Nathan Lebras

Keywords: Healthy eating, Consumer culture, Modernity/Tradition, Colombia

As a globalized metropolis, Bogota is experiencing the emergence of reconfigurated urban lifestyles among its citizens, and notably in the area of food consumption.

Ethnographic work shows that transnationalized urban dwellers who consider food and health a priority are coping with different and sometimes contradictory influences (see also Cardon & Garcia- Garza, 2012 ; Pilcher, 2012 ; Suremain & Katz, 2008): as they open up to new modes of consumption and foreign gastronomies, they also manifest an attachment to their national and/or regional culinary patrimony; while this patrimony is important to their identity, they also tend to consider some of its elements to be unfitted to the healthy eating norms they adopt.

Some decide to let aside these healthy norms in context of commensality to enjoy the food and people they like. Another strategy to resolve these tensions lies in the reinvention of various elements of the patrimony. Through innovative dishes and the substitution of supposedly unhealthy elements, people and restaurants are building a gastronomy that combines different dimensions of their habitus, including among others: conservation of the local patrimony, search for new tastes, health preservation and aesthetic appreciation.

With its globalization and the growing importance of consumer culture among its middle classes (Angulo et al., 2014 ; Glennie & Thrift, 1992), Bogota is seeing the emergence of reconfigurated food behaviors among its citizens. Some of these urban dwellers put food and health at the center of their lifestyle, articulating one to the other in search of well-being and personal development. Ethnographic work has shown that these persons present heterogeneous profiles and have to deal with sometimes contradictory influences in the building of their food behaviors. Such phenomenons are products of modernity and thus can not escape the fundamental dualities that shape it (Bourdieu, 1979). Through their food practices, participants of the study develop several strategies to resolve these apparently intractable oppositions.

While the healthy eating behaviors of Bogotans share similarities with global patterns, they are heavily rooted into the Colombian context from which they emerged. Participants have shown an attachment to their Colombian culinary patrimony, but also wariness about its potential unhealthiness. As an example, several mentioned the ajiaco – a typical potato soup of the Bogota region – as representative of their food patrimony but also as excessively heavy and rich in carbohydrates.

In addition, a recurring habitus disposition of the healthy food consumers in Bogota is transnationalization and the appreciation of foreign gastronomies. In modernist terms, these encounters create oppositions between here (Colombia) and there (the rest of the world and its gastronomies), and between then (local and familial culinary patrimonies) and now (culinary cosmopolitanism and fusion). It is necessary to add a third opposition which arises from the attention to health preservation and opposes it to the pleasure of eating and enjoying the food we like (Cairns & Johnston, 2015).

Globalization does not erase local specificities, notably in the area of food consumption (Fumey, 2007). Participants of the study elaborate strategies to incorporate to their food behaviors the several influences and habitus dispositions they have. One possibility is to leave aside their healthy habits in context of commensality with people who do not share their habits or whom they do not want to bother, mostly during family meals. Such a strategy plays on the temporal dimension of their food consumption: the person can allow herself to derogate from her healthy norms from time to time if she is rigorous otherwise.

Another possibility lies in the creation of innovative dishes who reinvent and blend together different influences. This is a common practice in healthy restaurants such as Minga1: one of its dishes, the Andean Wok (see figure 1), is explicit by its sole name. The Andean Wok is made of quinoa pasta mixed with broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, soy sprouts and farm chicken, all cooked in a wok.

1 The name of the restaurant has been changed. Minga has been one of the central spots of the multi-sited ethnography presented here.

By combining elements from the Colombian agricultural patrimony with techniques and ingredients from Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisines, it reunites the seemingly opposed dimensions of here (the Andes) and there (Southeast Asia), of then (the Colombian agricultural patrimony) and now (culinary cosmopolitanism), of health (vegetables and low-fat cooking) and pleasure (innovation and variety of flavors). Through this innovative dish, Minga’s chefs are able to offer their clients food that combinates the different dimensions they are seeking to establish their food behaviors with: conservation of the local patrimony, search for new tastes, health preservation and aesthetic appreciation.

Figure 1: The Andean Wok at Minga.

Food patrimonies and gastronomies in Latin America have a long history of combinating various influences (Cardon & Garcia-Garza, 2012 ; Pilcher, 2012), and the emergence of healthy eating behaviors in Bogota is no exception. Minga is an influent restaurant in the Bogota healthy eating community, and the Andean Wok is only one of the several examples of a dish combinating different culinary influences.

Alongside other restaurants and cooks, Minga’s managers thus have the possibility to craft a reconfigurated gastronomy able to transcend not only the parallel oppositions drawn between modernity and tradition and between global and local foods, but also the opposition more specific to healthy eating between health and pleasure.

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Glennie, Paul. D., and Nigel J. Thrift. "Modernity, Urbanism, and Modern Consumption." Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 10(4) (1992): 423‐443.

Pilcher, Jeffrey. M. "Eating à la Criolla : Global and Local Foods in Argentina, Cuba, and Mexico." Idées d’Amérique 3 (2012).

Suremain, Charles-Edouard, and Esther Katz. "Introduction : Modèles alimentaires et recompositions sociales en Amérique Latine." Anthropology of Food S4 (2008): 1‐13.


I am grateful to all the people who participated in the presented study in Bogota. I also wish to thank my fellow students and researchers at the IHEAL in Paris, as well as Dr. De Matas at H-Food for the publishing opportunity.


A formerly suburban French anthropologist, my academic trajectory went from life sciences to local development to anthropology, although always focusing on environmental issues. My work now focuses around a socio-anthropological approach of food consumptions and nature constructions. I have studied in France and California, having recently graduated from the Institute for Advanced Latin American Studies (IHEAL) in Paris. Fieldwork experience includes research in Ecuador and Colombia, and a well-received master’s thesis on healthy eating among urban dwellers in Bogota. My current fields of investigation include political ecology, food studies, anthropology of consumption, critical sociology and urban semiology.