Home Institution

Kenyon College

Publication Date

Spring 2008

Program Name

Argentina: Social Movements and Human Rights


In the Comedor Infantil Virgen del Valle of Salta, Argentina, a group of mothers have united their time and consolidated their scarce material resources to form a communal dining hall in which they serve lunch to the children of the community, many of whom receive their only meal of the day there. The comedor is located in the marginal settlement of Juan Manuel de Rosas and in addition to the scarcity of healthy, affordable food, the inhabitants of this neighborhood daily encounter monetary difficulties, the threat of eviction from their homes and the various hazards posed by the easy access to drugs, such as robbery and violence. This paper proposes to examine the strategies that the mostly female members of the comedor have developed to survive amidst the reality of uncertainty that threatens the stability and security of their lives on a daily basis. Through participant observation in Virgen del Valle and formal, recorded interviews with nineteen members of the comedor, information was obtained about the daily risks of the neighborhood, dependence on government welfare, relations within the comedor, and the various methods of survival that the women have developed to combat their situations of poverty and insecurity. The paper begins with an introduction to the women, the marginal settlement and the comedor as an organization and discusses the challenges and advantages to participant observation as a method of study. From here, the paper is divided into five sections. In the first, a brief history of the organization and an expansion of the description given in the introduction are offered as a context in which to understand the current state of the neighborhood and comedor. In the second section, we elaborate the daily life and routine of the women of the comedor, including the risks, dangers, and difficulties they encounter in the process of cooking and caring for their families. Thirdly, an analysis is presented of the symbolic power of the comedor as a space of community interaction, a support network and a source of stability and security in an otherwise unstable neighborhood. The fourth section describes the importance of the director Betty in the cohesion and perpetuation of the comedor and her role of leadership within the community. The final section analyzes the relationship between the women of the comedor and the government in terms of the welfare plans that the majority of them receive. It is concluded that examined from the sociological perspective of resource mobilization, the women achieve daily survival due not to the monetary or material resources available to them, but rather to the social networks developed within and in relationship to the comedor itself. The research for this project was conducted over a two-week period spent in the Comedor Infantil Virgen del Valle in Salta, Argentina during the spring of 2008. The paper was written in Buenos Aires in the following two weeks with the use of the interviews, field notes and various secondary sources.


Gender and Sexuality | Latin American Studies


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