessary for them to also convert this into additional forms of capital. One way this is achieved is through “a broad-sweeping, anonymous process that homogenizes various spheres (…) through spreading the basic principles of efficiency, predictability, calculability and control (Ritzer, 1993 cited in Illouz & John, 2003: 202). This allows big corporations to “establish monopoly over the species of capital effective in it (…) and the power to decree the hierarchy and ‘conversion rates’ between all forms of authority in the field of power” (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992, cited in Illouz & John, 2003: 205). The result is that this international field “is actively shaped and continuously constructed by the organization itself” (Fligstein, 1991, cited in Illouz & John, 2003: 205). All agents in charge of the direction of capital seek to preserve it (Illouz & John, 2003: 210). For this reason, in Chile, supermarkets are replacing street markets and processed foods are replacing home-grown foods, and the subsequent outcome is a transformed social identity.
It is more than confronting to realise how all social constructs, from culture and class to tradition and gender, are dependent upon a variety of influences pertaining to one’s sources of capital, habitus and fields. Bourdieu refers to this as a form of social conditioning (1998: 8) brought about by actors not “fully conscious of [their] motivations” (1977: 3). Within Chile, the acceptance of UHT milk is just the tip of an enormous iceberg that stretches from political concerns to economic, social and cultural ones as well. Bourdieu’s theory of generative structuralism has provided us with the base to frame this investigation and the result, to return to my leading metaphor, is a tangled, interconnected web of factors. In practice, there is no “mechanical reaction directly determined by the antecedent conditions” because there exists within the framework the possibility of one’s agency. Choice is therefore still possible, albeit limited, and it is this that allows me to point out that, despite all the fields that one may operate among, none of these are en statis. One’s identity, therefore, is malleable and subject to future changes.
Illouz, E. & Nicholas, J. 2003. Global Habitus, Local Stratification, and Symbolic Struggles Over Identity: The Case of McDonald’s Israel. American Behavioral Scientist, 47 (2): 2 01-229.
Mahar, C., Harker, R. & Wilkes, C. 1990. The Basic Thworetical Position. In An Introduction to the Work of Pierre Bourdieu edited by Richard Harker, Cheleen Mahar & Chris Wilkes. Houndmills: The MacMillan Press: 1-25.
Mellor, J., Banks, M. &Crane, L. 2010. “When I’m Doing A Dinner Party I Don’t Go For The Tesco Cheeses”: Gendered Class Distinctions, Friendship and Home Entertaining. Food, Culture and Society, 13 (1): 115-134.
Milk Facts. HeatTreatments and Pasteurization [online] 2014. Available: http://milkfacts.info/, accessed 31 August 2014.
Mintz, Sidney, 1995. Food and its Relationship to Concepts of Power. In Phillip McMichael (ed), Food and Agrarian Orders in the World Economy. Westport: Praeger, pp.3-14.
Morris, Carolyn. 2014. Food and Eating Study Guide. School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Massey University: Palmerston North.
Power, E.M. 1999. An Introduction to Pierre Bourdieu’s Key Theoretical Concepts. In Journal for the Study of Food and Society, 3(1), 48-52.
Wacquant, L. 1998. Pierre Bourdieu. In R. Stone, Key Sociological Thinkers. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Warin, M., Turner., Moore, V., and Davies, M. 2007. Bodies, Mothers and Identities: Rethinking Obesity and the BMI. Sociology of Health and Illness, 30(1), 97-11.
The first thing I noticed about Chilewhen I moved here in 2012 was the absence of fresh milk, and I was not the only one. This topic is laboriously moaned about by expatriates new and old, who are confounded not only by the overwhelming presence of long-life milk (a treatment of ultra high processing known as UHT) but also by the general indifference of the Chilean populace. At some point in the last few decades, UHT milk has become irreversibly part of the stereotypical Chilean diet. When I began working on this essay and asking questions, I received countless different answers as to why the fresh milk had been withdrawn. Digging deeper, I found that there was no single reason. Instead, I have found that the relationship between corporate Chile and the national diet to be unavoidably connected. What anthropologists’ label ‘the Second Food Regime’ has resulted in a nation that has industrialized, homogenized and manufactured not only milk but all dairy products to the point whereby small producers are excluded (Friedmann & McMichael 1989: 106). I have attempted here to trace the chain of milk from its initial production on farms to its point of sale in supermarkets until it is bought by the average Chilean consumer.
