Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of Sociology and Anthropology: Sociology

First Advisor

Gina Hunter


Yerba mate, Ilex paranguariensis, is a shrub commonly found in the Atlantic Forest of South

America which covers part of northeast Argentina, eastern Paraguay, and southern Brazil. The

dried leaves and stem of the tree are used to make an infusion, called mate, used first by indigenous

Guaraní people. Today, yerba mate is widely consumed in the Southern Cone region and is

regarded as the national drink of Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. I argue that yerba mate has

entered the U.S. as a “superfood,” marketed as a product with nutritional and symbolic medicinal


In this thesis, I trace yerba mate’s construction as a symbol of Argentine national identity which

entailed both the exploitation of indigenous labor and erasure of the mate’s indigenous roots. I

show that this history continues to be relevant for understanding the meaning of yerba mate today

in Argentina. I focus specifically on two successful yerba mate brands, Taragui and Titrayju.

Drawing on a semiotic analysis of product packaging and a discourse analysis of contemporary

media narratives on yerba mate, I situate these brands within a larger historical context. I then

follow yerba mate transnationally with an analysis of its more recent marketing to U.S. consumers.

I focus on the most popular yerba mate brand, Guayakí, that markets yerba mate as a superfood

and as a socially and environmentally sustainable product to young consumers.

Despite different yerba mate narratives across the Americas, as a national symbol and as a

transnational superfood, very similar historical processes continue to undermine indigenous rights

and identity in both its place of origin and in its new U.S. market.


Imported from ProQuest Fochesatto_ilstu_0092N_11507.pdf


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