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It’s a Small Globalized Food Market After All

What could be better than traveling around Peru sampling amazing food? The first installment of our special series

A Shameless Foodie On A Mission: A Special 4 Part Series from Peru

Part one: Marin encounters Fresh Food & Fast Food


 

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My wife Adri about to pounce on some fruit

When I get off the beaten path, out of metropolitan centers or on the edge of rural landscapes, suddenly all the food becomes sublime. (Unlike back home in the USA where fancy overpriced farmers market pop up on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and only in the “progressive” part of town)

In Peru nearly at every turn, I encounter fresh produce.

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Those mangoes!

These largely unregulated markets come in every shape and size. Wandering around Cusco, Peru, I saw a lady selling strawberries from a wheel barrow, another woman selling a variety of fruits from a cart on wheels across the street from my hostel, and little old lady selling quinoa atop a cloth on the sidewalk. The alleyway around the corner from the city square consistently has vendors selling every vegetable and fruit your stomach could possibly desire.

The quality of the food is precious. This morning when I bought a mango from the lady selling fruit off a mobile cart. I felt like I struck gold (and it only cost 25 cents!). Indeed, it was the juiciest and least fibrous mango I had ever tasted, with the perfect balance between sweet and sour.

I ask myself, have I gone back in time to some utopian era where food is both cheap and delectable? A time I have only heard tales of from my elders?

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One of many vegetable stands

I am jolted from my wishful thinking when I walk five blocks back into the city square and my senses are suddenly inundated by the smell of fried chicken and the squeals of children as they delight in their catch of the day: cotton candy. My stomach lurches, and I wish it were all a bad dream. Reality hits hard as I turn around to see a KFC and a Starbucks behind me.

I realize that all the divine flavors I was lucky enough to find earlier in the day are nothing more than endangered species, a relic that is biding its time against the food forecast of industrialization and monotonization. The same storm that has already devastated food landscapes in the US and other developed countries is not stopping there, its next victims are places like Peru, China, and India.

I like to refer to it as:

The Abominable Industrial Food Monster

I remind myself that while it is scary, it can still be overcome.

The Globalized Food Court

Today I arrived in Cusco, the town everyone comes through on their way to Machu Picchu. The airport is quaint, many of the women still wear traditional indigenous dress, and some of the architecture is reminiscent of a picturesque pueblo.

We ask the friendly family accommodating us at their Airbnb where we can find something for dinner and they tell us that because it’s Sunday most things are closed. Fortunately, there is one place that is always open, The Plaza Real, and we should have plenty of options for food there.

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The Plaza Real–doesn’t feel very royal to me.

Unfortunately the Plaza Real does not quite live up to its’ name. I have a vision of an outdoor market where locales are selling fresh produce and homemade tamales, a notion that keeps me hopeful and hungry even during the cab ride that would make most people lose their appetite. Instead, the cab pulls into a giant shopping center. My stomach, which for me is an equally important organ as the heart when it comes to love, sinks.

We stumble into the main entrance of the Plaza Real mall and are horrified to see that the most readily displayed food options are Dunkin Dohnuts, Chili’s, and Pinkberry. We make it to the food court and find a Burger King, a Peruvian chain that is quite like Burger King, a KFC, a Peruvian chain eerily similar to a KFC, and a Chinese fast food place that is set up almost identically to Panda Express, but called Chifa (China in Peruvian) Wok.

I think to myself, this can’t be happening, but there is no denying that it is real, at least in terms of physical matter. As far as the food being real, I may beg to differ.

Nothing Like Homecookin’

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One of my wife, Adri’s watercolors. She is documenting our trip through her art.

Finally, after some searching, we find a Peruvian chain that serves Peruvian style rotisserie chicken and some side dishes with actual vegetables in them. It is not bad, but it can’t hold a candle to the fare I have been finding in the markets, on the streets and at family-owned restaurants up until now.

My wife and I eat our chicken while American Top-40 hits play in the background. My stomach is getting full, but not in the same way that it has been. I feel more filled than satisfied. There is something in the flavor. As if often the case with chain restaurants, I feel a distinct lack of that home-cooked, personal touch that goes into food from family-run restaurants.

After dinner, we venture out into the rest of the mall, trying to walk off the over-salted chicken in our stomachs. We don’t bother going into any of the familiar stores like North Face or Journey’s because we frankly didn’t come to Peru to do that. Before we know it, we have strolled to the other end of the mall. But it is not a dead end. Instead, it is a huge vortex into yet another manifestation of the Abominable Industrial Food Monster, who has clearly taken a few business trips to Peru. The Supermarket!

