Students study globalization and sustainability with professor in Mexico

ADAM MILLER, Contributing Writer

This past summer, Quinn Bergeon, ’16, and Thomas Alvarez, ’16, accompanied Elizabeth Olson, assistant professor of global health and development, on an anthropology research trip to Autlán de la Grana, Jalisco, Mexico. During the trip, they examined economic globalization, health and nutrition, sustainable development and social issues of the region. While in Mexico, they stayed with host families in order to understand the issues in the context of the local culture.

Olson’s interest in Mexico started in 1997 when she participated in a program to track monarch butterflies. Since then she has traveled back to Mexico many times, and each time her work has taken on a different angle. This time, in addition to the research, she had two goals:

“My goals were for [Bergeon and Alvarez] to have a positive experience in Mexico and for them to see authentic Mexico,” said Olson.

Alvarez is an international studies major with a focus on Latin America, so he was interested in the trip as a chance to travel to a region he had spent a large time studying.  Bergeon was attracted to the opportunity because of her minor in global health studies.

“I noticed that many students do not focus enough on their minor because their major determines their career,” Bergeon observed. “I wanted to find an internship or a travel abroad experience that would allow me to understand and appreciate my minor just as much as my major.”

The research focused on the region’s cultural habits, the effects that globalization has had on the local communities and how communities are trying to resist globalization. During their time in Mexico, they lived with host families and traveled to various local markets. One place they visited was a coffee shop called Cafe Cuzalapa that sells only local coffee. Bergeon pointed out that this is one example of a local shop taking a stand against globalization:

“It made them unique and it spread the word to the locals about the importance of not following the crowd and going against the pressurizing globalization strategy,” she said.

On the coffee shop’s website, they state their hopes in remaining independent:

“The purpose of our group is to improve the economic, social, and environmental situations and to preserve the biodiversity of the coffee plantations”.

In addition to studying globalization they also studied the local culture. Although there are many types of local foods available, you will still find processed meat at almost every meal. Professor Olson attributes this to what she calls diet transition:

“We see diet transition occur alongside modernization–as a region modernizes, processed food becomes more available.”

Their observations on globalization’s effects on the local communities found that many communities are trying to resist globalization’s reach through these small shops that have started to emerge. In addition to this they found that many people in the region still eat processed meat even though they have many organic and local options available to them; they would attribute this to modernization.

Both Bergeon and Alvarez hope to present these results in the Society for Applied Anthropology Conference in Pittsburgh when they return from their respective semesters abroad.