‘Industrial foods’ or mass-produced processed food commodities play an increasing part in diets across the world. However, in India, some of these commodities are invested with a distinctive quality: they are independent of the complex religious, regional, caste and gender codes that govern food and eating. My lecture will focus on the role of processed foods in the cultural imagination of Indians across regions, classes, and the rural-urban continuum. I argue that the consumption practices such industrial foods engender are productive sites for imagining citizenship cutting across social hierarchies, creating new identities and diluting stigmatized ones. Even as poor Indians struggle to secure access to basic food, they also attempt to include more processed foods in their diets – a tendency that shows the significance of these commodities in the politics of social inclusion and exclusion.
Amita Baviskar is Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi. Her research focuses on the cultural politics of environment and development in rural and urban India. Her book In the Belly of the River: Tribal Conflicts over Development in the Narmada Valley and other publications explore the themes of resource rights, popular resistance and discourses of environmentalism. She is currently studying food and agrarian environments in western India. Amita Baviskar’s recent publications include the edited books Contested Grounds: Essays on Nature, Culture and Power; Elite and Everyman: The Cultural Politics of the Indian Middle Classes (with Raka Ray); and First Garden of the Republic: Nature on the President’s Estate. She has taught at the University of Delhi, and has been a visiting scholar at Stanford, Cornell, Yale, SciencesPo and the University of California at Berkeley. She was awarded the Infosys Prize for Social Sciences in 2010.