To begin, let us understand what treatment processes can be used on milk. The International Dairy Federation (Harding 1995: 114) advises that all raw milk be pasteurised in order to minimize “possible health hazards arising from pathogenic microorganisms associated with milk by heat treatment (…) with minimal chemical, physical and organoleptic change to the product.” The reason for this process is because raw milk is an ideal ground for the growth of microorganisms, some of which may be harmful such as Salmonella, Listeria and Tuburculosis (Harding 1995: 115). Pasteurised milk undergoes heating at a certain temperature to destroy pathogenic microorganisms, as well as ones that can spoil the taste, and thus its durability (Harding 1995: 115). Thermoduric bacteria is not affected by this process and needs to be removed via microfiltration, which also increases its shelf time (Harding 1995: 115). Sterilized milk is a further form of processing, most often used in hotter countries, however the “Maillard reaction’ spoils its colour and taste, as well as its vitamin content (Harding 1995: 115). UHT is considered by many to be the ideal treatment: it’s safer than raw milk, has a longer shelf life than pasteurised milk, and tastes better than sterilised milk. Processing plants use a closed system to heat the milk between 135-150C for 1-4 seconds, achieved in a continuous flow rather than by batches (Harding 1995: 116). It is preheated, sterilised, homogenised (the mixing of cream and milk together), cooled and then filled into sterile containers (Harding 1995: 116). With the pros, there are cons, however. All forms of treatment involving heat for periods of time causes a chemical reaction on some scale, and during UHT ‘heat denaturation’ occurs (Harding 1995: 116). This means that the temperature causes the protein to move away from their original chain or globular shape (Milk Facts 2014). “Post-Pasturization Contamination’ (PPT) may also occur between processing and packaging, therefore strict monitoring, testing and sterilising is necessary (Harding 1995: 118). Gram-negative bacteria are very microscopic but can rapidly grow and develop into listeria, however there currently exists no testing that can effectively measure things of their size (Harding 1995: 118). This means that contamination and therefore illness is still possible with UHT milk.
To turn now to the situation in Chile, Marta Jimenez grew up in the 1940’s and remembers regularly consuming fresh (raw) milk purchased by street sellers direct from the animal. However, she remembers the general feeling of annoyance at the time when sellers began mixing it with water (and not always clean) in order to sell more. Meanwhile, Viviana Saavedra admits that she stopped giving her family regular milk in the 1980’s as prices soared. The consumption of milk generally decreased until boxed milk began to be sold everywhere from markets to street stores. The people little noticed this change, however, given that milk was not an important factor in their cooking or in their beverages (tea is always drunk without milk for example).
In the present, a paradox certainly exists. Street markets are still held daily where many families purchase their fruit and vegetables, and on every street in the cities one can find a general store selling everything from one slice of cheese to freshly baked bread. Often, sellers will purchase their items either direct from the manufacturer, or from other vendors to sell on – as is the case for the multitude of stall holders in ‘La Vega’, Santiago’s grand central market. However, supermarkets can be found in every suburb in every area of Chile and are a mega industry, despite the first one opening in 1995 (Wikipedia 2014). Business ChileMagazine reveals that there are more supermarkets per capita in Chile than anywhere else in the Americas, with sales reaching US$10 million a year – although interestingly, only 62% of all food sales come via supermarkets (Dowling 2008). The rise of the supermarket has resulted in a change in the general eating habits. A study by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Albala et al. 2008:1) explains that the Chilean diet changed at a much faster rate than in other developing countries, due to rapid modernization and overall improved living conditions. The study furthers that the ‘nutrition transition’ resulted in a high-energy, nutrient-poor diet consisting of a marked increase in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (Albala et al. 2008: 1). In actual fact, sugar-sweetened beverages are among the top three items most bought today by Chilean families (Albala et al, 2008: 1). Overall, the stable condition of the economy has increased the potential buying power of the populace, in turn attracting the attention of large companies. Of the supermarkets, there are several groups: Cencosud (owns Jumbo, Santa Isabel), Falabella (Tottus) and the SMU Group, which owns Unimarc (Dowling 2008). Walmart Chile purchased D&S in 2009, which runs the leading Lider, Ekono and Bodega Acuenta discount stores (Walmart 2014).
