Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Globalization of Food

Globalization is a multi-faceted process, the consequences of which can only be understood through an in-depth analysis of those facets. In this entry I will examine what globalization is and how it relates to the food industry. Then I will propose some of the pros and cons associated with the globalization of food.

In class we discussed four aspects of globalization: homogenization, hybridization, domestication, and resistance. I will use these four aspects as a starting point for my analysis on the pros and cons of globalization.

Homogenization in relation to food can be described as the lack of distinctive food tastes, cultures, and techniques. Critics of globalization fear that once distinctive cultures are being overwhelmed by global products. A great example being McDonalds or what is termed “McDonaldization.” We read an article on the issue written by George Ritzer titled The McDonaldization of Society. The article discussed how everything in the food industry (and other aspects of society) are being homogenized; from the food offered, the portion sizes, the costs, to the atmosphere of the restaurants (identical layouts, color schemes, and furniture.)

On the other hand, some argue that cultures retain their distinctive characteristics when faced with the introduction of global products through the process of creolization (the blending of cultural values into new forms).

This leads us to the second aspect of globalization: hybridization. This aspect describes instances where foreign food products are introduced into nations with distinct food tastes and traditions, and how the foreign and traditional foods combine to create new dietary combinations. This can be applied not only to the food itself but also the social and cultural implications which surround food, (the foodways as we discussed in class). For example, Melissa Caldwell describes hybridization in Russia via the implementation of McDonalds in her essay, Domesticating the French Fry: McDonald’s and Consumerism in Moscow in the book “The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating.” She describes how McDonalds changed its image through advertising and altering its menu (offering more Russian grown/raised foods) to appeal to the Russian culture of Nash (the idea of “ours” making claims of intimacy and familiarity with associations to Russian ideals.) The result was a hybridization of United States culture/food with Russian culture/food. The menu remained similar to that of the US menu, but the atmosphere and connotation of the restaurant itself changed. Instead of the quick in-and-out atmosphere we experience here in the US, Russian McDonalds welcome lingering customers, customers who bring their own food who just want to get out and socialize, and even moneyless, homeless teens.

This brings us to the third and fourth aspects of globalization, domestication and resilience. The above example is also a perfect example of the resilience of cultural ideals. Yes, McDonalds has infiltrated the Russian culture, but it did so compromisingly. The Russians were able to communicate their values and influence McDonalds to change to their liking.

The term domestication refers to the localizing of global foods. Some critics argue that the idea of what is local is being renegotiated. We can again draw an example from the Caldwell article. The Russians were more accepting of McDonalds after they began using meat grown in Russia. However, how “local” this meat is, is debatable. Is a product “local” because it is produced in the same country, or because it is produced in the same town.

So what are the pros and cons to globalization?

First let’s look at the pros:
* Homogenization has led to a “world culture.” Through technology the world has become a smaller place, access to other cultures is easy. It can be argued that this will lead to greater acceptance of other cultures.

* Homogenizing food has led to food standards of taste and quality. Cheap, hygienic foods are now available world-wide.

* People can rely on restaurants to have the same taste and cost in different locations.

* The expansion of the fast-food industry through globalization has created innumerable job opportunities to unskilled, uneducated workers.

* Developing countries now have a place in the global economy.

Now for the cons:

* Nations are losing their uniqueness.

* Though cheap and clean, food has lost nutritional values. People no longer have the access to fresh fruits and veggies that they once had, leading them to substitute these with non-nutritional, cheap alternatives.

* Unskilled workers are dispensable, leaving workers no room to complain about their work conditions.

* Workers in fast-food learn few transferable skills, making it hard to move up to better paid jobs.

* With so many outlets relying on the same sources for food, if any one source becomes contaminated, millions of people may become sick or die.

* Small scale farmers suffer economically.

* Environmental impacts: from making the space for mega-farms to the tons of waste created from fast-food restaurants.

In this entry I have outlined what globalization is and how it relates to the food industry. I then presented a few of the pros and cons to this globalization. I personally do not argue for or against the globalization of food. I believe there are indeed many pros and many cons. I also believe there may be some greater potential hidden in our current system; that is if we can possibly focus our energy away from the economic benefits of globalizing food. There may be greater benefits, such as curing world hunger. (This is a topic we will cover later in the semester so I won’t comment more on it at this time.)

Sources:

Caldwell, Melissa L. Domesticating the French Fry: McDonald's and Consumerism in Moscow. M. L. Caldwell and J. L. Watson. The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating, A Reader. (pp. 180-192). Blackwell Publishing.

Ritzer, George. The McDonaldization of Society 5. (pp. 1-21) New York: Pine Forge, 2007.

1 comment:

  1. Hi. Devin, I like how you explained the pros and cons of the globalization of food. I'm writing a textbook and was wondering if I might use some of your descriptions in the book. I woudl be happy to credit you as the source. Could you please reply to me? Thanks

    ReplyDelete