Contact: Richard Hund
American Journal of Botany
Caption: Plazas de mercado (open-air markets) in Puerto Rico, such as the one shown here in San Juan (Río Piedras), are highly diverse. The crops, grown in Puerto Rico or neighboring tropical countries, play a major role in Puerto Rican cuisine. As Puerto Ricans have migrated to many areas of the continental U.S., including the city of Hartford, Connecticut, which is climatically, agriculturally and culturally very different from Puerto Rico, they have carried their cuisine with them. In "Key plants preserve elements of culture: A study over distance and time of fresh crops in Puerto Rican markets in Hartford, Connecticut, 'A moveable feast,'" Taylor and Anderson studied the conservation of Puerto Rican cuisine through surveys of Puerto Rican fresh produce markets in Hartford over time, 18 years, and space, by comparisons with source markets in Puerto Rico. In this transmillennial study, 84 plant crops (64 species; 32 families) were recorded for seven categories. The largest category was viandas (fresh, starchy "root" crops and immature fruits), followed by saborizantes (flavorings). The Puerto Rican community of Hartford demonstrated an extraordinary conservation of fresh crops, with most conserved in Hartford over the nearly two decades of this study and between Hartford and markets in Puerto Rico. The results led to two new concepts. The persistence of these largely tropical foods in a temperate market far removed from insular, tropical Puerto Rico shows the importance of basic foods as an element of cultural identification. The authors recognize this stability as an example of their newly coined concept of "culinary cultural conservation." Second, their analysis of these fresh produce markets led to the conclusion that viandas, such as those highlighted in the cover image, are the most prominent in diversity, persistence over time and distance, volume, and in terms of consumers' "willingness to pay." Accordingly, they consider the viandas as a good example of their second new concept, a "cultural keystone food group," a food group that is emblematic of a community's culinary conservation.
Credit: David W. Taylor
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