How food creates a Culture

After meeting with my group about our final project, we came to the decision to focus on food and how it makes up a culture within isolated islands. We had wanted to do something that was new and exciting and the idea of using food as a culture for islands seemed to really work. As we brainstormed we figured that we wanted to define an island in our own words by using four different points that are driven by “food”. The four points were self sufficiency, culture, the economy, and the environmental resources in the specific location. Being self sufficient meant that there was food production occurring which always provided the means of eating. Within a culture, food can become one of the most influential aspects that define the society, in turn it can also shape the architecture in which the people live in and how they obtain their food. In some places it is the staple economy on which the society thrives and survives. The exportation of food to different parts of the world can keep the economy running for a society. Depending on their location, a population can obtain only certain available food from their surroundings due to geography and climate changes.

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We decided to look at two different places in Peru and the Chesapeake Bay, Parque de la Papa and Smith Island. They are considered islands because one is isolated by topography while the other is isolated due to water. In these unlikely places, food has become a prominent part of their culture. It was clear this was the case because when we visited both, their culture never really changed and they still relied on the same food as their ancestors did. Potatoes was the main source of economy and food for the people in Parque de la Papa, they used different agricultural techniques to grow potatoes and always use them in their daily meals. Their location was ideally perfect because they had one of the best fertilizer that can be used to grow their crops. Over the centuries have created more than 3,000 types of potatoes which is quite impressive to say the least. Since they are high in the mountains, there has been little to no outside influence, they are isolated enough that they are self sufficient on potatoes as their main crop. It is very similar for Smith Island because the people had to make a living off the crabs and oysters that they harvested. That is why the Crab Co-Op had been established where the husbands harvested and the wives picked the meat to be packaged and shipped.

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Both places have their own unique culture because of their reliance on the food that they are able to obtain from their surroundings. Food had shaped the societies in so many ways to make them what they are today even though they are isolated islands.

Machu Picchu & Hauyanapicchu

Date:Oct. 29, 2013/Time:9:30 & 1:30/Location: Hauyanapicchu & Machu Picchu

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In the same day I had two very different moments of soundscaping where I observed my surroundings and express my feelings. The first was on the top of Hauyanapicchu after a successful hike with my group. The view was so breath-taking and stunning and I felt such joy and relief standing there overlooking Machu Picchu. The days coming up to this moment had been full of nervousness and excitement because of the dangerous trail climbing up and the thrill of doing something new. I knew the trail would be difficult because the stone steps were unstable and in different sizes ranging from huge stepping stones to that smaller than the size of my shoe. It had also rained the day before so the ground would be slippery to walk on. Luckily though as we all climbed up there was a make-shift rail and a wall to keep our balance. I was uncertain about doing this hike because I never climbed such a mountain like this before where the altitude changes. All my expectations though were for the most part very different from the real experience of hiking it.

I felt exhilarated while climbing because I was so focused and driven to make it to the top, the moments where it was scary were overrode by the support I got from my group who encouraged me to keep going. Going up in altitude made me winded but not enough to really slow me down, having small plateaus along the way helped tremendously because I could catch my breath. When I finally reached the top I was amazed at how fast we got there, I was told we had made a break record which was impressive. What was really cool about being at the top was that I got a 360 degree look at everything from Machu Picchu to glaciers in the distance. In that instant all my fears and worries had disappeared and I felt really accomplished and overjoyed. The prospect of coming back down the mountain was a bit more scary than I thought because of the constant feeling that I will fall head forward down the steps. I managed though and when I reached the bottom I was once again relieved. For the rest of the day though my legs wouldn’t stop shaking. This whole experience was amazing and fun, I’m so happy that I did it. It was such a beautiful sight, one that I’ll never forget in my lifetime.

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Later that day I had another soundscape while looking at Machu Picchu with Hauyanapicchu in the background. What struck me was how Hauyanapicchu had becoming something meaningful to me at that moment when it hadn’t exactly done so before. On our first day of visiting Machu Picchu, I had been in awe of Hauyanapicchu because of it’s size and majesty. It was difficult to believe that someone could climb all the way to the top. However now that I have actually done so, I have a newly found respect and understanding of it’s reputation. Recalling everything that Sonia had said about the Incas and their culture, it made sense now why they worshipped Hauyanapicchu and other mountains as their gods. The ways in which they tied their belief with nature gave my experience of visiting Machu Picchu and Hauyanapicchu a truly wonderful time.

