Food in the Andes and Amazonia is central to social life. Beyond providing sustenance, food facilitates communication among the living and with the dead through ritual offerings. Food conveys meaningful information about diet, daily practices, ritual, community discourse, household status, social and ethnic differences. It provides unique insights into the traditions, beliefs, tastes, values and aesthetics of a community.
In indigenous households, someone sweeping might pass up a coin on the floor, but never a poroto (bean or grain). Children are taught to gather up abandoned or “orphaned” porotos and care for them, for they embody life itself. Seeds and grains are sometimes taken to church to hear mass. They are considered to have personhood, agency and a soul. Plants, crops, domestic animals and natural resources are nurtured with respect and affection (cariño). They are “brought up” much like children, with dialogue and understanding in a relationship of reciprocity and kinship. Varieties of Andean seeds, grains and potatoes are now part of the Svalbard Arctic Seed Vault for the preservation of global crop diversity. Many Andean varieties are considered to be “superfoods.”
Seasonal foods and recipes are integral to healing and the well-being of a community. The production, preparation and proper consumption of food are informed by indigenous knowledge about botany, agriculture, traditional medicine and climatology.