Complex carbohydrates: on the relevance of ethnography in nutrition education

Twelve months into ethnographic fieldwork in Guatemala, I returned to New York for the week of Christmas. Before my departure I made an offer to a friend whose younger brother had, several years earlier, travelled from their rural K’iche’ community to the United States in search of work and had been relying on intermittent and unpredictable construction jobs in Manhattan ever since. If my friend wanted to give his brother a gift, I would deliver it. It was no trouble; my trip would take me less than a day and my own bags were empty. On the day I was to leave I had heard nothing from my friend and assumed he had dismissed my offer. But late into the evening, just before departing for the bus that would descend from Guatemala’s verdant highlands to the international airport in the capital five hours away, he arrived at my home with what he told me was the ‘perfect gift.’ I opened the bundle he handed me to find ten loaves of pan dulce (sweet bread). Each one was carefully stored in its own plastic wrapping, having been baked by his mother that afternoon.

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