Milk is sourced on farms such as Fundo Cantarrana in the south of Chile which processes some million litres of milk each year (Fundo Cantarrana 2014). It is then bought by either of the two leading distributors of dairy goods: Nestle Chile and Fonterra (New Zealand). Nestle trades directly with some 1, 200 milk producers while also supplying technical assistance and training in order to better their milk products (Nestle 2012). This includes pressure on the Chilean government to change health and safety standards, whose policies enable the fusion of agribusiness input/output, manufacturing/processing firms to enhance corporate capital (Burch & Lawrence 2005: 11). Nestle Chile itself is part of the wider Nestle Group, which in turn has a substantial profit margin: in 2011, the Nestle Group took in some US$90 billion (Nestle 2012). Some of the milk products Nestle Chile then sells on to supermarkets include infant formula, cream, manjar (sweetened milk spread), condensed milk, powdered milk, evaporated milk and ‘light’ options. Similarly, Fonterra operates in Chile through subsidiary companies notably Soprole. Soprole is Fonterra’s longest running offshore investment (twenty years) and in 2008. Fonterra increased their shareholding to 99.4 percent in order to “further develop Chile as source of fresh dairy” (Fonterra 2014). The result is that by placing themselves in between product and consumer, and enforcing specific requirements, Fonterra and Nestle share the title of being monopsonistic (Friedberg 1995: 20). Furthermore, as the market for milk grows more and more concentrated, farmers are forced to sell to a limited number of companies (Burch & Lawrence 2005: 1). This relationship thus excludes other (specifically smaller) producers who cannot compete (Friedmann & McMichael 1989: 106).
The question remains: why no fresh milk? According to some, the reason is due to the health scare of the 1970’s, when cheap milk powder was imported from Europe that was contaminated. Mistrust of milk (and a fear of the government resulting in ‘turning a blind eye’) has contributed to the rise of the UHT products. Others, such as a spokesperson for Nestle Chile, explained that it is because many people in Chile are without refrigerators. Flaherty Wines explains it thus: “The use of this process [UHT] is ubiquitous in the Chilean dairy industry because the chain of refrigeration is not reliable. The large dairies generally purchase milk from small independent producers, so the milk may not be properly refrigerated before it reaches the main dairy. Not all retail outlets have reliable refrigeration. Finally, not all households have a refrigerator” (2010). It is true that the nature of the country’s geography makes transportation of anything challenging. In the north exists the world’s driest desert, the Atacama, while in the south conditions are freezing and even inhospitable, such as in Patagonia. Furthermore, the extreme south of Chile is broken up by the sea making transportation even more difficult.
However, it is evident that Chile’s predilection for manufactured goods has meant that this is an extremely lucrative business. Within the realm of processed milk exists opportunity for expansion. Demand is steadily rising for fat-free and low-calorie options, which is being readily provided by the manufacturers. In fact, Euromonitor International has labelled this as the leading area for investment in Chile (2014). Proof of this is evident by the large-scale injection of funds by companies. For example, in 2012 more than US$140 million was poured into a new Nestle factory in Osorno that would “produce a range of milk products and ingredients with added nutritional value for domestic consumption and for export to the United States, Central America, the Middle East and Asia” (Nestle 2012). This factory can manufacture some 30, 000 tonnes of milk powder and is considered one of the most technologically advanced plants in the world (Nestle 2012). Nestle Chief Executive Officer Paul Bulcke explains that Nestle continually invests in Chile due to their increasing confidence in the Chilean market, with the desire to create products that can be used at every stage of their lives” (Nestle 2012).
The power held by this sector is known as ‘financialisation’, whereby “private capital markets have become a major source of influence and control over the (…) food system” (Burch & Lawrence 2009: 268). The general fear of mercantilism – of a static market – prompts the drive for increasing profitability (Mintz 1995: 162). For this reason, businesses are looking to expand their opportunities more and more. For example, Claudio Hohman of Cencosud admits that “We’re developing different formats to adapt better to the needs of different market segments,” something which could be beneficial if companies wanted to expand (Dowling 2008). Professor Claudio Pizarro of the University of Chile explains that “There’s a window during which no one is looking hard at Latin America… there are huge opportunities for Chilean firms in Peru, Colombia and Brazil.” (Dowling 2008). Peru is looking especially promising given that it has lower supermarket penetration. UHT milk, with its easy transportability and long shelf life, would suit not only exportation but also the variety of conditions found in other countries. This striving for constant growth is evident by the 2012 Market Indicator Report issued by the Government of Canada, which reveals “Latin America’s vigorous agriculture and manufacturing sectors were expected to boost the economy, starting in 2011, helping to drive rising levels of disposable income and increasing retail sales. This could encourage the mid-market consumer base to recover its confidence and its taste for luxury” (2012). This same report postulates that the future will see the hypermarkets looking to widen their reach to lower-income customers, most notably in second tier cities with populations of 50, 000 people and lower (2012).
