The Argentine food trap: damaged stomachs and sloppy prices

The Argentine food trap: damaged stomachs and sloppy prices

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Despite the argument that food is produced here for 400 million people, in the country it is increasingly expensive to access healthy products and the poverty figures go hand in hand with alarming data on malnutrition and obesity.

The hot dog and the Coca. This inseparable pair, so deeply rooted and repeated in the expressions of popular language, is a possible synthesis of the defeat that Argentine food culture has suffered in recent decades. Our gastronomic habits have been reduced to ultra-processed products, not very nutritious and overloaded with fats, sugars and salt.

That explosive combo for the stomachs is also a deep shock for the pockets, in a country where access to healthy food is increasingly restrictive. Economic poverty has its correlate in food poverty, with the novelty that malnutrition coexists with being overweight. Common sense holds that "there were always poor", but the contemporary poor are also obese.

How did grandmothers recipes get buried by fast food advertisements? Is it possible to reverse the bad diet, based on products that are not cheap, in which a large part of society is trapped? Are there other possible models for healing stomachs and pockets when the pandemic passes?

Some questions to start the journey through the Argentine tables.

Globalized malnutrition

Marcos Filardi founded the Museum of Hunger in Buenos Aires, with the aim that this concept remains permanently in the past, as a piece on display from a country that no longer exists. Before he traveled thousands of kilometers of Argentine geography to understand the relationship of our society with food.

Your diagnosis: “Lhe different cuisines and local gastronomies were devastated in pursuit of the standardization of a very basic national food pattern, very lacking in food culture. What you find when traveling the country is the abundance of the ham and cheese sandwich, the hamburger, the hot dogs, the pizza, the pizzeta, the empanada. But the empanada not as an expression of diversity, but as something simple to do”.

Filardi is a lawyer specialized in Human Rights and a member of the Free Chair of Food Sovereignty (CaLiSA) that works in the School of Nutrition of the Faculty of Medicine of the UBA. From this broad and interdisciplinary space of thought, he proposes to look at the local food problem from a global scale: “That in Argentina we eat expensive and badly is the result of the agroindustrial model imposed by its big winners, whose interests are strongly interrelated. Food is a commodity left to the games of supply and demand in a globalized capitalist market economy that is increasingly interrelated and interdependent.”.

To understand the complex world map of food, it is worth looking at the data collected by the "Agribusiness Atlas: Data and facts about the agricultural and food industry" (2018):

* 5 companies monopolize the commercialization of grains and oilseeds: Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus Company and Cofco;

* 4 companies monopolize the market for seeds, pesticides, transgenic events and genetic editing: Bayer-Monsanto, ChemChina-Syngenta, DuPont-Dow and BASF;

* 10 companies in the food industry process raw materials into ultra-processed edible objects: Nestlé, JBS, Tyson Foods, Mars, Kraft Heinze, Mondelez, Danone, Unilever, General Mills and Smithfield;

* 5 supermarket and hypermarket chains concentrate food marketing in Argentina, among other areas involved: Carrefour, Cencosud (Vea, Jumbo and Disco) and Coto.

How did we get to this level of concentration? Several factors play a role. Soledad Barruti, who from her dual role as mother and journalist has been interested in researching human nutrition, points out in the introduction to "Malcomidos" (Planeta, 2013):“Since modern society - busy with other things, with no time for anything, overflowed and urbanized to the impossible - delegated the production of what it takes to mouth to the large food industry, nothing is what it used to be. Basically because the logic imposed by the market is only one: earn the most money in the shortest time possible. Not nurturing, not caring, not even being healthy: simply earning as much as possible ".

You eat very basic, very little diversity -says Barruti in the midst of the health crisis due to the pandemic-. Throughout the country, when you walk through it, there is an overabundance of the same: pizzas, milanesas, asado, empanadas, and greengrocers and greengrocers that have less and less variety. It is sad to see how food recedes and becomes a repetition that does not feed us properly. For the vast majority of inhabitants, access to food is very difficult to achieve because, on the one hand, they are very expensive, and on the other, they are difficult to find.”.

The United Republic of Coca

The Argentine Food Code, sanctioned in 1971, defines as food “any substance or mixture of natural or manufactured substances that, when ingested by man, provide the body with the materials and energy necessary for the development of its biological processes ”. And it also includes “substances or mixtures of substances that are ingested by habit, customs, or as adjuvants, whether or not they have nutritional value.”.

Have or not. A legal ambiguity that the food industry has known how to use for the good of all (its shareholders).

When he visited the Kolla Cholacor community in the Puna Jujuy, Filardi wanted to know which product was the most requested at the kiosk near the school. "The Danonino -they responded-, because the boys think that if they eat it they will grow like in advertising ”. A doctor in a smock, who repeats the script written by advertising creatives in Buenos Aires on camera, is the guarantee of nutrition for children from the North. In the field of CaLiSa, this product is affectionately called "Damageboy”.

