Setting Place at the Table: The Cultural Biogeography of Mole

Strauch, David
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [December 2016]
The celebration of mole as the national dish of Mexico draws explicitly on the biogeography of its ingredients, often read as a proxy for the cultural origins of the national character. Mole is represented as coextensive with the Republic, complex, and a synthesis of New World and Old World elements. This thesis assesses these claims with attention to the spatial and taxonomic scales at which they are made, and discusses the implications of scale in narratives of place. A combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies draws on the dual traditions that (in)form cultural biogeography, and reveals connections between levels of generalization and narrative implication. Determining the biogeographical value of ingredients is found to be complicated by ambiguous taxa, culinary plant complexes, and varied ways of counting. The predominant discourse of mole is found to rely on ahistorical biogeographical essentialism, which supports dichotomous constructions of nationalism, while greater attention to the particular cultural biogeographies of the foodplants, at finer scales, undermines Eurocentric narratives and recognizes the agency of multiple indigenous cultures in transdomesticating plants across varied neotropical ecosystems. Ultimately, mole can be considered representative of Mexico not so much for a single determined identity as for the complexity of its diverse and ongoing interpretations.
MA University of Hawaii at Manoa 2016
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 68–81).
mole, cultural biogeography, Mesoamerica, transdomestication, Mexican foodways, scales of analysis, iconic foods
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