Friday, December 19, 2008
Globalization and the Potato Chip
Had a bit of free time last week to poke around nearby Indo-Pak groceries, but not just for buying. I am always on the lookout for material for my blog, which is really just the online expression of my interests including eating and photography, and anything related to the "hidden in plain sight" connections between the local and the global. So my little bit of fieldwork in food ethnography has yielded the following. World history teaches us that the humble potato made its way out of Peru about 500 years ago. We now find it virtually everywhere, and just as the image of Colonel Sanders has taken over that of Mao in China, when in India one could easily get the impression that the Frito-Lay logo is a national icon. Ma nahi samjha, I mean, like, one doesn't merely see bags of chips here and there, one sees them in every humble steet-side stall next to every other street-side stall providing internet service and other telecommunications (STDs!) and chewing gum. They are hanging splendiforously in multi-coloured rows, everywhere, like the fluttering sarees and dupattas in the mustard fields of a dozen or more Bollywood movies, each bag attached to the next and awaiting perforation by a buyer eager to taste "Rajasthani" or "Hyderabadi" flavors. Well, I already knew that I could buy the cheaper Indian version of Coca-Cola ("Thumbs Up") here in the States, and wondered why anyone would want to, including my son whose brief obsession for it abruptly ended when we discovered rot beneath the bottle cap. When we were in India, our group unanimously decided that the local no-brand and cheaper version of potato chips were much better than anything that Frito-Lay could muster, despite the efforts of Pepsico and Indra Nooryi. Don't get me started on water for Coca-Cola and what Monsanto has been up to in the subcontinent. Well, to get to the point, I was used to seeing the bags of New Jersey-made snacks (bhujia, etc.) also chaat like the Haldiram's brand made in the land of Horn OK Please / Mera Bharat Mahan, but I was completely unprepared for the latest arrival: FRITO-LAYS AMERICAN STYLE CREAM AND ONION, 2.8 0z. for 20 Rupees (less than 50 cents) in India and $1.39 here!!! Yeah, it costs a lot to get all those bags onto container ships and distributed to stores 10,000 miles away!!! For radicals who think it's bad enough that Frito-Lay is even in India or KFC in China this must surely be the tipping point! Let slip the dogs of war! Well, yes, of course I bought a bag. I had to taste and see, especially since they were labelled "Snack Smart" with 0 transfats (so we're globalizing fitness as well, I guess). What's next? Cream-free dal dishes and artificial substitutes for ghee? For the unbelievers, I attach a photo. There they were, right next to the Israeli pretzels and the Indian-made fried chickpeas (I guess the pretzels are justifiable because of the laws of Kashrut; if Manischewitz made them here I am sure they would taste awful and have to say something on the label like "Made in a plant that also processes carp, shmaltz, and horseradish"). More food for thought, from the smorgasbord of my mind.