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Next: Serving Up Part 2: A Peruvian Doppelgänger: The Walmart Look Alike


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Marin Toscano and a little friend

Climate Stew Crew member, Marin Toscano is a food culture ambassador seeking to bridge people from around the world through the joy of eating good food. She identifies as “a shameless foodie on a mission” and believes EVERYONE deserves access to real, healthy food. Marin teaches nutrition classes to youth and marginalized communities about Fooition (Food Intuition) that aim to demystify eating healthy and elevate consciousness about how food affects our mind, body and spirit. Her main focus is on international food culture and cuisine and the knowledge each holds about what to eat, how to eat, and how to use food for healing.

Normally she lives in Denver with her wife, Adrienne who is an amazing artist, but right now they are travelling through South America for 3 months on a belated honeymoon. Along the way Marin is blogging about food culture and Fooition anecdotes she encounters in Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Marin works as a Mandarin interpreter to pay the bills, and in her free time likes to practice yoga, garden, cook, write and enjoy the great outdoors.

 

Photo Credits: Marin Toscan and Adri Norris
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Marin Toscano

Author: Marin Toscano

This post has 9 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Ben on February 12, 2016 at 8:22 pm Reply

    I remember many of these scenes from my month in Peru. Two insatiable human appetites are at work. On one end, the multinational marketing giants see an under-exploited market to sell their brands. On the consumer end, an influx of new options generate the desire to keep up with the times and to experience new luxurious novelties from somewhere far away where life is better.
    I think vendors at my local farmer’s market appeal to the same desires in me… “What is this vegetable? Japanese heirloom you say?! I’ll take them all!”

    At the end of the day, it isn’t marketing that makes a good or bad choice.

    It’s the same search for novelty and rich experiences that had me buying choclo and queso served from the bunioned hands a woman on the corner near my hostel and tamales dulces from a woman shouting through a half-toothed smile “Gringo! Hola, gringo! Tamales. Duuuuulces.”

    • Peterson Toscano
      Peterson Toscano on February 16, 2016 at 12:25 pm Reply

      Reading Marin’s piece I think of the five months I live in Quito Ecuador a long time ago. The sounds and smells and sights came right back to my senses. It was also right after they opened a Pizza Hut which was a BIG deal. I understood the lure it had for my Ecuadorian friends. But I wanted to try new foods, new pizzas even. Cheferinas, a local pizza place, served La Pizza Tropical, which had a bunch of fruit on top with quest del campo. Not at all what I was used to coming from NY. It was the first time I saw that pizza could be radically different.

      But it was the local soups that I loved the most and of course the ceviche. Mmmmmmm.

  2. Avatar
    Jerry on February 13, 2016 at 7:04 am Reply

    Now, now, Marin. The world is not falling victim to some “Abominable Industrial Food Monster” but rather many more people are being fed. The quest for “natural, native, home-cooked” food fit for a North American foodie is not what modern agriculture and delivery systems are about. One might ask, why worry about feeding so many people? What, let them eat cake? Even GMOs — that scourge of the Western PC foodies — haven’t actually been found guilty of anything but the potential to feed more people and perhaps a little better. (See: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/gmos-haven%E2%80%99t-delivered-their-promises-%E2%80%94-or-risks).

    Now I like good food too but maybe you can enjoy the sights and all the great food you could find and leave the nice local people to enjoy whatb they wish.

    • Peterson Toscano
      Peterson Toscano on February 13, 2016 at 8:35 am Reply

      Now, now, Jerry. (yeah that does sound a little patronizing :-p )
      Marin offers a fair critique of the export of American fast food culture. She is not talking about GMOs in this piece or about hunger, but about the contrast that sometimes emerges in countries like Peru when foreign commercial interests set up shop. I saw the same thing myself in Ecuador and Zambia.

      Yes, of course let people eat what they want. But here in the USA we are striving hard to get our citizens to eat better. We are fighting a slew of diseases that plague our public as direct result of the diets we eat. As this same unhealthy diet gets adopted around the world the same health problems emerge in these countries. They are beginning to experience that a taste of the fast-food lifestyle comes with a price.

