Global yet local – the case of Coca Cola

All this talk about globalization, cultural markers of identity, deterritorialisation, diasporas and more makes all these thoughts, ideas, and personal bouts I had with globalization spinning in my head. When today in class the Gatorade machine in the middle of the jungle was mentioned I knew I had my next blog post.

Spoiler alert: This is not about Gatorade, it is about Coca Cola.

Like Gaby posted before food and drinks are a very strong cultural marker. Coca Cola has a very successful export history and is, according to the Coca Cola website enjoyed in over 200 countries worldwide. Thanks to its distribution and bottling system you can find Coca Cola in virtually every country of this world.

Yet Coca Cola does not taste the same in every country. Since local water is being used wherever possible, the taste is altered. Also, the products that are being offered are fine-tuned to meet the local sense. Fanta in Germany is not Fanta in the U.S. and it is not Fanta in Mozambique.

Coca Cola is an example of globalization. It is everywhere and it’s spread was aided by globalization technology. The drink symbolizes western values and lifestyles. So how can something that is so global be so local at the same time? If like the readings suggested, globalization makes us aware of our differences and guides our thinking in a “us as opposed to them” way, how can a drink achieve that? After all,  unless you import bottles from one country to another you won’t really notice any differences.

Well, the one place where globalization comes together and allows each and everyone to see (but more likely taste) that the world is a global place with local taste is the World of Coca Cola in Atlanta. Once you have taken the tour and learned all about the history and how the bottles are bottled you are being lead into this room with fountain machines. Each one is labeled after a region or continent and the individual drinks dispensed are also labeled by country. You can sample as much as you want, the taste of the world is at your fingertips.

When I found myself in that room, globalization really hit home. I found Fanta from Germany that I had not drank in months. And I found a lemonade from Mozambique that I had not seen in years. People got really excited as they compared their “home flavor” with all the other ones offered. We all had this idea of how Coca Cola or CC products taste like but in this room we had to realize that the world is a big place with many different tastes. Not everything is yummy, by the way, there are some pretty hideous concoctions out there (to my taste anyways), but my point is that something that most of us would consider a marker of our culture is also a marker in many other cultures though it takes on a slightly different taste (or meaning if you want to bring it to a more theoretical level).

It is because of globalization that Coca Cola can be found in virtually every country in the world but it is also because of globalization that we can experience that global can be local without having to be a uniformed taste.

By Franzi

Full disclosure: I love Coca Cola the German way but the U.S. coke just isn’t the same so while being in the U.S. I (yikes!) prefer Pepsi. I know, way to ruin the mood of this post! Sorry Coca Cola!


What’s for Dinner, Ma? Food as Communication.

“…Food is much more than just a means of survival. It permeates all other aspects of our lives from the most intimate to the most professional practices. It also is a key factor in how we view ourselves and others, is at the center of social and political issues, and is a mainstay of popular media[…]food is a form of communication because it is directly linked to ritual and CULTURE…” (Food as Communication, Communication as Food, ix-x)

Through speaking with colleagues and reading the work of various scholars, it seems that the field of international communication today can’t easily be defined as it acts as an intersection of varying disciplines. While we’ve explored several international communication arenas, I’d like to take such a volatile topic into the realm of FOOD. Yes, you heard right…food!

So, let’s talk about food as communication. America today, perhaps since the start of the slow food movement in the 70s has “EPICURIOUSLY” enough (no pun intended) developed a serious fascination with food. I won’t even venture into the reasons why or the results (i.e. the boom of the Food Network, the call to eat local, the billions of food blogs who think they’re going to make it big, or the trend in taking culinary classes). The point is, food can act as an identity marker, a form of communication–it’s a language in which we transmit culture. So, let’s take it internationally–food as international communication. Where should we start? Global food security, food as an identity marker for migrant populations, different styles of eating,serving and preparing; different foods for different festivities, culinary fusions, gender based foods, and it just keeps going!

Let’s get down to business. Take some time to think about what food has meant for you internationally. For most people, food is 80% of the travel experience. But, let’s take it further. What has food communicated about a culture or a nation? I’ll give you two very basic personal examples:

1. My parents were born in Mexico. But, my great-grandparents (both my mom AND dad’s side) were born in Palestine and emigrated to Latin America circa 1920. There’s a very LARGE Arab population in Latin America, particularly those from Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Like most migrant communities, they brought their religion, language and culinary traditions. However, much of that has come and gone. Today, most Arab-Mexican families hold on to their identity through perhaps the few Arabic words they learned growing up, their last name and even their distinct facial features. However, one thing that remains most prominent is our FOOD. On special occasions, my family does not make Mexican food–we make Middle Eastern food–stuffed grape leaves, stuffed zucchini, stuffed cabbage, hummus, kibbeh, tabbouleh etc. And, it’s a social tradition where the women gather in the kitchen. For us, food has become an identity marker, or a form of communicating who we are–it remains one of the only ways to keep in touch with our identity, and our geographically distant lands.

2. Have you ever been offered food from a different culture that wasn’t necessarily of appealing gastronomical interest? I spent some time in Gwangju, South Korea, the culinary capital of the country. Because of the nature of the program I was working with, food naturally came with everything we did. I tried things I can’t even spell, and loved them all! I had, however, been warned about a Korean delicacy–fermented sting ray. I was told by my local friends that this culinary adventure was quite disliked by the younger generations as it proved very pungent, and that people in the northern part of S. Korea can’t stand it. It wasn’t long after that when I found myself seated at a dinner hosted by local Korean superiors I worked with where I was offered fermented sting ray. What would you do? I had two options: say no and completely deny their communicating with me, or enthusiastically venture into the realms of pungent chewy fishy goodness. Of course I ate it because I realized in that moment, their offering me a culinary delicacy from their culture was a way of welcoming me and opening their doors.

International Communication takes make forms, and often we might focus on the more conventional forms of communication. But, next time you find yourself encountered with food in any situation, think about what it’s saying to you.