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South American drink ritual a window into culture

Yerba mate is inextricably linked with South American culture.
Yerba mate can be found in the U.S. at stores ranging from Circle K to Sprouts.
ASU club a way to connect students to another culture.
September 21, 2016

ASU professor's year in Argentina highlights importance of humanities research

A group of Arizona State University students are seated in a circle at the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus. They’re conversing in Spanish and passing around a cup, taking turns sipping from a metal straw. Topics range from everyday gossip, to their studies, to politics.

Yerba mate is what’s in the cup — a caffeinated beverage similar in tasteThe flavor of yerba mate has also been described as a mixture of vegetables, herbs and grass. The filtered straws used to drink it were traditionally made of metal because both the cup and the straw are considered a piece of decoration; ornate ones are not uncommon. As it has become more popular over the years, the cups — traditionally made from gourds — are often made of plastic. There is a cold version of the drink called tereré that is popular in Paraguay and prepared with cold water and ice. to green tea that is commonly drunk in South America, where several of the students hail from. It has exploded in popularity, particularly among people in Argentina because of its strong cultural association with national pride that swelled with the fall of dictatorships and the rise of democracy in the 1980s.

ASU associate professor Julia SarrealJulia Sarreal is an associate professor at the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences' School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies. just returned from a year in Argentina, where she spent her sabbatical studying the history, culture and production of yerba matepronounced like latte, with the help of an Institute for Humanities Research grant. She first encountered it in Paraguay while stationed there in the Peace Corps, and she quickly learned that refusal of the bitter beverage was not an option.

“You have to drink it,” said Sarreal, or it is seen as a cultural affront. “And it’s not just about the beverage; it’s the process of drinking it. It’s a very social drink. That’s how you build relationships and connections.”

The history of yerba mate’s place in Argentinean culture goes back to the early 20th century, when the country first began cultivating it. Back then, it was mostly drunk by laborers and soldiers. As time passed, it found a place in people’s homes, where the ritual associated with it served as way for families to bond.

It has since spread throughout the world, gaining an appreciation in Middle Eastern countries like Syria and Lebanon. It’s even gaining momentum in the U.S., where somewhat watered-down versions like Brisk Mate can easily be found at corner convenience stores, and more authentic versions can be found at stores like Trader Joe’s and Sprouts. (See a video at the end of this article on how to prepare it.)

“It’s important in this age of globalization to understand cultural differences,” said Sarreal.

Another thing Sarreal feels is important to understand: the origins of the things we consume. During her year in Argentina, she spent six weeks in the Misiones Province, where much of the yerba mate is produced. There, she met with companies and learned all the aspects of the production process.

“I really saw the realities of the people producing it,” said Sarreal, which sometimes included unfair pay, black-market dealings and less-than-ideal working conditions. She plans to go into more detail about that, as well as yerba mate’s history and cultural importance, in a book she’s writing on the subject.

“My book will be looking at yerba mate as a way to get a different perspective on Argentinean history,” she said.

It has already had an effect on ASU’s history: Business undergrad Paulina Orqueda and Spanish grad student Thomas Shalloe recently formed the university’s first-ever yerba mate/South American student club, El Club del Mate at ASU - Club Sudamericano. It began with just the two of them, meeting on campus to study and drink mate. Soon, other students showed an interest and joined in.

The drink and the ritual hold a special place in their hearts, Orqueda having been born in Argentina and Shalloe having spent a good deal of his youth there.

“One of the things I miss about home is when people in the neighborhood would pull chairs out into the street, sit in a circle and drink mate,” said Orqueda. Now she can do that at ASU.

As for Sarreal, being able to do meaningful research that she can incorporate into her classroom is the best of both worlds.

“I love that ASU supports me doing research, and that I get to balance that with teaching,” she said. “When I’m really excited about my research, I can impart that into the classroom.”

