Are The Emerging BRICS Countries Ready To Break The Old Order? Don’t Count On It

Editorial: Brazil, China and the other so-called BRICS countries are demanding a political role proportional to their economic importance. Is a global power shift forthcoming? Not necessarily says Le Monde’s Alain Frachon, who says the BRICS bloc is still

Alain Frachon

Last month they banged their fists on the table and shouted "No!" The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is not the exclusive domain of the old powers of the North, of Europe, they said, demanding that control of the recently beheaded international organization go instead to one of the emerging new powers, the so-called BRICS countries.

The press release was released in Washington, the seat of the IMF, and has five signatures, those of the BRICS member states: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The day after former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn's resignation, the five-member club joined together to rebel and claim their due.

Two weeks earlier, while gathered together in Sanya, China, in the province of Hainan, BRICS leaders formally adopted an official statement, a sort of charter of their demands. South Africa's Jacob Zuma, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Hu Jintao of China, India's Manmohan Singh, and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev demonstrated their will to carry more weight in all of the international organizations.

Together they are demanding a political role proportional to their economic importance. They want to be the spokespersons of an emerging group that is challenging the old order, the remnants of a time when the world was still dominated by the United States and Europe. They denounce the tradition adopted at the time the IMF and World Bank were created, in 1945, that dictates European leadership of the first and American control of the second.

And yet several weeks later, the name being aired as Strauss-Kahn's most likely successor doesn't hail from India, Brazil or anywhere else in the developing world, but instead from France: Christine Lagarde. Why? Because the emerging nations, while agreeing on the one hand to challenge the old world order, haven't actually been able to agree on how they might go about it. A clear example is their failure to reach consensus on a single candidate for the IMF post.

This matter goes beyond the case of the IMF. For the most part, the BRICS are indeed emerging powers. But they have neither the political uniformity nor enough common interests or values necessary to form a bloc. In reality, the group of five exists only on paper. They had enough time for a meeting and a "family photo" in a seaside city in China, but not for much else.

Some analysts are interpreting this change in geography and economic power as the beginning of a split into two political orders. On the one side, the triumphant South, on the other, the tired defensive West. This view is hardly accurate. Beyond a shared rhetoric inherited from the Cold War, the South is deeply divided.

In an article entitled "Do the BRICS exist?" from the excellent website, political scientist Zaki Laïdi observed that the emerging nations are a force when it comes to making demands and protesting. But, explained Laïdi, they do not offer any real proposals. Instead they remain bogged down in their established regional rivalries.

In the race to become the next director of the IMF, it is difficult to imagine Brazil openly supporting the only real candidate from the South, Mexico's Agustin Carstens. Call it a case of Latin egoism. Likewise, it is difficult to imagine India defending a Chinese candidacy.

The same goes on the political front. The BRICS" Sanya "charter" glosses over certain divergent attitudes. At this time last year, China and Russia were the first to reject attempts by Brazil and Turkey to bring Iran to the table to discuss its nuclear program. As permanent members of the U.N. Security Counsel, Moscow and Beijing have their own prerogatives.

China is incapable of forming a united Asian front behind it. The government's cantankerous demands on a number of islets in the South China Sea terrorize China's neighbors, who gathered behind Vietnam (the irony of history), and called for support at all costs: that is, for American reinforcement.

Russia, meanwhile, is stuck between two worlds. A sort of honorary member of the BRICS countries, it is not necessarily an emerging nation, but rather a floating one. As a member of the G8, which is supposed to be made up of the old industrial nations and democracies, Russia can barely be considered a legally constituted state. While the real emerging powers have powerful technocratic elites, the Russian "sherpas' pass for amateurs within the halls of global governance.

When it comes to the world's contemporary problems, the emerging nations do not have any concrete plans. They have nothing to say on the fight against nuclear proliferation, the battle against sea pirates, destabilization in the Middle East, or global climate change. Much of the "work" on those issues is still done by the "old world."

The emerging powers could generously participate in developmental assistance, here and there, at a bilateral level. But they defy anything that resembles a multilateral front in the affairs of a state. The old world, in other words, isn't going anywhere.

Photo - dilmarousseff

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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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