The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 | Food defines India’s plurality, says Subodh Kerkar

Artist-sculptor says if there is one thing that defines the plurality of India, it is food

Updated - January 27, 2024 08:12 am IST

Published - January 26, 2024 08:32 pm IST

People participates at The Hindu Lit Fest, a two day festival in Chennai on January 26, 2024.

People participates at The Hindu Lit Fest, a two day festival in Chennai on January 26, 2024. | Photo Credit: Akhila Easwaran

Artist and sculptor Subodh Kerkar, who is the founding director of Museum of Goa and holds the Mario Miranda Chair for Arts in Goa University, busted a few myths in his illustrated presentation, “Food against Fanaticism”, at The Hindu Lit Fest 2024.

Laying out the context with a critical commentary of present-day politics of “othering” through food and other means, he said that if there is one thing that defines the plurality of India, it is food. He said he wanted to use food as a weapon against fanaticism and also to prove a point that there is nothing which is pure -- “our culture is a mixture of many different things”.

He listed a slew of global influences on Indian food, mentioning vegetables, fruits and flowers which have come to India from Brazil like chillies, potatoes, cashew, tapioca, marigold, and tobacco; melons from Samarkhand; fermenting technology from Southeast Asia and so forth. Mr. Kerkar also linked Bengal’s famous sweet, the ‘sandesh’, to the Portuguese who taught locals how to curdle milk and turn it into cottage cheese.

The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 LIVE updates

Referring to Vasco da Gama as a culinary imperialist, Mr. Kerkar said his arrival in 1498 changed India’s eating habits forever. “We cannot do without chillies, and if we were to follow any ghar wapsi programme, we have to first give up chillies, which is practically impossible.” He said even the food Indians eat during fasts at many places – food made from ‘sabudana’ for example is “videshi” - it comes from Brazil; the asafoetida for ‘tadka’ comes from Afghanistan.

Talking on beef, he quoted Sanskrit scholars to point out that the Vedas mention consumption of beef -- “beef was eaten during the Vedic age... and vegetarianism came later as an influence of Buddhism and Jainism.” He said there shouldn’t be a wrong assumption that Muslims introduced beef-eating in India – “it existed here”. He quoted an example from Mahatma Gandhi’s life to underscore the need to be accepting of other people’s food habits.

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