Jugo Hit and National Pride

While sharing a meal in Popayán, a small town in the Cauca district of Colombia, my Colombian friends and I began an animated discussion about the significance of jugo Hit, a very popular brand of juices. My friends wondered why Hit stuck to rather traditional flavors such as raspberry, mango and pineapple. Not that there was anything wrong with these flavors; after all, these fruits are very common in Colombia.

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Hit juice flavors. The slogan reads: It’s natural that you drink Hit.

Yet there are so many other fruits that are far more unique to Colombia and its neighbors and which are equally delicious and appropriate for juices, such as tomate de árbol, granadilla, lulo, and guanaba, just to name a few. It is harder to find a mainstream juice company in Colombia that sells these flavors. It’s much more likely that you’ll either find these juices made from scratch either in restaurants, on the street, or at home.

Lulo_02

Lulo fruit

Why though? If Colombia is so rich in its fruit diversity, why not expand a national beverage brand to showcase that?

I haven’t contacted anyone at Hit or done an extensive survey, so I have no definitive answers. But our conversation that day led to the hypothesis that Hit’s objective was not meant to promote Colombian’s bounty at all, but rather to sell to Colombians something international.

Tomate de árbol fruit

Tomate de árbol fruit

Now here we need to pause to explain what “international” means in this context. In the United States, “international” means multi-cultural, multi-lingual, etc. Yet in countries such as Colombia, “international” means “the best,” “highest quality,” in reference to the fact that imported products (international products) have historically tended to be regarded as better quality than domestic goods. So when DeVry Brasil, for example, says it offers “international-quality education,” it is not selling a multi-cultural quasi-UN model of education. Rather, it seeks to bring the best of the world’s education practices (with an eye to its parent company’s base in the US) to its students in Brazil.

So back to juice.

Granadilla fruit.

Granadilla fruit.

By sticking to flavors such as pineapple, mango and raspberry (flavors I assume are generally well-known in the English-speaking world), and by using an English word as its name (that invokes the idea of being the best, very popular), jugos Hit is offering an opportunity for Colombian consumers to believe that they are participating in the globalized food market and have access to the best. It is sending a message – albeit indirectly – that somehow the fruits that make Colombia and South America unique are just quite not up to par with these other fruits.

Guanaba fruit

Guanaba fruit

You might feel that my friends and I are reading too deeply into this juice thing. Perhaps. But in a later post I will explore why companies would make an effort to de-emphasize local flavors in favor of internationally-palatable tastes. Furthermore, I want to draw a comparison to the chocolate market in Colombia.

Colombia produces a lot of fine chocolate. But Colombians don’t see it. At the various stores I visited with friends in multiple cities, there were only a few brands on display, and mostly of Santander products.

Santander Colombian chocolate

Santander Colombian chocolate

Yet if you go to the airport, there are various types of gourmet Colombian chocolate brands available for purchase, as if what is best in Colombia must be hidden from Colombians. Actually, they don’t even need to be that hidden, as their prices make them quite expensive for ordinary Colombians and thus out of reach for ordinary pockets.

Britt Colombian chocolates, found abundantly in airports, but not in stores

Britt Colombian chocolates, found in airports, but not in stores

Why isn’t there a desire to sell to the domestic market the best the domestic market has to offer? This is a point I want to explore further.

California Wins

To end the week on a positive note, I want to highlight two recent instances of California making positive progress in addressing socioeconomic and racial disparities in the state.

1) Eliminating the lifetime ban on CalFresh (California’s food stamp program) for drug offenders

In one of the lesser-known aspects of the War on Drugs, drug offenders have been ineligible – for life – for food stamps since 1996, under former President Clinton. This makes it significantly more difficult for ex-offenders to lead normal lives after their release, and increases the likelihood of recidivism.

The law did, however, leave room for states to modify or waive the ban and for the 2014-2015 California state budget, the California state legislature and governor took advantage of that flexibility to overturn the law. This is fantastic news.

Drug policy in America needs a lot of reform, and the ban on food stamps is one example of why: no other category of felon – not even murderers – has been slapped with a ban on food stamps. That doesn’t make sense, does it?

Besides, as I’ve discussed before, food stamps are one of the most effective social welfare programs both morally and economically. Food is our most basic need, next to water. Without it, how can we expect people to contribute constructively to society? When drug offenders are released, they often come back to nothing. Giving them access to CalFresh is a step in the right direction to helping them get back on their feet again – rather than back in jail.

2) Implementation of the Housing 1000 initiative to fight homelessness

As part of the nation’s 100K Homes campaign, Santa Clara County has implemented the Housing 1000 initiative, aimed at providing permanent housing for 1,000 of the county’s chronically homeless.

Again, this seems like another common-sense measure. Best way to tackle homelessness? Help them no longer be without a home. So far the county has placed 715 residents. One of those community members, Randolph Sanchez, was highlighted in the San Jose Mercury News.

With 7,631 homeless individuals (the fifth-largest total in the country, and 2,518 of whom are considered chronically homeless, based on a 2013 census), Santa Clara County – home to Silicon Valley – needs efforts like Housing 1000 to break the cycle of chronic homelessness and give these community members a chance to be active and contributing citizens. Additionally, like the expansion of food stamps to ex-drug offenders, providing housing to the chronically homeless is also smart economically, by saving money on emergency services, law enforcement, etc.

Most importantly, these two moves are efforts to provide dignity and respect to people who have fallen on hard times. They treat these citizens as people, showing that society doesn’t view them as lost causes, but rather is investing in their potential for future success. So for that, go California!