After our first month in Lima, we’ve gotten into the rhythm of class and exploring the city. Our group has explored numerous museums, archeological sites, local attractions and more during the first block. Everyone took his or her own approach to block break—some of us stayed in Lima to relax and explore while others traveled to areas like the northern coast to enjoy the lush green reserve and beautiful beaches. And now, three days into our next course, we’re back into business mode.
A central component of our new course, Anthropology of Food, is the process of research (especially since we’ll be turning in a 20-page research paper as our final assignment). However, Shelley Harper, who is a librarian at Tutt Library back in Colorado, has been given the opportunity to join us for a week here in Peru. Throughout this first week, Shelley has been giving us useful tips and strategies for approaching this research process; each day we dedicate about an hour of our class time to learning about new and effective methods for researching unique topics. That is to say, our professor Mario Montaño has given us final paper topics that are specifically chosen for the reason that they are less developed, and this can make the research process challenging when there are fewer secondary sources to work with. Nevertheless, with the help of Shelley we are now well on our way to narrowing down our topics and collecting sources for Friday’s bibliography workshop.
Throughout our first few lectures and assignments from Mario, we have all been transitioning to the mindset of the anthropologist. We’re invited to think about food not only as something that we eat three times a day, but as something that at its root defines the very people who eat it. Mario constantly emphasizes the importance of food and its relationship with society—analyzing food can tell us about poverty, social customs, history and even politics. For example, we recently read and talked about an article that discusses culinary history in pre-Hispanic cultures from South America. As human beings adapted themselves from being simple, nomadic tribes of hunter-gatherers to domestic, agricultural societies, several important evolutions occur. Food once was and still is an important pillar in human life, and its presence, or lack thereof, can truly define a civilization. The Incan empire was one of the first well-organized civilizations to emerge in South America; through the lens of food, our class has talked about how nobles and common citizens’ lives reflected a disparity that was generated by food. While nobles had an abundancy of food, which was often a product of power and control over a newly developed agricultural society, common citizens ate more sparsely. Nobles had large dinner corridors, servants and often regal eating traditions whilst other people simply ate off the ground in their small house. At the root of all these differences is food, and as we continue to explore the culinary history of Peru, and more generally South America, we look forward to uncovering more about how food deeply affects the social structure of our lives.
Today we visited Villa El Salvador for the second time as volunteers. This particular site is incredibly well-known for its historical significance but also poverty. The story originally takes place just outside of Pamplona, which is roughly six miles south of Lima. Previously an abandoned site, in 1971 it became occupied by over 200 different families that sought refuge in a new community. The population thrived, and shortly thereafter, a violent conflict erupted between the new tenants and the central government, which resulted in numerous deaths, widespread international media coverage and intense outcry within Peru. After the conflict finally came to a close, the government resolved to create a new community site, this one 12 miles south of Lima that would be a more suitable location—Villa El Salvador it would be named. Still, the new roots of this community were shallow and unstable in the beginning; the vast sand dunes seemed almost uninhabitable. Today, Villa El Salvador is a recognized “food desert,” in anthropological terms, and still suffers from poverty. As volunteers, our plan is to visit once a week to play soccer, volleyball, jump-rope or whatever fun games the center has planned with the kids. While some of us were outside playing and romping around with the diverse group of kids that gather each day at the center, several other students were indoors helping reorganize the community’s small library. Service trips such as those to Villa El Salvador are important to our group—not only do we enjoy spending several hours each week giving back to these bright young children, but it also helps provide essential perspective of the place in which we’re studying and living.