Cola and Culture

Food has a great impact on cultures around the world, and a good example to illustrate this is a corporate consumable, such as the popular drink Coca-Cola. Anthropologists can find many different impacts and relationships between a culture and something as simple as a name-brand soft-drink, and these impacts are viewed differently depending on the theoretical approach used.

For example, if a Cultural Evolutionist were to study this, the thought-process would follow these lines.  A society that has incorporated corporate food items is most likely industrially well developed and evolved, otherwise no company would wish to invest in dispersing its product in a country or area where no one could afford it, or where the company would not make a profit.  Cultural Evolutionist use their own society as the standard for comparison, so if a culture has had Coca-Cola almost as long as this anthropologist’s society, then that culture would considered to be more modern than say a culture which has had Coke for a far shorter amount of time. A society which has Coca-Cola plants, in which modern technology is used to bottle the product, and the soda has become a major staple in the society’s groceries, would be ranked higher on the evolutionary scale than a society which only imports Coke, while that society would rank higher than one which has yet to have the influence of “modern” products on its culture. According to Cultural Evolutionists, these societies still in the stages of savagery and barbarism, however, have the potential to someday become just as “evolved” and “civilized” as modern societies. There is potential psychic unity among all cultures.

Those would be the views of a Cultural Evolutionist on the relationship between a corporate food and a culture. These would be flawed, however, because the views are inherently racist, ethnocentric, and also ahistorical (there is no study into the past of the culture now presently “evolving”). Additionally, the people doing the study would probably be armchair anthropologists, never entering the field.

Another possible theoretical approach that could be used is Boasian Anthropology. A Boasian Anthropologist would most likely view the relationship of Coke and culture much differently than the above approach.  A culture that has recently incorporated a corporate beverage into its daily life could possibly begin to lose its traditional drinks, and these traditions should be recorded.  Each culture should be viewed through the lens of historical particularism, meaning each culture has a unique history, and should thus be seen through cultural relativism, the idea that no culture should be judged or measured by another culture’s standards, comparing apples to oranges. The diffusion of Coca-Cola into this culture is interesting, and the culture’s past should be saved for the future generations, salvage ethnology should take place; for example, what did the native people drink before Coke? Where did they work before Coke plants opened? What traditions are being lost due to industrialization? These are all questions that Boasian Anthropologists would ask. The flaws to their recording of a culture’s history is that they fail to see the present impact corporate consumables have on a society, and how it is changing currently. They are too focused on the past and preserving it.

— Carson H.

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54 Responses to Cola and Culture

  1. Luke Nelson says:

    I like your idea about the presence of coke being used to measure a society’s development, but how do we account for the widespread presence of coke in countries that are still developing. Instead of looking at a presence of coke to determine a culture’s overall development, could we look at who within a culture has access to and consumes coke, in order to determine hierarchies within a culture? Finding who has access to luxuries like soft drinks in these developing countries could tells us who has the most access to resources, and therefore holds the power within that culture. This idea takes a different approach than cultural evolution, and I doubt an early cultural evolutionist would take such an in-depth look at a particular culture to learn this, more likely they would just make a snap judgement like you pointed out. But for our purposes I think it would be interesting to look at. I really liked the points you brought up in your paper, and you did a nice job of pointing out the flaws of the Cultural Evolutionist perspective.

    • Irina Vagner says:

      I agree with you. It might be very interesting to look at what a Symbolic Anthropologist would say about that. I understand that it might be too much for one essay project, but overall, to train our Symbolic Anthropology approach techniques might be very helpful.
      I think that this theory would also look at something you Luke has mentioned: who has access to this product, and to go further, what does it symbolize. For example, I grew up in post-communist Russia, when everyone was trying to get a little piece of Western (even American) culture. I remember how one day my friends an I enviously turned our eyes to another kid, who had a coke can in his hands. That can guaranteed him a preferable social status on the playground, only if he’d share this magic drink. As it appeared to be, he was drinking homemade lemonade, and as for the can, he found it already empty on the street. Unfortunately, he slowly got excluded from the playgroup.
      Coca-Cola, a pair of blue jeans, and probably a gum were the most popular and hard-to-get items in the Russian 90s. It is quite interesting how such ideas like independence, wealth, and freedom get conveyed by simple things in life like Coke.
      Is that coke actually so much better than that lemonade the kid was drinking? Is it healthier? It is quite questionable, but all we knew then is that it was much cooler.

      • maximus1090 says:

        Irina, it is so interesting that you chose the phrase “everyone was trying to get a little piece of Western culture.” I am doing a project on development for another class, and one of the most prominent phrases that stuck out in my mind is “everyone wants a piece of the development pie.” One of the most fascinating things about development is the variation in the subjective, local definitions and meanings associated with the notion of development itself and its constituent components. Like the Pringles container that Professor McGranahan mentioned in class, the coke bottle adopts varying meanings within the cultural contexts of the communities that it enters. Along the same lines, the very existence of Coca Cola product in different countries and communities takes on an entirely self-established, although outside-influenced meaning.

