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Conferences Archive (2014-2015)

A Diet of Globalization: The History and Possible Futures of Mexican Foodways
Conference Date: 
December 4-5, 2014

Thursday, December 4th, 9.00am – 5.30pm
Location:  Institute for the Humanities, 701 South Morgan, Lower level Stevenson Hall

Friday, December 5th, 5.30pm – 8.00pm
Location:  Casa Michoacán, 1638 S Blue Island Ave., Chicago, IL


For the past half-millennium, Mexican foodways have been thoroughly trans-nationalized. Historians are well aware of what Alfred Crosby dubbed the “Columbian Exchange” in which the massive transfer of biota between Old and New Worlds brought not only microbes – and hence disease and death to Amerindian populations – but also new sources of food and environmental change to the Americas. The face of the Americas, and Mexico in Particular, was transformed by the importation of foodstuffs in the form of cattle, pigs, and other animals, along with wheat, sugar cane, grapes, weeds, and other plants. Four hundred years later, a lesser-known but no less epochal transformation of Mexican agriculture, ecology, and food has radically changed how Mexico produces and eats food. More than a mere shift in agricultural policy, the globalization of Mexico’s diet has profound consequences for how food is grown, prepared, and consumed. It is as much a revolution in taste as one of agroecology, and much of it is the direct result of deliberate policies and market campaigns emanating from the United States.

Beginning in the Porfiriato (1880-1910), the importation of foreign technologies, tastes, and (eventually) “improved” crops brought changes nearly as thoroughgoing as the Columbian Exchange itself. Between 1900 and 2010, Mexicans shifted from consuming local foods prepared for the most part in the home, to a globalized diet comprised largely of processed foods. In 1900 most food was produced in haciendas and pueblos that was sold almost exclusively in local markets, then prepared in the home for family consumption. Although this local circuit of production and consumption has not fully disappeared, Mexico’s foodways today are characterized by the consumption of foods pioneered in the United States, from Coca-Cola to hamburgers, to processed breads. Factory farms have all but displaced village production. “Improved” varieties of beef, wheat, soy, maize, and other crops are increasingly displacing native or long-established creole Corporations like Monsanto continue to press for entry into the agricultural landscape and, ultimately, tables (and feedlots) throughout the country. Today, Mexico is the highest per-capita consumer of Coca Cola worldwide, nearly half of the nation’s food is purchased from Walmart and its subsidiaries, and the nation is the world’s third-largest importer of corn. It is also the most obese country.

Despite the pioneering work of historians such as Jeffrey Pilcher – who is also one of the collaborators in this proposed special issue – scholars have only recently started to study this transformation in a sustained way. “A Diet of Globalization” explores various aspects of the history of foodways in modern Mexico. The goal here is not to produce an encyclopedic overview of the transformation in the production and consumption of food in Mexico (although the guest editor’s introduction will of course touch on these issues). Rather, we seek to explore various dimensions of the transnationalization – or rather, Americanization – of Mexican production and consumption of food, with special emphasis in the green revolution and changing patterns of taste. In particular, we seek to explore the link between the two.


Thursday, December 4th,

Welcoming Comments: Susan Levine, Professor of History and Director of the Institute of the Humanities, University if Illinois at Chicago

Panel 1: Growing Inequality – The History and Political Ecology of Food Production in Mexico

Kirsten Appendini, Professor, Centro de Estudios Demográficos, Urbanos y Ambientales. El Colegio de México.

“Maize and the Corporate Tortilla: Un Negocio Redondo”

This presentation will concentrate on maize and the tortilla chain. It investigates talk about the change in structure of maize supply, concentration of corporate interest in marketing, flour industry across borders and transnational consumption. The paper will trace some of these trends prior to the North American Free Trade Agreement, especially for the flour industry but concentrates primarily on maize.

Elizabeth Fitting, Associate Professo of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Dalhousie University.

“Mexican Maize and the Neoliberal Food System:  Transnational Movements of Labor and Resistance”

Mexican maize provides a window onto the contemporary food system. This paper focuses on two distinct but interconnected case studies: that of transnational labor migration from rural Puebla and the transnational connections forged by anti-GM corn activists. This paper argues that food activist representations of maize and its peasant producers can be both problematic and strategically effective.

Tore Olsson, Assistant Professor of History, University of Tennessee.

“Remaking the Mexican Farm: The Rockefeller Foundation and the Lost Promise of the Green Revolution.”

The “Green Revolution,” or the extension of First World agricultural techniques to Third World farmers, was pioneered in 1940s and 1950s Mexico by the Rockefeller Foundation. Most historians who have studied that program conclude that it was a top-down, misguided attempt to remake Mexico in the image of the Midwestern U.S. corn belt. This paper suggests an entirely different origin for the Green Revolution, revealing that the Rockefeller Foundation’s Mexican program was born out of earlier attempts to grapple with plantation poverty in the American South, and was initially quite sensitive to the needs and limitations of the Mexican campesino.