UHT processed products are stringently marketed as having added health benefits, despite mounting evidence otherwise. For example, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention admits that outbreaks of illnesses have been connected with pasteurised milk, which through being treated also has lower nutrients and even missing enzymes (FDC 2014). The effect of these lost enzymes is not yet known, however the FDC maintains that the regular diet in countries such as the United States makes up for what is lacking in the pasteurised milk (2014). However, given that the United States is ranked as the sickest nation in the developed world by a report by the Institute of Medicine this raises some questions (Woolfe & Laudon 2013). In Chile, the World Health Organization explains that rapid nutritional transitions has resulted in a stark change of the nation’s general health (Bambs et al. 2008). It furthers that dietary change has lead to a 32.7% increase in obesity between the years 1960-2000, with approximately 205, 000 morbidly obese in 2003 (Bambs et al. 2008). The “progressive industrialization (…) associated with changes in lifestyle towards unhealthy dietary (…) patterns” has lead to a marked increase in health problems such as hypertension and diabetes (Bambs et al. 2008). It is for this reason that value-added products (such as ‘fat-free’) are growing in demand. However, many of these products contain sugar. An experiment conducted in Chile by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that, in order to increase the health of children by getting them to drink milk, only flavoured milk would be drunk (Albala et al. 2008). This sugar-laden beverage resulted in no improvement whatsoever to their health at the end of the experiment (Albala et al. 2008). It is evident, then, that the Outside Meaning lies here with the manufacturing giants such as Nestle, “whose reach and power transcend both individuals and local communities”, at the risk of the nation’s general health (Mintz 1995: 6).
To a business, long-life milk offers easier transportability and easier storage, particularly if they are to be exported worldwide and across varying conditions. Entire aisles in supermarkets can be filled with numerous types of milk that can sit for months. Customers can safely buy and store cartons, stockpiling them in case of a natural disaster, such as the 2010 earthquake which saw entire suburbs become inaccessible. Most tellingly, a nation of individuals traumatised after the years of Pinochet can consume their milk without any fears that may lead them back to their government. However, it also means that Chile is entirely dependent upon the seedy world of corporations and capitalist gain. The result is a rapidly changing diet with varying health disadvantages. Children are growing up in a nation of the increasingly obese while becoming addicted to the very ingredients that make them that way. UHT milk, while perhaps not as at fault as aspartame laden Coca Cola, can be viewed as a symbol of this relationship. The reality this symbol denotes is that food is consumed not as a means to satisfy the hunger and needs of the many, but as a tool to make profits for the few.
Burch, David, and Geoffrey Lawrence, 2005. Supermarket Own Brands, Supply Chains and the Transformation of the Agri-Food System. International Journal of Sociology of Food and Agriculture, 13 (1): 1-18.
It’s a miserable day today because it’s dark and cold, and because there still hasn’t been enough rain to clear the air. I want to breathe gosh darnit! Rainy days always make me a little homesick, and I often wonder when (or if ever!) someone from my old life will come visit me here in South America.What would I show them? Where would I take them? So here are my ‘Top Ten Santiago Experiences’ – write them down in your diary Mum!
1) Plaza de Armas
You cannot miss the central square in downtown Santiago. It’s about as exotic as Santiago gets, and on a sunny day it’s pretty fabulous. The street performers, the imposing statues, the grand historic church – this is SOUTH AMERICA! Even after two years I get a buzz passing through here. A visit must not be without a walk around Santiago’s premier museum, ‘Museo de Arte Pre-Colombino’ which houses an amazing array of artefacts from the many indigenous that have called Chile and South America home over the centuries. If you visit one museum in Santiago, make it this one.