Cusco – Parque de la Papa

Date:Oct. 26, 2013/Time: 10:00/Location: Cusco & Parque De La Papa

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During my first day in Cusco we visited the ruins of Sacsahuman, Puca Pucara, and Tambomachy on the outskirts of the city. Our tour guide, Jay Jay, had incredible knowledge about these ruins and the Inca culture – especially their rituals. I had an amazing time looking at the stone work of these ruins and learning that we still do not know how the Incas had built these without advance technology. At the end of our tour we had the chance to stand on a cliff that overlooked the city of Cusco. The city appeared to be in sort of a narrow valley with mountains bordering it on all sides. Very inclosed but still almost peaceful in it’s entirety. It was a picturesque moment to see everything from the red-roof tile houses to the huge cathedrals. Looking at it from where I stood, I could almost imagine myself perhaps living there. That idea quickly disappeared in my mind because I started to notice that my hands were slowly becoming numb. It was bitterly cold and I didn’t bring any gloves to wear, instead I just shoved them into the pockets of my jacket. As I walked back to the bus with my group, I continued to look at the ruins and see the small architectural details that were made using simple tools. This place held a lot of mystery and fascination and I was so happy to learn more about the Incas.

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On our last day in Cusco we traveled farther into the mountains to Parque de la Papa which is a potato park. This was the highest place in altitude that we visited and the drive up there revealed some really beautiful landscapes. We had a fantastic time learning about the different types potatoes they grow there and how they use them in their daily meals. I never did a real soundscape while at this amazing place but looking out at the village and the surrounding mountains was incredible to see. Standing there and tuning out any conversation my friends were having made it feel like I was there for a very long time. Instead of hearing voices I heard cows grunting and mooing near by, villagers talking in Quechua, or the wind picking up as it rushing past me. The view was spectacular, it almost seemed as if the potato season was the only indication that time was passing here. There weren’t any blaring lights or noises that a usual city would make, instead it was very quiet and everything was done slowly here. I’m so glad we got to come here and learn about the culture but also see such amazing views.

Respecting Mother Nature

When I visited the City Cusco I learned a great deal about the Incas and also the Cuscoians by going to the ruins and the citadel in the main square. Their beliefs and rituals all center around mother nature in some way or form. Our tour guide, Jay Jay, talked about the rituals that the Inca’s did for their kings and when they worshipped Mama Picchu. The Inca’s would preserve the bodies of their kings through mummification but never bury them. They did this so that the present king and the people could interact with their ancestors for guidance and advice. It may be a very odd way of connecting to dead people but the Inca’s would provide food and water to their mummified kings and clean the garments. For the people below the kings and royals, their bodies would be buried along with their possessions that reflect the profession when they were alive. This was important to so that they could continue their job in the next life. What I thought was really interesting that Jay Jay had said was the Incas believed that if your body disappeared by decaying, then you are considered actually dead. For us, if our loved ones die then we consider them dead and that’s why we have funerals and bury them in a cementary. It’s interesting how the Inca’s retained their relationship with their ancestors, however, I’m not too sure about talking to a mummified body for consolation.

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Jay Jay continued with his lecture and said that most of the ruins were in fact temples erected to please the gods. Whenever a natural catastrophe occurred, the Inca’s would do one of three rituals. They often will give food and water to mother earth by spreading a few drops or crumbs before taking a sip or eating. It was a sign of respect and pleading that mother earth would continue to provide food and shelter for them. I thought this was very powerful because it shows just how close they are to nature and how much they rely on it for survival. The second kind of ritual was sacrificing a black llama or alpaca, these were considered very rare and thus represent purity. If both these rituals don’t work then the last resort is human sacrifices. The Inca’s believed that killing our own kind that has the same blood meant that you are not considered a human. It is like a taboo in their culture, only in desperate measures, will they commit such a sin. Usually its boys and girls under the age of 15 years old that are chosen to be sacrificed, this act was thought of as an honor because they would be slaves for the gods. Because they didn’t believe in suffering, the sacrifices were overdosed with drugs/alcohol or received a fatal blow to the head. These sorts of rituals that they performed were very interesting to learn about because we still do that today all around the world.

