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Pleasures and Profundity of Food


Sucharita Sengupta

THE WRITER’S FEAST: FOOD AND THE CULTURES OF REPRESENTATION
Edited by Supriya Chaudhuri  and Rimi B. Chatterjee
Orient Blackswan, Delhi, 2012, pp xvi + 238, Rs.525.00

VOLUME XXXVI NUMBER 6 June 2012

As summer looms upon us, a Gujarati friend living in Calcutta becomes more and more disgruntled. Her plaint is the lack of kesri ker no ras (aam ras or mango pulp) in her city. Upon a suggestion that she purchase mangoes and make it at home, came a most painful shriek: you don’t understand! In Gujarat right now, everyone is talking mango, buying mango, selling mango, cooking mango. It’s the ambience! In another part of the country a while ago, students hold a Beef Festival on a university campus to assert their right to make dietary choices, and intertwined with that, assert their distinctive identities. There is a lot of food for thought here, and The Writer’s Feast, edited by Supriya Chaudhuri and Rimi B. Chatterjee, open up the reader to both the pleasures and profundity of food (the two not being mutually exclusive). Food is so central to our existence and society that when one picks up the book, the first thought is: why was a book like this not written any earlier? The Writer’s Feast negotiates the culinary terrain through a variety of texts and an equally rich set of perspectives. Al-though the book is organized into four segments, one each dealing with culture, gender, diaspora and the lack/ limits of food, the ideas discussed in one part often segue into and enrich other parts, creating a delightfully unbounded reading experience. Food represents as well as constitutes culture. So do literary tropes. The book dis-cusses the interactions between food and literature under the rubric of culture. A very interesting take is how the written-recipe or the cookbook is the most basic textual representation of food. Given how elaborate food rituals are in India, the written recipe was a fairly late entrant. Recipe books not only preserve knowledge and techniques of cooking, but also signify the riches and wealth of those who could afford food made out of exotic, expensive ingredients, and hence, those who were at the pinnacle of power. We get a sneak peek into how Indian women were incorporating the cuisine of the colonizers into their own cuisine, an inevitable fallout of the mixing of cultures, and of the hard fact that the colonizers had the upper hand. Cuisines are markers of identity, but what the writers here explore is how diets become articles of faith to the extent that they can ...


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