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Guacamole Ecosystems: Agriculture, Migration, and Deforestation in Twentieth-Century Mexico

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“Guacamole Ecosystems” is the history of how the human and nonhuman inhabitants of a rural region in Twentieth-Century Mexico connected to the world by reshaping the local landscape and economy. Michoacán’s Sierra Purhépecha, in western Mexico, grows thirty percent of worldwide Hass avocados every year. In the 1940s, before being the world’s largest avocado grower, the Sierra Purhépecha was covered by pine tree forests where Purhépecha and nonindigenous peasants collected deadwood and resin. Occasionally, peasants cultivated avocado from the native varieties, Criollo and Verde, with other food crops. Although the avocado is native to Mexico, Rudolph Hass bred the variety that is now ubiquitous in the 1920s Southern California. Mexican bureaucrats, entrepreneurs, and U.S. scientists introduced the Hass avocado to Michoacán in the 1950s, but the avocado belt’s astounding expansion did not occur until the 1980s, when Michoacano returned migrant workers and Purhépecha and nonindigenous peasants abandoned their traditional lifestyle as agriculturalists and lumbermen to become avocado growers. This dissertation asks three questions: What were the ecological factors that enabled Michoacán’s Sierra Purhépecha to grow more Hass avocados than any other region in the world? Who promoted the transformation of Michoacán’s forests into commercial avocado orchards and who resisted it? And how has the U.S. consumption of avocados reshaped Michoacán’s landscapes and rural people’s livelihoods?This dissertation argues that the way we grow and consume food in the present is the result of having created a global food system that commercializes the illusion of distributing a wide range of what, in real terms, is very restricted and homogenous foodstuff throughout the world. By commercializing the idea of an abundance of identical food items for everyone, everywhere, whenever, the modern global food system has reduced our food options and resilience by decreasing rural spaces’ biodiversity, particularly in the global south. Producers are not the principal beneficiaries of this food arrangement, nor are the consumers but transnational food companies that profit the most at the cost of jeopardizing rural people and landscapes’ long-term subsistence.

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This item is under embargo until August 6, 2027.