Causa for a Greater Cause

I have always loved cooking. Even ate the age of four, I can remember climbing up to my family’s kitchen counter to help make chocolate chips cookies. This passion continued throughout my life, as I worked at various restaurants and made artisan breads to sell at local farmer’s markets this previous summer. I hope to eventually have a career in food security, striving for easier access to healthy foods for all people.

While on SST in Peru, I was fortunate enough to be placed with a family during study who shared the same love for food. My host grandmother, Alicia, was the cook for our group and my father, Glicerio, was a cook at a local hotel. One Saturday I spent nearly six hours cooking with Alicia. We had a grand feast in the evening with all of our family, eating lots of Peruvian favorites, tallarín verde, causa and sopa de pollo.

For service, I lived in Ayacucho and worked in a comedor, or a dining hall/soup kitchen. The comedor is run by a local church, Luz y Vida (Light and Life), and provides area children with a daily meal and learning opportunities. Every weekday I cooked for 50-60 children from ages three to sixteen. I worked with one or two volunteers, also members of the church, and cooked a variety of dishes that always consisted of rice or potatoes or both.

Children at Luz y Vida in Ayacucho, Peru.

I was studying for a degree in social work at Goshen College, and that knowledge, paired with my love for cooking, was a great combination for the opportunities I was presented with. My final project was about food preparation differences between the United States and what I observed in Peru. One major difference is the incredible amount of food the Peruvians could prepare with far fewer expensive utensils or equipment. For part of this project, I collected over thirty Peruvian recipes by interviewing family members and taking a notebook full of notes while I worked at the comedor.

At our final gathering as a group, many of my peers expressed interest in the recipes. At that point, I had only typed them into a word document, but a fellow group member, Jake Smucker, is an excellent graphic designer and offered to format the recipes and photos I had taken into an actual cookbook. After countless hours of work between the two of us, over the span of four months, we had a book.

We decided to sell the cookbooks and donated all the proceeds back to the comedor to help feed the local children. Our first printing was for 60 cookbooks. Word spread like wildfire, and we ended up printing three more times, selling a total of 270 cookbooks. We were able to donate a very large sum of money to the comedor, for which they were extremely grateful. The Ayacucho community made an incredible impact on both of our experiences and this was a small way that we were able to give back.

Below is a recipe for my host father Glicerio’s lomo saltado (the translation is jumping beef), made with tomatoes, onion, pork and french fries.


gretchenGretchen Geyer went to Peru in the spring semester of the 2013-2014 school year. She graduated in May 2015 with a degree in social work.