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In the city my group and I visited the citadel which had once been a cementary for a cathedral. Walking into such a sacred place was thrilling because all citadels and churches have wonderful art work and architecture. In this particular citadel I was astonished by the amount of pictures and statues that are made out of cedar wood with plaster and gold leaves for decoration. It was something unreal but very interesting. Jay Jay told us about the different kinds of Saints and Christ that the Cuscoians believed in such as the Christ of Earthquake. There had been two major earthquakes that occurred and destroyed most of Cusco. On both occasions when the temple had been removed from the citadel, the earthquake had stopped. Now there is a festival called Senor de los Lembores where the Christ of Earthquake is taken around the city in a procession. There are a number of other stories that Jay Jay had mentioned that had similar outcomes.

Learning about the Inca’s and the Cuscoians helped me to understand a bit better their culture and beliefs in mother nature. It’s fascinating how they have personified mother nature into the gods that they worshipped. It’s the same today as it has been in the past, many cultures have deities that represent thunder, rain, sun, etc. However with our advance technology and science, we are starting to separate from our environment and using it’s resources for our benefits. Instead of living in harmony with it like the Inca’s did, we are now facing an environmental crisis.

Punta San Juan

We stayed at Punta San Juan for three days and in that time I learned so much about the guano harvest and the residence of the fur seals, seals, and penguins. Susana Cardenas introduced to us Ivan Balbin who is the guano harvest campaign manager. He oversees all the volunteer workers as they collect and package the mounds of guano poop to be sold as fertilizer. He explained to us the process of harvesting the guano and what the works do while on the reserve. The guano poop that is harvested is sieved put into two different bags, one weights about 70 kilos and the other is 50 kilos. We got a chance to try and pick up a half full 70 kilos bag and I could barely just lift it off the ground. It’s amazing that these workers carry these bags all day long on their shoulders. They don’t just harvest the guano poop but also get a census of the seal and penguin colonies and pick up trash. It’s important that their campsite and workplace aren’t near the guano, they won’t want to disturb them because its the start of breeding. At this moment the guano are finding suitable nesting areas.

Guano poop is a national demand for agricultural industries because of the easy access and because it’s cheap. The government will distribute it to companies that have lost most of their crops in order to compensate for the cost. One of the many conflicts the reserve faces is the high demand that guano poop should be harvested each year. This is not enough time for the guano to produce the right amount, it usually takes around 6 years to have enough. In that time period, the companies should be rotating from islands or peninsulas to collect harvested guano poop. Exporting guano poop internationally requires a great deal of effort and collaboration from the government and the Peruvian people, this means that it is politically challenging to keep the regulations in place.

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During my stay I learned a great deal about the different kinds of guano birds such as the Booby, Pelicans, and Cormorant. It was absolutely amazing to see the sheer numbers of guano in the distance, there had to be hundreds of thousands all group to make one huge blob. I really have never seen anything quiet like it before. We also learned about the seals, fur seals, and penguins such as the Humboldt. It was my second time in my life that I got to see these creatures in the wild, the first was when we visited the Ballasta Islands in Paracus. Susana and Marcus, one of the workers, explained about their characteristics, habits, and the breeding season. I’ll never forget the wonderful time I got to spend so close to these funny animals.

I believe that this educational experience should be extended to the neighboring communities, however, the Punta San Juan reserve is protected by a wall. This prevents any sort of working relationship between the reserve and outside communities. It isn’t possible for them to learn and have a better understanding of the guano harvest and the seals/penguins. Susana did mention there are tours for people to come and learn like we’ve done but I can only see this as a temporarily solution. If there is a way to not have the wall there anymore and have regulations of poaching or illegal harvesting, then I believe that will help create a better relationship.

