[Marxism] Fwd: What on Earth is the Modern World-System? Foodgetting and Territory in the Modern Era and Beyond | Friedman | Journal of World-Systems Research
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Sun Oct 2 15:48:32 MDT 2016
The project of a common world cuisine, the culinary equivalent of English
as a world language, is embodied in the fast-food hamburger (Harris
1985: 121; Ritzer 1993). The history of the hamburger and its ingredients,
wheat and beef cattle, also traces the larger story of reconstellation and
suppression of ecosystems, from the forests of Europe to the grasslands of
North America, to the rainforests of South America.
The fast food hamburger condenses much of the simplification of
human diet, of the underlying complexity of the agrofood system, and of
the still deeper simplification of ecosystems to supply wheat and beef.
begin with some common distinctions. Is the hamburger an American food
imposed on the world, an edible enticement of cultural imperialism? One
could say so. It was invented in the U.S. despite its Germanic name and its
culinary roots in European wheat and beef cuisines, specifically fried disks
of ground fl esh. It followed bottled bubbly flavoured water (Coca Cola and
Pepsi-Cola, by name) into the local street food markets of the world. Like
the early wordless television advertisements intended for world consumption,
showing happy, healthy, frolicking, youthful people drinking Coke or
Pepsi, the commercial propaganda for hamburgers devotes considerable
technique, and money to create images of luxury and freedom designed
to lure humans all over the world into ingesting the food of America and
valuing it above the unglamourous cuisines of their ancestors.
As stupid, irrational and self-destructive a system capitalism is, it
reached new depths when it fostered the development of cattle- ranching
in Central America in the early 1970s.
The growth of McDonald's, Burger King and other fast food outlets had
created an insatiable demand for beef. These types of restaurants had no
need for the choice, fat-stuffed grain-fed beef that were found in super
markets. They could get by on the sort of tougher, lower- grade beef
that was typical of cattle that subsisted on grass alone, since the meat
would be ground up anyhow. The free-range "criollo" cattle of Central
America made a perfect fit for this expanding market.
Historically, the cattle industry in Central America was a very low-
tech operation. Cowboys would drive a herd to a major city where
slaughter-houses could be found. The cattle would be cut up and sent out
to public markets, often in the open air and unrefrigerated, where a
customer would select a piece of meat off of the carcass. However, to
satisfy the external market, a more modern mode of production had to be
adopted. Firstly, roads needed to be created to transport the cattle by
truck from the countryside. Secondly, packing houses had to be created
near ports to prepare the beef for export. Foreign investors made road-
building possible, just the way that British capital made railroads
possible in the US for identical reasons. The "Alliance for Progress"
aided in the creation of such infrastructure as well.
The packing-houses themselves were built by local capitalists with some
assistance from the outside. It was these middle-men, who stood between
rancher and importer, that cashed in on the beef bonanza. The Somoza
family were movers and shakers in the packing-house industry. As
monopolists, they could paid the rancher meager prices and sell the
processed beef at a premium price since demand for beef was at an
In addition, the Somoza family used its profits and loans from foreign
investors to buy up huge swaths of land in Nicaragua to create cattle
ranches. They had already acquired 51 ranches before the beef-export
boom, but by 1979, after two decades of export-led growth, their
holdings and those of their cronies had expanded to more than 2 million
acres, more than half of which was in the best grazing sectors. It was
these properties and the packing-houses that became nationalized
immediately after the FSLN triumph.
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