How to make traditional (hot) yerba mate:

How to make tereré (cold yerba mate):

ASU’s Global Security Initiative mobilizes to address national security risks of climate change

September 21, 2016

The impacts of climate change – increasing global temperature, rising sea levels and storm surges, changing precipitation patterns, and more intense and frequent droughts and floods – create complex security challenges that require new and innovative solutions. In response, the federal government in recent years has focused increased attention on the national security implications of climate change. In a series of reports and major addresses, the White House, Department of Defense, and other federal agencies have identified climate change as a “threat multiplier.”

In a recent report to Congress, National Security Implications of Climate-Related Risks and a Changing Climate, the Department of Defense concluded climate change will increase the risks of environmental degradation, refugee crises, political instability and social conflict. Climate Change Iceberg Photo courtesy: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Fortunately, the US is also taking action to address these risks and build resilience. The Defense Department laid out its plans in the 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, which directed the department to integrate climate change concerns into planning, operations, training, and infrastructure.

Today, President Obama directed federal agencies to take action to address the national security implications of climate change by signing a Presidential Memorandum.

To address these challenges, Arizona State University’s Global Security Initiative is building a new program in climate and national security. The GSI program will be a hub for critical research that will enhance resilience and enable adaptation to climate risks globally, supporting US national security interests. Bringing together researchers from a wide range of disciplines - computer science, decision science, engineering, public policy, law, and sustainability - the program will focus on integrated analysis to provide an unprecedented understanding of risks, and to inform and prioritize investments and solutions. The GSI climate and security program will also convene key partners from universities, national laboratories, think tanks and all levels of government to develop a coordinated agenda.

"Climate change is the quintessential wicked problem,” said Dr. Nadya Bliss, director of ASU’s Global Security Initiative and Senior Fellow in the New America’s Resource Security Program. “Together with our partners, GSI is well positioned to provide early warning capabilities to practitioners in context of national and global security implications of climate change.”

Dave White, professor in the School of Community Resources and Development and a Global Security Fellow with GSI, is leading the planning for the new initiative. “This effort will improve our ability not only to anticipate the impacts of climate change but also to develop specific tools and strategies, deploy resources more effectively, build local adaptive capacity, and reduce the risks social conflict.”

GSI’s new climate and national security effort builds upon ASU’s scientific expertise assessing climate impacts on resources such as food, energy, and water. An ASU team led by Global Security Fellows Ross Maciejewski, a professor in School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, and Dave White was recently awarded a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s program on “Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems.” This team will develop an integrated modeling, visualization, and decision support infrastructure for comprehensive food-energy-water systems analysis. Such research is necessary to identify potential vulnerabilities and develop robust solutions.

Maciejewski, White, and Bliss have also previously collaborated on groundbreaking research, funded by the Department of Defense, which examined national security implications of climate change. Together with partners including the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) Joint Global Change Research Institute (JGRI), they developed new models, visualizations, and analytic methods to inform national security decision making. For instance, building upon PNNL’s Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM), their research enabled decision makers to anticipate the potential impact of climate change, population growth and other factors on water and energy security in western Africa under different scenarios.

In another ongoing effort at GSI, funded by Skoll Global Threats Foundation, Maciejewski and Shade Shutters (GSI Research Scientist) have been developing methodologies to anticipate effects of trade networks on water, food, and political security in context of climate change. These analyses will indicate which areas of the world are susceptible to emergence of instability based on patterns of trade.

“The risks to our security from climate change can no longer be ignored,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at ASU. “Leveraging ASU’s track record of impact-driven interdisciplinary research and convenorship that bridges the gap between science and practitioners, the new effort will enable proactive intervention approaches increasing global resilience and national security.”

The Global Security Initiative (GSI) is a university-wide interdisciplinary hub for global security research that focuses on openness, inclusiveness and connections to the global defense, development and diplomacy communities.

Elizabeth Cantwell

Vice President, Knowledge Enterprise Development