11.1 Like an Extra Virgin

How, according to Meneley, are imaginaries of virginity & Mediterranean culture used to represent extra-virgin olive oil in international markets? How do cultural imaginaries play into global commodities such as olive oil?

6 thoughts on “11.1 Like an Extra Virgin

  1. Positive imaginaries are created by its dietary and culinary-aesthetic values, having large influence from its “naturalness” compared to “the world in which we live,” that is, a highly processed “unnatural” one. Olive oil has been recognized as “liquid gold” and its benefits are far from just a cooking oil. Scientific research has proven that olive oil is helpful in the prevention of heart disease, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes. In the US, those are the leading cause of death so it would make sense how the “Mediterranean Diet” is so ubiquitously practiced. Besides from its health benefits, olive oils commodities are vase, making it very appealing across the globe. Olive oil sparked its international popularity by the industrial revolution when this high quality oil was recognized has the best lubricant for industrial machinery, in particular, clockworks. Cultural imaginary plays an important role in this global use, for example, now, olive oil has become increasingly popular in skincare and beauty products as “you only need to look at Mediterranean women’s skin for the proof.” Imaginary of use of olive oil and clear skin created has influenced the makeup world globally.
    My question is, without all the hype of olive oil, dating back before 1970s, do you think that this Mediterranean culture, diet, lifestyle would be as influential in the United States? In simpler terms, would we care about the Mediterranean as much without olive oil?


  2. The global popularity of olive oil depends on two main ideas: first, the idea that it is healthy, and second, its association with aesthetic and culinary appeals.Marketing for olive oil stresses how “natural” and “ancient” it is. It is considered a friendly fat, the secret to a healthy, stress-free, Mediterrean lifestyle. These claims also make it popular in skincare, since it apparently smooths and evens complexions. While studies do back up some of these, the medical angle does rely on imaginaries of a healthier alternative to industrial (North Atlantic) society.

    This opposition to industrial society continues in selling olive oil with a culinary-aesthetic angle. High-end olive oil is marketed as having been crafted, “techne”-style, and produced in one small area, compared to mass-produced and homogenized oil. Even using the term “extra virgin” invokes a kind of purity in the oil that just can’t be achieved in a factory. A Tuscany-made oil conjures up images of cypress trees and vineyards, bountiful home-cooked meals, the “real food of real people”. These are the imaginaries that sell oil to Slow Food fans.

    Though this comes from the other reading (Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Slow Food), I was struck by the fact that Harrods sold South African olive oil, albeit as a third-tier good. Olive oil is so linked to the Mediterranean in my mind that I never gave much thought to olives growing outside the region. Considering that they are now grown globally, are olives still definitively “Mediterranean”?


  3. Ever since Athena blessed Greece with the olive tree, Greece has made the most with this gift and turned it into something that will be used for years. The olive tree is the cornerstone of the domestic households and a sign of civilization representing the masculine and feminine techne. In the 1970’s, in North America, heart disease started to become an epidemic in middle class males. Americans started to look into the Mediterranean diet and as stated olive oil began to, “Pour from the Presses.” Boosting olive oil consumption from 65 million to 250 million in just 12 years. With the important quality of ancientness of olive oil is the chemical composition of various oils are just now opening our eyes to to the health-giving and healing properties. Giving olives the common nickname, “Green gold.” The naturalness of olive oil makes it more of a ur-natural fat, sharing a lot of the fatty acids as breast milk, which we use to feed our young. With the increase of technology and ability to acquire more pure olive oil, people were able to create olive oil with a lower acidity level. In the process, giving another use to olive oil, it provided the perfect lubricant for clock works, internal light on wicks, and for industrial machinery. Imaginaries being the author used an example of back in the country of Catholicism, everyone knew that there were multiple grades of virginity in girls as there were in olive oil. Also, the naturalness of the olive tree was like that of the Mediterranean, used for plenty of modern day problem such as in culinary and aesthetics. How many different blends of olive oil have the Mediterranean diet been able to create up to today?


  4. Meneley uses the unlikely comparison of women’s virginity to show how “virginity” is a perceived, often misleading value assigned to both people and olive oil. Over the years, the food and health industries have benefited heavily from the “Mediterranean diet” and its cornerstone, olive oil, by extolling the virtues of traditional Mediterranean cuisine and, to a lesser extent, stereotypical notions of the traditional “Mediterranean lifestyle.” The “Mediterranean diet” relies heavily upon imaginaries of a less stressful, more “natural” world, one that directly opposes the imaginaries of the processed, heavily industrialized cultures and lifestyle of Northern Europe and America. These imaginaries have influenced people around the world to strive to follow a “Mediterranean” way of eating and living, although they are based more in feeling rather than legitimate knowledge of Mediterranean cultures.

