When The Lights Went Out


Present Day Santiago

At 11:05pm on Tuesday 22nd, every single light in the city went out.

The skyscrapers were left like undulating black waves besides mountains which loomed like a monstrous carcass upon the earth. Above them, the sky pressed down heavily, lit by the eerie glow of the moon, and for one brief, fleeting second there was only silence as the city collectively took a breath and looked around with fearful eyes.

Fernanda was one of them. At nineteen years old, she was streetwise and worldly enough to handle herself in a crisis. Her brothers always told her so – if anything she was almost too sure of herself, they said. So when the city became enveloped in darkness she pulled herself up strong, threw back her head and laughed.

¨What is going on now?! There is always something up in this city! Just use your phone, guys.¨

She turned to her friends who were lit up by the moon´s trail, and pulled her phone out of her bag. ¨See?¨ She pressed the buttons but nothing happened.  Now she felt a small sliver of panic run down her spine. To be without light was one thing, but without her phone?

¨Mine isn´t working either,¨ Hernan said and one by one the small group of 4 friends came to the same conclusion.

¨Well this is just bizaare¨ Paula whispered and huddled closer to Hernan, ¨what do you think is going on?¨

¨I´ll tell you what is going on. The end of the world, that´s what! ¨ Chortled Diego and grinned at Fernanda.

¨Are you scared, little girl¨ He said to her and now Fernanda laughed.

¨I am not as scared as you will be in a minute if you call me that again!¨ She retorted then reached for the papers.  ¨Come on, let´s smoke before this gets really boring¨

¨I like the sound of that plan¨ agreed Diego, passing her a lighter.

As Fernanda sucked in and felt the first sharpness of the smoke pass down her throat, she felt a momentary fear.  Moments later that fear was gone, replaced by a warmth that lit her whole body and soothed around her mind like soft feathers.

And then the ground moved.

Hernan let out a small shriek and Paula dropped to the floor. It stopped. And then it began again, swift jerks broken by a vibration that seemed to shake them from the inside out.  The air was filled with the sound of car horns, buildings rattling, and people screaming.

¨It´s not stopping!¨ Hernan cried out as the ground heaved.

And then it did. But now the moon shone down with a yellow tint, it´s trail growing thinner as the air seem to choke with dust. And then the light disappeared completely.

¨What´s happening? What is happening?!¨ Paula grasped in the dark and found Fernanda´s hand, gripping it tightly.

¨Take it easy, Paula, it´s just an earthquake,¨ Fernanda soothed but Paula was trembling.

¨Why did all the lights go out first? Where´s the moon gone? What is going ON?¨

¨Be quiet Paula¨¨Diego hissed but before anyone could say anything the ground shook again, this time knocking all four of them to the ground. They lay in the darkness, one arm covering their heads and the other clutching the person beside them, white knuckled.

There was so much screaming. Everywhere people were crying, pleading with the heavens, begging for help but all the time surrounded by blackness. The ground swayed for minutes with shocking force, creaking and breaking around them.

Just as suddenly as it had begun, the earthquake stopped. Then Fernanda felt her hands and then her knees get wet.

¨Oh my god where´s this water come from – run!!¨ She cried, pulling her friends up off the ground.

¨Fernanda wait! I can´t see anything!¨ Paula cried but Fernanda dragged her along.

¨Do not let go of my hand Paula!¨ She bellowed and the two of them ran forwards until they could no longer feel water below them.

¨Fernanda where is Hernan? Hernan! Oh my god, Hernan!¨ Paula screamed but there was no room for her voice when the whole city was screaming.

Fernanda flicked her lighter but once she did she almost wished she hadn´t. Cars were upturned, powerpoles lay strewn upon the ground, and everywhere she saw people covered with blood.

¨Fernanda!¨ Diego appeared beside them and Paula grabbed his shoulders.

¨Where is Hernan?!¨ She shrieked.

¨¨I don´t know! I thought he was with you! I could see as much as you could,¨ Diego said and Paula shook him.

¨You´e a liar Diego Alvarez! A filthy liar. I know who you are – I know who your family are and I Know where you´re from. You´ve always hated Hernan and I bet you left him on the ground calling out for help!¨

Fernanda pushed Paula from Diego.

¨Paula what are you saying?! Calm down – don´t retaliate Diego, we have bigger problems. Look we have to find a safe place, go higher up, find some shelter in case it happens again¨¨Fernanda cautioned as Diego glared at Paula.