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Turning Around the Anchoveta

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Our first day in Lima, Peru had been quiet a cultural shock but an exciting new experience never the less. We met up with Alicia and Alejandra who will be staying with us for the majority part of our time in Peru. It wasn’t till the second day that we were introduced to Susana Cardenas and learned about the CSA program. The Center for the Sustainability of Agriculture has focused it’s goal on changing the public opinion about anchovetas from using them as fishmeal to consuming them directly. In traditional times, the anchoveta was considered too disgusting for human consumption because of its looks and oily taste. Instead it was harvested to be used as fishmeal to feed animals in the poultry and fishery industries. The CSA found a way to make it more sustainable by introducing the anchoveta as an enticing delicious fish that can be served in homes and restaurants. To do this they brought famous chefs around the world to cook up meals that have the anchoveta as the center piece. Now there is a festival “ The Semana de Anchoveta” where partnerships between cooks, biologists, and designer artists work to appeal the people’s eyes and stomachs using anchovetas in their dishes. It became a huge success as people started to enjoy eating the fish, companies are investing in processed products, and the exportation of canned and frozen anchoveta.

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This sustainable approach helps to improve the food security globally by allowing a more diverse marine ecosystem. Before, the fishery industries were over harvesting and causing huge disruptions to the natural predators and the ecosystem resilience. As the human population continued to grow, there was high demand for fishmeal and fish oil. This in turn put a huge strain on the marine ecosystem causing social degradation and an increase of pollution. All of this is taken away if the anchoveta is harvested for human consumption. Learning about anchoveta and the goals that CSA has taught me so much about how traditions are starting to change and become more sustainable. I believe that this could really make a difference for both the environment but also for the culture of Peru.

Alone with Myself

Date: Oct. 21, 2013/Time: around 12:00/Location: 30 minutes outside of Nazca City

We had been riding a bus from Lima to Punta San Juan and one of our stops was in the middle of a dried up delta. This desert seemed to stretch for miles on either side of the road until reaching the foothills of mountains in the distance. As I walked around looking for a good place to sit, I heard the crunch of gravel under my feet. A few times I would randomly kick a piece of stone and listened to the ringing as it bounced off another. It’s difficult to explain why but I’ve always loved hearing these two sounds. Something from my childhood maybe when I often explored the creeks and rivers in my neighborhood. When I found my spot I looked around me and saw a number of things which struck me as fascinating. The first was right in front of me was known to be the biggest sand dune however I do not know if it has name or not. As I gazed at it, I wondered what it would be like to try and climb it. I’ve climbed sand dunes before however nothing of this size. The conditions would make it very difficult with the scalding sand and winds but it would be very interesting to give it a whirl. Peeling my eyes away from the sand dune I looked around to see where my fellow peers had settled to do their soundscape. What amazed me what that I could barely make out their profile because they were so tiny against a background of the desert and mountains. Once again proving that we aren’t the biggest thing or the most important in a picture.

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Sometimes all I could hear was the wind in my ears as it swept across this deserted place but every now and then I could just barely make out the sand moving around on the ground. The wind wasn’t loud enough to block the sounds of cars that were passing through on the road. It really annoyed me that I wasn’t far enough away from the road because I didn’t want to hear them. But I could, it was almost like an unnecessary noise here in the middle of this desert far from civilization. The reminder that humans occupy almost all the places on the planet in some way or form whether that be cities or just roads connecting one place to another. I tried tuning the cars out but it was difficult because I instantly recognize noises that come from man-made things.

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During the last few minutes of my soundscape I felt somewhat empty inside because this place was void of any life except for us. There weren’t any animals meandering on the ground or flying above my head, not even the tiniest of creatures like lizards or beetles. Instead I had to use my imagination to think of creatures who could live in this harsh environment. It’s hard to believe that this was once a delta full of marine life but now is just a desolate and hot desert. Later I was told there are animals that live here but that they only come out at night. Still I felt uncertain and discomfort while there because it felt barren and isolated from everything else. I guess that is why it also felt like I was in a time capsule or something because I lost time all together. This place held a sort of mystery and fascination for me and I wonder if there will ever be a time in the future where it will once again be inhabited by animals or humans.