      • Brenna Hokanson says:

        I agree that a symbolic anthropology approach would be compelling, but I would take it in a different direction. I would like to investigate the ability of such deeply ingrained social/ status symbols (e.g. Coca-Cola) to give rise to other symbols. For example, the archetypical Santa Claus image was created by an artist doing advertising work for the Coca-Cola Company in the 1930s. This is noteworthy to poststructuralist anthropology as well, because I would hypothesize that the ability of the Coca-Cola Company to recreate the image of an already existing character so thoroughly is directly related to the power it holds over society.

    • Kara Gibson says:

      You make a good point in suggesting that hierarchies within developing nations can be revealed and understood by looking at consumption of corporate goods. By seeing who can afford them and who can’t it becomes clearer who shapes the development of a nation. But it would also be interesting to investigate how the consumption of these good drives the development itself. As was mentioned in the paper, if this good is being consumed does that mean that local customs or norms are being replaced? If so, what effect will that have on further development? What relationships will be formed between the nation providing the good and the one consuming it? It seems that the connection between the producer and consumer could have an important impact on how the nation would develop and the characteristics it would adopt. For example, would a nation that imports Coke from the US develop differently from one importing tea from the UK? I’m not sure if the difference would even be valid but it would be interesting to research it further.

  2. Joseph DeMoor says:

    I agree with the above comment, i think that Coca Cola, McDonalds, many other American “brands” are powerful because of what they represent. In many countries McDonalds is considered “nice” and for someone to drink a Coca Cola shows that they are in touch with what is cool… This could be an example of diffusion.
    A Coca Cola represents so much more than what it is, a yummy dark soda. One example that comes to mind for me is in the movie, Slum Dog Millionaire, there is a scene where a man tempts the two boys to come to his cult like camp, he tempts them with bottles of coke. The coke appears to be high valued, almost mystical to the young boys.

    • Ben (Joffe) says:

      Great observations. Incidentally, early Coca Cola manufacturers relied heavily on quasi-religious, mystical language to sell their product (and arguably still do), and described their own corporation in religious terms. David Chidester, one of my religious studies lecturers at the University of Cape Town, has written extensively on the topic. For anyone interested, he has a great piece called “The Church of Baseball, the Fetish of Coca-Cola and the Potlatch of Rock ‘n Roll: Theoretical Models for the Study of Religion in American Popular Culture” (1996, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, LXIV(4): 743-765). Look for it through the UCB library online.

      I also found this, which in some ways develops Irina’s comments:

      • Irina Vagner says:

        I have never heard about this discussion before, Ben.
        For those who are interested about the Coke ad itself It has a picture of some iconic Russian Orthodox Cathedral through the coke bottle silhouette and a logo “Value of traditions”.
        This ad gives the audience an idea that Coke is the same sort of tradition as a church (which is a big deal in Russia). It is obvious that the people who created it did not put too much thought in it. From my point of view, this ad is an oxymoron: Orthodox traditions that date back to 988, and Coca-Cola, which was brought in the early 90s (20th century) are being compared as it is the same sort of tradition.
        In other words, to bring a new product to a culture, you have to make an analysis not just of a potential market, but of a potential client. The Coca-Cola advertisers might have been right about strong bonds of Russian people and Christianity, but they did not interpret them fully. That is why big corporations should seek Applied Anthropology’s help. From this particular example we can make a [questionable] assumption that this field is either non-developed or non-existent in Russia. (#2 is correct)

    • Mackenzie Clarkson says:

      It’s funny because recently in America there has been this strange transcendence of coke worship where we no longer honor American coke as a symbol of wealth or cool status (though it kind of did at one point, I mean what commercial could be cooler than this one:, thanks Coca-Cola for bringing the world together in perfect harmony. This ad also brings up a whole slew of other conversations about how Coke continues to represent who it wants to drink it through their commercials, but I digress) instead we now honor MEXICAN coke as a symbol of cool. Because it’s made with real sugar instead of High Fructose Corn Syrup, but really the money is still going to the giant coke man, and the real cool comes from the jumping on the anti-HFCS bandwagon, which is a sort of protest against monocropping and farm subsidies. What a tangled web we have woven.

    • Jodye Whitesell says:

      I agree with what you’re saying about the value of Coke because of what it represents and I would actually take it even further than just American brands and say that this applies to the idea of “otherness” in general. There is something mysterious and inviting about infusing native culture with foreign or exotic items from other parts of the world. This applies to Coke in this case as it is the exotic, the exciting item from the West, but I think the idea of intrigue and mystical value as you’ve said apply to virtually every culture. Consider the rise of Orientalism in the early 19th century. In that situation, Americans placed extremely high values on decor, etc. from Asian countries, particularly Japan. It was a fashionable statement of power to have a home decorated with Japanese paintings or rugs, just as it is a power statement for people in non-Western societies to have brand names like Coke. The same would apply for African decor or jewelry in many American homes as well where there is something mysterious and “different” about having items from different parts of the world that set you apart from typical society, even if it is just an imported style, not an actual imported item. I believe it’s not only a power statement because of Coke’s economic status, but because of the psychological and cultural implications of possessing something from another culture.

