Saturday, October 16, 2004

Tequila! A natural and cultural history by Anna Valenzuela-Zapata and Gary Paul Nabhan

Keeping consistent with my interest in the intersection of humanity with other species, I grabbed my new favorite biologist's latest work and jumped in. A fascinating story of the agave plant and the roasting and the pulque and mezcals created from it. I learned that since the tequila boom of the past couple of decades, tequila is now the most frequently consumed spirit in the US, having surpassed whiskey. This also fits with the popularity of spicy foods and with the outpacing of salsa compared to "traditional" catsup as America's most-consumed condiment. (80-81)

In 1893 (Devil in the White City--for you readers), "the internationalization of tequila, crowned by the 'brandy awards' given to the Sauza family's mescals at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, ushered in this upscaling of fermentation and distillation of technologies." (48)

And because of the boom almost a century later...
"The problem was one of demographic vulnerability--two-thirds of the two hundred million agaves growing in Jalisco were planted within just a couple of years of one another, all derived from the same clone, blue agave." (57) ie: monocultures are not very smart (ecologically or--in the long term--economically)

and some tidbits:
"It is remakable that jimadores around Tequila still retain knowledge of the ancient and formerly widespread practice of descogolle. This demonstrates the complex of agronomic and ecological issues addressed by orally transmitted reservoirs of traditional knowledge, which, unfortunately, scientists misunderstand more often than they understand. There remain many parts of the agrarian tradition of the jimadores that have yet to be investigated, and there will be many surprises when this tradition is given proper attention. It is important to document the logic of traditional practices before they entirely disappear." (42) italics are matt's

from Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano (1971): "The real cause of alcoholism is the complete baffling sterility of existence as sold to you." (18) (matt's note: the hotel where the movie version of "Under the Volcano" was filmed was bulldozed a few years ago so that a Costco could be built)


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