Food and Language in Peru #2

Lasater_Amy_Peru_June23, originally uploaded by CLACS – NYU.

Hello again from Peru! I’ve now been here for about a month and have just finished my work in Lima. (I’m changing locations for the last two weeks of research.)

One of the most interesting and intellectually productive events that I attended in Lima since I last wrote was a series of lectures at the Catholic university (PUCP), which dealt with the phenomenon of “lovemarks,” commercial brands that inspire a high degree of consumer loyalty and affection. PUCP had identified several Peruvian brands that they considered lovemarks, including Gloria (a dairy brand), Inca Kola (a ubiquitous and frequently maligned yellow cola), Sublime (chocolate bars with peanuts), and Crystal (beer); representatives from each of the brands spoke about the ways that the companies have worked to strengthen consumer “love” for their products. Each of the brands emphasized that they were capitalizing on the consumer’s sense of being Peruvian and on the sense that consuming these products was a way of expressing that Peruvianness. The woman from Crystal spoke particularly passionately about the ways that certain brands can unite a country; she felt that Peruvians were always told that they were a nation too diverse to unite under any common cause or way of thinking, but she thought that particular brands had the potential to bridge those divides. All of the speakers agreed that this moment in Peru’s history is a particularly fruitful one for “lovemarks” because it is a time of optimism; the years of terrorism have ended, and Peruvians are succeeding economically.

For me, the most shocking aspect of the presentation was the fact that these Peruvian brands were being held up as catalysts for positive social change the way a government might taut a particularly effective policy. (The Inca Kola representative actually implied that their campaign had done something to create the country’s feeling of optimism, rather than simply drawing upon it!) But although I was cynical about the ability of a brand to really bridge social and political difference, I was also impressed by the passion and determination that these representatives brought to their work. Not coincidentally, these are the same characteristics that they ascribed to Peruvian identity in general; the speakers were very explicit about fighting being a major element of Peruvianness, and in that context it made sense that a brand could be a symbol of a kind of national feeling that transcends regional differences as long as it sticks to a message of the passion and determination used in winning a fight. Of course, once I had it spelled out for me that “fighting” (luchando) was the basis of the identity that was being evoked in these brands, I started to see it everywhere, from the way that people secured their places in line to the way that my Peruvian friends talked about earning money and getting a good job. I saw it in a museum exhibit that I attended about the years of terrorism. And when I arrived in Cuzco yesterday, I saw it manifest itself in a slightly different way, in the way that groups of highland peasants who had traveled to the city to protest the government articulated their own fight, shouting that they were “los que siempre lucharon” and that there was “unidad en la lucha.”

In short, I am starting to figure out what it means to be Peruvian and the place that both history and commerce can have in that understanding. In the coming days, I’m hoping to solidify my thinking a bit as Cuzco celebrates Inti Raymi (a celebration of both the winter solstice and the city).

Amy Lasater
PhD Candidate, Anthropology

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