It was a bit of a squeeze the other night on the metro – as it is always is on the red line – when a family hopped on. Mama was rotund, Papa was large, oldest daughter was fat (and about 12 and dressed like a stripper), middle daughter was very large and there was a boy of about four who was extremely obese. You could argue that maybe their size was a genetic thing, but when I watched them all sit down and stuff their faces with McDonald’s I think we can safely say that perhaps their diet just isn’t flash hot. The boy than had an extreme tantrum for some lollies, which his mother embarrasingly gave to him. I sympathised with her in this moment – the whole train was watching and the easiest way to make him be quiet was to give in to his demands. I felt very sad because I could see the parents loved their children, with the father guarding them all protectively. They got off when I did to change to the yellow line, and they took the lift instead of the escalator.
I know people eat for different reasons. Nearly all of us have beccome accustomed to feeling too full, and we eat more than we need to – when we don’t need to. Our eating habits have changed so drastically over the last hundred years that its almost unrecognizeable (must read: The Gift of Good Land by Wendell Berry). Chile today is one of the most at-risk countries in Latin America, with the national Ministry of Health stating that 22.4 percent of children overweight and 22 percent of adults obese. Dr. Juan Carlos Prieto, from the Clinical Hospital at University of Chile, blames the ridiculous amount of bread that Chileans have become accustomed to eating – some six to eight servings a day – and one of the highest rates in the world.
Bread certainly is a staple item here. Everyone I know consumes it for both breakfast and dinner, usually with eggs, avocado or tomato. It’s delivered fresh to our local corner stores twice a day and it’s preservative-free so if you don’t eat it when you buy it goes all crusty and stringy.
In my opinion the cause of the dietary shift is the stratopheric rise of the supermarket. I trace the changing diet of Chile here an academic essay for Massey University, in which I detail how these hypermarkets have replaced shopping in local markets, or ferias, for the majority. I can see the appeal of supermarkets – your not forced to cook around seasonal ingredients, you can buy ready-made foods, you can buy cheaper in bulk, you can buy everything you need in one go … When you don’t have much money (or time) the supermarket is an excellent place to stock up on what you need to feel full, especially when buying pasta is sometimes alot cheaper than buying fresh vegetables. Note: the bread is not preservative free!
I have spent alot of time introducing readers to the people that I know in Recoleta. All of them are overweight. I’ve also talked time and again about the issue of education. The connection is obvious: 35.5% of low-income earners are overweight compared to 18.5% in Chile’s highest income bracket, with obesity twice as high for those with little education (Chile National Population Health Survey 2004).
In 2010, President Sebastián Piñera began a national programme to target the weight epidemic by increasing physical education in schools and a programme to refer obese children to nutritionists. However, given my own experience with a nutritionist in a reputable public hospital here, this is obviously not enough. Education is the root of the issue – people are just not being exposed to new information in the lower-income brackets, and they then do not have the means or tools to implement any changes.
Not quite what I had expected Manuel to say after telling him how much I loved living in Chile. What on Earth, I wondered, had caused such as explosive statement?
“They will be the first to talk about you behind your back. They are lazy and will think nothing of taking you for a ride. Trust me … NEVER TRUST A CHILEAN!”
Ironically, Manuel works in the profession that has the biggest reputation for ripping off people. He is a taxi driver, and works the day shift for a company that has an office near to where I live. The cars are not official and they do not use a meter, and as such offer cheaper fares than your regular black and yellow official taxi.
I seem to be the only gringa in Santiago that has rarely had a problem in a Santiago taxi. I actually love taking them. The majority of my Spanish vocabulary has come courtesy of taxistas, who all seem to have a burning interest in what I am doing here. I enjoy talking to them, but I do suppose I am biased because Luis is also a taxi driver.
Manuel has to be my all time favorite driver. Middle-aged and short with perfectly smooth black hair and a pair of black sunglasses permanently attached to his face, he is always the epitome of pleasantness. He hails from the north, near to Chiquicamata, and for many years worked in the mines. He came to Santiago in search of different work opportunities, and it is here that he met his wife, who is from Rapa Nui (Easter Island).
When I got in the car with him this time, the first thing he says is how exhausted he is.
“I just cannot keep up with how much my family eats. Every time I make money it goes on food and then -” he snaps his fingers, “it is gone! All day every day I am working and all I have to show for it is food that is always disappearing. I love my family but ahhh how I remember the days when I could relax!”
“Don’t you have time to relax now?” I ask him.
“I like a beer but I am a family man. And I work seven days a week, all day every day. But I cannot afford all the things my family needs! My body is so stressed that I cannot sleep. All the time I am twitching – stress controls my life!”
It is easy to sympathize with Manuel. Santiago seems to run off of the hours put in working. While some say Santaguinos do not work very hard (and let’s be honest, have you ever had customer service here?!), many of them seem to have much longer work hours than I am used to in NZ. In service based jobs, the wages are generally very low and Santiago is not a cheap city to live in. Hence why extended family members tend to live together and why teenagers don’t leave home straight away. Before I went to work, we lived solely off of Luis’ wages and we did alright, if that meant that we could afford food. But it was impossible to do anything else, like save, buy things Emilio or the house needed, do something recreational, leave the city or pay off debts. And when our calefon broke, we could not afford to buy a new one (and I was even working then) so we went without hot water for THREE MONTHS!!! Do you know how irritating it is in the cold to boil water for a bath (our kettle broke at the same time!). We took it to be fixed but no-one had any idea what was wrong with it. Luckily, Luis fiddled about with it one day and it magically worked. “The Mysterious Incident of the Calefon” – we never did find out the reason.
So when Manuel told me his difficulties, I got it. Chile is a lot cheaper for food than NZ but the little things add up quickly when you don’t earn much. I like Manuel because he is like a breath of fresh air. His views are honest – sometimes quirky and profound – but always honest. Although I wonder if he includes himself as one of the Chileans to be “wary of.”
“Just trust me Helen. Things are very different in Chile to Norway.”
“Yes. Nueva Zelanda. And what is the weather like in Norway?”
* Giggle* I have given up correcting him. I am just happy that he understands my Spanish and that I (mostly) understand him! Manuel is a lovely, trustworthy man who provided me endless support when Emilio was hospitalized a few months back. The whole street rallied around us then. But that is a story for another day. I shall sign off here and brave the ice berg that is my bathroom before finally hitting the hay. If you encounter a silver car in Recoleta with a happy guy wearing sunglasses you may just be lucky enough to be travelling with Manuel – say hi, listen to his stories and tip him well!
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.