I lived in Peru for two years. We didn’t cook our own food. We would rent small apartments or rooms in the homes of people we met and it simply wasn’t practical for two young guys to try and prepare three meals a day from scratch. And scratch was really the only option. We didn’t have kitchens or refrigerators. In most of the areas where I lived, it was rare that anybody had a refrigerator. Most of these areas also lacked grocery stores with any type of boxed, easy to prepare foods.
One time I remember getting a package of Top Ramen in the mail after having been in Peru for about eight months. I was ecstatic to be able to prepare my own meal and in a flash, have something warm, flavorful, and familiar. I was there as a Mormon missionary so we were busy in all kinds of service projects throughout the day–every day.
It was an amazing experience. But it was also insanely difficult and challenging. We paid friends to prepare our meals for us–breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We’d go to their house and eat with their family three times a day. $100 a month for two people was a bargain. The women who prepared our food would go to the local, open-air market every day to buy ingredients. On one hand, this was great. Fresh, natural foods prepared for us by hand three times a day. Sounds pretty luxurious right? In a way it was.
Privilege and Raw Fish
I clearly recognize how privileged we were to be able to live this way. So even though it got below freezing in our bedroom at night and we rubbed all the hair off the back of our fingers washing our clothes by hand during the day, we didn’t have to prepare our own food. And good thing too. Food prep in most parts of Peru took all day. It was a full time job. If we had to do it ourselves, we wouldn’t have had time to do anything but cook and eat.
I had always heard that in many cultures, it’s rude to refuse to eat and finish the food offered you. I didn’t want to offend anyone so whenever a new pensionista (the lady who cooked for us) would ask what I liked or didn’t like, I would always say, “Oh don’t worry about me. Whatever you make will be just fine.” This approach resulted in me ingesting chicken foot soup, large slabs of pork with fat and hair still on the side, raw fish, and the worst of all–Chuño.
Chuño is ridiculous. I’m convinced that chuño only has two reasons for being in existence at all; 1) to infallibly aid in triggering the human gag reflex and 2) to provide local Quechua people with entertainment by offering it to foreigners and watching them attempt to actually swallow. Chuño is a traditional food made high in Andean regions of South America. It’s basically a shriveled, rotten, freeze-dried miniature potato. I seriously just almost got sick writing that.
Making chuño is usually about a 5 day process. They take a certain variety of small potato, leave it out all night in sub-freezing weather. The next day, they position the potatoes in the sun to help them dry. They repeat this process for a few days and then trample the poor little guys with their feet. Then they take the shriveled, dry, trampled nuggets and deposit them in a small icy cold creek for a day or so, remove them from the creek and finally, let them dry completely in the sun.
And then…you eat them.
And then…you almost die.
Why do we do such things to ourselves? Over and over and over again?
Eating Like a King
I finally learned my lesson. I had had enough. I had been in Peru for a about a year when I was transferred to a new area with a new pensionista. After greeting her and her family, she asked me the standard question, “What types of food do you like and dislike?” I don’t know where it came from. I wasn’t planning on answering that question with such fervor and detail–but I did.
“I love Papa a la Huancaína, Aji de Gallina, bread, sweets, ice cream, hot chocolate, Qwahkair, etc. I DON’T like ceviche, chicken foot soup, bisteq, soup for breakfast, or chuño (and MUCH more!).”
It was amazing! From then on, I ate like a king!! My pensionista never placed a plate of gag inducers in front of me again. I actually began looking forward to mealtime. I was healthier, happier, and the surprising part? My pensionistas loved me! It gave them great satisfaction to know that what they worked so hard on all day, every day was appreciated and enjoyed by the people they served. It didn’t only benefit me, it helped bring more joy and satisfaction into their lives as well.
We’re all tolerating a little chuño in our lives. What are you tolerating that triggers your gag reflex? I’m not advocating being selfish and rude. But there are some things in life that we’re enduring with the belief that doing so is somehow making things better for ourselves or others. There is power in understanding what works well for you and what doesn’t. There is even greater power in learning how to communicate with others what those things are.
Perhaps you’re like me and lack the ability to get any amount of real work done when sharing a table or desk with others. Out of a kind desire to not hurt other’s feelings, do you agree to work together at a coffee shop even though you know your work will suffer? Maybe you’ve learned that you can’t stand working on certain kinds of projects, with certain types of people, under certain conditions, but because you feel you owe it to someone, you tolerate it anyway.
Stop it! Everyone will be better off when you stop tolerating stuff you know is just going to make you gag. Cut the shriveled chuño from your life and demand more ice cream!!