Scholar Discusses Beer Drinking in Mexico

In a departure from the usual message about drinking on campus, Santander Visiting Scholar Susan Gauss told an audience at Harvard to “drink more beer.”

Gauss, the latest lecturer in the ongoing Mexico and Central America Program Speaker Series, discussed recent growth in the Mexican beer industry during an event humorously titled, “Drink More Beer, but Drink Modelo”—a reference to an early 20th century slogan for the major Mexican brewery, Grupo Modelo.

Gauss discussed the advent of beer in Mexico during the 20th century and its implications for the country’s economic and cultural identity, a subject which has “not garnered enough literature or discussion,” according to Gauss.

Gauss, who is also a history professor at the State University of New York at Albany, said she hopes to change this.

Gauss said that there has been a radical shift in the Mexican attitude toward beer drinking. While in the past, it was viewed as a largely foreign and immoral activity, it has steadily gained popularity in recent years. One advertisement claimed that beer “has vitamins and minerals, brings energy, fortifies the nerves, preserves the body, and improves lifestyle.”

Gauss displayed a chart that showed that the annual per capita consumption of beer in Mexico in 1900 was under 1 liter; by 2004, this number had risen to 51.8 liters.

Gauss used the term “Mexicanization” to describe the efforts of breweries to make beer “a mass consumer item associated with Mexican nationalism and modernization.”

Members of the audience frequently interjected with personal anecdotes, creating a lively discussion throughout the event. When Gauss emphasized the broad cultural implications of beer in Mexico, one member of the audience mentioned that most primary schools organized field trips to “cervecerias,” or breweries, where young students were given free samples, a comment which was met with laughter from the other audience members.

“The lecture was a really interesting glimpse of the intersection between the history of industrialization, nationalization, and medicine in Mexico,” said Susan R. Thomas, another Santander Visiting Scholar, a program which is sponsored by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.