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Science Café: Dr. Christine Folch

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March 17, 2022 @ 6:00 pm

Science Café: Dr. Christine Folch


March 17, 2022
6:00 pm
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Presentation Title: Unearthing Hidden Stories of Yaupon, North America’s Native Caffeinated Plant: Or, why don’t we drink it? We totally should.

Description of Presentation:

For millennia, Indigenous communities have wielded the stimulating leaves of caffeinated hollies native to the Americas for their social and psychoactive potency. With European Contact, yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) became the beverage of choice in the southern region of the Spanish empire and has spread to the Levant and to a café near you. But its lesser-known and equally delightful caffeinated cousin yaupon (the unfortunately named Ilex vomitoria) flourishes across southern North America, where it is at best still a curio. Yet in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, serious attempts were made to put yaupon on a commercial stage equal to coffee and tea by introducing it to a broader North Atlantic public. Today’s talk untangles these failed attempts and explores why now yaupon has started to gain traction as an eco-responsible, earthy alternative to mass-produced caffeinated drinks.

About Dr. Folch:

Christine Folch is Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University and has a secondary appointment at the Nicholas School of the Environment as Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy. (And she just received tenure!)

Folch is a scholar of energy politics, natural resources, and environment in Latin America, with an attention to how nature is intertwined with power struggles, national identities, and history. She holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from the City University of New York and a B.A. in History from Harvard College.

She is currently drafting a cultural history of yerba mate, the stimulating beverage popular in southern South America and its lesser-known but equally delightful caffeinated Ilex/holly-family cousins guayusa (Amazonia) and yaupon (southern North America). Her writings on cuisine, culture, and history have appeared in The Atlantic, Slate, andScalawag.

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