09/07/2016 04:00 EDT | Updated 09/07/2016 04:06 EDT

Is Globalization The Collapse Of Culture?

Paul Thompson via Getty Images
General view of town and harbour, Angra do Heroismo, Terceira Island, Azores, Portugal.

Globalization: A term I've heard half my life, maybe longer. I always knew what it meant, but not until I myself became a global nomad did I really grasp what it meant.

I remember the first time I saw familiar brands while shopping for necessities in Zagreb, Croatia. Being in my first foreign country was intimidating because, well, everything was foreign. Suddenly, there, like a beacon of comfort and hope in the condiments aisle is a jar of Hellman's mayonnaise.

Familiarity! Joy! I don't need that, but I'll buy that, and I'll hold it close and feel like home isn't a zillion miles away.

Then I realized I actually was a million miles away and it was ludicrous to find my favourite sandwich dressing on the other side of the planet. Shouldn't things be different? Shouldn't I wonder what the hell I'm buying?

One doesn't even need to seek signs of globalization; it's a punch in the face on every street.

Everywhere, it seemed, were other brands familiar to me. Dr. Oetker. Nestle? Omnipresent here. By "here" I mean all of Europe. They should change the continent's name to "Nestland" and be done with it.

Before visiting Portugal's remote Azores Islands earlier this year, a friend sent me a story saying they were an independent food paradise. Self-sufficient, fertile. No food chains. No abominations of cuisine.

But no. Globalization is there too. McDonald's arrived a decade ago. Mickey D's billboards dotted the landscape. Discarded Coke bottles were everywhere. Every cafe or store had shelves full of Nestle products. Doritos were next to every register.

One doesn't even need to seek signs of globalization; it's a punch in the face on every street.

The beautiful Azores Islands, are 1,500 kilometers from motherland Portugal, 1,900 from Eastern Canada, and nearly 7,000 from Brazil's northern edge. Floating in the remote North Atlantic, they too are unsafe from invasion by global industry.

While writing in a brew pub, a TV played VH1 for ambiance. A shirtless Adam Levine sang about having moves like Jagger. Christina Aguilera, Jason Derulo, Kanye, they all played as I drank a regional stout. Americana, por favor?

This is not an indictment against the Azores, but rather who we have collectively become; the global "we." The Azores are simply another place unable to deflect invasions of the brand kind, and it saddened me more than elsewhere since it's such a magical place. Imagine Hawaii-meets-Ireland-meets-Portugal. That's the Azores. Magic, indeed.


Myanmar is perhaps one of the last places on Earth immune to this "going global" effect, except, obviously, maybe North Korea, who are immune to everything but famine, it seems.

Back home in Canada, Victoria ran a strong "buy local" campaign, the latest effort to reverse Vancouver Island loss of 75 per cent of its food sovereignty in three decades. Now, from foodstuffs to art, anything one buys local there is celebrated as helping sustain an island needing all the sovereignty it can get.

Here, I realize "buy local" needs to go global. In places like the Azores, buying "local" gets easy to do. They rear their own beef, lamb, and chicken. They grow pineapples and scores of fruit. An incredible dairy industry complements a long, proud history of breadmaking. Three of the nine islands boast vineyards, and some have a coffee-growing industry too.

The world is changing faster than you and I can adapt.

I may have initially felt comforted by finding so-called "home brands" abroad, but I soon realized it's catastrophic for culture. Does the world benefit by Doritos being an international power-brand? No. Look at the "commercial that Doritos doesn't want you to see," the viral PSA campaign. Eat Doritos, it says, and you might as well bring your own chainsaw to the rainforest and clearcut.

As I travel, I'm learning how dire it is when these companies with massive international funds behind them invade and usurp regional cultures with global products that have no soul, no passion, and certainly no emotional resonance for those regions.

In my nomadic life, I now seek local products everywhere I go. Guess what? It's not easily done. I recognize brands from home everywhere I go.

Some days I feel incredibly blessed living this challenging, expensive, tiring life of travel. It's worth the fatigue and frustration I've experienced so far, because now and then, magic happens. Like being in a remote community and stumbling into an unlocked, empty church, so I can sit and reflect on all I've seen already. From olive harvests to truffle-hunting to fishermen in the Adriatic through to Azorean cattle roaming the coastal cliffs while remote Atlantic salt-spray coats my glasses, and even chocolate-roasting in small-town Mexico... I am a very lucky nomad.

The world is changing faster than you and I can adapt. From climate to land use, through to globalization and disappearing cultures and languages, change is afoot. I feel I'm travelling at a time akin to a fork in the road, where one direction is everything Earth's ever been and the other direction in an unknown.

Never before has it been so important for us to listen to elders, hold on to traditions, cook at home, shop local, protect the environment, or have a say in how we adapt the natural environment for human use.

My eight days spent in the Azores affected me deeply. There, they've only recently felt the effects of globalization. I don't know if it's possible for us to turn back the hands of time to buy cheeses, breads, and more from our neighbours and compatriots, but doing so could help everything from climate change to regional economic strife.

In my former home of Victoria, they're now allowing locals to sell surplus garden bounty. This is a small step toward food sovereignty and a blow against globalization, but it's still a step.

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