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Eating Puerto Rico

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

Translated by RUSS DAVIDSON
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  • Book Info
    Eating Puerto Rico
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1262-1
    Subjects: Latin American Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    For centuries now, the analysis of culture—of all that we create, shape, and do, to borrow the wording of Roman Guardini—has tried todistinguishhumankind 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...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    When the Puerto Rican newspaperEl Nuevo Díainterviewed several public figures in 1999 regarding their favorite meal, Orlando Parga—a leading proponent of what has been labeledanexionismo jíbaro¹—replied, “corned beef with fried ripe plantains.” For Senator Norma Burgos, it was “chicken fricassee with white rice and pega’o (rice with the crisp, slightly charred scrapings off the bottom of the pot).” Longtime activist and Puerto Rican Independence Party leader Rubén Berrios confessed to a liking for “viandas(starchy root vegetables) with salted codfish (bacalao).” Renán Soto (the then president of the Puerto Rican Teachers Federation) chose “dry salted...

  6. 1 Rice
    (pp. 15-49)

    Perhaps the most effective introduction to the topic of rice is a personal anecdote. One night in July 1989, while I was staying in Sisikon—a town in the Swiss canton of Uri—it turned out that my only option for having supper was the restaurant of a local hotel. A first look at the hotel confirmed that winter, not summer, was presumably its busiest season. An attentive waitress led me to the dining room, where—lost among the wooden posts and columns of a large hall—four couples were enjoying their meals.

    Detecting that I was a foreigner, the...

  7. 2 Beans
    (pp. 50-76)

    In 1999, in the midst of all the millenarian prophecies foretelling the end of the world, the Medalla brewery released a television commercial playing on the idea that we can never really be certain of what lies in store for us tomorrow. The commercial, set in some indeterminate future time, featured a young professional hurrying to have his main meal of the day—lunch. Walking through a dark passageway, the young man comes to a vending machine selling drinks and snacks, puts in some coins, presses a button, and receives three capsules from the machine, each one representing a particular...

  8. 3 Cornmeal
    (pp. 77-95)

    In Francisco Oller’s emblematic painting, El velorio (The Wake), the viewer’s gaze tends to be drawn to the human figures in the center of the composition, but if we look above them, near the top of the canvas, we see twenty or more corncobs hanging from a beam running below the roof. The cobs are “getting aired,” or dried.

    In the days before industrialized farming, corn harvested for domestic consumption was dried inside rural dwellings, hung from posts or walls and not left out in the open, where it was easy prey for birds, rats, and foraging pigs.

    Although the...

  9. 4 Codfish
    (pp. 96-121)

    Although found in the frigid waters of the north Atlantic, cod became the source of and a principal ingredient in some of the dishes most distinctive to Puerto Rican cuisine, often accompanying or being mixed with other food, such aschayote(a pear-shaped, squashlike vegetable) and eggs to make the stew known asalboronía, or eggplants or seasonedviandasto make salads and other dishes. It was commonly mixed with rice to produce the populararroz con bacalao, or incorporated into a thick soup dish calledsopón. For all these preparations, however, it was first desalted in water; transformed, as...

  10. 5 Viandas
    (pp. 122-160)

    In contemporary Puerto Rico, no one thinks twice when viandas appear as an everyday item on the menus of restaurants serving local fare. Today, however—unlike several decades ago—viandas appear not as the center of a meal but as a side dish, what in Spain is calledguarnición, or in Italycontorni. If we look closely at the menu of one of these restaurants, we will see that viandas are included in the section where diners expect to find an answer to their question, “So, what does this dish come with?” It is a perfectly reasonable question (and Puerto...

  11. 6 Meat
    (pp. 161-198)

    During an interview that took place more than a hundred years ago, Vicente Muñoz—a planter and former mayor of the municipality of Caguas—was asked by Henry King Carroll, a U.S. Treasury Department official, whether the order issued by General Guy V. Henry, the island’s American military governor, prohibiting the leveling of taxes on consumer products had helped reduce the price of bread and meat after the U.S. invasion. Muñoz replied: “The order preventing the collection of the consumption tax appeared at first a very beneficent one, but it was really quite the other thing. We are buying bread...

  12. 7 Are We Still What We Ate?
    (pp. 199-244)

    In the four decades from 1960 to the start of the new millennium, Puerto Rico experienced a groundswell of socioeconomic development that helped transform the gastronomic landscape, radically changing the types and variety of foodstuffs available, as well as the ways in which they were acquired and then prepared, cooked, and brought to the table. Since the mid-1950s, Puerto Ricans have come to know firsthand the blessings (or otherwise) of consumer capitalism, their lives ever more intertwined with automobiles, private residences, television sets, and—not least—new kitchen appliances. Indicative of this trend were the figures for refrigerators and freezers...

  13. 8 Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
    (pp. 245-260)

    The foodstuffs that can be classified as basic to the diet and gastronomy of Puerto Rico were also central to many other regional food cultures across the globe prior to 1500. Their appearance in Puerto Rico, and in the Caribbean more broadly, resulted from such factors as the movement of people and plants from the Old World to the new, the conquerors’ failure to reproduce their commonplace foodscape in the new environment, the effect of closely held religious beliefs, the necessity to feed enslaved Africans on their journey as human cargo, and the decision by passengers to include known foods...

  14. Selected Glossary
    (pp. 261-276)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 277-342)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 343-368)
  17. Index
    (pp. 369-388)