Episode #69: Robert Bradley
Professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and author of the book Eating Peru: A Gastronomic Journey.
Robert Bradley is a professor at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and is the author of the book Eating Peru: A Gastronomic Journey. Robert, or Bob as I have come to know him, was born in New Jersey, and after working in the wine world, started studying art history and archaeology and he followed his curiosities to Peru. There, he started to become interested in Peruvian food and why certain aspects of it was the way it was. He wrote papers for academic journals on things like the ingesting of alkaloids in coca chewing and on the northern Peruvian dish sudado de raya.
His book, Eating Peru, provides a good understanding about the history of Peruvian food and how certain recipes have evolved over centuries. It’s definitely not a restaurant cookbook, though there are some recipes in it. It goes into a lot of depth about coca, a lot about the food of the north coast, a lot about chicha and just the general study of Peruvian food. I don’t agree with every point being made, but as far as academic books about Peruvian cuisine go, it’s very fair and nuanced. We talk about this a little bit early in the interview and he writes about it in the book. In terms of academia, there seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to Peruvian food. One side is within Peru, where it is primarily driven by preserving culture and the books can be a touch nationalistic, which is expected. Then there is the side published by universities outside of Peru, where it is much more critical of the way Peruvian food has been developing and who benefits from it, especially in the last couple of decades. Both sides make some good points, but there lacks a middle ground sometimes. It feels like you’re either with us or against us. It can be very polarizing.
From my experience with Peruvian food, I think there is plenty to criticize, but there is far more to celebrate. The good far outweighs the bad, especially from within the culinary community. The future of Peruvian food, the future of any type of cuisine really, is going to be messy. We’re trying to feed the planet in a healthy way without destroying it, amidst conditions that are rapidly changing. There are difficult decisions to make so we can all move forward. And for that to happen, we have to share our thoughts with love and kindness. And we have to listen to each other. We don’t have to agree all the time, but we can try to understand where someone else is coming from and why they feel the way they do.
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