Abstract and Keywords
This chapter is from the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Food, Politics, and Society edited by Ronald Herring. Cultural anthropologists have devoted considerable attention to multiple non-nutritional meanings and uses of food in diverse cultural worlds. This essay begins with a wide-ranging overview of some ways anthropology has portrayed food’s links to every aspect of human existence. Because this discipline’s prime method, fieldwork, is rooted in proximity and intimacy, sharing food with subjects of study has always been part of ethnographic experience. One major fascination lies in how biological food needs that are shared with all animals become culturally embellished with infinite variations that are evident in diverse aspects of life from cuisine to religious symbolism. The essay shifts focus to one ethnographic location in rural North India to examine three pervasive themes surrounding food in South Asian culture: solidarity, separation, and decline as a pervasive critique of modern tastelessness. Offering initially grounded examples of each theme, the essay moves to broader circles of related meanings in varied practices and narratives. Thus employing a classical interpretive mode in cultural anthropology, this chapter thinks through food values by tacking between far-reaching generalizations and highly localized specificities. In the context of a volume largely and properly focused on food materialities, conflicts, and policies, the chapter aims to evoke less concrete, less quantifiable aspects of comestibles in human cultures that may be nonetheless relevant to understanding interrelated workings of food, politics, and society. In many cultural worlds, moralities of sharing confront circumstances of inequity through acknowledging hunger as bodily knowledge common to all.
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