Food Aid and Kitchen Controversies: Cooking Together in the City of Hope
AuthorRenkert, Sarah Rachelle
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction, presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractOver forty years ago, women across Lima, Perú’s poorest neighborhoods decided to take their community’s need for food into their own hands. Amidst an economic downturn that swept across Latin America in the last decades of the 20th century, these volunteers, the socias, formed comedores populares (communal kitchens). The socias combined their resources to cook for their families, while selling meals at an affordable price to their neighbors, investing all profit in the next day’s meal. In the early 1980s, the Peruvian government began opening state-sponsored comedores, providing participating kitchens with food aid. As state-sponsored comedores have evolved over the past four decades, they have become sites of contested meaning and significance amidst a confluence of embedded structural inequalities, conflicting sociopolitical subjectivities, and a politics of false generosity. While the state has long used the comedores for political ends, a practice which remains entrenched in today’s Peruvian political practices, outside observers have blamed comedores for reproducing irresponsibility, underdevelopment, malnutrition, political corruption, and the perpetuation of systemic injustices. These overlapping complexities have created a context in which comedores are facing increasing pressure to close, forcing socias to fight to keep their kitchens open. Drawing on ethnographic research with state-sponsored comedores in Huaycán, Lima, Perú, colloquially known as ‘The City of Hope,’ this research explores the relationship between the inside meaning of comedores for participating socias and the external challenges socias confront as they struggle to continue cooking together. While food aid programs such as the comedores are unlikely to upend Perú’s underlying structural challenges, for many socias, the comedores are a vital resource for ameliorating the hardships of chronic economic precarity, while also providing a valuable space of social solidarity and camaraderie. In examining these dynamics, this research addresses broader debates around food aid distribution, the violence of precarity, and the value of communal spaces within a neoliberal socioeconomic context. Additionally, in turning to the experiences of comedor socias in Huaycán, this dissertation considers how deep-seated injustices in poor communities have produced predictable and preventable suffering and death due to COVID-19.
Degree ProgramGraduate College