  3. Landon Shumaker says:

    Strong body paragraphs, good job fully analyzing Cultural Evolutionism and Boasian theories. The intro was lacking in a catch but the information in the body made up for that. This topic is interesting and I think if this topic was looked at using globalization as a key idea would help prove that Boasian theory would be much better representative, rather than Cultural Evolutionism. It would be interesting to look into what the actually society itself says about the globalized economy that is bringing in these foreign corporate giants. Overall interesting topic and excellent overview of the theories used.

    • Peter Zwickey says:

      Landon I agree here about the overall strength of the organization of the paper. Incidentally I agree that the intro lacked a catch and there wasn’t a well defined conclusion either. I think Coke is the poster child of globalization. The degrees of which coke is used as a status symbol in many countries is particularly interesting and I think that would have made your paper even better. The ending could have been separated out and more ideas could be fit in. Great job! cheers

  4. danieltpeterson says:

    Your bit on cultural evolution was very mind opening for me to see how the globalization of the world can be affected by companies such as Coca-Cola. Today I would think that a vast majority of countries have incorporated coke products into their society. I wonder if the length of time coke products have been in a country really depicts how industrially advanced they are though. Just because countries can accept shipments of product does not necessarily mean they are more advanced and vice versa just because countries can build factories to produce these goods does not necessarily make them more advanced.

    • Casey Shea says:

      Even if a country’s consumption of “modern” products isn’t a reliable indicator of their relative advancement from a cultural evolution standpoint, it can still affect how the populace of that culture view themselves. In class, Prof. McGranahan presented an example regarding a young girl from Nepal who understood modernity to be symbolized by consumer goods. In her eyes, her village’s transition to modern living would be complete when she could eat packaged cookies. Are mass-marketed goods are seen as a pinnacle of civilization to strive for across the globe? What does that mean from an environmental standpoint?

  5. Kelsey Robb says:

    I really liked your essay and I think it’s interesting to look at Coca-Cola from a cultural evolutionist’s point of view; however, why would the cultural evolutionist view the society with Coca-Cola plants as civilized and not the society that imports the Coke? I know that we see a Coca-Cola plant as modern because of the technology used, but I think that the society importing Coke products could be seen as modern as well. I guess this just enforces the flaw of the cultural evolutionist theory that they judge where a culture is ranked based on how developed their own society is.
    And I know that this doesn’t really pertain to the essay, but the Coca-Cola factory in Atlanta, Georgia is really cool. It’s amazing to see where Coke started and how it has progressed throughout the world. It also shows that in order to make a profit (which was brought up in the essay), the company changes the taste of certain Coke products to appeal to different cultures.

  6. Rebecca Powell says:

    Kelsey, I think you have an interesting point about whether or not the countries that ship out Coke are considered civilized. I think the point must be made though, that countries that ship AND drink Coke are considered civilized, such as the USA. But countries that only (or mainly) ship out things like Coke (and clothing, as seen by the example in lecture where we checked our clothing tags for where they were made) are often periphery or semi-periphery. The obvious reason here being that labor and products are cheaper when made in these kinds of countries, I think a bigger problem is exposed. I think that Contemporary Anthropology, although well-developed, still has many problems. One main problem is that core countries reap great benefits from semi-periphery and periphery countries, and only a big and controversial change could really turn this process around.

  7. Robin Fiore says:

    Since we are talking about Coke in an anthropological setting, I really don’t think we can leave the movie “The Gods Must be Crazy” out of the discussion. I’m sure most of you have seen this movie, but if you haven’t it’s about the San. In the movie a Coke bottle falls from a plane. The San, having no way to understand what it is, assume the Gods sent it and that it is for all sorts of weird stuff. It’s kind of a silly movie, but it does bring up some questions about what Coke symbolizes in relation to what was being said about symbolic anthropology. It was never really discussed in class how cultures interpret meaning in symbols when they have no framework for understanding what it is, as was the case with the San in the movie. It makes me wonder how Coke was recieved when it first reached other cultures. Did they form their understanding of the symbolism of Coke through advertisements or through contact with other people (who might have told them it was “Western” or “civilized”)? I think this would be interesting to look at. Also, it would be interesting to see how these initial impressions of the symbolism have changed. For example, Irina was saying it was seen as desirable in post communist Russia. But during the communist era I’m sure it was not seen as desirable. So the symbolism of Coke changed over time.

  8. Kelcy Schamehorn says:

    When reading through the first anthropolgical perspective in this essay, i also disagreed with the ranking of civilized countries based on factory exporting versus importing and consuming. Obviously the U.S. has a huge impact on what other cultures and countries “borrow “from us through diffusion. Because we advertise and rank Coca Cola in our own country so highly (seeing it as a major symbol of our country itslef) it only makes sense that other ocuntries would want to adopt this new beverage into their culture as well. but then i started to think about how different cultures develop such diverse tastes in foods and beverages and i had a hard time beleiving that Coke would become so popular when it has such a sugary, fizzy and distinct taste. i began to ponder over how here in America we have great dental care, and if we drink too many Cokes we develop cavities and we just take a simple trip to the dentist and ‘poof’ everything is fine again. However, many peripherial countries to not have access to this kind of care so i did not understand how so many people would be accustomed to this drink. Then i read Kelsey Robb’s comment about how the company will actually change the taste of Coke to make it more appealing to their consumers. This is such an intersting concept because you really get to see how much these people want to be associated with our “national drink” but still develop their own form of it which makes it somewhat unique at the same time.

