Vol. 6, Issue 4 (2019)
Serving the caste, gender and identity on plates
Author(s): Jyothi Justin, Goury Krishna
Abstract: If you are what you eat, then what am I? - Geetha Kothari Consumption of cooked food is seen as a mark of civilisation. From the natives or the tribals who eat raw food to the sophisticated urban people who consume branded food items, the politics of food attain different dimensions and perspectives. The positioning of food as “superior” and “inferior” rules out the scope for the inclusion of the food habits of the Dalits and the other backward classes in India. Indian mythology and religious practices have played a pivotal role in classifying the vegetarians as a superior class as opposed to the non-vegetarians. From assigning different food items to different Gods, serving few food items as “Prasada” in temples and the myth of “Amrit” for which the devas and the asuras fight in Hindu mythology to the symbolic apple that Eve use to seduce Adam into committing the first sin and the divine “manna” that God gave to the “chosen” people in Christianity, food has been used as a means to subjugate, hierarchise and identify people as inferior or superior. Even in the present scenario food serves as a means to determine the culture of people. People make use of the available resources and adopt easily cultivable crops as their staple food which in turn determine their occupation, living standards and culture. For instance, the culinary narratives of the coastal regions portray how fishing and consumption of fishes formulated the culture and life style of the fishermen community together with the myths associated with food that gets passed down to generations. This paper attempts to trace the influence of Indian and Western mythologies in creating identity and caste with reference to food. The gender discriminations and role-play associated with the process of cooking and consumption and the comparison of women to food items resulting in commodification of female body are also analysed in the light of religion, tradition and culture. The diasporic nostalgia that gets reflected in literature with reference to festivals and in turn to the traditional food is also analysed to probe deeper into the politics of food production and consumption.