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Opinions

Are Yerba Mate energy drinks racist?

The rise of a new kind of energy drink raises serious issues

We’ve all seen them around. Whether in the hands of hipsters, on the shelves of your local store or thrown away carelessly on the street, Yerba Mate energy drinks (pronounced yer-ba ma-té) have become a classic drink for those looking for a healthier alternative to traditional energy drinks. Students love to drink them as a quick pick-me-up to meet the busy demands of university life. 

But where do these drinks come from? It might seem trivial to talk about a canned energy drink, but behind the fancy label listing health benefits and glitzy marketing on Instagram lies a story of racial appropriation, and greed.

Made from the leaves of ilex paraguariensis, a tree native to the subtropical forests of South America, Yerba Mate is a drink enjoyed by millions of people across Latin America. In some countries, such as Argentina and Paraguay, it is a common part of daily life and is deeply rooted in the local culture and identity.

The drink also holds a central place in the culture of the Guaraní, an Indigenous population located in the previously mentioned countries. Since long before the arrival of Spanish colonization, Yerba Mate has been central to their worldview, where it plays a core role in religious practices and creation stories.

Unlike the canned versions sold in Canada and the US, in South America, Yerba Mate is always drunk as an infusion, with hot water poured into a cup containing loose mate leaves. The resulting mixture is sipped through a straw with a special strainer called a “bombilla.”

Unfortunately, the arrival of this intrinsically South American product in Canadian stores has not promoted better understanding and knowledge of this continent and its people. Instead, it is yet another example of its exploitation by foreigners. 

Long the victim of domination and colonization by outside powers, today Latin America continues to suffer from high rates of inequality, poverty, and corruption, all while huge sections of the economy remain in the hands of Western companies, including many based in Canada. Many of these businesses have enriched themselves by exploiting weak states and cheap labour to extract ever more resources, material, and profit from the continent while giving very little back.

While perhaps a less extreme example of this issue, the US and Canadian companies creating Yerba Mate energy drinks for the North American market are still a part of this trend.

The cultivation of Yerba Mate, which takes place largely in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, is mostly carried out by poorer Indigenous people and is notorious for its abuses. In response, some North American brands are keen to highlight their sustainable practices and fair treatment of workers. Guayakí, a California-based brand of Yerba Mate energy drink, proudly claims on their website to support smallholders and Indigenous producers. They also state that “every purchase of Guayakí makes a positive global impact,” which they even trademarked as “Market Driven Regeneration™.”

However, as pointed out by researcher Ana Fochesatto in her thesis “Yerba Mate: National Project to Emerging Superfood“, all this does is recreate the Spanish colonial system of encomiendas where in return for protection, Indigenous peoples were forced to cultivate the plant as tribute to European masters. Only this time, the tribute is to a North American corporation that, according to their latest filings, raised $75 million from investors.

Furthermore, the marketing behind many of the major brands promotes a fetishised view of South America as a land of faraway jungles and primitive natives. Mate libre, a Yerba Mate energy drink from Quebec, describes mate as “the super-natural energy of South American rainforests.” Mateína, another Québec-based brand, states on its website that the local Indigenous population considered mate a “gift from the gods” that “gave them strength and courage.” 

While advertised as the sustainable, healthy and ethical choice for conscious consumers, in reality Yerba Mate energy drinks are the result of Western companies profiting off the appropriation of an intrinsically Latin American product, marketing that reduces the continent to an exoticised object and dubious promises of market-driven solutions to societal inequalities. There is nothing wrong with enjoying these products, but as consumers, we ought to stop buying into their shallow marketing.

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Student Life

Yum or Yikes: Café Chat L’Heureux

Last week, I paid a visit to Café Chat L’Heureux.

Located in the heart of the Plateau, it’s one of two cat cafes in Montreal, where guests can enjoy their cup of coffee in the company of some feline friends. Café Chat L’Heureux opened in 2014, and has since become a popular spot for both locals and tourists.

The first cat cafe can be traced back to Taiwan in the late ‘90s. The concept was picked up by Japan shortly after, and spread across the rest of the world throughout the following decade. Now, many major North American cities have opened these cafes, their popularity supported by the growing influence of social media and a growing support for the adopt don’t shop movement.