    • carsonhughes says:

      This is an interesting concept, indeed. Other countries wish to partake in the image of a Coke drinking hipster, but the taste has to be indiginized to fit into their culture. I’ve witnessed a similar phenomenon in Yerba Mate, but coming from the opposite direction. I’ve been a Mate drinker for about three years now, starting on the loose leaf, original drink historically enjoyed all over South America. It’s taste is very earthy, and somewhat bitter. Guayaki, an American company, recognized its potential as an energy drink and marketed it to the American community, selling it in bottles, and adding sweetener and other flavors such as mint. After this drink was Americanized, I’ve seen it all over, including the Emporium on campus.

  9. Morgan Piper says:

    While Cultural Evolutionist and Boasian critiques in this paper are very accurate and well supported, I believe that a part of the critique is missing. Though this discussion has been very detailed and thought provoking, no one has mentioned what it means anthropologically if a country does not have Coke products as a luxury or a staple. I think this is a very important to realize that while Coke may be a symbol to Americans that a country is developing or has developed, from another countries perspective it could mean that a country has given in to Western ways. While we believe this to be good, other countries may take this as a sign of weakness. This leads me to believe that maybe some countries, which we believe to be less developed, are actually purposely deciding not to purchase Coke products because they do not see it as a luxury. Another point that could be brought up is that they are not developed enough to have been able to see Coke advertisements or witness a tourist drinking a Coke so they do not fully understand what is so luxurious about drinking a Coke.

    • Ben Perkins says:

      I agree that although some may see coke as development, others may not like it because its symbolic of the West. This made me think of Vietnam and how there are only two popular fast food restaurants, KFC being one. The rejection of many fast food restaurants, specifically McDonald’s, in order to ‘preserve’ their food and cultures, rejecting the West.

  10. sleepy head says:

    I like how you explained cultural evolutionism, but you might want to consider the evolutionary history of a product within a nation against the evolution of a product between nations. A cultural evolutionist may look at how public perceptions of a product has changed in that countries history. For example, though coke may once have had a a large cultural role on our nation’s history, the influence of coke on our culture has arguably waned. This might be seen as a sign that we are beginning to evolve past coke since it no longer carries the cultural status it once did. This may happen because it is no longer viewed as a luxury item since so many people in so many cultures and socioeconomic groups have access to it. However, it might still have a cultural status in countries that have gained access to it recently; as Jay Z might ask “we off that, is you still on that?”

  11. Katie Legge says:

    after reading this essay, i counld help but relate it to other class i am tking right now. one of the things i have learned this year that Boulder, CO is one of the richest and healthiest cities in america, and i was wondering what thier perspective on coke whould be, especially with regards to a cultural evolutionist perspective. from my experience, more and more people, usually affluent families from places like Boulder, have shifted to value health and exercise over commidities like coke. it seems like in these societies things like whole foods and biking to work are praised above what some might call the “american dream.” is it possible that this discarding of coke and mcdonalds is going beyond the highest level of being civilized and/or creating a new high culture?

  12. Robin Fiore says:

    I found the comments about how other countries may not enjoy the taste of coke interesting. Also, the comment about the South American drink that has been americanized to be marketed here was interesting. It reminded my that when I travel I often notice that some soft drinks tast differently in other countries. For instance orange fanta tastes less fizzy and more fruity in Europe and Mexico, and coke itself tastes slightly different abroad. It made me wonder whether companies such as the coca-cola company hire applied anthropologists to research the tastes of local perferred drinks they they can try to emulate those tastes in their own drinks, making them more marketable. This would make sense to do, and would also explain the different tastes of the same drink. It sounds like this was done with the South American drink, since people in America tend to enjoy drinks with more sugar they added it to make it more marketable.

  13. Bryan Daino says:

    I really like this paper topic. Coca-Cola is one of the largest brands in the world and almost everyone in the world can recognize the coke symbol. The paper says that the longer Coca-Cola has been in a country the longer the country has been more modern. I have traveled a lot in my day and I have been to some remote places of the world that I don’t seem to be a modern country, but they all have Coca-Cola. Why would you view the society with Coca-Cola plants as civilized and not the society that imports the Coke? I would think almost the opposite because big corporations like Coca-Cola would out source their labor so they could make the product for cheaper. They also wouldn’t have a production plats in every European country which for the most part are very civilized.

    • John Vertovec says:

      I also enjoyed this topic and thought that the comment left by Bryan Daino was insightful. In regards to Bryan and Carson, I feel that this topic could be look at through a poststructuralist standpoint. The Coca-Cola company could be seen as a power. By a poststructuralist’s definition, power is “the ability to exercise one’s will over another” (from lecture by Professor McGranahan 10-20-10). The Coca Cola company is exercising their will over the cultures where they distribute their product. The people in these cultures may resist the product by not consuming it, but the overall culture is consenting to having the product, and power, in their country to begin with.

