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Home > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2012 > October 2012 > Gastronomic Boom in Peru: Redefining Culture and Identity

Gastronomic Boom in Peru: Redefining Culture and Identity

Monday 1 October 2012, by Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu

From September 9 to 16, the most important International Food Fair in Latin America was held in Lima, la Mistura. Over half a million people, nationals and tourists alike, attended the two-week long event, an illustration of the gastronomic boom undergoing Peru. Along with a rich history observable in Machu Picchu and other archeological ruins, Peruvian food has become one of the strongest symbols of the growing nation and a way to consolidate its cultural identity. The culinary sector is flourishing, with increasing numbers of local food fairs, farmer’s markets, innovative micro-enterprises, small scale producers and close to 50,000 students enrolled in cooking school.

Promoting Indigenous Products and Small Scale Farming

La Mistura was an event organised by ‘Sociedad Peruana de Gastronomia’ (APEGA), the Peruvian Gastronomic Society. It provides an opportunity to strengthen the links between the public and the different actors in the ‘gastronomic chain’, which involves, directly and indirectly, more than five million people. One of the main aims of the event was to reinforce the links between producers and the people from the culinary industry, as part of a strategy of the ’Alliance Chefs-Farmer.’ As part of this alliance, there were various agro ecological producers of the National Association of Ecological Producers of Peru (ANPE) participating in more than twenty-one stands. These stands showcased a wide variety of products from all three regions of the country—a demonstration of Peru’s biodiversity, one of the richest of the planet.

Agriculturists and ecological producers are the guardians of biodiversity as they manage natural resources and play an important role in ensuring food security in the country. Overall, they are responsible for the production of seven out of ten tonnes of food consumed by Peruvians. Small-scale producers are behind the Peruvian gastronomic boom, and play a key part in Peru’s ’gastronomic chain’ and food culture. Gaston Acurio, a Peruvian chef and ambassador of Peruvian food, argues that the future and the greatness of Peru depends on these small scale producers.

Food Fueling Economic Development

This surging interest in gastronomy and the food sector represents an enormous potential in terms of employment, revenues, and the potential economic strengthening of Peru. According to the 2009-10 Oxfam report, ‘Poverty, Inequalities and Development in Peru’, one out of four jobs in Peru is related to small-scale agriculture. This sector represents the principal source of employment, with thirty six percent of the population economically active.

Peru, a booming economy with a growing rate of 7.21 percent, is a leading exporting country in agricultural products, notably in organic coffee and bananas. According to a study of APEGA, gastronomy in Peru in 2009, the country generated revenues of 40,000 million soles (around $15,000 million USD), which represents around 11.2 percent of the GNP projected for 2009—double the production of the mining sector in 2008.

This surging interest in this sector also translates into the increasing number of culinary institutes and students deciding to pursue a career in gastronomy, simultaneously stimulating the tourist industry. Peru was recently voted ‘best culinary destination’ in Latin America, which according to Liz Chuecas of the organization Prom-Peru, is an opportunity for Peru to become recognized internationally and boost tourism. In 2008 alone, more than 95,000 tourists came exclusively for gastronomic purposes, the majority from neighbouring Ecuador and Chile, and generated over $120 million USD in revenues.

This has the potential to boost not only the country’s economic development, but also efforts of Peruvian food to reaffirm Peruvian cultural identity, according to Mariano Valderrama Leon, author of an essay on the subject: “Gastronomia, Desarrollo e Identidad Cultural, El Caso Peruano”. Food plays an important part in the national definition. According to a survey from APOYO, a majority of Peruvians declare that their food represents their national identity more than artesania, folkloric music and dances and football.

The promotion of Peruvian gastronomy partly comes as a wider effort from the government to promote the richness of Peru’s history, biodiversity and culture at a national and international level. The Comisión de Promoción del Perú para la Exportación y el Turismo campaign ‘Marca Peru’ is an effort to reinforce Peru’s image as a family destination, and a country full of touristic opportunities, exportations and investments. Through the promotion of their food, Peruvians have the potential to reaffirm their identity, reinforce the value of regional and local products as well as enhance biodiversity.