2) Patronato, Recoleta
A Chilean once warned me never to cross the Mapocho River or else I would most certainly get mugged. Yes this does happen but in fairness, it could also happen anywhere in Santiago or the world, and to avoid Patronato simply because of a “maybe” means missing out on of my favourite places in Chile. Why do I love Patronato? It’s great for shopping, for one. Clothes (particularly if you like ‘street’ style), household goods, Asian ingredients, and the Chile-famous ‘La Vega’ vegetable markets all call Patronato home. It has a lively atmosphere to walk around and get lost in, and there are often street festivals (and delicious street food too). Patronato is also where some of the best exotic eateries can be found, from Korean to Vietnamese, Chinese to Palestinian. The ‘Tirso Molina’ is my personal favourite place to lunch at, particularly after a strenuous morning buying vegetables and tshirts (!). A walk along the top storey means fighting your way through great offer after great offer, which often includes bread, salad and a drink. Inside you can find traditional Chilean, Colombian, Peruvian and Thai cuisines, as well as juice stalls. Nom! A perfect afternoon to me is walking through Patronato with some (light) bags to Bellavista, where everyone goes to drink, eat and dance, and look at the street art.
3) Isidora Goyenchea (metro El Golf)
This is a long street of pretty swanky restaurants, and in general it is worth visiting to see just how varied Santiago is. Classism is a a huge issue, and its pretty obvious from a visit to Providencia, Las Condes or further east, that Santiago is undergoing rapid development and commercialization. To be fair, Isidora Goyenchea is just a brilliant place to find a restaurant and eaaaat! One of the consistant favourites is an Italian pizza place called ‘Tiramisu’ and its not too badly priced, around 7,000 pesos for a pizza.
4) Parque Bicentennario, Vitacura
Why have I chosen to include this park? Because it is well worth the visit. It’s big, it has a water fountain, cafes, birds and fish to feed, playgrounds and beautiful gardens. There’s also the ‘Mestizo’ restaurant, its a bit pricey but it is NOT overrated – its my favourite in Santiago!
5) Parque de la Infancia, Recoleta
Best park for children you will ever visit. Enough said. Between metro’s Cerro Blanco and Cementerios.
6) Buin Zoo, Buin
Not strictly in Santiago, but a car ride away, or a train ride if you want to make it extra fun! This is up there with Taronga Zoo in Sydney in my opinion. The animals look happy, have big enclosures, there’s a ‘Dinosaur Park’, lots of restaurants and exhibits – you can even rent cool karts to push the children around in!
Again, this is actually a day trip from Santiago but it’s worth it. It’s a beautiful drive and at the end of it, a shopping paradise! For clay and household items. It’s not big but there’s plenty to see, buy and eat (tip: cheapest handmade items can be found on the outskirts, away from the centre).
8) Cerro San Cristobal
To me, a trip on the furnicular to the highest city lookout is the quintessential Santiago experience. Do this on your first day and at the top buy a mote con huesillo to drink. Wintertime has the best views but you can’t beat it on a summer’s day, alongside scores of giggling South American tourists. You can also walk/run/ride up, there are parks to stop at on the way (including the Japanese Gardens) and there are numerous gorgeous swimming pools – Antilen is the best (only open in Summer).
9) Bellas Artes and Barrio Lastarria
The ‘arty’ corner of Santiago also boasts top cafes (La Manzana in Lastarria is the best!), cheap ethnic eats (visit ‘New Horizon’ for Indian or ‘Thai Express’ for authentic Thai), an art museum and quirky shops to equal an unrivalled atmosphere of cool. Also visit ‘The Clinic’ bar for a slice of history.
10) Barrio Concha y Toro
It doesn’t get more romantic then these quiet streets tucked away near metro Republica. Come and take a stroll down this historic section that feels more like Malta than Santiago, and take your camera with you as you step back in time. A wonderful place to linger with your loved one and also home to several top restaurants (including the incomparable, Zully!)
Oh go on – one more!
