Since the growing season has begun back home in Vermont I thought I’d pay a tribute to one of the first available crops: asparagus. This vegetable absolutely delights me, I know, I’m probably a weirdo. But seriously, if you have never tried raw asparagus, I highly recommend it. Flavorful, crunchy and delicious. My first farm season started last May, and I had the delight of picking asparagus out of the field and crunching into the miracle of a farm fresh veggie. This was the moment I fell in love with farming, and I remember it clearly.
To answer the question on your mind right now, no, I have not gone off the deep end there is a reason I’m writing about asparagus and it has to do with Peru. Take a wild guess as to what one of Peru’s main exports is. Asparagus! Now, that might not seem strange to you but let me tell you, here and Cusco, I have never even laid eyes on a single stalk of asparagus. I have seen it mentioned on a menu or two but it’s unclear as to if it’s actually available and is certainly a higher ticket item than other veggies. From what I understand most of it is grown in Lima and other warmer, most hospitable climates. I am unclear as to whether it’s available for the general public to buy or not.
The sheer amount of Asparagus being sent overseas is absolutely astounding. In 2016 Peru exported 125,000 ton of asparagus that accounts for 90% of the country’s air exports followed by blueberries (that I’ve also never seen here) and flowers according to freshplaza.com. Next time you are in a grocery store and you see asparagus that isn’t labeled ‘local’ I am willing to bet it was sourced from Peru. Asparagus is a vegetable you often associate with eating in the dead of winter. Guess where it’s coming from. Not California or even close. The United states accounted for 65% of all of Peru’s asparagus exports in 2016. Americans don’t even eat vegetables! Where is this stuff going? Probably the bottom vegetable draw in our refrigerators to rot or maybe to a few restaurants to use as a component to a dish but gets picked around. The vegans? I don’t know..
The larger point I’m trying to make is not only about asparagus it’s about food, trade, and the global world. Yes, here we go again. I don’t believe the majority of Americans put a lot of thought into where there produce comes from. In the summer fresh local vegetables are available but usually still more expensive than something that was imported. Yet, the crops that are exported aren’t available to people in the country that’s producing it and if it is the price is inflated because of the trade value.
Let’s break this down. Crops are grown in so called “developing countries” and sent to so called “developed countries” because there is a demand and an available profit. But the producing country then has very little access to the crop because it is unavailable and expensive. Developed countries economic demands are then being put before the value of people’s health in nutrition in the providing countries. This is nothing new in terms of history. Warm, beautiful place, where people can provide for themselves off the resources of the land is stripped of resources by the white man. We all know this story but do we think about it when we eat things like asparagus with our dinner in the middle of February?
Now, I’m not saying Peruvian’s health conditions are crumbing because they need more asparagus. I’m saying this seems like an unequal power dynamic and I understand there is economic incentive for the Peruvian economy and, hopefully, although I haven’t looked into it, for the growers as well. Global food trade is bigger than just vegetables it affects communities and the environment but isn’t likely to change as long as there is economic reasons underlying it all. It’s true, we live in a global world but I think we need to take that into consideration more often in our daily lives.
So next time you’re in the grocery store, pick up some asparagus and see where it’s from and when you’re craving veggies this summer go local!