Argentine Pope Meets Argentine President, Awkward Again?

After a chilly first encounter, President Mauricio Macri and Pope Francis, both from Argentina but from different ends of the ideological spectrum, are set to meet again.

A stiff encounter last February at the Vatican
A stiff encounter last February at the Vatican
Julio Blanck


BUENOS AIRES â€" As President Mauricio Macri prepares to meet with Pope Francis in Rome, attention continues to focus on the first frosty encounter between the two influential Argentines, last winter.

Francis â€" who had been so amenable with Argentina's previous leader, the leftist Cristina Fernández de Kirchner â€" was noticeably stiff and businesslike, sullen even, in his treatment of Macri, a political conservative. Their meeting last February in the Vatican was brief, strictly protocol.

Since then, attempts to improve the relationship have proved either inadequate, confused or outright harmful. The Macri administration is taking great care, therefore, to prepare for the next meeting, on Oct. 15. which will coincide with the beatification of Argentine priest José Gabriel Brochero. Nobody wants another excruciating photograph with those glum expressions.

"It was a hard blow, especially since we weren't expecting it," an Argentine government official familiar with Church affairs said of the February meeting. The source also admits that the socially engaged pontiff and pro-business president have ideological differences that "may never be resolved," in spite of sharing some fundamental concerns: fighting poverty and drug trafficking, and working to unite Argentines.

A longstanding Peronist friend of the Pope has counseled administration officials to stop fussing over the differences and instead weave them into a more constructive relationship with Francis.

For now, formal and informal conversations between the sides, last-minute initiatives and mistakes corrected on-the-go are paving the way for a meeting that will mark the tone of Francis-Macri relations for quite some time. The meeting is all the more important given that the Pope won't, as previously assumed, visit Argentina in 2017. Francis wants his return to Argentina to be an occasion for unity and fears that next year's parliamentary elections would stand in the way of that goal.

An attempt at rapprochement was made in June, when the government formally recognized and offered aid for Scholas Occurrentes, a Catholic educational foundation. But that went awry when its donation was rejected and the Pope chided the body's directors, writing personally to tell them he was "concerned you are starting to slip into the path of corruption."

Political agendas

He struck a softer chord in early July, telling the daily La Nación: "I don't have a problem with Macri, he's a noble person." He was also generous in his praise of the Buenos Aires provincial governor, María Eugenia Vidal, and Macri's social development minister, Carolina Stanley.

One evident problem is the constant and sometimes corrosive actions of agents apparently hiding behind the Pope to pursue their own political agendas in Argentina. But the government has also contributed to the rift. Macri's "campaign guru" and adviser Jaime Durán Barba has been openly critical of Francis. Macri tried to distance himself form the comments. Critics, nevertheless, suspect that many in president's inner circle agree with Durán Barba.

A priority now is to keep the advisor's mouth shut ahead of the Oct. 15 encounter. Likewise, the presidential retinue will exclude Macri's Cabinet chief, Marcos Peña, whom the Vatican identifies, rightly or wrongly, with Durán Barba's criticisms.

As rivalries have made their way into the media, the Vatican is launching an Argentine edition of its official gazette, L'Osservatore Romano, to ensure that the Pope's message reaches his countrymen directly. The government, meanwhile, maintains fluid contacts with the Vatican through Rogelio Pfirter, its ambassador to the Holy See. Pfirter played a key role, incidentialy, in rescheduling the upcoming meeting. The Pope and president were originally slated to meet two days later, on Oct. 17, the founding date of the Peronist movement Macri opposes.

When the Peronist lawyer and Catholic activist Juan Grabois recently told an assembly in Argentina that "the only real divide we recognize is the one between those inside, and the excluded," he might as well have been mouthing the Francis' own words. Such concerns are real: the current poverty rate, government sources report, is more than 32%. More than 6% of Argentines, furthermore, suffer from extreme poverty.

For now, people close to the Pope have promised that Macri will be well received. His team will believe it when they see it. Tensions will be running high, in other words, until the precise moment the two men come face-to-face again.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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