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Anthropology of a Community Kitchen in Villa el Salvador (Peru): Functional Analysis and Support Perspectives through International Co-operation

Natacha NICAISE student laureate

°1976 Belgium
Licence in information and communication, option : social anthropology, Université de Liège, Belgium, 1998

Anthropologie d'une cuisine collective de Villa El Salvador (Pérou) : Fonctionnement et perspectives de soutien par la Coopération internationale

Starting from a study of a concrete experience - the community kitchens put up in a slump in Lima by the women of the area to meet their family's needs as far as food is concerned - Natacha Nicaise evaluates their meaning within the scope of a development policy.
By their participation in the work in the canteens the women of Villa el Salvador can be seen as co-operation actors. Their work in the community kitchen does not only solve a severe food problem, but it also meets other needs: their need of emancipation, of self-fulfilment, of participation in the economic, social, civic and political life. Moreover, these canteens have become for them a centre for training and education - they are democratic spots functioning without discrimination with quite a large population.
These canteens, created by women that have found, by themselves, solutions to the food problem of their area, have withstood attempts at politic takeover (a.o.) and can, in this sense, be seen as a very valuable strategy of local development.
But several aspects of their actual functioning - the lack of capital, the cooks not being paid and overexploited, the impossibility to produce surpluses that can be commercialized - lead to a situation where these firms are not able to improve in a substantial way the living conditions of the local population, and to take it out of the vicious circle of poverty and precariousness.
Moreover, these canteens remain dependant on an assistance about which they are not consulted, on the ups and downs of everyday life, without any guarantee; they just keep on functioning day by day, being unable to anticipate things.
In order to help, maintaining at the same time the nature and the efficiency of these local organizations, Natacha Nicaise suggests that capital should be brought in by means of a system of micro-credits, which make it possible to support the creation of micro-enterprises of foodstuffs that can be sold to the local population - thus leading to an income for the canteens - and to possibly remunerate the cooks. It is essential for the women to remain the main administrators and organizers of these social firms.
It goes without saying that it is essential for each development programme to examine the meaning the local populations give to their actions (a meaning that is specific for each culture) and to recognize the complexity of the local realities.

Report by Prof. Dr. Isabel Yepez del Castillo, Institute of Development Studies Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium