Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture, and Identity

Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture, and Identity

Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture, and Identity

Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture, and Identity

Synopsis

Available for the first time in English, Cruz Miguel Ortiz Cuadra's magisterial history of the foods and eating habits of Puerto Rico unfolds into an examination of Puerto Rican society from the Spanish conquest to the present. Each chapter is centered on an iconic Puerto Rican foodstuff, from rice and cornmeal to beans, roots, herbs, fish, and meat. Ortiz shows how their production and consumption connects with race, ethnicity, gender, social class, and cultural appropriation in Puerto Rico.
Using a multidisciplinary approach and a sweeping array of sources, Ortiz asks whether Puerto Ricans really still are what they ate. Whether judging by a host of social and economic factors--or by the foods once eaten that have now disappeared--Ortiz concludes that the nature of daily life in Puerto Rico has experienced a sea change.

Excerpt

For centuries now, the analysis of culture—of all that we create, shape, and do, to borrow the wording of Roman Guardini—has tried to distinguish humankind from nature. The book before you—Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture, and Identity—fits within an emerging genre that might be called ecological humanism: a form of social-historical analysis that breaks down the artificial barriers between human beings and the universe in which they exist, between mind (or soul…or spirit) and body, between chemistry and economy, biology and culture. After all, what more animal and, in its way, cultural act can there be than eating?

By pursuing multiple angles and through a rigorous and imaginative use of a wide variety of documentary sources—customs house logs and records; inventories of provisions stocked by hospitals, monasteries, and landed estates; travelers’ accounts and literary writings; interviews with shopkeepers, housewives, and cooks serving school cafeterias; the menus for prison inmates and of diners, restaurants, and fast food establishments; cookbooks; recipes; agricultural statistics; oral history records; nutritional and food chemistry studies; studies focusing on international politics, business, and commercial practices; and much more—Cruz Miguel Ortíz Cuadra draws us into this enticing feast of research and analysis on the history, anthropology, and sociology of Puerto Rican cookery and of what he quite correctly calls “the memory bank of our palate.” This feast, cooked up on a slow burner by Ortíz for years, is made richer still by the dialogue he carried on with a far-flung network of scholars. His notes provide the most complete bibliography yet that I have seen on the anthropology and history of cooking and food consumption in an international context. It is a feast celebrated at the outset of the new millennium on “the enchanted island,” but one whose guests hail from widely varying places and times. Like our salsa music—which we began dancing in Borinquen and the Bronx but . . .

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