Key plants preserve elements of culture: A study over distance and time of fresh crops in Puerto Rican markets in Hartford, Connecticut, "A moveable feast"

David W. Taylor, University of Portland
Gregory J. Anderson

American Journal of Botany, 2014, Volume 101, Issue 4, 624-636.

© 2014 Taylor & Francis

Linked version is the final published version.

This article is published by Taylor & Francis in American Journal of Botany in April 2014, available online at


Premise of the study:

People retain culinary customs when they migrate.We tested this commitment via the study of Puerto Rican fresh produce markets in the continental United States over time, 18 yr, and space, by comparisons with source markets in Puerto Rico (PR).


A survey of Puerto Rican markets in Hartford (HT), Connecticut in 1993–1994 was repeated in 2009–2010.A comparative study was made at open-air markets in PR in 2009.Surveys recorded fresh crops, and interviews with vendors and Hartford Puerto Rican residents provided context.

Key results:

We recorded 84 plant crops (64 species; 32 families) for seven categories.The largest category was viandas (fresh, starchy “root” crops and immature fruits), followed by saborizantes (flavorings).In the second HT survey, 80% of the cropswere still present.And ~90% of the HT 1993–1994 crops and ~75% of the HT 2009–2010 crops were shared with markets in PR.


On the basis of our results, we suggest two new concepts.The persistence of these largely tropical foods in a temperate market far removed from tropical PR shows the importance of basic foods as an element of cultural identification.

We recognize this stability as an example of “culinary cultural conservation”.Second, analysis of these fresh produce markets leads to the conclusion that viandas are the most prominent in diversity, persistence over time and distance, volume, and in terms of consumers’ “willingness to pay”.Accordingly, we consider the viandas a good example of a “cultural keystone food group”, a food group that is emblematic of a community’s culinary conservation.