This is Part two of my four part series: A Shameless Foodie On A Mission
A Recap of Part One It’s a Small Globalized World After All
My wife and I end up in the Plaza Real (Don’t be fooled! It’s a mall; the antagonist to Realness!), because apparently it is the only thing open on Sundays. We find our only real choices for dinner (the driving force that brought us here in the first place) are in a food court that is disturbingly similar to any food court you would find in any mall in the US. We end up eating Peruvian style rotisserie chicken that is not exactly ‘authentic’ and then we decide to stroll around the mall, to try and walk it off.
Supermarkets in Malls
Supermarkets inside malls is a phenomenon I came across a lot in China. Apparently the trend has made it to Peru. If spending hours at a mall trying on shoes, discerning which jeans are right for your figure, or I don’t know whatever it is people do at malls isn’t tiring enough already, you can top it off with a convenient visit to a Supermarket, well more like SUPER Market.
You don’t even have to exit the mall and walk (or drive) across the parking lot, like is usually the case in the US. Nope. All you have to do is go to the first floor of the mall and at either end you are bound to find a Super Walmart look-alike.
In this case it was a Peruvian superstore chain called Mega (as in extremely large) You will see very quickly that I am NOT a fan.
Mega sells everything from electronics to toys to clothing. They even have an entire aisle of mattresses (pretty sure they one-uped Walmart on that one).
We finally find our way to the food section and take pictures of the numerous candies, cookies and crackers. They offer both familiar brands like Chips Ahoy and Oreos as well as local brands of similar products. They have not copied Walmart half-heartedly. There is a whole aisle dedicated to cereal, an entire aisle dedicated to candy, and at least one for sodas and other sugary drinks. Other than the signs in Spanish and some of the local products, it feels identical to a Walmart back home.
Milo, a sugary malt-flavored powder that you mix with hot or cold water or milk, stands out as one we don’t see a lot of it in the US. It must be a hot item here, though, because there are security locks wrapped around them. Upon closer inspection, I find Milo is a Nestle corporation product.
Sub-Par ‘Super-Mega Walmart Wanabee’ Vegetables
I finally make it past the overwhelming number of aisles filled with packaged, processed foods and find that the vegetable section is well organized: bananas are neatly enveloped in plastic bags, various fruits sit in styro-foam shells and are saran-wrapped like Christmas presents. There are the pre-cut and packaged peeled onions and carrots, as well as diced fruit. Convenience is a commodity everywhere.
The meat is meticulously packaged. Still somehow it doesn’t look as fresh as the entire carcasses of lamb, chicken, and pig I saw being hacked on the spot at the Mercado in Lima yesterday.
I have been informed that there is huge public mercado in Cusco too, and I fully intend to go tomorrow, but for now I can only wander, slightly saddened, and take pictures of the plastic-wrapped and limited produce at the Supermercado inside the mall.
So many vegetables and fruits seem to be missing; the varieties carried are disturbingly consistent to those you would find in the U.S. There are a few exceptions: six varieties of potatoes (much more than we get in the USA, but appalling considering the potato is native to Peru and they have 1500 species!) They have on offer at least four different kinds of bananas and some spicy peppers most gringos wouldn’t dare touch.
We don’t buy anything. I almost buy a piece of fruit, but it all looks too pristine.
All the Aisles of Not-So-Real Food
We meander our way back towards the one and only exit, past all the aisles we saw before. I realize that the amount of fresh produce and meats being sold seems disproportionate to the amount of space dedicated to food items in total. It can’t be more than 30%. I understood this to be a Supermarket, but really it is a very large Department Store with a food section–A Mega Walmart.
Upon investigation, I find all the yogurt has white sugar added and some have rainbow colored sprinkles you can toss in to sweeten it some more. Unlike in the USA where we market healthy-seeming yoghurts boasting evaporated cane sugar and all natural ingredients, they are not even trying to make it look heathy; yoghurt here as displayed in Mega is packaged as a sweet treat for kids.
Just like many stores in the USA, Mega has plenty of sweet but nutritionally empty options. I see little kids jumping up and down when the reach the candy aisle amidst all the brightly colored packages with cartoon characters on them, just like in the USA. Inca Kola, the highlighter-yellow colored Peruvian soda is prominently displayed in at least six different parts of the store.
When did all of this get here? And how, and why? And most importantly why does anyone come to the Super-Mega-Mercado when they could go to the Mercado and get fresher, realer, and tastier food?
What do they sell? Convenience and Modernity
I fully intend to investigate during the rest of my time here in Peru, although I fear it is a familiar version of the same story I heard when I was in China, and the same narrative that is quickly becoming global. Many people I interviewed in China feel that supermarkets offer convenience, and a taste of modernity.
Parents, especially, let their children indulge in Western-style sweets and fast-food chains like McDonalds, because it is viewed as a privilege that they themselves never had, a rite of passage so to speak for growing up in the 21st century. The industrial food system and all the junk that comes with it is being rapidly exported as requisite of a modern identity, and unfortunately people are gobbling it up.
So before you get too glum, let me assure you that there is hope. Not everyone is gobbling it up, and not all local food economies are getting gobbled up by the ‘Abominable Industrial Food Monster,’ without a fight, or at least without persistence in doing what their ancestors have been doing for generations.
Mercados, and all the unofficial street vendors that make getting some fresh fruit and veg just about anywhere easy and affordable, are all key players.