Commentator:  Prakash Kumar, Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies at Pennsylvania State University


Poster Presentations (UIC Students)

 Diet of Globalization 3  Diet of Globalization 2 Diet of Globalization 1
 Diet of Globalization 4  Diet of Globalization 5  Diet of Globalization 6
 Diet of Globalization 7  Diet of Globalization 8  Diet of Globalization 9
Panel 2: Consuming Inequality – Histories of Food and Consumption in Modern Mexico

Sandra Aguilar Rodríguez, Assistant Professor of History, Moravian College.

“From Taquizas to Sandwich Parties: The “Americanization” of Mexican Food in the Twentieth Century.”

What made Mexicans change their traditional diet in favor of processed food? This paper seeks to answer this question by exploring the changes in cooking and eating practices in the middle of the twentieth century. In order to do that I look at census data, nutrition policy, cookbooks, publicity, fiction, and oral history interviews.

Christopher Boyer, Professor of History and Latin American and Latino Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago.

“The Green Revolution Diet: The Agroecology of Food in Post-World War II Mexico.”

The Green Revolution arrived in Mexico in 1942, when future Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug began research on improved varieties of wheat and launched a project that culminated with the establishment of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT, in its commonly used Spanish-language acronym). Although historians are somewhat familiar with CIMMYT’s broad goal of increasing production of foodstuffs by applying technology in the form of improved varieties of seed, irrigation, pesticides, and artificial fertilizers, they have yet to study what Borlaug and the CIMMYT hoped to accomplish in terms of transforming Mexican food itself, and hence Mexican eating habits. This article will begin to explore the links between Green Revolution technologies and Mexican foodways, drawing an explicit link between the changing agroecology of the countryside and the formation of taste among Mexican consumers.

Jeffrey M. Pilcher, Professor of History and Cultural Studies, University of Toronto Scarborough.

“Mexico’s German Triangle: Beer, Migration, and the Midwestern United States.”

This article examines Mexican brewing from a perspective of global consumer culture. It begins in the post-revolutionary era when previous business histories of early industrialization leave off. It examines the political economy of consolidation, particularly Modelo’s growth under the impresario Juan Sánchez Navarro. It then looks at the international expansion strategies and alliances of Modelo’s Corona brand and rival Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma’s Sol.

Commentator: Gerardo Otero, Professor of Sociology, Simon Fraser University.

Discussion with Audience and Reception


Presentations, Interactive discussion, and Dinner

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Organizer Information:

Christopher Boyer (History and Latin American and Latino Studies, UIC)
Contact Info: 909 University Hall (MC 198), 601 S. Morgan Street, Chicago, IL 60607

This conference is sponsored by the UIC Institute for the Humanities. The project is supported by the Humanities Without Walls consortium, based at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Humanities Without Walls consortium is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.





  • Date(s): Thursday, 4/23 9:00 AM to Thursday, 4/23 7:30 PM
  • Campus Address: Student Center East, room 605
  • Address: 750 South Halsted
  • Location: Chicago, Illinois
  • Contact: Rachel Havrelock
  • Email:
  • Website:
The Great Lakes contain one of the world’s most significant shares of fresh water, a resource necessary to almost every human endeavor and one that is fast disappearing. Is the water in the Great Lakes a global resource? Should its use be restricted to the populations on its shores and connected watersheds? What limits should be placed on the extraction rates of private companies? What role should private companies take in updating antiquated water infrastructure? How can local governments and citizen groups balance investment needs and resource protection? Are new local systems of management necessary to safeguard a water system that, however abundant, is shrinking? The way in which one approaches these questions has obvious implications for those whose lives and livelihoods depend on the Great Lakes, but it also matters a great deal on the global scale where eyes are focused on the interstate and international frameworks that govern extraction and management of the Great Lakes. What happens with the fresh water of the Midwest matters not only to those in the region, but also to other parties desirous of access to its waters or looking to this still vital water system as a model.

The April conference will address transborder legal and political frameworks, as well as the ways in which class, culture, and gender influence environmental health and access. Topics include water sharing, toxins, privatization, energy systems, and regionalist approaches.


This conference is sponsored by the UIC Institute for the Humanities and the Institute for Environmental Science and Policy.  The project is supported by the Humanities Without Walls consortium, based at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Humanities Without Walls consortium is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 

Organizer Information: Rachel Havrelock (English, UIC)

Contact Info:  1909 University Hall (MC 162), 601 S. Morgan Street, Chicago, IL 60607