¨Yeah, right. You´re right. We need to help each other. But you, Paula, you cuica bitch, need to know that the second all this is over you will be apologizing to me and to my famiy – ¨

¨No I won´t! They are drug addicts and thieves, and I don´t trust you¨ Paula spat at him and Fernanda shoved Diego away just as he raised his hand.

¨What is wrong with you two? Stop this! There´s a hill over there and I´m going up it. Sort out your stupid issues later. I´m sorry, we can´t go back for Hernan because we can´t see and its pandemonium out there, look. Come on let´s go¨ Fernanda pushed past them and began walking towards the hill that she could make out only by the stream of lighters already lighting a path upwards.

Suddenly it began to rain, great droplets of ice that seemed to stick to them like tar. Walking became hard. They were all shivering. They plodded upwards, falling forwards, backwards, walking with a hundred others with flickering lighters that strained against the wind and rain from beneath jackets.

Halfway up the hill they found a large tree with a large crowd beneath it. Fernanda, Paula and Diego dropped to the ground and huddled together with their teeth chattering like glass shards.

¨I´m telling you, I saw this video on the internet. This guy was talking about exactly this. Some guy broke into a government base and put all this footage on the internet. It was up for 2 hours before it disappeared. They can do this. It´s them!¨ Someone was saying.

¨It´s climate change¨ someone interrupted and there were shouts of yes.

¨It´s the South American plates causing a monster earthquake. This has all happened before¨ someone else countered.

¨It´s our punishment for being bad Catholics!¨ Another voice wailed and there were whimpers.

Paula was crying.

¨My mother. My family. Oh my god – our house!¨ She sobbed and Diego snorted.

¨Seriously your thinking of your house right now?¨ He said and Paula glared at him.

¨At least I have a house. At least my parents work. At least I care about something – anything – that is not myself! At least I´m not as selfish as you¨ She cried between clenched teeth and Diego stood up.

¨If you were anyone else I would hit you in the face,¨ Diego whispered, ¨I will remember this, Paula¨ and he walked away.

¨Where are you going? You coward! You selfish coward!¨ Paula screamed after him then buried her head in her arms.

Fernanda stared after Diego, then at Paula.

¨What is going on Paula?¨ She asked and Paula sighed.

¨I swore I would never tell anyone. I didn´t want anyone to know because it was so … so stupid.¨ She took a deep breath. ¨Diego and I slept together after Nano´s party and then one thing kind of led to another and next thing I know we are seeing each other. But I didn´t want anyone to know, because of how my family are, you know what I mean? So anyway, we were creeping around, lying to everyone and it just became too much. One night we went to the park but my father followed us. He went crazy. He told Diego he wasn´t good enough to date his daughter and that he had to leave me alone. And Diego … Diego just did it. He just said goodbye. He just didn´t care enough to stand up to my family – to admit to his own family – who he wanted to be with. So we broke up. We fought a lot. And now tonight is the first night I´ve seen him since all that.¨

Fernanda took a deep breath.

¨Geez Paula. That is heavy. And Hernan?¨

¨Hernan asked me out a few weeks ago. I said yes. He´s a good guy – exactly the kind of guy my family would love, incidentally,¨ Paula sniffed, ¨Diego hates his guts and always has. You know what Diego is like.¨

Fernanda nodded. She did know, since Diego was her cousin and all.

¨I´m sorry – ¨She started but she was cut off by a cry.

¨What is that?¨ She whispered as a ray of moonlight appeared from the sky and shone downward to touch the tip of the Sky Constanera building, a colossal skyscraper that dominated the city skyline. The building seemed to glow as if with a red fire, while around it the other buildings shone. A buzzing filled the air and then the ground shook. A horrific sound filled the air, a deep boom that seemed to pulse from the earth itself. Seconds later and everything was gone, a huge chasm in the earth that swallowed the buildings whole. The only thing left was that huge tower, now with a green tint.

Fernanda couldn´t breathe. She couldn´t seem to open her eyes wide enough. Her tongue seemed to fill her mouth. She couldn´t feel her body except for the pounding of her heart.

So much noise.

She couldn´t look away, couldn´t look to her friend who had fainted on the ground, or find her feet as Diego pushed her aside to reach for Paula. Her eyes filled with tears that pricked like icicles – her body was ice.  And then a sudden lightning bolt hit the sky, lighting people´s faces that were contorted with terror.

Suddenly there came a strange sound. Like the clashing of swords but similar to the pounding of footsteps or hoofbeats.  There was a flash and the world went white. Fernanda found herself falling, falling, falling but never reaching the ground …



Fernanda woke up.