  14. Hayden Griggs says:

    Coke is an interesting phenomenon, and as far as a globalized cultural staple, I’m not sure you could have picked a better topic (Except for maybe McDonalds). In my travel experience, I’ve seen coke in literally every single country I’ve been to, and not just at stands and in stores on shelves, but on t-shirts and hats. In Beleize, a little boy selling glass bottled Coke at a stand next to where the cruise ships docked was yelling “I Have Coca-Cola! Americans love Coca-Cola! I have it for you!” The funny thing is that this Coke, which he claimed was “Straight from the States” was actually bottled in Mexico. As Robins post above illustrates, Coke changes depending on what country you are in. Many people prefer the Mexican variety, as they use real sugar (this is my favorite). In Hawaii, the Coke sold from the machines tended to taste much sweeter and less carbonated. It’s almost as if it isn’t the Coke product itself which is so engaging, as the liquid itself changes based on different taste preferences around the world. What I think Cokes sells best: The Brand name and the Logo.

  15. Katie Carbaugh says:

    I also wonder what modern anthropologists, who fuse together various anthropological theories, would think about the Cultural Evolutionist view. Would they toss out the idea all together, or could it be useful in some way? Although the view that there is one ideal direction or path (namely that industrialization and ‘modernization’ are the end-all goals of populations) is ethnocentric, outdated, and biased, can we use any Cultural Evolutionist points to draw conclusions or give us information? Can an in-depth critique of their views open our minds and give us a new or clearer perspective? Do any modern anthropologists still subscribe to Cultural Evolutionist theories? Which ones? Why? When applying these questions to this article, I personally like to take lines from the text and use them to argue against the Cultural Evolutionists’ point and therefore gain a deeper understanding of my own, more modern view on the world, just as an anthropologist would. The idea that there is a potential for psychic unity among all cultures stands out to me the most. Is this an accurate statement? With the intense battles that occur between cultures based on even basic disagreements, such as how to dress, how can we assume that all people have the ‘potential’ to share a same desire to obtain modern goods or conveniences such as Cola? In order for this to be true, there must be a biological universal human drive for a group’s culture to strive for the ideals that we have in he western world (since cultural evolutionists use ‘Western’ as a standard). Clearly, there isn’t; around the world, groups (and subgroups…even individuals) have different desires and ideologies.

  16. Melissa Kristl says:

    Using Coca-Cola to look at the dynamics of a culture is a great idea. Using the Cultural Evolution approach was a bit clunky, bit the theory itself is hard to work with. I think that using a Marxist approach would be valuable because then you could see how Coke, as exemplified in Andy Warhol’s work, is a major cultural leveler–it is available internationally where many people regardless of class have access to it. On the other hand, in developing nations it is still considered a status symbol. This provides nice tension for an essay.

    Coke would also be well suited for discussing Symbolic anthropology and/or Globalization. How is it similar/different from other brands/symbols, such as a cross, and how do these symbols translate into other cultures. Does drinking Coke in Boulder mean the same thing that it does in India? Does it mean the same thing in a communist country as it does in a democratic or capitalistic one? Is the cult of materialism similar to the cult of a religious figure? Has the Coca-Cola emblem become as powerful as a religious symbol. If so, what does it mean that this drink is to be consumed in the here and now, while religion is based on the existence of an afterlife. Many questions arise using these approaches, as well as Cultural Evolution and Boasian Anthropology that both posit possible interpretations and also raise questions leading to critiques creating room for discussion.

  17. Tim Baker says:

    Choosing to write about Coka-Cola was a great idea because it is so widespread in today’s global economy. Coke’s global presence in some ways can be used as a measurement of a society, though not in the sense of the cultural evolutionists. Instead of fitting into the categories of savagery, barbarism, and civilization they could be categorized between third world and first world nations.
    I also like that you chose the two theoretical approaches that are perhaps most opposed to each other. While the cultural evolutionists look at things and rank them according to their own culture the Boasians look at each culture as a separate entity that can only be compared according to its own history. Another good theoretical approach to use would also be symbolic anthropology. This would most likely look at how the Coke logo was important or different in other cultures.

  18. Amy Austin says:

    I have recently been studying a significant amount about the coca workers of Bolivia who grow the coca plant that is used to produce the flavor of coca-cola beverages.
    I find it interesting that you relate the image of coca-cola to so much of a developed and industrialized identity through a symbolic anthropology approach. While I certainly see evidence to back this up, I find this symbol quite a juxtaposition to the society in which the plant is native. A symbolic anthropologist would find this dichotomy very intriguing. The coca leaf in Bolivia is held in high regards as an element used in religious ceremony and is often seen as an icon of indigenous power and identity in Bolivia. (The recently elected indigenous president, Evo Morales, was seen chewing on a coca leaf at a recent UN gathering to make a statement about its centrality to Bolivian culture). Bolivia, the 2nd poorest country in the western hemisphere, is the true antithesis of development and commercialization, the entities that coca-cola generally represents. Instead, in Bolivia the coca leaf symbolizes the indigenous identity and resistance to corporate powers. It is interesting that the same biological material can mean such different things in varying cultural contexts.

