Culinary Catalysts and Scientific Shifts: Peruvian Quinoa in the Age of Genetics and Gastronomy

Chef Maguiña with Adam Gamwell. Property of Adam Gamwell.

This episode of This Anthropological Life presents a little differently from our normal episodes. The Society for Applied Anthropology generously allowed us to release the audio from Adam’s presentation at the SFAA 2017 Annual Meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, so this episode is based entirely on this presentation. Adam discusses a quinoa gastronomy project he is working on in conjunction with Dr. Alipio Canahua Murillo and Chef José Maguiña. They are designing an agricultural-gastronomy project in the region of Puno, Peru in order to create new dishes based on traditional recipes as a means to encourage conservation of threatened varieties of quinoa. By “rebranding” a wider variety of quinoa to appeal to tourist palates, Canahua and Maguiña hope to change Peruvian perspectives on quinoa and its indigenous producers and revitalize the agricultural practices that have traditionally supported agrobiodiversity.

Check out this link to listen to the rest of the Ethnobotany, Food, and Identity Panel from the SFAAs including a Q&A Session after the talk!


Agrobiodiverse Quinoa- Quinoa that does not have a market value; could also be called heritage varieties or ecotypes.

Observant Participation- as an observant participant in our own fieldwork our role can be to elicit the understandings of others and to present our own propositions based on those observations, including observations accrued from previous experiences, informant’s hopes, and our own imagined contributions (quote adapted from Gatt and Ingold 2013:154). As Adam exemplifies, “I am a participant and designer in the gastronomy project itself, so the relationships I have with Alipio and Jose matter in how I write about and explain the project – I’m a participant in it; I affect its outcome. We are working on correspondence with one another.”

Cultural Brokers–  „leverage social capital to perform works of translation, resource transfer, and visibility shifting. They work between various boundaries including indigenous/ethnic, local/global, elite/commoner, gastronomy/traditional food culture, and agrobiodiversity/market standardization.

Check out the Links Below to Learn More About Agrobiodiversity and Observant Participation

What is Agrobiodiversity

“That’s enough about ethnography!” (Ingold 2014)

Design Anthropology: Theory and Practice

Some Numbers…

Only about 15 genetic ascensions of quinoa are available in the US. There are over 3,000 documented ascensions in Peru, which means that around 2,985 ascensions of quinoa are potentially under threat.

Quinoa seed agrobiodiversity. Photo by Adam Gamwell

The Three Problems:

  1. Communities in and around Puno suffer from high rates of malnutrition particularly anemia.
  2. Traditional agricultural practices are being abandoned, which correlates with the loss traditional knowledge.
  3. Agrobiodiversity is being lost as market demand pressures the production of standardized crops (i.e. fewer varieties), and in extreme cases, monocropping for the ease of mass production. Standardization hinders the ability for crops to respond to “increasingly erratic climates”.  

Check out the link below to learn more about malnutrition in Peru

Can Peru’s new government continue to make progress on child nutrition?

The Plan

To rebrand the image of quinoa by going down the socioeconomic ladder starting with tourists and ending with the Peruvians of Puno. Dr. Canahua and Chef Maguiña plan to access tourist palettes through the use of gastronomy that is focused on the highlands. Gastronomy plays a big role in the draw of tourists to Peru. In particular, Lima has developed their gastronomy to the point that they are most known for it and even rank worldwide. Much of Lima’s rise to the forefront of gastronomy is due to the Chef Gastón Acurio. Through his cookbooks, restaurants, and food festivals he revitalized Peruvian cuisine and not only made Lima a destination spot for foodies throughout the world, he rebranded Peru to Peruvians themselves, so they could feel proud to be Peruvian.

To Learn More About Gastón Acurio and his influence on Lima Cuisine Check out the links below!

