“It Is Not Natural Anymore”: Nutrition, Urbanization, and Indigenous Identity on Bolivia’s Andean Plateau

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Abstract

The objective of this article was to characterize how urbanization and indigenous identity shape nutrition attitudes and practices in El Alto, a rapidly urbanizing and predominantly indigenous (Aymara) community on Bolivia’s Andean plateau. We took a qualitative ethnographic approach, interviewing health care providers (n = 11) and conducting focus groups with mothers of young children (n = 4 focus groups with 25 mothers total [age = 18–43 years, 60% Aymara]). Participants generally described their urban environment as being problematic for nutrition, a place where unhealthy “junk foods” and “chemicals” have supplanted healthy, “natural,” “indigenous” foods from the countryside. Placing nutrition in El Alto within a broader context of cultural identity and a struggle to harmonize different lifestyles and worldviews, we propose how an intercultural framework for nutrition can harmonize Western scientific perspectives with rural and indigenous food culture.

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