  19. Jessie Kronke says:

    The idea that Coke is a symbol of affluence is an interesting one. I can agree that at one point in time this was true, such as when it first became popular and was reserved for the wealthy, but in today’s world I would say it symbolizes quite the opposite. Coke is now under the category of over-processed junk food, something that is marketed towards lower-income families than other products, such as organic milk or highly priced bottled water, which would stand as more of a symbol for modernity and wealth than soda.

  20. Rachel Nussbaum says:

    Overall this essay was very well organized and I thought the Cultural Evolution and Boasian Anthropology theories examined the Coca-Cola industry well. I think it would be interesting to examine cola and culture through a linguistic or symbolic anthropology perspective. The different phrases and advertisements used to promote cola in culture are very persuasive and a big part of embedding coca-cola in many cultures. Coca-cola has become such an iconic symbol and is easily recognized no matter the language or context. When I was in fifth grade I went to Israel and bought a coca-cola t-shirt written in hebrew. Now that I think about it, the t-shirt represented an American ideal in another country and did not really translate to Israel’s culture. I appreciated reading this essay and enjoyed learning more about the industrial and cultural side of Cola.

  21. Amanda Kim says:

    The essay overall is well organized. From this, I can establish the generic idea and thought that traditional and old societies sought food for nutrition as a biological need in order for survival, but nowadays, many modern (western) civilization seek food not only as a mean for survival, but for taste and efficiency (cost and convenience). Look at every stores and restaurants you see: they serve and sell soda, especially towards the lower income neighborhoods and individuals. I’ll bet that majority customers and consumers seek soda more than the essential water that is needed for the body to sustain itself. Nothing in soft drinks is needed by the body, though it is so addicting (unlike water), that us western nation citizens consider it as one of our staple foods, even though, of course, we know that it’s overall bad for the health: it leaches calcium, dissolves tooth enamel and the reason that attracts majority of Americans: increases risk for obesity.

    Eventually, diet soda was introduced to the market because artificial sweeteners were introduced and cheaper. The so called diet soda is not considered almost healthy as water, considering that the nutritional value claims only 2% sodium and 0% on carbohydrates, calories, etc. Consumers might think: “Oh, this is nearly identical to water but with 2% sodium I need for the day, which is not too much. This must be good for me.” Thus, it should come as no surprise that Diet Coke has become so popular with the image and “health” conscious.

    Culture is quite complex since it’s always evolving and changing. This is just my two cents on the perspective on cultural anthropology and my opinion about soda in society.

  22. Alexis Bell says:

    I used to live overseas, with many other Americans. An interesting thing was that many of the other Americans would not drink Coke overseas, they would only drink Pepsi. The reason for this (at least what they told me) is that Pepsi is very strict about how it is produced so that it is identical no matter where you are in the world. Coke on the other hand sells it’s syrup to local bottling companies, and they may alter the final product slightly, such as Mexican Coke that uses sugar instead of corn syrup. Looking at Americans in this context we can certainly see notions of ethnocentrism, because the people who wouldn’t drink foreign Coke assumed that it was substandard in other parts of the world, and not as developed as American Coke.

  23. Catherine Molnar says:

    I really liked this essay, and I thought it explained the cultural evolutionist and Boasian perspectives in a really unique, clear and flowing way. Coca Cola was a really good example to use and I think that it and any other large corporation like it play a huge role in measuring a society’s wealth and view of “development” throughout the world. Although I was wondering what makes where the product’s made a factor in which something is viewed as less or more developed- even by a cultural evolutionist? As long as the product is present and being sold with profit, can’t it be seen as just as developed? The country may have factories with just as much technology used as those who make Coke, but they could possibly have different products to make and export.
    I was also reading some of the comments and the one about looking at the Coca Cola company from another nation’s perspective and how they might see it as falling to western modernization was incredibly intriguing and gave me a new view to globalization. Overall, I think this essay was really well structured and organized and it seemed like a lot of thought was put into each of these theories.

  24. sean kelly says:

    The idea that Coke Cola as an evolutional marker of a society’s progress through the cultural evolution path to civilized, is an interesting idea thought. It seems accurate however considering that the introduction of western produces and technologies can be seen as modernizing and “developing” a country. I’m sure evolutional ecologists of the past would think of Coke Cola a pretty good indicator of cultural evolution. Coke Cola being accessible in smaller isolated and periphery communities, is an example of increasing globalization. With Coke Cola also comes western culture, which could be seen as cultural imperialism and Coke Cola could prelude Mcdonalds, Starbucks, and the ultimately Sarah Jessica Parker wearing a bikini on a billboard. The spread of Coke Cola, as this essay explains is not a good way of measuring a society’s sophistication. It would be interesting to study the relationship between development and Coke Cola further, to see if there is any creditability in thinking that western produces and investments is developmental beneficial to the native autonomous cultures or if the lost of historically practices may out way the potential benefits.

