Study abroad in Colombia: A personal reflection

During this past spring break, I had the marvelous privilege and opportunity to spend my week in the Andes of Colombia, South America, the purpose being to learn about and study the elements that constitute a sustainable food system. I would have to learn about what a food system is, who is involved in it, what actions or jobs are a part of it, and how the entire system or process can become more sustainable. Furthermore, I would embark with questions on how culture influenced a food system and how that system creates the identity of a place.

The trip was and is part of a semester-long class, of which consists of reading a book titled Food and Place edited by Pascale Joassart-Marcelli and Fernando J. Bosco, and Eat the City written by Robin Shulman. Apart from studying the concepts contained therein related to food systems and sustainability, we have also been traveling to local farms and businesses in the Lehigh Valley, learning from its proprietors as to their experiences, customer base, and how they are impacted our local food system.

While in Colombia, our plan was to visit different locations in the city of Medellin and the town of Santa Rosa de Los Osos that played a role in the local food systems of the country. In Medellin, we interacted with the students and faculty of a national community college called SENA, learning about how the college was involved in the social and economic health of the regions it operates in. In the countryside of Santa Rosa, we met with cheese-makers, butchers, strawberry farmers, trout fishery owners, SENA apprentice chefs, and many more individuals who involved us and fed us, having us cook with them, make cheese, and eat plenty of dishes that kept us so stuffed that dinner was out of the question.

In this class, and during my trip, I believe I’ve learned so much more as to the importance of a food system and the individuals involved, the value of food in our lives as social and creative beings, and the Latin American identity. Before this class, little did I consider as to who is a part of the process that gets food to my plate, and what their lives are like; little did I invest thought as to what problems exist our in our food system and how I had any relationship to them. Before this trip, shamefully, I did not spend as much time deliberately eating with others as I did when in Colombia. Before this trip, I, while acquainted with Latin American culture, didn’t feel as close and intimate with the identity of Latin America as I do now.

A strawberry plantation in Santa Rosa de Osos. Photos by Maria Dietrich

I’ve delved into ideas related to food systems that have taught me about socio-economic development, affordability and accessibility to good quality, healthy food, how food creates community, and how societies have evolved surrounding our food production sources. By spending lots of time eating fresh, homemade dishes with my travel family and Colombian hosts, and through the cordiality of our Colombian neighbors, I feel so much more conscious about what I eat and so much the more desirous to eat my meals with friends and family. By living temporarily abroad in another Latin American country, seeing the art and history of her artists, and eating with her locals, I learned something about one facet who they are: a diverse culture of campesinos and futbolistas; they are fishers and farmers, cooks and chefs; they are one people, whose value of family and community supersedes all others.

This, though, wouldn’t be the half of my experience. My appetite for travel is left whetted and I am inspired all the more to continue traveling. I enjoyed the whole of my experience, learning about Latin America, about food, and about myself; and while many of my questions were answered, I am still left asking, “What is the rest of Colombia like?”, “How does the historical development of a society shape its food system and identity?”, and “How can we implement other cultures practices and norms and other countries with different conditions?”