Commentary

Green Bananas and a New Hyperstore, Cuzco’s Corner of a Global Economy

pA new department and food store opened in Cusco. It is filled with thick crowds forming lines here and there. Months ago, people were talking about the construction of its building and about what it might offer to the city and region.

The store claims the narcissistic name of Tottus, or everything. Whether it means to or not, this name refers to a devotional phrase in Latin with profound religious meaning. Nevertheless, this word might proclaim the store’s promise to offer everything within its walls. It might also claim to be offer a whole way of life built on formal markets and motivated by advertising.

Tottus opened at the same time when in my country, the United States, retailers are closing stores right and left. It is argued that the days of malls, big box stores, and department stores are over. The market has not disappeared, but rather the place of purchase has shifted on-line.

There is also growing resistance to buy food at supermarkets in the US. You find this in movements like those of farmers’ markets, slow food, artisan food, locally sourced food, and so on.

I have not been to Tottus yet. I will wait until the crowds go down, although I have entered a sister store in the national capital of Lima. In the meantime, the idea of a whole life promoted by business and advertising, as well as challenges to it, has been on my mind.

On my plane to Cusco we were served a small bag of fried green banana chips. They are produced by Carter company as part of finding value in Peruvian products that do not generally make it into the international market, hence green banana chips.

Green Banana Chips
Green Banana Chips

Carter was one of the early promoters of Peruvian cuisine. They wanted to give it status and class and show it as internationally desirable.

Their marketing strategy combining these two things, status and international value, has proven successful. Both Carter and other Peruvian culinary enterprises, such as those of Gastón Acurio, Virgilio Martinez, and others, have relied on it.

Still, status is tightly held by the elite and they dish it out in small doses to other Peruvians through marketing and major business. Even if it is the country, Peru, that is given high marketing status, the claims of ordinary Peruvians to the national status can be tenuous at best. This leaves an insecurity which is the basis of additional marketing.

The Green Banana bag gives us another hint of the system of value of the kind of total society it promotes.

On the bottom right hand corner you see a logo of a foundation affiliated with Carter, it is Fundación Custer, the Custer Foundation. You also see the slogan “with every bite you enjoy, you help improve a child’s education.”

Charity and humanitarian service are important elements of this kind of society and are part of the justification for a system of pricing that ultimately puts prime goods beyond the reach or ordinary people.

Businesses take on functions that used to belong to government, in case of the Custer Foundation the function is education. They suggest it needs help.

Desire (David Knowlton)
Desire (David Knowlton)

Business can be a parallel state and make sure, given the logic of the market with its bias in favor of elites, that a proper and well-disciplined society develops. Business even provides the dreams you should strive to achieve. This is a society with notions of the sacred, like that promised by Tottus, the new store.

Cusco is near the tail-end of the development of capitalist markets—and department stores, supermarkets, and malls. One part of the world is abandoning this idea while another part is taking it on, driven by the need to be up-to-date in style and able to claim status, while not aware that their very system of marketing is behind the times.

What one hand giveth, the other hand taketh away. Such is global capitalism as lived here in Cusco.

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