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031: Pasture and Politics w. Ragini Kashyap (Day 1)

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

For the first session of the “Food and Politics 2.0” Ragini Kashyap of Third Culture Cooks provided us with a broad, dense historical introduction to food and politics through the lens of early humans, and the learnings from the early civilisations.

She highlighted the predecessors of the homo-sapiens, then spoke about the achievements of the Sumerian civilisation, ancient Egyptian civilisation, the concepts of kosher vs. trayf foods for the Hebrew civilisation, and the view of food in the Arabian and Chinese empires. For me personally it was refreshing to learn about history through these major players, and not be fed concepts via the ‘ancient Greeks and Romans’ as most Western history narratives tend to do. And since I studied in english in India, my history school syllabus is a legacy of both British colonial policies (which in turn followed the European ‘enlightenment’ model), as well as a ‘nationalistic’ tone post our country’s independence from the British. Thanks to Ragini for reminding us of these ancient civilisations that have been more or less ‘erased’ from primary school syllabi.

As a word geek, I looked up the etymologies of the words ‘politics’ and ‘food’ after the session last night.

As many of you may know, the word ‘politics’ in English derives its roots from the Greek word politiká meaning ‘affairs of cities’, and the word ‘polis’ denoting city-states. As Ragini repeatedly showed us, cities as centres of power became a reality only when humans began manipulating land through irrigation for farming. Only through these early settlements of over 10,000 people was there a possibility of surplus, which in turn led to the emergence of writing (perhaps to keep track of grain), taxes, paid and enslaved labour as seen in the Sumerian civilisation (3500 - 500 BCE in the areas of modern day Iraq). This surplus led to an unequal distribution of resources which led to an inequality of power and the formation of a ruling elite including kings, priests and tax collectors! We don’t seem to have moved very far from this first model of ‘civilisation’.

Although I had heard about the etymology of politics in my undergraduate classes (almost 20 years ago), I am surprised that I never bothered to look up the etymology of the word ‘food’ until last night. In an insightful article on, Sam Dean shows us that the roots of the word ‘food’ lie in an old Germanic verb which means “to feed”. He also shows how the root word shares it's ancestry with other words such as ‘fodder’, ‘foster’, ‘pasture’ and ‘pastor’. Again we see the importance of cattle (fodder) and farming for the evolution of ‘agricultural’ food. I had never before drawn the connection between a ‘pastor’ in a religious context to the word ‘pastoral’ which I associate with goats being herded through large, grassy fields. In many Indian languages, the word for food is the same word for ‘rice’. And the large-scale cultivation of rice again became possible only through collective farming. Looking forward to more learning in the upcoming days.

Further Resources:

ALFGRN, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


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