Over the past two weeks, I have been spending most of my time making contacts and talking with scholars here in Lima about the potato. It has been an immensely rewarding experience because it has helped me to think a lot about my project and what I want to do here when I come back, but it is during times like this that I am particularly reminded that I’m doing preliminary research and not my eventual full-fledged fieldwork. Most of what I have been doing here consists of setting up the framework for later, and I’m not sure it makes for the most compelling reading!
One of the biggest shifts that has occurred in my project over the past two weeks is the issue of where my fieldwork will physically take place. It has become increasingly clear to me that the International Potato Center itself is not going to be a good field site for me. I had originally hoped to be able to hook up with a program they have called INCOPA, which works on potato innovations and aims to increase the value of native potatoes in the market. When I met with several people from the CIP last week, however, they told me that INCOPA as it exists now would be ending precisely when I return next year and that much of the work I was interested in will be shifted either to government programs or to private enterprises. (This is both fantastic news and a little scary – if all goes well I’ll be able to catch a transitional moment in which people have to explain the premises of the program in different ways than they otherwise might, but now the transition is going to physically take place all over the country.) Even as it looks like less of a field site, though, the CIP remains an important institutional contact, and it was very rewarding to finally talk to some people who save potato-related swag with the same enthusiasm that I do. (The photo I attached shows some of the paraphernalia I’ve gathered this time around.)
The other major shift in my project is that I am starting to realize that I will need to pay much more attention than I had originally thought to the larger “gastronomy boom” that has been occurring over the past few years. I had been paying attention to the boom, of course, but it had been less of a focus for me in part because I wasn’t particularly interested in gourmet potato dishes (versus, say, potato chips) and in part because I was having trouble getting in contact with people in the restaurant world. But my trip to the CIP made very clear that gastronomy is seen as one of the motors of potato innovation, so I had an extra reason to try to talk to someone about Peruvian food’s growing popularity in the world (other than the fact that it’s about as common a newspaper topic as anything political). Now that I’m near the end, I’ve finally managed to get in contact with a couple of people involved with the gastronomy society here, and I’m hoping that my conversations with them in the next few days will help me work through some of my lingering questions even as I return to the U.S.
Amy Lasater, PhD Candidate, Anthropology