      I think the real question Marin raises is what are people eating–Is it really food? Sounds like a food court with greasy unhealthy KFC without an equal amount of equally priced healthy options is serving up American culture battered and deep-fried. I am all for cross-cultural sharing–but just like the failed US tobacco industry began exporting their unhealthy product to China and other parts of the world, I wonder if the growing globalization of fried chicken, not only displaces cheaper, local, and more sustainable meats, but also inserts disease into communities.

  3. Marin Toscano
    Marin Toscano on February 14, 2016 at 9:22 pm Reply

    Thanks for chiming in Jerry. I appreciate you bringing up the correlation between GM crops and feeding our growing population. The idea that GM crops can help us combat world hunger is actually one of the most widespread myths about GM crops. Of course there is plenty of research out there that shows GM crops leading to higher yields, but those are often isolated cases, like the article you posted only mentioning an increased yield in cotton in one village in India.There is plenty of other research showing that food waste has drastically increased on a global scale due to implementation of GM crops and other industrial agriculture methods. The FAO states that as of 2015 1/3 of all food produced (which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year) for global consumption is wasted, and that if we could recover even half of this waste we could feed all the worlds hungry.

    Why is GM in part to blame for food waste? Well, GM crops are generally monocropped, and when you have acres and acres of soy or corn and nothing else being produced that food is going into a global market. It is not for local consumption. It is instead being transported, processed, and transported again. Often it is not for human consumption at all. National Geographic did a series on food, where they showed that only 55% of the crops grown worldwide actually go to feeding humans directly. A lot of that 45% is large-scale monocropped GMO crops that are used as fuel (GM soy for biofuels) or feed (for the unnaturally large meat manufacturing industry). GMO crops are not helping address world hunger, they are helping temporarily fuel an unsustainable global food system. But they are only part of the problem, it is the entire system, the entire globalized food court that is being exported to other countries that is killing food cultures around the world.

    And as for “leaving the locals” to eat what they want, I think you have misunderstood me. Not everyone was eating at the food court! It was just the only thing open on Sundays when all of them like to stay home and cook home-cooked food from fresh markets with their families (more on this next post)! Of course, some people are getting on the McDonalds bandwagon, as is inevitable when it is marketed in developing countries as a status symbol of modernity, but not everyone is, many in fact are sticking to what makes their food culture unique. They are not just going to throw thousands of years of recipes and food wisdom away for a happy meal. I am merely documenting the clash of a misplaced bi-product of industrial food in an otherwise beautiful food culture.

    The “Western PC-foodie” desire for “native, home-cooked” food is burgeoning because there is such a lack of real food in our country, that it has become novelty. One reason I travel and research food cultures abroad is to show that real, home-cooked, and natural foods are just normal in most other countries that haven’t totally adopted (or been brainwashed into accepting) our methods of food production and consumption yet. It is normal to have people selling fresh foods on the street! It is normal to have the equivalent of food trucks! It is normal to have food that is fresh available to the public. What is not normal is the globalized food court. We in the West need to be reminded how mutated our food system has become, and those of us “PC-foodies” in search of something better need to get off our high horse and be humbled by the fact that what we are re-discovering is really just the status quo that the rest of the world has maintained for centuries. Of course we can make it our own and that is what will make it interesting. Food culture should be all about celebrating diversity, not narrowing our food palettes to a few flavor combinations manufactured by a few globalized, chain restaurants.

    If you want to check the facts:
    http://www.fao.org/food-loss-and-food-waste/en/
    http://www.splendidtable.org/story/solving-the-worlds-food-dilemma-in-5-steps

  4. Avatar
    Jerry on February 15, 2016 at 11:37 am Reply

    “Mono-cropping” is not the invention of GMO use and it does feed millions. GMO’s have the potential to help us sustain the still growing human population, especially if all the anti-GMO types simply get off their high horse. It is far too late to try to get off the “industrialized world” bus. The search for “authentic” food — the pursuit of “food culture” — is the privilege of the globally advantaged bourgeoisie. But I agree, traditional food, natural ingredients are best. I just think we ought to be honest that the only folks that can enjoy it are those who have not yet been brought into the global economy or those rich enough to try and escape it.

    And I didn’t feel the least bit patronized. I come from New Jersey, if the world ended today, I’d adjust. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3k-PYHvfK-o

    • Peterson Toscano
      Peterson Toscano on February 16, 2016 at 12:27 pm Reply

      Coming for New York, I appreciate your New Jersey anthem. Thanks!

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