Meredith Kohut / The New York Times

February 6, 2020

Food Ethics | Perú, Pepe and Prayers

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As a lawyer, my father traveled to other parts of Perú and even other countries following different judicial cases of interest, and he loved every day of his job. Whenever my father came back, he always brought interesting travel stories and sometimes even food. He was a firm believer in buying in bulk from people who lived nearby the sea or those who farmed. He loved seafood so much that he wished he could eat it every day, but he knew that it was not possible since he could not stop by the seafood market in Callao, Perú daily.

Whenever he travelled by the coast, he would bring fresh fish back. He shopped for fish from his friend Pepe who went out to the sea every three days. For my father, it was the best fresh food he could eat. There were a few times when I met Pepe, and I thanked him because his fish always tasted the best. He promised to one day take me with him, so I could learn more about fishing.

The day Pepe took my sister, my father and me fishing, he explained to us that the sea can kill. When Pepe’s father first brought him to sea, it was cloudy and it looked like it was going to rain. His father explained to him that fishing should only be for necessity — that we should not take too many lives from the sea. Pepe explained that is why he only sells fish on Wednesday. He fishes only for a few days and fish-selling is not his source of money but rather a hobby. Pepe explained the significance of fishing in his life. My father made sure to mention that it is always important to pray before a meal. Pepe agreed with him, saying that the more we pray, the more good luck we will have, and the more the sea will allow us to take a few fish.

Similarly, my grandfather prays before he eats, and he always says, “Y muchas gracias a todo el trabajo y las personas que hicieron este plato de comida posible.” He is one of the few food-conscious people that I know, and he probably doesn’t realize it because to him it’s just a lifestyle. He loves farming so much that when he first moved to the U.S., he farmed in the back of the house until he realized the climate was no good.

On one of my trips to Perú, I was staying with my grandparents for a few days since my parents had gone back to the States. I looked around for my grandfather. I spotted my grandmother sitting on the couch, and I kissed her forehead and smiled at her. I sat for a bit until I heard my grandfather from the kitchen washing his dishes, so I surprised him. He smiled at me as I walked in with my pajamas on and asked, “Estabas durmiendo tan bien. ¿Que quieres comer?” I thought about what I wanted to eat. It was almost noon and I was craving lunch, but I felt bad because my grandpa probably made breakfast for me. I told him to give me anything he made for breakfast and that I would be with my grandmother talking.

I sat with my grandmother as she stared at the TV in the living room, and I joked around about how she looked like she was in her twenties. My grandfather came with a bowl of maca and some bread with butter on the side. He sat next to us as he passed the food to me, and he told me that maca is one of the best foods you can have for breakfast; it makes you stronger and it’s cheap. My grandfather gets his maca from his neighbors in Pomacocha, Perú, and he always says how it’s one of the healthiest breakfasts, and it gives us energy.

The stories of his life in Pomacocha brighten his face, and he starts to talk about how he loved having cows and crops; it was really satisfying knowing you made what you eat. Where he lived, most of the food would be potatoes and cheese, with meat once in a blue moon. He also told me about how much cheaper it is to buy things from actual farmers and how expensive things are in the city. My grandfather probably doesn’t realize it but he is basically vegetarian except for holidays because he rarely eats meat; he prefers corn, cheese and potatoes.

When I go back to Perú, I notice the difference between the food I eat there and the food in New York City. No organic food can ever compare to the freshness of the vegetables and fruits of Perú, but it’s also very hard for my family to access organic food because it is very expensive. In Animal Factory it is mentioned that, “… factory-farmed meat, milk and eggs are usually considerably more affordable than their organic, free-range, or ‘sustainably produced’ counterparts.”

I always feel bad, but the cheapest and most accessible foods are sometimes the most unhealthy. I try to eat less meat because that is the only food conscious way for me when I am on a budget.

Recently, when I went back to New York City for fall break, I saw my mom starting again to thank God and pray before a meal. This reminded me of when we visited my godmother’s house in the city, and she said we had to read a prayer before a meal and handed me a prayer to read. The memories of when I used to do this as a kid came back to me and it made me think about why I don’t do it anymore.

Looking back at this made me wonder how God’s influence on my family helped us be more food-conscious by at least appreciating the people who made the meal possible. I have slowly started to think more about making this a part of my daily life — to thank the people who made the food possible.