    Olive oil is popularly understood to be an all-natural fat, as opposed to an industrial one like Crisco or margarine. Despite the considerable amount of mechanization involved in olive oil production, olive oil has been heralded as a “natural” substance; one that is not manmade, “as if it simply flowed from nature itself, like breast milk” (Meneley). The industry markets extra-virgin olive oil as healthier than regular pure olive oil, and certainly much better than its alternative, butter, which the articles indicates can be identified with Northern Europe and America (in this case, the Mediterranean’s counterparts). Here, we see that the cultural imaginary of virginity–and its connotations of purity, cleanliness, and high quality–can apply not only to humans and their bodies, but also to global commodities in international markets, such as olive oil, by inflating the importance of a product remaining unadulterated until consumption.

    My questions on the reading are: Is the “Mediterranean diet” a sham, based in fact, or a combination of the two? Is the importance of extravirgin olive oil misleading? If so, where did the belief that it is important originate?


  5. The use of imaginaries of virginity and Mediterranean culture to represent olive oil, highlight a social construct that is desired by global commodities as a benefit to their health and well-being. Olive-oils, though bitter in it’s natural state, has been proven to produce numerous health benefits in its oil form. From preventing heart disease and cancers, to producing pain killer effects that work similarly to Ibuprofen, the world has been alerted to the goods of olive oil. With these positives, the world has been able to market the oil as a staple of healthy Mediterranean living. Markets preach on both the scientific evidence and the aesthetic evidence of olive oil to convince the world of its benefit.

    Scientifically, it is completely “all natural” in that there are no added preservatives or chemicals to effect it. In a world full of produced goods, societies are driven towards a better alternative. Though the process to create the oil is still largely industrial, the item itself is not altered. The passing of the aesthetic information has also worked in the area’s favor for marketing. Cookbooks, shows, and magazines each took and continue to take the look and feel of the beauty of the Mediterranean and account it for the use of oil olive. The fact that it was also difficult to obtain for a time increased the interest in the “Mediterranean diet” which lead to more purchases of books and papers that had more to do with the item. Cosmetic pieces also take this approach, utilizing the oils in skin care and makeup and paring them with images of the beautiful skin that accompanies the Mediterranean diet. Quotes from researchers such as Creme d’Olives who stated in the reading, “I’ve done years of research, but you only need to look at Mediterranean women’s skin for proof that having olives in their diet and using them in skin care smooths and refines the complexion” are exclaimed for consumers which then alert them to the benefits of buying olive oil items and food. The longing for beauty and healthful well being increase the ability to market olive oil to international markets.

    The Mediterranean is able to be presented as a central hub for healthy eating and well-being thanks in part to the exports of proven healthy items such as olive oil. I do have to wonder, as the world finds more ways to challenge what is healthy and what is not, if other Mediterranean customs will be sought after in this way or if there is not much else that the world finds pleasing. In other words, will the Mediterranean’s cosmopolitan sharing of healthy resources find more to effect the world with, or is the world not looking for anything else?


  6. Meneley uses the ancient Greek myth of Athena and the olive tree gift to the city of Athens as a lead into how the Mediterranean views virginity of women and, especially, olive oil. The purer or more virgin the woman and/or the oil, the better the product, the better the quality, and the better the demand, which also determines the worth of the woman or oil. The virginity of daughters is a sign of pride for the families of the Mediterranean and this view is reflected in the pride the growers and marketers of olive oil as they refine the process and keep traditions that keep in mind the honor and shame code that is ingrained in the Mediterranean world. The representation of the extra-virgin olive oil is a new level to the olive oil world since the induction of the industrial process where the oil is not consistent, but instead kept at a brand level that does not represent an area or maker that take pride in the production of olive oil.

    Introducing these levels of virginity in the olive oil making world has greatly impacted and influenced the marketing and sells of olive oil around the world, as brand name company attempt to industrialize the process of making oil from multiple olive growers to make a consistent oil blend that tastes the same throughout the year, from year to year. Whereas, farmers and marketers that take pride in their work will go to extremes in order to produce a product that is a higher quality in order to ensure that it is exported and in higher demand. The fact that some makers will not package an inferior oil, due to its level of virginity, parallels the honor and shame mindset of being ashamed of the daughter that is not “pure.”


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