Commodifying Quinoa: From Andean "Mother Grain" to Modern "Superfood"
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- Quinoa; Food Anthropology; Commodification; Fetishization; Social and Cultural Anthropology
thesis / dissertation description
This research explores the processes involved in the commodification of quinoa, a grain native to the South American Andes. After being introduced to the US marketplace in the early 1980s, quinoa has transformed from South American indigenous staple to a darling of the US food industry. In this research I use the theoretical framework of Karl Marx and Arjun Appadurai to uncover the processes at work in the commodification of quinoa. As quinoa enters the US market and grows in popularity, it necessarily becomes increasingly delinked from its place of origin at the same time as it undergoes changes - both physically and culturally - in order to appeal to a different consumer base. Using Marx and Appadurai’s terminology, it becomes indigenized and fetishized. Fetishization refers to the process by which the consumer is removed from the realities of production. Indigenization refers to the process by which a foreign object becomes molded to fit within the cultural values of a new culture. My research question is: what do the processes of fetishization and indigenization look like for quinoa in the US marketplace? In order to understand these two questions I carried out three methods. I surveyed 180 quinoa consumers, carried out a content analysis of various quinoa packages, and traveled to Colorado where I conducted five ethnographic interviews and visited the only commercial quinoa farm in the US. Through these three methods I found that the indigenization of quinoa took three main forms: physical indigenization (turning plain quinoa into products American consumers recognize and desire), the indigenization of language, and finally growing the product in the US. I found that indigenization and fetishization are very intricately linked and work together to obscure the reality of production from the consumer. My goal in this thesis is to provide a meaningful understanding not only of the consumption of quinoa within the United States but ultimately a broader understanding of our relationship with the products we own and consume.