Café Chat L’Heureux is currently home to roughly 10 cats, some of which were adopted from local shelters, and others which the shop foster. Upon entering the cafe, I was confused: where were all the cats? It took me a few moments to realize that the cats were, well, everywhere. Nestled in between cushions, curled up in corners, and perched on the beams overhead, the cats were camouflaged with their environment. Eventually, a few came out of their nests to say hello and—not to be dramatic—it was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen and the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

The cafe’s ambiance was homey and mellow, with soft music playing overhead and guests chatting quietly, some of them relaxing on the couches, often with a cat resting beside them. I had the pleasure of enjoying my food while a tiny kitten rested on my lap, so it’s safe to say that I was pretty happy with the atmosphere.

Ambience: 7/5

The menu is entirely vegetarian, with a few vegan options as well, offering a selection of sandwich melts, salads, soups and smoothies. I tried their popular menu item dubbed “Cat Lady,” a grilled sandwich with goat cheese, cheddar, caramelized onions, fig jam and honey. The sandwich was delicious and I would definitely recommend it for anyone who enjoys rich comfort foods.

The cafe also offers a variety of lattes, cappuccinos and espressos, so I enjoyed my sandwich with a super tasty hazelnut latte. This was followed by a piece of cheesecake and a brownie that I shared with a friend. Unfortunately, the desserts didn’t live up to the main course, as I found the cheesecake a bit bland, and the brownie to have a texture closer to cake.

Food: 3.5/5

Price wise, the menu was a tad expensive—on average, sandwich melts cost around $14 each, coffees around $5 and desserts about $6.50. However, considering the fact that keeping cats alive is a costly affair, I could understand the need for higher prices and didn’t mind paying a little more than I normally would.

Price: 4/5

The employees at Café Chat L’Heureux were really nice, and you could tell that they really loved working with the cats. My only teeny-tiny complaint is that the service was slightly slow, but considering the relaxed atmosphere, I didn’t really think it was a big deal. I was in no rush to leave, that’s for sure!

Service: 4.5/5

 

Photo by Laurence B.D.

Categories
Student Life

Bartender Banter: Getting to know the glamorous grape

A sommelier shares some tips on getting into wine tasting and pairing

There’s something about wine that feels elitist. Intimidating even. People have been making the drink for over 4,000 years. Families have fallen out over its production. The wine industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. In the United States alone, the wine industry contributes over $160 billion to the American economy, according to the research firm MKF Research.

Some are willing to wait 20 years to open a bottle to taste it at its full potential. For a newbie, wine can feel like abstract art—unattainable and overpriced.

Photo by Danielle Gasher

But Le Majestique’s sommelier, Benoit Saint-Hilaire, says while there is an element of prestige to wine, no one should be intimidated by it. After all, “people have been drinking it for over 4,000 years to party and have fun,” he says.

I sat down with Saint-Hilaire to discuss the basics of tasting, pairing, and to get the scoop on some budget-friendly wines students should get their hands on.

Saint-Hilaire became interested in wine thanks to his family. His parents would host dinners, and that’s when he started developing his taste. Saint-Hilaire stresses that the wine tasting experience is extremely subjective. He believes it is important to remain humble when discovering different wines, and to respect different tastes. “Remember, the wine isn’t bad, it’s just not your taste,” he says with a laugh.

Getting into it

Saint-Hilaire says the best way to get into wine, and to develop your taste, is to… well… taste! So if the expert says it, drink away, fellow Concordians! By tasting a lot, he explains, you learn to pick up different subtleties, odours, flavours and notes. He recommends taking it by region, focusing on one at a time. By tasting different wines from a specific region, he explains, it enables you to make connections between the subtleties of different grapes and different estates. He also recommends reading up on the producer. “When I buy a wine, I always go on the estate’s website—I see how they work,” Saint-Hilaire says.

Photo by Danielle Gasher

Pairing

Saint-Hilaire says he is no purist, and believes people should just pair to their taste. That being said, he likes to implement a balance between the flavours of the meal and his wine. For example, for a richer, greasier meal, he would recommend a lighter, fresher wine with some acidity to balance the flavours.

