Farm to Table: What Living in Perú Taught Me About the Food on My Plate
I wrote this post back in 2016 during my time spent serving in the Peace Corps in the Sierra of Peru. At the time I wasn’t eating Plant-Based and consequently, I began to think a lot about my food choices as well as how lucky I was to have the option to eat a wide range of foods in the States. My experience below outlines the difficulties of living in a rural area with limited food sources and what it takes to put those foods on one’s plate. Read on to find out more.
From Market to Meal
The market here in Yungay is impressive. And I’ve finally started to get the hang of bartering, finding the best stands to buy fruits and vegetables and practicing my Quechua from time to time. I can appreciate the insanely low prices for essentially (though not-so-certified) organic food here in Peru. But I have to admit that I never really thought about what it took to get mouthwatering passionfruit or perfectly ripened avocado onto my plate.
Walk into any supermarket in the states and you’re sure to be greeted by a colorful array of exotic fruits and vegetables, washed and neatly packaged by the dozens. In the past, I could easily walk by these displays without giving a second thought to where they had come from, or more importantly, the strenuous work it took to get them there. The term “organic”, to me always just meant that it was healthier. Farm to table, sounded nice, and perhaps even offered more flavorful meat and produce, but nothing else. That was until I tried harvesting potatoes..
Picos & Potatoes
Today I participated in the annual potato harvest that took place in the chacra (farm) behind the small parochial school where I work.
When I first arrive, I notice the male teachers were all swinging away at the ground with a tool called a ‘pico’ while the women walked around behind them collecting the potatoes and tossing them into giant sacks. I start to do the same, given that there aren’t any picos left to use, but after a while, my curiosity takes over and I walk up to one of the professors and ask if I can try doing his job instead. He looks at me tentatively at first as do most of the other teachers. “What does the gringa know about harvesting potatoes?” is the general impression I deduced from the look on their faces.
…And to be fair, they’d be right.
Determined to Succeed
Nevertheless, I’m determined to try. The first swing I take, I pull the pico far back over my shoulder as if it were an ax, and as I do, I’m immediately greeted by loud shrieks and laughs. I take a swing and much to my dismay, I don’t make much of an impact.
“Here, let me teach you,” Francisco says to me in a reassuring tone. I watch how he swings the tool down hard but doesn’t lift it as high. He instructs me to go along the sides, so as not to cut through the potato, an error I had made the first time. I tell him I understand, and swing again. And again. And again.
And what do you know? Much to my delight-and everyone else’s surprise- I start to get the hang of it. As I dig up the potatoes, Francisco walks behind me and collects them.
“Mira!” the other teachers shout, “He’s picking up the potatoes, and SHE’S digging them up! Look at that!”
A New Perspective
By the end of the day, Francisco had approvingly extended the invitation to work at his farm up in the mountains. “We get up at 3am” he proudly proclaims. I tell him that as much as I like the mornings, I prefer to get up closer to when the sun does.
Of course, I know now that this is typical of the lifestyle many Peruvians in the Sierra lead. And if you’re not in the chacra, you’re probably still up at this hour heading down to the market to sell what you’ve reaped.
Today, I gained a far deeper understanding of what it means to have access to all of my food at a moment’s notice. I realized that there is a great deal of work involved in getting those ripe juicy mangos into our $15 organic, locally-sourced fruit bowls. Of course, I always knew that someone was responsible for harvesting the food I eat. I just never gave it that much thought in the past. This is how I started to become more conscious of the way I consumed my food.
So what does it really mean to be more mindful of the food on our plates? It means taking the time to recognize that :
a) Not everyone has the same privilege of going to the grocery store and purchasing whatever fruit (or brand of chips for that matter) that they crave and,
b) It took a lot to get those ingredients on your plate. Whether they came from Peru, Mexico or even your own backyard, we must take the time to be grateful for what we have and all those that made it possible.
And if you find yourself having a hard time remembering where your food came from, try growing a garden (or even a houseplant) and see for yourself.