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Gina Hunter

Mentor Department



This paper uses a semiotic analysis and a global commodity chain approach to examine yerba mate as a tool of nation building in South America and an emerging superfood in North America. In particular, I analyze the language and symbols used in the most popular yerba mate brands in Argentina (Taragüi) and the U.S. (Guayakí), and use historical analyses and other secondary data to interpret what these symbols index for consumers in each locale. Yerba mate, Ilex paranguariensis, is a plant commonly found in the Atlantic Forest of South America, a region composed of northeast Argentina, Paraguay, and southern Brazil. Although yerba mate is widely and popularly consumed in these countries, it has only recently been introduced to consumers in the United States. In this new U.S. context, yerba mate has become a "superfood." As extensively studied by Loyer (2016), the health food movement capitalizes on exotic "superfoods" that promise wealthy Western consumers nutritional and medicinal values backed by indigenous wisdom. Like other exotic superfoods, Guayaki's yerba mate marketing promises nutritional and medicinal values validated by a narrative constructed about the indigenous Aché in Paraguay. This paper continues to analyze the new "superfood" concept that has arisen in Western food discourse by taking a closer look at the case of yerba mate. A transnational analysis of yerba mate product labeling reveals how the construction of yerba mate as a superfood highlights historical processes of nation-building that continue to reinforce oppressive narratives that undermine indigenous rights and identity in both its place of origin and in its new Western market.

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