Some recommendations

When asked to recommend a few wines and regions for students to try, Saint-Hilaire’s eyes shoot open. “There are too many!” he exclaims. But for students and beginners, the sommelier says you can’t go wrong with adventuring into the Côtes du Rhône wines. He says you can get good ones starting at $25.

Still in France, he also recommends wines from the Alsace region because they’re accessible, balanced and “easy to drink,” as Saint-Hilaire puts it. He also recommends drinking wines from Spain and Portugal because they are cheap and flavourful. “Drink Spanish wine my friends!” Saint-Hilaire exclaims. He assures a good bottle can easily cost under $20.Surprisingly, Saint-Hilaire also recommends checking out Greek wines. While he admits you have to seek out the good ones, he says you can find good value for your money. Saint-Hilaire recommends trying Greek wines from the Tetramythos estate. Their red wine is the Kalavryta, which he says is comparable to a Pinot Noir.  For white wine lovers, he recommends the Roditis, which he describes as crisp and fresh. Both the red and white are currently available at the SAQ, as well as on Le Majestique’s wine list.

So if you value your wino education, it’s time to start tasting everything, pairing as you wish, and checking out those wines from Spain and Portugal! Cheers, folks!

Categories
Student Life

Would anyone Fancé a coffee?

New Plateau business creates a hybrid of the classic dépanneur and café

It’s common knowledge that dépanneurs are meant to be convenient. However, François Ste-Marie, a young Montreal entrepreneur, thinks they should be so much more.

On Sept. 9, Ste-Marie opened the dépanneur he’s been longing to see in the city. The result, frankly, is impressive.

Dépanneur Fancé is located close to the corner of avenue Des Pins and Saint-Dominique street. Photo by Danielle Gasher

Located in Plateau Mont-Royal, just a few blocks away from Montreal’s iconic Schwartz’s Deli, Dépanneur Fancé is a one-of-a-kind spot.

At first glance, the quaint shop stands out on the residential street close to St-Laurent Boulevard. The street doesn’t have much hustle and bustle. However, once inside Fancé, the street’s quietness becomes a forgettable detail as you are immediately faced with a colourful array of carefully chosen products. Vegetable chips, locally-produced soda drinks, kombucha and craft beers share the shelves with high-quality household basics, such as organic juices and cereals. The shop also sells meals and desserts made in store, available for take-out.  Most importantly, behind the counter is Ste-Marie, the owner and sole employee of Fancé, ready to serve you like he would a friend.

The store sells mostly local products. Photo by Danielle Gasher

Although Fancé offers typical “convenience” products, it is also appealing as a place to satisfy your gourmet appetite. Fancé’s tasteful creamy and nutty lattes are delicious, especially coupled with their croissants, or homemade cookies. The spot also has a breakfast and lunch menu.  The breakfast menu includes classics with a twist.  You can choose toast on artisanal bread with your choice of spread, or an iranian breakfast which consists of toast with feta cheese and nuts.  The lunch menu includes items such as feta and watermelon salad, homemade sandwiches made with fresh, local ingredients, and salads.

Ste-Marie is an ardent supporter of local ingredients and products. Most of his products are Canadian. The coffee he sells comes from Montreal’s trendy Café Saint-Henri and Calgary’s Café Phil & Sebastian, and he buys his chips and cereals from two British Columbia-based companies.

Prior to opening his own business, Ste-Marie worked as a manager at a clothing retailer in downtown Montreal. “My dad had a dépanneur when I was young,” he said. “I’ve always fancied the idea of having mine, but with the products I’d like to find. I love good food, good beer and good coffee. I wanted to appropriate the concept.”

Photo by Danielle Gasher

Ste-Marie filled his shop with just that—you can tell right away by his small inventory that he only sells his carefully chosen, and high-quality favourites.

Fancé, Ste-Marie’s Québécois spelling of “Fancy,” is sure to become the new Plateau hotspot to grab some beer and snacks for a night in, or your go-to café to enjoy a velvety latte to help you get through a study session.

The spot’s seating consists of a stylish and sleek bar with five chairs along the large window of the shop.  The bar, made of concrete, features only a few computer outlets.  Wifi is also available.

For now, Dépanneur Fancé is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m, however, Ste-Marie said the opening hours are subject to change as Fancé gets a feel for the neighbourhood.

Dépanneur Fancé is located at 3764 St-Dominique Street.

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