  25. sam johnson says:

    If that really is what a cultural evolutionist would say, then I would disagree with that argument too. No only is the argument “racist, ethnocentric, and also ahistorical,” it does not address the reason that the Coca Cola Company would sell products in periphery countries. Coke beverages being sold in a periphery country really only indicates that the Coca Cola Company is willing to ship their products to that country, because they think that they will profit from it. It has nothing to do with the “development” and almost nothing to do with the modernization of that country.

  26. Nick Brownson says:

    Your take on a Boasian anthropologist’s reaction to coke across the world is very interesting, especially in the idea that Coca Cole could potentially overtake traditional drinks in popularity. While I think this is a very real concern in most cases, I think a Boasian Anthropologist would also be very interested in the way that the traditional drinks of a country and coke may be combined. As far as I know, there are numerous flavors of coke that can’t be found in America, and many that are exclusive to specific regions of the world( — The article is about Pepsi, but I think it still pertains). Since Boasian Anthropologists are so greatly interested in diffusion, I think this could also be an interesting portion of the dissemination of Coke(and most other soft drinks) across most world societies.

  27. Wills Christensen says:

    I disagree with the statement, “A society which has Coca-Cola plants, in which modern technology is used to bottle the product, and the soda has become a major staple in the society’s groceries, would be ranked higher on the evolutionary scale than a society which only imports Coke…”, because in my eyes, I see a society that imports Coca-Cola products as one that is not an Agricultural society and therefore less ‘barbaric’ as the author puts it. A less ‘barbaric’ society does not need to hinge their economy on physical labor in the fields and allows it more wiggle room for their community to use business and market trade as a source of economic development. If a Cultural Evolutionist looked at this society, he would find that less archaic and savage than one that he would call essentially still in the ‘dark age’.

  28. Sean Butler says:

    I agree with your argument that, from a strictly Cultural Evolutionist point of view, that the production and distribution of Coca-Cola on such a massive scale would put that culture on a more evolved plane of existence compared to a culture that does not have the means of large-scale production. I also agree with your statement that this point of view is ethnocentric and seemingly racist. I am curious about how this phenomena of Coca-Cola being incorporated into our society would be viewed by a Structural-Functionalist. I believe that you can view this mass production as being important in terms of jobs for thousands of employees and that the mass production is more out of necessity than opportunity. The incorporation of this product into our society is the result of a system that functions together as a whole; without distribution, there is no need for production.

  29. Megan Long says:

    The topic that you discussed in your essay is one that I find very interesting. One thing i did notice about your essay that I really liked and will use for my next essay I write for this class is the way that you organized your essay. The way that you introduced the topic, then discussed how a certain Anthropological field would view it, then saying how they would view it was incorrect due to the many criticisms, was a great way to present your argument.
    The racism and ethnocentricity of the Cultural Anthropology’s approach really bothers me and makes it an approach that I have a very hard time agreeing with. I also have a very easy time agreeing with the Boasian approach. I am a history major, so I find great value in preserving the past. In this situation though, I find myself agreeing with the Cultural Anthropologists as Coke being a “marker” of the development of society. This is not because I am ethnocentric and believe that the spread of Coke and western culture makes the world a better place, but because in society today Coke has spread from the United States, then to other developed countries, and now to underdeveloped countries. In this situation, Coke has spread based on a country’s status.

  30. Nathan Scheidehelm says:

    The globalization, and thus cultural imperialism, which places Coca-Cola in all places of the world needs to be taken into consideration here. I liked reading this essay, as it offered great insight into how a Cultural Evolutionist would view where a country that is modern enough to produce Coca-Cola would exist on an evolutionary scale, but I wonder how countries such as Thailand, Egypt, or other developing countries first came into contact with such a brand. In my eyes, America pushes such products on developing countries to make a name for themselves in the hope of gaining some sort of power relationship over the said nation. This brings us to poststructuralist argument, which states that power exists in every relationship that individuals, or nations hold. Exporting products such as Coca-Cola to other parts of the world opens the door to free-trade with a nation, and it also sets up a power dynamic between core and periphery (or semi-periphery) countries.

  31. Amanda Pruess says:

    This is a very interesting topic! When looking at Coca-Cola and it’s place in culture, there’s many things that can be brought up. It’s true the America could be considered more “evolved” than other countries because of it’s powerful corporations. However, within America, Coca-Cola itself is not really considered a status symbol. Within another culture though, having the extra cash to spend on Coca-Cola, and carrying that Coca-Cola around, might be considered a status symbol. Would this fact only prove the Cultural Evolutionists’ theory further?

  32. douglas sartori says:

    Carson, overall i agree with what you say in your paper, but i do have one question. do you think that the introduction of a commercial brand like coca-cola into societies and countries that are not considered part of the core is a threat to their native identity? i think that a large corporation would have no problem marketing their products to economically unstable countries across the globe. if a person in somolia is drinking a coke or pepsi, at the very least they will identify it as being an american product. mickey mouse is one of the most well known images in the world, and while the majority of people outside of english speaking countries have probably never seen his show, they can tell you who he is and that he is an american symbol. the notion that american companies and symbols are recognized across the world is in a sense “economic imperialsim,” and quite frankly, i do not believe that a company like coca-cola would have any qualms about marketing their products to third-world countries.

