Food is More Than Something to Eat A comparative experience of food and culture in Peru and Kentucky by Rachel Geil


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Food is More Than Something to Eat A comparative experience of food and culture in Peru and Kentucky by Rachel Geil

  1. 1. Food is More Than Something to Eat A comparative experience of food and culture in Peru and Kentucky By Rachel Geil, Centre College Class of 2016 Part 1: Peru I spent three weeks attending an anthropological field school in Carhuaz, Peru that emphasized experiential learning and community participatory action research in order to understand numerous aspects of traditional Andean culture. When studying their concept of food, I found the following experiences to be most informative. Seed Exchange As part of their Winter Solstice celebration, a group of schools gathered to do a seed exchange. Each school brought a diverse selection of seeds, mainly grains and maize, that grew well in their area to trade with others after a traditional, ceremonial commencement which included the sacrificial offering of a cuy (guinea pig). The students exhibited a great wealth of knowledge, curiosity, and involvement in their agricultural-based lifestyle. The Market Though most people grow food solely for their family’s consumption, the women with extra food who can afford to travel into town sell it in the marketplace on Wednesdays and Sundays. Potatoes, vegetables, and medicinal herbs were among the most common food items, but manufactured wholesale goods were also prevalent among certain vendors. Fieldwork I found the best way to learn was by going into the fields to help farmers plant. They typically use cuy droppings as fertilizer and plant a variety of crops in a single field. Part 2: Kentucky Andean culture vs. Western culture god(s) god(s) people people nature nature My biggest takeaway from this experience was the striking difference in the mindsets of the two cultures. Traditional Andean culture understands the world to be full of reciprocal relationships between people, deities, and the earth, all of which are sacred, all of which equal. On the other hand, conventional Western thought perceives the world in a more hierarchal fashion, with a removed deity who has power over both people and nature. In turn, people believe they have authority over nature’s resources, which can lead to misuse and exploitation. These attitudes can be seen in the way each culture thinks about food. While Andeans see food simply as sustenance, people with a Western mindset view it as a commodity. After returning from Peru, I spent the remainder of my summer interning for the Community Farm Alliance, a statewide grassroots organization dedicated to bolstering the local food system throughout Kentucky by encouraging small-scale, family based agriculture. It was interesting to note the impact that local legislation had on local food opportunities, much more so than in Peru, reinforcing the Western idea of food as a commodity. The Directory My main task was to create a participant directory for the Eastern Kentucky Food Systems Collaborative, a sector of CFA, to help create a network of farmers, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, health professionals, and anyone interested in Eastern Kentucky food production and distribution. Besides basic contact information, the directory outlined reasons to work for a healthy, sustainable food system and an inventory of current programs that are doing so. The Leadership Summit I also participated in CFA’s annual Leadership Summit at Kentucky State University which brought in interested participants from around the state, including local government officials. CFA reviewed their involvement in a variety of legislative work concerning food policy and farm policy, as well as identified the main issues facing Kentucky farmers today. As in Peru, farmers struggle with distributing their local food to a wide range of consumers. A unique concern for Kentucky is the idea of supporting beginning farmers through loans and education programs, such as the Agricultural Legacy Initiative.