Latino Studies Food Industry
Meredith Abarca, Joshua Lopez
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0150


Food’s complex roles in Latinas/os’ lives are such that we simultaneously need to explore the dynamics caused by the food industry as well as those created by people’s foodscapes. The social and health sciences have for a long time researched how the three pillars of the food industry, production, distribution, and consumption, impact the Latina/o “body.” What these studies often show is how the economics and politics governing the mechanism of the food industry negatively affects Latinas/os’ lives in terms of labor conditions and consumer habits. More recently, the humanities—particularly history, literary studies, philosophy—have placed the focus on people’s foodscapes. This refers to the places and spaces where people gather, prepare, share, speak about, and eat food. It includes stories of food’s significance at the personal, familial, cultural, and historical level. Foodscapes encapsulate how and why people create and perform food narratives that define and redefine their sense of identity. Studying food narratives of how Latinas/os gather and share information meaningful to them, shifts the focus from “bodies” that keep the food industry in operation to people who embody food’s material and symbolic realities.

General Overview

Food narratives are generally defined as stories (and studies) centered on food’s transformative role on people’s lives. Cultural anthropologist Lidia Marte (Marte 2007) develops food-mapping as a methodology which is useful in creating a bibliography that captures the interdisciplinary nature of food studies. A food map as a tool to trace intersections, be these ecological, socioeconomic, cultural, political, historical, or emotional shows the how, when, where, what, and why of people’s foodscapes. Food narratives, produced by academic-based studies, creative literary works, films, documentaries, and oral histories, are discursive in nature. Sociologist Roland Barthes (Barthes 2019) says that food is a system of communication based on “a body of images, a protocol of usages, situations, and behavior;” he goes on to suggest that some places to study these forms of food narratives by “direct observation in the economy, in technique, usages and advertising; and by indirect observation in the mental life of a given society” (p. 13). The works in Latin@’s Presence in the Food Industry, for example, demonstrate many of these observations about Latinas/os’ foodscapes as do Carrasquillo 2011, Garcia 2002, and Saldivar-Tanaka and Krasny 2004. Wilhelm 2019 states that food systems “discursively communicate what characters [in literature] prefer not to, what cultures dare not, and what the concept of civilization cannot express in words” (p.58). This bibliography reveals the multitude of ways food speaks for characters such as in Ríos 1995, how it shapes cultures (Abarca 2006, Counihan 2009), and (un)settles realties words cannot convey (Earle 2012). The bibliography is organized under four categories to cover that range of food narratives that speak to the complex role food plays in the everyday lives of Latinas/os. The final category is a short list of key food studies works that help develop academically based analysis in which food is the central orbit of investigation.

  • Abarca, Meredith E. Voices in the Kitchen: Views of Food and the Kitchen from Working-Class Mexican and Mexican American Women. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2006.

    Explains how food and the culinary practices of working-class Mexican and Mexican-American women are a form of agency, which goes against most feminist discourses that the kitchen is a site of oppression. Also explains the key concept of sazon, which is a bodily knowledge used in cooking. Through this study, Abarca reveals how cooking and feeding can be taken up as a serious source of power.

  • Barthes, Roland. “Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption.” In Food and Culture: A Reader. Edited by Carole Counihan, Penny Van Estrik, and Alice P. Julier, 13–20. New York: Routledge, 2019.

    Critiques the assumption that food is insignificant and theorizes how food communicates much of the values, beliefs, and morals of a society. Concludes by drawing attention to the fact that as cultures and societies change so do their tastes, foods, and food practices.

  • Carrasquillo, Nelson. “Race and Ethnicity from the Point of View of Farm Workers in the Food System.” Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts 5.1 (2011): 121–131.

    Reports how migrant farm workers view race and ethnicity and how this applies to the food system. Through listening to multiple points of view, Carrasquillo argues that the agricultural sector of the food system is modeled after the plantation system of the 18th and 19th century. He also explains how farmworkers compete for jobs based on race, education, and status; Mexican workers against Puerto Rican workers, undocumented versus documented, and educated versus non-educated.

  • Counihan, Carole. Tortilla Is Like Life: Food and Culture in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.

    Investigates how Mexican American women use food to communicate, earn livings, and develop a sense of place and belonging. These women and their beliefs on food production, preparation, distribution, and consumption maintain culture and heritage in the San Luis Valley.

  • Earle, Rebecca. The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race, and the Colonial Experience in Spanish America, 1492–1700. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511763359

    Examines the foodways of the Spanish conquistadors in order to show how food and embodiment helped shape colonization and empire. Earle further explores how, because of disease, the Spanish believed they needed Spanish foods in order to survive because the unfamiliar Amerindian foods would kill them, or worse, transform them into Amerindians. This shows the relationship between food and colonization.

  • Garcia, Matt. A World of Its Own: Race, Labor, and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles, 1900–1970. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.5149/uncp/9780807849835

    A cultural and social history of the Mexican Americans who lived and worked in the citrus belts of Los Angeles. Garcia highlights how Mexican American laborers along with Asian migrant workers created communities and coalitions that protested and resisted labor abuses and contributed to the formation of a multiethnic community in Los Angeles.

  • Latin@s’ Presence in the Food Industry: Changing How We Think About Food. Edited by Meredith E. Abarca and Consuelo Carr Salas. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2016.

    An edited collection with interdisciplinary works that highlight how Latinas/os contribute to the food industry. The works in this collection stress how Latinas/os are resilient creators within the food industry rather than just passive victims of an oppressive food system.

  • Marte, Lidia. “Foodmaps: Tracing Boundaries of Home through Food Relations.” Food and Foodways 15.3–4 (2007): 261–289.

    DOI: 10.1080/07409710701620243

    Theorizes the concept of food mapping as a methodology for studying relationships between food, time, and space. Marte includes case studies where she employs this method and proposes potential uses for future research.

  • Ríos, Alberto. “Pig Cookies.” In Pig Cookies and Other Stories. 15–25. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1995.

    The reference to “pig cookie” is to a traditional Mexican cookie, and in the story by this title the young baker frees himself from the hyper-macho discourse of his siblings and speaks as a gentle-man through the sensibility of his hands making pig cookies.

  • Saldivar-Tanaka, Laura, and Marianne E. Krasny. “Culturing Community Development, Neighborhood Open Space, and Civic Agriculture: The Case of Latino Community Gardens in New York City.” Agriculture and Human Values 21 (2004): 399–412.

    DOI: 10.1023/B:AHUM.0000047207.57128.a5

    Discusses how Latino community gardens create a space for civic engagement, education, and advocacy. Latino community gardens also build community between US-born Latinos and immigrants who wish to keep their cultural heritage alive through food. Through hosting school tours, parties, concerts, health fairs, and voter registration, the community garden becomes a place to mobilize Latino communities.

  • Wilhelm, Randall. “Tasteful Insights: Food, Desire, and the Visual in Hemingway’s Literary Still Lifes.” In Modernism and Food Studies: Politics, Aesthetics, and the Avant-Garde. Edited by Jessica Martell, Adam Fajardo, and Philip Keel Gaheber, 56–71. Miami: University Press of Florida, 2019.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctvx0718r.7

    Analyzes the sensory experiences provoked by Ernest Hemingway’s literary still lives. Argues how Hemingway’s masculine characters often struggle with a combination of emotional inadequacies and sexual taboos.

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