11) Barrio Tour
This isn’t an actual tour that I know of, but it should be. Whenever I travel, I like to get a lay of the land and imagine that I am a local. In Santiago, each suburb has a distinct character and each one has some hidden gems. In Huechuraba you can find great cheap food in La Pincoya or the pretty residential neighborhoods of Pedro Fontova Norte. In Lo Barnechea and La Dehesa, you can transport yourself either to leafy England streets or to the future with some of the space-age house designs. In La Reina you can find a nature reserve and in Nunoa enjoy food from the organic wave slowly entering Chile. Further afield, Maipu is an excellent place to spend a day. The houses have a character all of their own, while there are numerous historical attractions (Maipu played a big role in Santiago’s history). This should definately be a tour – maybe we should create it?
Of course, this is only a tiny smidgeon of things to do in Santiago. There’s also Quinta Normal, Selva Viva, La Moneda, as well as a wealth of other attractions on Santiago’s outskirts. Santiago has often been describing as a bit lacking when compared to other South American cities. But I love it! It’s my home and it has everything you could ever need. If you visit I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do! Let me know your tips too 🙂
I knew my life would change with a child, but I didn’t expect it to become so much, well, bigger! It feels as though all my time is taken up with purpose and LIVING that it had been kind of devoid of before. Now, everything I do is for that happy little sausage that I am blessed to called my son.
So it is July. Next month is my 28th birthday – eek! Ten years ago I was living in England with my grandparent, after failing to save for a high school exchange to Chile. Now look at me – I’ve lived in Chile for more than two years now, I can talk in Spanish (with plenty of mistakes but), I have a Chilean Mr, a half-Chilean toddler and the world is looking more and more like the oyster I always knew it was (it had just been a bit sandy before I think!). I am lucky indeed.
So where am I going with this “oh Helen your life is so fantastic” spiel? To two places: the first is to wax lyrical about my senor and the other is to talk about my new volunteering project coming up, to give back to the place that has accepted and provided for me so nicely.
Obviously I will start with Luis. For the last six years or so, Luis has been working nights in the taxi taking passengers from Santiago’s streets. I love Santiago’s taxis. They get a bad rap for being dodgy, and a few do have some tricks. Think switching notes and saying “oh you’ve only given me a 1000 pesos” instead of bigger, or taking longer routes, or sometimes running a meter that goes up thanks to a little button by the driver. But in my experience (and I have ALOT) taxistas here are courteous, curious, and beyond helpful. I’ve had so many free rides (from Los Dominicos to El Salto was one), heard so many interesting stories, been offered jobs/advice and just met lovely people, mostly. The other day, I took one that was completely covered in tiger print inside. Like, everywhere. I thought it was a joke (and I thought I was going blind too) but the guy was genuine, he just really loved tigers! We had a great convo about our favourite animals. I’m sure, though, that dodgy things happen in that car.
A google search tells me that there are some 30,000 black and yellow taxis in the day here, and this job pays so-so and is a bit cumbersome because of all the tacos. This number drops by half in the night, because the risk factor increases substantially. Most family men call it quits around 9pm and the majority women drivers (they DO exist!) prefer to work the day shifts. But the night is where the money is at! You can make excellent plata because the traffic has all gone and, especially on a Thursday/Friday/Saturday, there are lots of drunk people to take home. One of the best perks is … strip clubs. You knew that was coming, right? Don’t be shocked – strip clubs are a reality of every city now and Santiago is no different. The top-tier ones pay commission to any taxista that brings passengers (if they go in and claim it). For Latin American tourists there’s a certain price, for other non-Chileans another, but for ‘gringos’ from countries like New Zealand and United States the commission can be a good 10,000 per head for Luis (which is soooo much money!) There’s no selling involved on Luis’ part, he just claims his dues for taking a passenger already heading that way.
Some of my favourite stories have been Luis’ taxi stories. Before Emilio, I used to wake up when he’d come in to hear what exciting adventures he’d had that day: famous people, foreign people (who are always amazed at Luis’ English), drunk people, people doing cocaine in the backseat, people hooking up, people with prostitutes, the list can go on. One time, Luis took a worker from a Cafe con Piernas and a regular client, that she had been soliciting on the side (note: this is not a requirement of the job). In fact, she was married and her husband was waiting at home for her, with no idea in the world that she was with this guy! She’d been seeing him for a bit and he’d fallen helplessly in love with her. After they’d got out, the guy left a bunch of poems and songs he’d written for her on the back seat (or did she forget them?!) We read them the next day. They weren’t bad. And yes, he had it baaaaad for her!
