The Coloniality of Taste: A political ecology of middle class food practices in a Bolivian city

Sarah Kollnig

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)

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Cochabamba city, also referred to as the “gastronomic capital of Bolivia”, is a place where different cultures and tastes meet. Indulging in rich culinary traditions is a part of everyday life, but so are social differentiations reproducing long-standing inequalities between the indigenous and the non-indigenous population. In this thesis, the practices and politics surrounding food are used as a lens on social inequalities in Cochabamba city and Bolivia in general. The thesis consists of an introduction and three articles.
Conceptualizing food as having symbolic as well as material aspects, I investigate food from production to consumption, bringing out the inequalities inherent in the food system. A particular focus is linking social inequalities with their biophysical (i.e. corporeal and ecological) implications. The research follows a critical realist approach, looking into mechanisms and structures underlying the surface experiences of everyday life.
The analysis of the production end focuses on one product, industrially produced chicken meat. The production and consumption of poultry have been soaring in Bolivia. Factory-farmed chicken has replaced subsistence and small-scale chicken rearing. The economic accessibility of chicken meat, but also the seductive nature of Western food practices, have made chicken a popular fast food. I show that these developments have ecological consequences as well as impacts on human health. My research also reveals that it is mostly the well-established Bolivian elites that have benefitted from the popularity of chicken meat.
The more symbolic aspects of food are revealed in my analysis of the “distinctions” expressed in the food habits of the privileged middle class of Cochabamba city. While indulging in traditional Cochabamba meals, the privileged often feel the need to distinguish themselves from the urban population characterized as “indigenous”. In high-end restaurants and supermarkets, traditions are “sanitized”, symbolically cleared from any contact with indigenous producers and food vendors. The notion that markets and market women need to be “controlled” by the local authorities prevails, without any improvements in actual working conditions.
Both the introduction of chicken meat as a cheap protein source as well as the more “distinguished” food practices of the privileged population of Cochabamba are expressions of what I call the coloniality of taste. Through judgments of “good” and “bad” taste, people in Cochabamba and elsewhere contribute to keeping up patterns of exploitation with deep colonial roots. The success of chicken meat provides benefits for the elites while reproducing the position of the less privileged as providers of cheap labor and recipients of charity. The taste of the more privileged population reproduces the symbolic and material exclusion and exploitation of the population conceptualized as “indigenous”.
I propose that a critical re-appreciation of the food practices of Cochabamba city may provide a way to address and go beyond social divisions.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Human Geography
  • Burman, Anders, Supervisor
  • Hornborg, Alf, Assistant supervisor
Award date2018 Nov 16
Place of PublicationLund
Print ISBNs978-91-7753-877-6
Electronic ISBNs978-91-7753-878-3
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Oct 22

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2018-11-16
Time: 13:00
Place: Ostrom, Josephson building, Biskopsgatan 5, Lund
External reviewer(s)
Name: Canessa, Andrew
Title: Professor
Affiliation: University of Essex

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Anthropology
  • Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use
  • Social and Economic Geography


  • Cochabamba
  • middle class
  • white
  • coloniality
  • chicken meat
  • taste


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