  33. Taylor Deisinger says:

    I really like the theories of Cultural Evolution and the Boasian approach that you used in this essay, but like Melissa Kristl briefly mentioned before i think that a Marxist approach would be very interesting. Not only does the mere presence of coca-cola represent the status per-say of a country as a whole, like you mention with Cultural Evolution, but the social structure and status of the people within each country. The availability of coca-cola to the different classes in a culture also affect its appeal and importance to certain people. In a lower class or more rural setting, coca-cola would be seen to have a higher social standing than a more urban setting. Professor McGranahan, brought up a similar situation in class with the example of Pringles and there status in the Nepali village that she was in, and that the empty container was almost more important that the product itself.

  34. Joe Zimmermann says:

    Carson- I liked the structure of your paper. Introduction of topic, intro of first theoretical approach followed by criticism and then a more reasonable theory. The structure helps make the paper more effective. You did a good job providing the criticisms of cultural evolutionism, but what about including some of the criticisms for the Boasian approach? An approach that includes many different theories might be the most applicable in this situation, your thoughts? Thanks carson for getting the conversation started!

  35. Katherine Caldwell says:

    Recently I watched a video in a sociology class about poverty in the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky. It gave me a whole new outlook on the functionalism of cola. The people living in the mountains had VERY little opportunity and little industry. One thing they did have, however, was Coke. They live in squalor with little to look forward to and little money to provide a healthy life. Because of this, they turn to coke, more specifically Mountain Dew, to give them a sugar high. Colas are also cheaper than fresh milk, they don’t go “bad,” and you can grab a can and head off to work, usually in deep into the mines. While this type of functionalism is only specific to the Appalachian area, it is still interesting to consider. Generally, people drink soda because its sweet, caffeinated, and $1. These people drink it because its the only option to sustain their poor lifestyle.

  36. Jack Teague says:

    I think that the most interesting aspect is that people even want to import it. It is extremely unhealthy, and there are many other, more beneficial sources of caffeine in every country. It seems as though Coke has become a sort of social symbol for the US and western culture as a whole, and everyone wants a piece of it. It is strange that a product that has led to so many health problems in our country has become the envy of the third world.

  37. Joshua Small says:

    You seem to have a comprehensive stance on the subject of a cultural ecologist’s likely view of modern senses of modernity, but your ideas seem a bit scattered. Perhaps if you were to use a specific ‘lower’ nation, or pair, to juxtapose with another ‘higher’ nation, your point would come across much easier to the reader.
    Regardless of such critiques, great job on the article.

  38. Rob Irvin says:

    I like the idea of using a corporation to determine how developed a country is. I also like the question of how would coca-cola change cultural practices. Will Tibetan’s ever choose between butter tea and coke? Will these two drinks ever become interchangeable in a Tibetan community? Or will new practices evolve because of corporations like coca-cola. In American society we see coca-cola going hand and hand with sporting events and we see ads on tv and on billboards daily. Will other cultures be as open to corporations with products that are not the best for your health to take over large portions of the media. I am interested in witnessing how diverse coca-cola are in marketing their products to other cultures.

  39. Kara Gibson says:

    Many cultures today strive to be modern and capable of international trade, though it often seems these words are synonymous. Brands like Coke and McDonalds, which are so common place in nations considered “developed”, become status symbols in nations with fewer international connections. As discussed in class, some isolated cultures place extreme importance in their access to imported goods. If a village has Coke or Pringles it is representative of its connections annd maybe even its modernity. These items, which are taken for granted in cultures such as ours, are the vital beginnings of connectivity and development for more isolated regions of the world.

  40. Jacki Altman says:

    This was a great idea for a food essay! Coca Cola is thought to a global franchise, recognized in many countries and cultures, no matter what stage of development they are in. An interesting fact is that at the Coca Cola factory in Atlanta, Georgia, there is a room where you can try any Coke product from around the world. It is separated by continents and each country has a Coke specific to them. For example, the Coke product from Nicaragua tasted completely different from the product from China. Coca Cola takes into account the fact that cultures vary and that just because Coca Cola has undergone globalization, it can be stretched to accommodate a specific culture. Coke is a cultural symbol for Americans and when traveling it is often comforting to American tourists to see Coca Cola in different cultures because it is like a piece of their culture representing itself globally.

  41. Rob Peixotto says:

    It would be very interesting to learn how a symbolic anthropologist would address this issue. I would assume for most other cultures a Coke logo is seen as that of development. However, would countries on the periphery or semi-periphery be fans of the Coke product or the idea of Coke and development in the West? I assume in some parts of the world the Coke symbol would be similar to Professor McGranahan’s stories from Nepal about the toothbrushes and the Pringles. The Pringles story really shows that the product is not as important as the logo or the notion of the product. The toothbrush example is the same; the product is not used for the function, but rather as a statement of wealth and Western influence. I wonder what feelings the Coke symbol would conjure up around the globe. Clearly some cultures already enjoy the product, but I wonder if it was enjoyed at first. Does Coke represent a refreshing beverage around the world, or does it just represent development. Or it could have negative connotations such as representing obesity and unhealthy practices.

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