APEGA- Society for peruvian Gastronomy

The Washington Post:Gastón Acurio, South America’s super chef

Peru: The Cookbook by Gastón Acurio

Gastón Acurio, the super chef who put Peruvian cuisine on the world map

Gaston Acurio: the man opening our eyes to Peruvian food

Why Lima Is the World’s Best Food City, by the Numbers

Dr. Canahua and Chef Maguiña are attempting a similar feat in Puno with the goals to remind Peruvian farmers of their value, showcase the forward thinking nature of traditional Peruvian farming practices, remind Peruvians of the value (nutritional and commercial) of quinoa, and maintain agrobiodiverse quinoa. Adam mentioned the historical tendency for Peruvians to view quinoa as animal feed rather than a “super food” packed with protein and nutritious for humans. Much of this is due to the stigma surrounding quinoa that started with the Spanish Conquest in 1528. In an effort to delegitimize indigenous Peruvians, the Spanish stigmatized the use and consumption of local foods like alpaca and quinoa along with the cultures that valued them. It is beliefs such as these that Canahua and Maguiña are seeking to erase and ultimately rebrand in order to bring quinoa and traditional farming back into prominence.

Canahua (left) & Maguiña (right) plant quinoa at the hotel’s gardens – April 2016. Photo By Adam Gamwell

Dr Canahua is working to find ways to incentivize the growing of agrobiodiverse quinoa. By making its production valuable he hopes to help Peruvians realize the utility and importance of traditional farming and the nutritional power of quinoa for combatting malnutrition. Chef Maguiña is using his culinary skills to incorporate traditional foods such as alpaca and quinoa into “highland fusion” recipes made with only local highland ingredients that are designed to better appeal to tourists coming to Puno. They hope that by redesigning how foreign consumers view and value quinoa in its numerous varieties they “can leverage the social capital of quinoa to curb malnutrition in the Altiplano”.  

Chef Maguiña’s Culinary Creations

Chef Maguiña’s P’esque Reinvented with Choclito and Pasankalla Quinoa. Photo by Adam Gamwell.

Chef Maguiña’s Red Pasankalla quinoa is infused with grape juice extract in a way that fundamentally changes its flavor. Photo by Adam Gamwell.

Chef Maguiña’s Baby Alpaca Carpaccio with Pasankalla Quinoa. Photo by Adam Gamwell.

Chef Maguiña’s Baby Alpaca Ribs with P’esque. Photo by Adam Gamwell

Check out the links below to learn more about Chef Maguiña

Hotel Libertador in Puno

Hotel Libertador de Puno con nueva carta gastronómica en base a ingredientes locales (Spanish)

Check out these links to learn more about Dr. Canahua’s Work (in Spanish)

QUINUA: pasado, presente y futuro

Revaloración del agro ecosistema tradicional de sukaqollos y desarrollo agrícola en Puno – Perú.

Gestión Del Espacio Agrícola y Agrobiodiversidad en Papa y Quinoa en las Comunidades Campesinas de Puno

Check out the links below to learn more about Adam’s project!

The World According to Quinoa w/ Adam Gamwell

TAL Guest Podcast: Food Futures: Playing our Way to Conservation? Experimental Economics in the Andean Countryside – Interview with Adam Gamwell about another facet of his research on quinoa conservation in Peru

Puno launches new collective brand ‘Aynok’a’ to compete in the quinoa market

Savage Minds: Of Quinoa, Agricultural Science, and Social Change

A Business for the Future? Redefining Value, Quinoa and the Quest of Pachakuti Foods w/ Alexander Wankel

Kuchi Wila Quinoa.  Photo By Adam Gamwell

As a (well deserved) plug for the SfAA Podcast Project – these folks are amazing! 2017 marked the 10th(!) year of recording sessions at the annual SfAA meetings, and it was an honor to become a part. In my view this podcast project is very interesting because it serves as a kind of conference archive for popular presentations, but also a really great way (and resource) to learn about how anthropologists and other practitioners present their research in applied ways. Some recorded sessions that stand out to us particularly at TAL, that we recommend to our listeners are:




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