But, with the good and the interesting, there is also the bad. I remember being pregnant and being so scared that something would happen to Luis before we had a chance to reunite as a new family. One time, he told me that he’d been threatened at gun point. Another time, he’d had his phone and money nicked by two guys with knives. In hindsight, these last were nice thieves because they let him keep his sim card with all his photos and contacts on!
Luis is now changing jobs to work for TranSantiago, as a public bus driver. Jesus H Christ, what a kerfuffle this is turning out to be! So far, he’s had three months of daily training in Maipu, Providencia, Pudahuel and then tests in Lampa. Sometimes he has to go all the way (in rush hour) to Maipu just for an hour. Sometimes he has gone to Pudahuel just to sign a form. These are all places that are ridiculously far away, like a good hour and a half but sometimes even more! Emilio has had to accompany him on a few trips when I’ve been working. He’s also had to go here, there and everywhere signing stuff, buying stuff, swapping stuff etc. That’s where he is right now in fact – its our first free day together in an age and he’s off downtown taking back a jacket with the wrong logo on it (when they KNEW it was a mistake when they gave it to him!)
He’s having to learn mechanics as well as in-depth knowledge of the roadcode and laws, amongst other things, and to be honest I had no idea all this went into driving a bus! I don’t know how I feel about it all. Luis has a degree, he’s travelled, lived overseas, got plenty of business experience and he speaks two languages fluently, and here he is driving a bus! If it were up to me he’d have his own country to run! Since it’s not, I have to be happy with what makes him happy, and when he says he’d rather drive a bus then ok! And its true – he gets life and health insurance for him and Emilio, he gets paid holidays and discounts at places, and he gets to finish work by four every day. In an office job, he’d have to work ridiculous hours and get stressed, and I’d much rather have Luis around then have all the money in the world
Luis is still going to work in the taxi (would you pass up Friday and Saturday strip club visits? For the money haha). It’s going to be lovely having him sleep normal times and having someone to keep the bed warm. And think of all the ACTIVITIES we can do with all this extra time awake (Step Brothers reference – if you haven’t seen it, watch it – now!)
I did say that I would introduce you to my new volunteering project, however I think now I shall save that for the next blog post. Keep you all waiting and all that. To be clear, when I say “you all” I do know its just Mum reading this blog! I will say, though, that there are exciting times for Recoleta and I ahead 🙂
Here are some pics of Emilio in the taxi – he is car OBSESSED!
Welcome to Querida Recoleta, a blog about an expat´s trials, errors and joys raising a family in Santiago, Chile. I am super happy you´ve stopped by.
Why do I write this blog?
My goal in writing is firstly to show other expats about the realities of living in Santiago, especially with children, and that means all the good stuff and the bad stuff. Secondly I am constantly inspired by the people around me, many of whom may live on the city´s peripheries given that Recoleta is a middle to lower middle class neighborhood. My aim has always been to represent Santiago in ALL its forms, to humanize it and make it seem real.
A little bit about me:
I am a Bachelor of Arts graduate with a Post Grad in Social Anthropology. I speak English and intermediate to advanced (Chilean) Spanish. I am English but have spent almost my entire life in New Zealand so consider myself to be Kiwi (hence my accent!). I came to Chile for love; my partner is Chilean (from Recoleta).
How is my blog set up?
I have various collections of blog entries that I group as series´. As I cover multiple different things, this helps my readers to go straight to what they want to read. They are:
The Mummy Diaries: my thoughts from motherhood, as the mum of two
Notes from the Street: my interviews and recollections of people I meet in Recoleta
Family Fun: tips and reviews of things to do for people with children
Lunch Review: I love to eat and it shows – I regularly add a restaurant review
Spotlight On: I interview expats and locals making a life in Chile and who I think are doing something interesting
How can we work together?
I am glad you asked! I currently work as a freelance content writer and editor, and am taking new jobs all the time. My blog is growing and has been proven to increase business sales every time I publish publicly using Facebook and Instagram. We can collaborate in the following ways:
Who is my target demographic?
My blogs reach expats currently living in Chile, former expats who have left Chile but want to retain a connection, Chileans who speak English, and people overseas who are looking to move to Chile in the future.
As an example, here are some 2015 statistics:
11,306 hits from Chile
1,756 from United States
500 from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom
9,135 were referred from Facebook; others from various links on the Internet