Chapter 1 continued here  …


Notes from the Street: Made In Recoleta

It is 5.30pm and I have been sitting on the grass at a Recoleta playground for the last 2.5 hours. It is one of those neighorhood spaces down a normal street and placed so smack-bang in front of people’s houses that residents must drive their cars through the playground to reach their driveways. There are a few exercise machines meant for the elderly but that get invariably commandeered by adventurous children. There are two swings, two slides and some trees interspersing a small grassy area.  In front there is the usual corner store that Emilio will forever associate with cheap icecreams and in the near distance there are cranes building yet another apartment block.

The first tme we came here I felt nervous and more than a little obvious, mainly as Emilio and I are both fair unlike the majority around us. For another, teenagers slumped in tight circles on the grass with loose cigarettes hanging from their mouths while on the roadside groups of men lingered, immersed in clouds of marijuana smoke. Today, for example, there is heavy metal blaring from somewhere nearby while the occupants of the shadowy house beside the park are doing little but standing outside with their beatup car and their fake Nike. The ground around me is littered with poop and ciggie butts and every so often a dog will come over to me, sniff my butt and then leave after confirming that, yes, I am here.

For all of these seemingly ugly features there is something special in this park, something which draws us back day after day, for hours at a time. And that reason is the children. Right now the air is filled with the sound of laughter and squealing as Emilio plays with the neighborhood residents. One of them is about three while the other is around 7 – the latter a mother-hen type who watches her sister like a hawk, reprimands her when she is naughty and comforts her when she falls. She also looks after Emilio and plays with him, pushes them both on the swing, giggles when he does and dusts his bottom off every time he gets (very) dirty.  There is a nurturing aspect to the children we have encountered here that I do not recall ever witnessing as the norm in New Zealand, or even when I take my charges to the park in other areas of Santiago. Of course, I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, I just have never noticed it to this degree.  Everyone seems to be really looking out for each other, and I see this time and time again. I can’t even safely say that it’s because the girls are being shaped into the moulds of their mothers because I’ve noticed the same from the boys as well. I remember when Emilio attended the neighbour’s birthday party and decided to jump on the trampoline with the big kids. They were all so protective of the small fry amongst them that it really touched my heart, with one in particular going above and beyond to help him up every two seconds as he fell down. Alot.

These are good kids, despite some of them growing up in difficult situations. Recoleta is, after all, a barrio just like Conchali, if you will recall the encounters of Ojos Abiertos last year. Or perhaps you can remember the story of Jose, our neighbour, and his family.  Some of these children will spend much of their lives sleeping in the same room as their parents, bearing witness to acts that children shouldn’t otherwise see. Some of them will go on to make bad choices, made bad friends or head off in unwise directions. Some of them may copy their parents and follow a path of crime or other unsavoury activities, while others still will strive and achieve success.


I can’t remember if I have mentioned Diego before but I have certainly meant to. He is the adopted son of Jose, of the famous empanadas, and at a guess I’d place him around twelve years old. He is tall, skinny, softly spoken and has a shiny earring in one ear.  I cannot tell you where his birth parents are or how he is related to Jose, but I assume Diego has had some difficulty in his life. I admire Jose because not only has he transformed our street to have a strong sense of community, but he actually no longer lives next door to us (though he continues to work there every single day without fail).  When he and his wife were expecting a baby they moved to the countryside near Batuco, taking Diego and Maria with them (another cheer for the subsidio grant!).

Not all the kids we encounter here are angels but Diego has something special. He is caring, considerate, extremely intelligent and most of all he exudes a quality of gentleness. Every time he sees Emilio he hugs him or gives him a high five, and if the other kids are around with a toy or a lollipop he encourages them to share.  One of the children from next door is close in age to Emilio and about as similar to him as night and day.  I will call him Daniel and his mother is one of the daughters of Luisa. Daniel is not a happy toddler, in fact every time I see him he is either crying or bashing Emilio over the head with something. His mother, Ashley, is extremely aggressive and will never make eye contact if I encounter her a few metres away from her house.  I do not imagine that she has had an easy life either, and certainly she has made a few mistakes along the way. Daniel, according to Luisa, was one of them, as the whole street found out the night when her pregnancy was ever so discreetly announced. Luisa was screaming at her using every curse word and foul thing to say under the sun – right below our bedroom window – mainly because the lack of respect her pregnancy brought but also, I suspect, because the father is about as big a drug addict as you can get, does not work and therefore would not be able to contribute to the growing costs of pregnancy, birth and raising a child (even using the public system of healthcare and education).  The family were already strained enough, with a good twenty people sharing the small living spaces next door. That was all two years ago now and during that time Ashley has been kicked out of a rented room down the road, moved back in with her mum and given birth to Daniel. Daniel and Diego are as different as chalk and cheese but they originally started out in the same household. What a difference the guidance of Jose has made. I really, really hope that some compassionate teacher will see the potential Diego has and single him out, hopefully providing him with further positive mentors and options for his future. If he receives that, Diego will go a long way.

