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“Gastronomy is a search for tasty food, a search for healthy, local, nutritious food”

Promoting the holistic nature of nutrition and its links with family farming and local markets is Luis Ginocchio’s ‘bread and butter’ as the expression goes. For Peru’s former Minister of Agriculture, who also authored the book ‘Small farming and food’, it is an overriding interest. It is his business. But he has a different approach, connecting nutrition with gastronomy. Gastronomy is defined as the practice of choosing, cooking, and eating good food, or the cookery of a particular region. Ginocchio links it directly to local food, local crops and animals, and so to local food production systems.

 

Luis Ginocchio
Luis Ginocchio

How can gastronomy address the link between family farmers and nutrition?

I work with the Peruvian Gastronomy Society (APEGA), and we are currently helping to articulate the views and needs of small scale family farmers and small business in our cities’ food markets, and improving their business management tools. We have been working with a group of farmers for more than a year now, shortening marketing chains with a new Sunday market in Magdalena district near the centre of Lima.

Lima’s markets are key public areas to strengthen the prosperity of family farmers as well as the nutrition of urban families. We also hope to improve how these markets are managed and run. A third component we are working on is an information system that will include not only the prices of the main crops at the market that are produced by family farmers, but also the territories that the various products come from, and how the producers are organised. These will all help consumers to recognise the origin of the food they buy, while also increasing the income of family farmers.

What are the main challenges for your initiatives?

Family farmers face a number of challenges in order to be able to market their produce, such as long distances from the farm to asphalted roads, especially in mountainous areas, being far from markets in larger cities. They are also struggling against the growing popularity of other, illegal crops. We also feel that gastronomy faces a double challenge in Peru.

The first is to make family farming viable, considering it produces the largest amount of food in the country. The second is to fight against nutritional deficiencies, expressed in high rates of chronic child malnutrition, reaching levels of 40% and more in some parts of country. This highlights a great paradox: Peru, a country that has such a great agricultural biodiversity, such an abundance of species, such a huge variability of flavors and nutritional content in the food that it produces, originating from amazingly varied ecosystems, still has such very high rates of child malnutrition.

What is your strategy for reducing malnutrition?

“Eat those products that are near you, the products produced in your region, and recover the eating habits of your parents and grandparents.”

We are working on another project that we have called ‘the Peruvian diet’, through which we aim to promote a healthy, nutritious and tasty style of eating that will increase the well-being of Peruvians, especially children. We are going to launch the Peruvian diet at the end of 2014 in a food fair.

The Peruvian diet will promote the consumption of many nutritious Peruvian dishes and the produce of small rural agricultural enterprises, many of which have been replaced by other products brought in by globalization. Therefore, what the Peruvian diet aims is to persuade consumers that we need to recover what we have lost, in other words, the consumption of traditional products with a positive effect on our nutrition. We are going to do this with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, and we hope that the Ministry of Health will also participate, as well as the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion, which, through its school breakfast programme, plays a very important role in the development of local food supply.

It is essential, for example, that this programme should purchase local produce. The slogan proposed by APEGA for ‘the Peruvian diet’ project is “Eat tasty, eat healthy, eat Peruvian”. In other words, we must revalue what we have, in order to innovate, recover our best culinary traditions, and use the immense pantry provided by our biodiversity to win the fight against the scourge of hunger and chronic malnutrition, especially in children.

What is your message?

The message to the general public is “eat those products that are near you, the products produced in your region, and recover the eating habits of your parents and grandparents”. The Peruvian diet calls on governmental organisations to take ownership of and promote this initiative, especially in the regions with the highest rates of malnutrition.

Is this about going back or looking forward?

The revaluation of locally produced food does not mean a denial of modernity, it means recovering what made us strong, what gave us vigour in earlier generations. We have no qualms about saying that globalization is positive for the world. But to improve our nutrition we need our family farmers and our local retail food markets. In Lima alone there are an estimated 2000 markets, including street markets, open markets and groups of stalls where good food is sold, as well as countless neighbourhood grocery stores where fresh produce can be found. At the same time, there is a change in the food paradigm worldwide.

Not long ago I was reading about a global hamburger chain that has seen its sales go down consistently over the last two quarters because consumers are opting for local food, as these people now want to recover their local cultural expression. Gastronomy is a cultural industry; it is an expression of our people. The search for healthy food is also a search for tasty food – a gastronomic search. Every year we hold a Gastronomy Fair called Mistura. This year a chef and a farmer cooked side by side, providing a wonderful image of how we work together to tackle the challenge for healthy food.

What about obesity?

Malnutrition is also about inadequate eating, which generates another public health problem, obesity. Eating well is also about the combination and the volume of what we are eating. At the Mistura Gastronomy Fair this year, it was said “eat tasty, eat healthy, eat Peruvian and eat little.” This is a message that needs to be disseminated, and APEGA is collaborating with the Public Health Ministry, NGOs and diverse local organisations around campaigns to promote better eating. This means that we must balance, combine and measure our rations.

Is Peru alone in its efforts?

No. The Public Health Ministry of Brazil has recently published an update of its guide on nutrition, a document that provides guidance to the country’s consumers. Our sisters and brothers in neighbouring countries are also making efforts to promote good health and nutrition by bringing old traditions back to life, recovering ingredients and products that are not or only rarely consumed today. To innovate means to apply knowledge in new places, but we must not deny the origin of this knowledge. Our knowledge about food comes from far back in time, our history, containing wisdom on which we have to continue building.

How can this help family farmers?

Some people think that family farming cannot ensure the adequate nutrition of a growing population. They insist on the idea of incentivizing large-scale ownership of agricultural land and the application of ‘conventional‘ or industrial farming, with the intensive use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and even genetically modified seeds. So this defines our pending agenda – how to make family farming a viable enterprise. But very importantly, we have to face the challenge of how to make the countryside attractive to a younger generation, because most farmers today are more than 50 years old. This is related to the promotion of effective producer associations and to the need to increase productivity.

Where do we go from here?

We are trying to create a change in market demands, so that more people will buy the products of family farmers. But family farmers must also produce foods that meet market requirements. At APEGA, we have just undertaken analysis that found that the current cost of labour in Peru makes it difficult for family farming on terraces to be viable. The conclusion is that recovering the terraces requires mechanisation. It is paradoxical that in a country that needs to generate employment we have to recur to mechanisation, but without it there will be no production and the terraces will be abandoned. Cultivating terraces is a pre-Hispanic technique that enables us to increase the area of agricultural land, and Peru is a country with very little actual agricultural land per capita.

We are not a country with great expanses of land in which to sow genetically modified crops, as other countries do, especially in South America. To the contrary, we are a country that can produce a great variety of crops, with very diverse tastes, scents, colours that can excite the palate, to supply our gastronomy, and our nutrition. We are a country where people can come to learn how to eat. APEGA is conscious that this is a very ambitious goal, but we are working towards it day in and day out, so that nutrition becomes one of the great components of gastronomy to the benefit of everyone in our country, and beyond.

Interview: Teobaldo Pinzás