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April 13 2011

Colleen Brisport, BSILR '11, Explores the Cuisine Movement in Peru and its Impact on the Developing Country

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On the dates of March 17th to March 26th, I traveled to Peru with my anthropology professor Billie Jean Isbell and two of my classmates. We explored the cuisine movement in Peru and the impact it has on multiculturalism and national development. This movement is motivated by the creation of a national ‘food’ identity. The Peruvians believe that the cuisine movement is a means of economic development and cultural appreciation. Similar to many other countries of Latin America, Peru has suffered a history of colonization and is still attempting to create unity and a unique national identity.

There are several historical and cultural reasons for why Peruvians believe cuisine is an appropriate medium for development and national unity.  The Peruvians envision their cuisine as a representation of the different climates and cultures that exist in their country. There are three distinct geographical and cultural regions in Peru; the mountains, the rainforest and the coast. In the mountains the indigenous people, whose ancestry dates back thousands of years, grow hundreds of potato varieties. They also grow other traditional foods such as corn, wheat, meat (beef and chicken) and many herbs and seasonings. Historically, the people of the mountain have been neglected, discriminated, and targeted by the Peruvian national government. Various communities like Vicos, where we visited, have successfully advocated for their rights and now live in autonomous communities. However, many Peruvian citizens who live in the coastal areas and the national government still fail to recognize mountain communities.

The forest region of the country is home to many Peruvians and a very diverse array of fruits vegetables. The ecological diversity of the area is a good source of income for many of the people who live here. The Peruvians who live in the forests take the opportunity to share their cuisine with tourists who originally ventured to these areas in order to explore nature. This transaction between the Peruvians and the tourists is called ecotourism, which allows visitors to enjoy the food and culture of those who live in the forest.    Many Peruvians in the forest and in the mountains rely on ecotourism as a primary source of income for their communities. 008_8

Finally the coastal cities are the most ‘developed’ regions in Peru and have a controversial relationship with the rest of the country. A criticism of the inhabitants of coastal cities like Lima, is that they are unaware and indifferent to the other communities. For example, many citizens of the coastal cities are unaware of the existence and the plights of the people who live in the mountains and the forest.

Lima is also very engaged in the cuisine movement in Peru and has successfully incorporated multicultural flavors and cooking techniques in their cuisine.  An immigration wave in the 20th century resulted in a vibrant Chinese and Japanese immigrant population in Peru.  The Peruvians have welcomed their cuisine and Asian-Peruvian fusion food is common in Lima. For example, ‘Chifa’ is a fusion of Peruvian and Chinese cuisine and there are also many Japanese-Peruvian restaurants. These recipes combine Asian flavors and ingredients with Peruvian cooking techniques and presentation methods. This type of fusion cuisine is extremely popular in Peru and essential to their culture and identity.

Research and Conclusions
I spoke with the residents of Vicos, Peru a mountain community located near Huascara. I asked them if they were interested in exporting their potatoes internationally for profit. Their response was no. I found this perplexing because they struggle to maintain roads, electricity and water irrigation systems in their community. The income generated from the exportation of herbs, potatoes and medicinal plants could bring extraordinary amounts of money into their community to maintain the community’s utilities. However, they were more interested in preserving these products for their community and their ecotourism business.

The Vicosinos believe that presenting their culture, traditional practices, rituals, cuisine and lifestyle through ecotourism is a better source of income for their community. Additionally it is the best means of internal development for their community and it also gives them agency. 

This fact was contra to my previous beliefs concerning indigenous communities. I thought the principal issue faced by many of the world’s marginalized communities was their inability to be competitive in the national and the international market. I also thought that a key issue of inequality and injustice was the inability for these populations to find jobs and afford basic necessities. However, the struggle faced by the Vicosinos was ecological and cultural preservation. For the Vicosionos, the preservation of potatoes and plants native to their land is more important than being economically internationally competitive. In actuality, the commoditization of their crops would threaten their cultural beliefs and the biodiversity where they live.

My experience in Peru has changed my perception of indigenous populations and the uniform ideas I had about the goals of business. I realize that not every culture’s economic goal is to utilize their resources to be as competitive and profitable as they possibly can. Although this is true for many American companies this is not the case for the people who live in the Andean highlands. They have different economic values, which are based in local production and consumption and the preservation of their culture. As a result, their business philosophy and economic decisions are based on these values. This is represented in the ecotourism business of the Vicosinos, which is considered a means of economic security and internal development.

This experience has been quite enlightening and as a result I have changed the focus of my research project. My research paper in Billie Jean Isbell’s anthropology course tilted Cuisine, Production and Biodiversity in Peru Part II will investigate and discuss the current issues affecting the international development industry and how this relates to local development projects of indigenous and local communities. I will explore the business model in communities where the economic measures of success are not based on international or national profitability but on economic security and cultural preservation. I am interested in the differences in business strategy, labor organization and representation. I will also compare the measures of success between an American business models and the local business models of developing communities. I believe that this research will highlight the role that cultural differences have in the business world. This will also be very valuable knowledge for my career as a human rights lawyer because through the writing of this report I will understand issues of international business and how this impacts the concerns of historically marginalized populations.