Being a mother here in Santiago has come with plenty of ups and downs but the general attitude towards my son has been overwhelmingly positive. Strangers will look out for Emilio and interact with him, sometimes in the most unlikely of situations. But what I really love is how warm and caring so many of the kids are, especially when I’m sitting on the grass, five months pregnant (and therefore slow to get up) and writing a blog entry, like today. If the future is in the hands of the children then the future of this city looks bright indeed.

Very bright indeed.

Valparaiso art, but seemed fitting.

Note: the featured image for this blog was drawn by one of the students of Hoda and Georgina in Conchali last year, during the volunteer Art Expression classes organized by Ojos Abiertos.

We Are All Chile

Today I asked one of my English students what the biggest issue in Chile today is.

This discussion had started after my mention of the book Viva South America in which journalist Oliver Balch presents an in-depth look at pressing topics from across South America’s countries. We decided on areas for New Zealand (employment), Australia (refugees), Britain (immigration) and the United States (healthcare) but the question was what would take the top spot for Chile? The book chose women’s rights, which I wouldn’t debate given that femicide, spousal abuse and abortion rights are currrent areas of concern.  This is a land where the machista attitude still rules the nest in many homes, particularly in poorer neighborhoods or away from the cities. But to be fair, today’s Santiaguinos appear modern in every sense of the word and I don’t think this is Chile’s most pressing issue. I offered up drugs as a possibility, and we agreed that this certainly seemed to be eating the country from the inside out, influences the crime rate. But my student firmly put forth that everything – from attitudes towards women to drug use – can be attributed in some way to education, and she is right.

What do I see when I look at Chile? I see a nation on the verge of something amazing. But the people are divided. Everywhere else I have been race, caste and color have been the dividing cause between people but never have I been to a place where people are torn apart by class. If you have been reading my blog then you will know I talk about class alot – it was the subject of years of anthropological study based on Santiago and I freely admit that I look at most things from that angle – however few can deny that classism is not a problem in Chile today. How is this linked to education, you ask? It’s linked because the education system in Santiago purports this viscious cycle of discrimination. The state school system is falling apart at the seams, and as mums frequently point out to me, even some of the better private schools here are lacking in facilities and aid for the teachers (some even have 40 children per class too!). The top school – Nido de Aguiles – requires a entrance submission fee of $12000 and monthly extortionist payments to pay for the kind of services that were completely free in New Zealand.  The school day is long from 8am -4pm and teachers walk around in a state of serious stress.  And what are the students learning? Do they learn about the real people around them – perhaps on their lunch break while they play together? Nope because as they grow and leave school they attend a university that is filled with people from similar backgrounds. That is if they make it to university, given that the PSU exams are so ridiculously hard that without a support system around them many teenagers end up giving up, dropping out, failing or never living up to their potential.

Apt painting from La Moneda

I think the biggest mistake is to think that the school system is the only place where learning ocurrs, and that there is only one type of learning. We can learn to memorize historical treatizes from a hundred years ago, poetry from 500 years ago or solve math equations formed with dozens of squiggles, but at the end of the day do these things really matter? If we don’t know our neighbours or live in fear of being robbed by the nana or continue to justify a system where the poorest people live off a few hundred thousand pesos a month and cannot afford basic living conditions, then I can’t say that we are all that intelligent. This isn’t a “Chile bash” by any means – this conversation could be directed towards most countries in the world – but just because here it’s about Chile does not mean it should be shrugged off as the moans of another expat.  I came to Chile because I fell in love with a Chilean. His family is now my family, and his home is now my home. I would do anything to make sure that the people around me are happy and healthy, so when those two basic human requirements are not met because of education system flaws, then I feel the same need to change it. I’ll never be Chilean, I’ll never know the correct moment to use weon but that doesn’t matter. I am human and there are people around me who need help. A woman once told me that reading my blog opened her “eyes to what the real problem is in Santiago, and what everyone really needs to do.” The first is to overhaul the education system so that everyone gets a fair shot and the second is to stop the discrimination. Shakira sings “waka waka … we are all Africa.” Well, we are all Chile. Remove the pretend boundaries.

Reach Out. Barrio Concha y Toro

Food and Identity in Santiago

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.

Lessening of global borders


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