Tiffany Álvarez

Researcher

I am a biocultural anthropologist interested in female reproduction, evolutionary models of human drug use, and cultural and evolutionary perspectives of health. I focus on human female life-history allocation challenges to reproduction in the face of acculturation pressures, toxin exposure (specifically tobacco), and/or illness.

My PhD research integrates evolutionary biological theory with cultural methods to examine how biological, reproductive, and socio-cultural factors influence tobacco use patterns among Latin American migrants and Indigenous women living in a tobacco-producing region of NW Argentina. This work highlights the bidirectional relationship between culture and biology and seeks to answer nuanced questions on the effects culture and acculturative processes have on tobacco use patterns, reproductive behaviors, and reproductive decision-making.

As a woman of color and first-generation college student, combating the structural and oppressive dynamics of inequity is both a professional aim and personal goal. The Western biomedical model of disease does not account for the intersecting influences that ethnohistory, political-economic structures, and changing cultural identities/ norms have on individual- and population-level health. Professionally, I aim to highlight the danger of such decontextualized assumptions and contribute to the reform of this framework.
 

Following research questions concerning tobacco use sex-differences and ancestral tobacco use norms, Tiffany has conducted research in Jujuy Argentina - a culturally rich and ecologically diverse province in the south-central Andes.

Across the Andes, a common ritual involving ceremonial tobacco use honors Pachamama. In both the Quechua & Aymara language, “Pacha” means earth, universe, time, and space and “mama” means mother. Traditional Andean societies view earth, humanity, and the cosmos as one indissoluble unit and, as such, emphasize the importance of building a close and reciprocal relationship with Pachamama.

 

A feast for Pachamama featuring, fruits, vegetables, traditional cuisine, beverages, cigarettes, and more.
 


For thirty days, starting on August 1st, the beginning of the Andean agricultural New Year, people celebrate Pachamama through a ritual feast in which they symbolically and literally give to the Earth what it has given to them. Ritual participants feed mother earth in an expression of gratitude and sow seeds of hope for good luck in the year to come. In private or community gatherings, people come together and dig a bucket-sized hole in the ground in which they place produce, freshly cooked meals, diverse drinks, coca/tobacco leaves, and even cigarettes. In the Andes, tobacco and smoke are staple offerings that carry ancient symbolic value and serve important divination and purification functions, including in Pachamama festivities. In ceremonial contexts, tobacco is believed to be a relationship-building currency, the unifying thread of communication between physical and metaphysical planes.

 

Cigarettes are lit using the coals of the earth and are afterwards planted in the soil for Pachamama to smoke.

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