MattNoonan's Travel Journals

MattNoonan

 
What is the best ethnic food you ever had that you just can't find at home?

birria, a traditional mexican dish. luckily on the southside of chicago, there are plenty of birria...ias.

  • 27 years old
  • From Illinois, United States
  • Currently in Cordoba, Argentina

Peru: para mi & para you

ramblings concerning a four month stay in Cusco, Peru. circa winter/spring or rainy/almostnolongerrainy 2011 depending on your hemisphere/climate zone.

If You Are What You Eat, You Can Call Me Magic

Peru Cusco, Peru  |  Feb 08, 2011
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 Pass the dead animal. 

One of the main things I’ve taken from the Peruvians that I’ve met—host parents of friends, professors, families in Occoruro, our hosts in Llanchón, or the occasional conversation in passing on the street or in a bus—is their awareness of their bodies in relation to what they consume and the obvious relationship that they observe between what they consume and the land that it comes from.  Everyone here knows what food does what to what part of your body.  Everyone knows that the choclo is sweetest in the rainy season.  Everyone knows that coca tea is good for altitude sickness, that muña is a tasty mint that makes digesting the more challenging foods of Lake Titicaca more than doable, that a little bit of honey with garlic and lime can cure a cough, and that green tea helps you stay skinny.  My friend Libby’s host mother, Pilar, is 50 years old and shared with us the story of when she did ayahuasca last year. (Ayahuasca is a traditional hallucinogenic/transcendental medicine/drug which is protected under Peruvian law due to its antiquity and importance to indigenous folks.)  She told us the story as if it wasn’t out of the norm for a 50 year old woman to be doing psychedelics with a shaman in some remote Andean village.

Well the point is exactly that.  It isn’t out of the norm for a person of any age to be seeking a spiritual experience by consuming some ancient concoction made from roots and leaves pulled from the dirt; to these people what you put into your body doesn’t have as much to do with social norms as much as it does with one’s personal health, character, and maybe even spirituality.  When a family member tells me that such-and-such a dish is better because it’s completely natural, I don’t have to take what they’re saying with a bit of cynicism because they don’t live in the confusing world of the so-called green revolution where you can eat an “all-natural” food bar of something or other; no one gets any guff or tree hugger type connotations for mentioning Pachamama (the Inca deity whose name roughly translates to “mother earth”) and the importance of conscious land use; they just eat food here—rice, quinua, potatoes, yucca, choclo, onions, beets, carrots, tomatoes, green beans, lentils, legumes, squash, pumpkin, greens, mango, guarábana, plantains, papaya, oranges, apples, limes, fresh herbs, the thickest milk ever, sugar that isn’t mysteriously white, etc.  And the best part is that the animals are fed the same way; no hormones, just food.  All American social stigmas aside, it makes for some damn tasty critters. 

Along the same lines, people here define each other by their bodies to the extent of a caring familial nickname.  Currently living in my home-stay is the niece of my host mother, Tatiana.  She’s a bigger girl who loves food—eating food—without the least bit of shame.  She’s affectionately called “Gordita” by all of my family members.  One day at almuerzo, I was asking her about what she’s studying in school, or what subjects she likes, or something along those lines.  Immediately my host mother jumped in and related that Gordita doesn’t like school, just food, that’s why she’s studying gastronomy.  The icing on the cake, if you will, is the whole hearted smile that Tatiana has whenever my host mother makes some sort of crack about her body.  She’s completely comfortable in her own skin.  She’s completely content to indulge in the freshness of Andean cuisine.  And she’s a more beautiful person because of it.

What I’m learning from these people is something that I believed to be true already.  But seeing it in practice makes it so much more powerful.  Michael Pollan’s plea of “Eat food” is simultaneously undermined as unnecessary scientific blabber and exalted as a fact of common sense by the Peruvian consciousness of consumption and land use.  Or maybe more poignantly, the bumper stickers donned by foodies in Oregon with the logos of every fast food chain that read “Eat shit and die” come to mind.  These relics of awareness, cynicism, and academic learnedness from progressive Americans have no place in this land not because they’re not correct, but because they’re simply woven into the culture and assumed as common knowledge.

Peru says: “We don’t have time for your agricultural/health/identity crisis, America.  We got food to eat.  Pass the dead animal.”

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