Four out of ten boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 17 have overweight or obesity problems in Argentina. Among the population under 5 years of age, the figure is 13 percent. This is reflected in the National Survey of Nutrition and Health carried out in 2018 by the Ministry of Health of the Nation.

There are entire families that only consume sugary drinks during the day and in many cases these drinks are placed in the baby's bottles”, Says Andrea Graciano about her experience in primary health care in the City of Buenos Aires. She has a degree in Nutrition, is a member of CaLiSA and is also president of the Argentine Federation of Nutrition Graduates (Fagran).

Graciano invites you to consult another national statistic: the 4th National Survey of Risk Factors (2018). The final report reads:

* That Argentina leads the world consumption of soft drinks with 131 liters per capita.

* That the consumption of fruits decreased by 41% and that of vegetables by 21% in the last 20 years.

* That the consumption of sodas and powdered juices doubled in the same period.

* That almost 7 out of every 10 adults (over 18) living in the country are overweight or obese.

According to the nutritionist, “this problem affects the most vulnerable sectors the hardest ”. And he talks about the new corporeality in function of the social scale: “There is an old paradigm that associates obesity with the rich and leanness with the poor. The current context is super complex, where the prevalence of obesity is also observed in the poorest sectors. There you have obesity and also hunger”.

From Fagran and other sectors of civil society they have been pushing the sanction of a law that obliges brands to front warning labeling on their containers. This system, already implemented in Chile, uses black octagons that indicate the high content of fat, saturated fat, sodium (salt) and sugars.

In turn, this has repercussions on the prohibition of establishing deceptive marketing strategies for the consumption of these products, such as giving away toys. In Chile, for example, you cannot sell the Happy Meal or the Kinder chocolate egg.

The Argentine business lobby blocked the discussion in Congress during the macrista stage and no progress could be made.

Pockets and stomachs cared for

We eat badly but also expensive. You have to look at the hourglass, proposes Filardi.

It refers to the figure chosen by the English economist and academic Raj Patel, author of “Obese and Famished. The impact of globalization on the world food system ”(2008), to think about the agri-food chain. That is: many producers at the bottom, many consumers at the top and very few actors in the middle (the finer part), who are the ones who exercise the greatest power in the chain, paying producers less and less and charging them each time. more to consumers to maximize your profit margin.

Juan Pablo Della Villa, Head of Marketing of the Union of Land Workers (UTT), points out: “Food distribution and marketing is really concentrated, leading to price manipulation”. He explains that the same agro-export sector that prioritizes planting soybeans to send to China (60 percent of arable land has this monoculture) to feed the local population, is managed with the logic of foreign trade and that affects the Argentine gondolas.

The food market is in the hands of a group of financial speculators who do what they want”, Summarizes Della Villa. This situation is not new. The power achieved by agribusiness grew considerably in recent decades, as the State prioritized the inflow of dollars over the discussion on food sovereignty.

It is not that we eat expensive because the supermarket sells expensive - he points out -, we eat expensive because land, distribution and marketing are concentrated, and because there is a total absence of the State in those three parts that generate consumers hostage to the laws of the market”. To this we must add, he says, that inflation always beats Argentine wages.

Last year the UTT and other grassroots peasant organizations organized the First National Forum for a Sovereign and Popular Agrarian Program. In the final document of the forum, the need to democratize access to land appears as a strategic point that also affects the entire food production chain.

Is there a way out? Yes. Should the State intervene? Mainly. Are there examples? A recent one, with the UTT as the protagonist and the State as an ally.

The fruits, vegetables and vegetables that currently arrive in Tapalqué, province of Buenos Aires, travel almost 600 kilometers per route until they reach their destination, in the center of the Buenos Aires geography. Thanks to the impulse of the local mayor, Gustavo Cocconi, the UTT will form an agricultural colony there to produce food on 12 hectares of public lands.

This means that the almost 10,000 inhabitants of Tapalqué will be able to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and vegetables without having to pay extra marketing expenses. And, as if that were not enough, they will have access to food free of agrochemicals.

Della Villa proudly tells of this example, which adds to that of other agricultural colonies that his organization has, where families produce healthy and sovereign food to market at fair prices. As they have argued for more than a decade, a return to the countryside is possible and has favorable results for society.

In fact, the growth of the UTT in terms of production and commercialization allows it to make seasonal price agreements with the producer families, with a double purpose: to guarantee the sale of their plantations to them and to assure the consuming public true prices that are carefully maintained.

Barruti also aims to disarm the logic of concentration in the Argentine market: “All this problem always has to do with the same thing: access to land, productive inputs, markets, the breakdown of distribution chains that only benefit those who handle them and the inclusion and incorporation of markets outside supermarkets ”.

How do you get out of the current food trap? "There are many things to take apart, break and put back together”, Proposes the specialist in food issues. Perhaps it is time to recover the recipes of the grandmothers, ignore the advertisements and start eating more and better than hot dog and Coca.

This note is part of the thematic cycle “Who feeds us?”, Which is supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

ByMariano Pagnucco
Photos: Vicky cuomo

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