Buying into the Regime: Grapes and Consumption in Cold War Chile and the United States

By Colby, Jason M. | Canadian Journal of History, Spring-Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Buying into the Regime: Grapes and Consumption in Cold War Chile and the United States


Colby, Jason M., Canadian Journal of History


Buying into the Regime: Grapes and Consumption in Cold War Chile and the United States, by Heidi Tinsman. Durham, Duke University Press, 2014. xiv, 363 pp. $26.95 US (paper).

If the first three-quarters of the twentieth century belonged to the apple, orange, and banana, the past forty years have been the age of the grape. In the 1970s and 1980s, after a two-decade decline in grape consumption, North Americans began eating a lot more of the vine-grown fruit, which was now available year round. Yet few realized that their "winter" grapes came from Chile, where dictator Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) was promoting fruit export as part of his brutal neoliberal economic model. Fewer still imagined the role grapes played in connecting debates over consumption, labour rights, gender equality, and democracy in Chile and the United States. Which leads us to Buying into the Regime, Heidi Tinsman's brilliant and idiosyncratic addition to the burgeoning literature of commodity history. And while readers may be familiar with the controversial history of the US banana industry and its associated "banana republics" in Central America, the transnational story of grapes is far less known.

At the beginning of the book, Tinsman declares her study a "history of the relationship between Chile's fruit-export industry and the growing appetite for grapes in the United States." (p. 4) Yet it is far more than that. Emphasizing how consumption, in all of its guises, operates as a "terrain of political struggle" (p. 5), she seeks to bridge the fields of American and Latin American studies. It sounds ambitious, and it is. Whereas Tinsman's first book, Partners in Conflict (2002), focused on the dynamics of gender and labour in the 1950s and 1960s within Chile, this second book represents a bold foray into global and transnational history.

Tinsman's methodology is as diverse as it is rigorous, a fact she underscores by organizing her chapters thematically rather than chronologically. Drawing upon archival and oral history sources in Chile and the United States, including her own interviews, she offers a stunning range of connections and insights. In her account of the development of the Chilean fruit industry, for example, she shows how the grape export boom usually credited to the Pinochet regime had its structural roots in the earlier agrarian reform. She likewise traces the connections between the California and Chilean grape industries that facilitated the entry of Chilean grapes into the US market, particularly as the California Table Grape Commission began marketing grapes to women as a "natural snack" in the health-conscious 1970s. …

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