Peru is considered one of the six cradles of civilization, where urbanization accompanied agricultural innovation. Of these six civilizations, it is the only one south of the hemisphere. For centuries, Peruvian culture and livelihood has revolved around impressive agricultural feats such as domesticating potatoes, quinoa, and corn. (1) Throughout the past centuries, Peru has undergone profound changes; examining the cultivation and consumption of food is one such medium to spotlight this societal transition. A good friend of mine told me that ethnographic research is hanging out. For 15 weeks, I will actively “hang out” and document my trip using my camera lens to answer my main research question: How have dietary changes in Trujillo, Peru contributed to the rise of non-communicable diseases in Trujillo?
Why is Trujillo the focal point of my research? Trujillo is a city on the northern coast of Peru that has a mixed population of people from both the highlands and the sea. It is also home to some of the most ancient civilizations, including the Moche (200 BC – AD 850) and Chimú (AD 850 – 1500) nation-states, which are both pre-Inca civilizations. Times are changing in Trujillo and increasing economic opportunities have lured people to this coastal city, which is the second-most metropolitan city in Peru. This massive migration from rural villages to the urban core is a parallel phenomenon being witnessed in nearly every major city around the world. The largely criollo population is a rich mestizo of indigenous and European (predominantly Spanish) heritages. What makes Trujillo of particular interest for my project is that along with economic growth, the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases has also steadily increased. There is a direct correlation with the increasing obesity trends and the changing food patterns in this metropolitan center. This public health crisis, which has erupted within the last few decades, is affecting the daily wellness and productivity of the general population. Furthermore, obesity is causing a net loss of earnings for the economy and burdening the health care system. (2)
As of thus far, my time in Trujillo has rewarded me with some incredible meals, including some of the best ceviche I have ever had. A plate that will fill you for the entire day will only set you back 20 soles (approximately $5.50). However, meals such as this one are generally not a part of the daily diet; cheap, fried foods rule instead. Chifas, a combination of Chinese and Peruvian cuisine, are probably the most popular, prevalent, and affordable option for eating out. These dishes are usually rice or noodle based and fried with some protein or vegetable. Though it is tasty and inexpensive, it merits little nutritional value. Peruvian hamburgers are another popular and quick option. Unlike an American hamburger, the condiments steal the spotlight for these oversized burgers. Stalls will have up to 12 different cremas, which are typically mayonnaise-based and load even more calories onto the already heavy fast-food. Malnutrition exists in the city, but not for lack of calories. Food is everywhere and in the city center you cannot walk more than a couple of meters without finding a street snack such as heuvos cordoniz (boiled quail eggs), Peruvian churros (deep fried dough filled with a caramel-like center), or the beloved chicha morada (a purple corn beverage with other tropical fruit juices and additionally sweetened with overly-generously amounts of sugar).
As is the case with nearly any disease, the most at-risk populations are the ones coming from lower socioeconomic statuses. In Trujillo, that is often the población indígena (indigenous population) that has moved to the city in search for better economic opportunities. Though nobody is immune to these diseases, it became evident to me that I needed to venture to the part of the country from which these migrations are originating. With that, I took a detour and headed to Huaraz and the Cordilleras.
1. McCarthy, Carolyn, Greg Benchwick, Alex Egerton, Philip Tang, and Luke Waterson. Peru. 9th Edition ed. N.p.: Lonely Planet Publications Pty, 2016. Print.
2. "Nutrition at a Glance: Perú." DCIDOB No. 92.Perú (2004): 3. The World Bank, 20 Apr. 2010. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.