Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Booknote: Divided Spirits

Sarah Bowen, Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, and the Politics of Production. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2015.  ISBN: 9780520281059.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: food and drink, academic texts
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

This is basically an academic treatise going over the commercial development of tequila and mezcal. To make it easy on folks: all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila (kind of like all bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon). The book goes over how the paths of tequila and mezcal diverged, and tequila became more industrialized. Meanwhile, mezcal tended to keep its more artisanal roots and processes. The book also looks at the concept of designations of origin for regions of Europe, a tactic Mexico used as a model to protect and market tequila. The author does not just look at this history but also raises questions about the practice as well as the strategy of relying on alternative markets (you can read that to mean elitist and/or somewhat hipster markets in places like the United States) to market and export mezcal and high end tequilas.

The book has interesting moments, but it is not exactly riveting reading. I do not really see this book as one for the general public. This is basically an academic book for classes in food politics, political science, business and economics, and sustainability studies. The author sets up the background, and then strives to give balanced views of the pros and cons of designation of origin practices. However, she also goes into a lot of the bureaucratic details which can make for some really dry reading.

I would recommend the book for academic programs that support the fields of study I listed above. This is not really one for public libraries unless patrons ask for it, and even then I would suggest a public library do an ILL for it if need be. I do not see too many foodie or gourmet casual readers picking this up. If those readers want to read something about tequila, perhaps something like Tequila: a Natural and Cultural History or other more popular selections. You can ask your local friendly librarian for suggestions.

2 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:


Heather said...

That's too bad that it is a dry read. I like microhistories of foods.

Wendy Klik said...

I think I'll pass....too many books and too little time.