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030: Krishnendu Ray, Vikram Doctor and Rushina MG - food studies and writing

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

The online “Cook the Books” conversation on November 20, 2021 between Vikram Doctor, Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal, and Dr. Krishnendu Ray offered fascinating insights about the emerging fields of food studies and food writing in India.

Vikram Doctor, an Editor, special features for The Economic Times, famed for his food writing, spoke about the scattered sources of data one needs to access in order to write about food in India. For instance, he said that we need to go beyond the traditional sources from the fields of anthropology, religion, and sociology to look at papers and reports published by food scientists, agricultural scientists, commodity traders, and FMCG companies. He gave the example of his desk at Economic Times, was next to the desk for the editor for commodity trading, and how he learnt so much about the food supply chain (production, distribution, consumption, waste) through commodity traders. Since neither Food Studies nor Food Writing are established disciplines in India, writing about food most times needs to emerge from unexpected sources.

Like Doctor, Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal, a culinary chronicler and the founder of “A Perfect Bite Consulting” spoke about how she stumbled upon the “eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letter” almost 20 years ago. The discussions on the e-forum and her seminal article on the Garhwali food of Uttarakhand (she married into the Garhwali community) spurred her onto a career of food writing and consulting. She urged the audience to start chronicling the everyday food stories around them, not only at the consumption end, but also at the production, distribution and waste management cycles - and especially the hyper local, regional food practices away from the centres. She vehemently agreed with Doctor and Ray on how cooking food is an essential life skill that we all need to inculcate in the next generation.

Dr. Krishnendu Ray spoke about how he went into “epistemic shock” when he realised that for 25 years of his life he had taken the three daily meals for granted. Cooking had been an invisible process to him (including how to choose fresh fish and vegetables), and when he moved to the U.S. for his education, in order to eat any kind of food, he had to learn how to cook. This realisation along with a fervor for making visible immigrant food and food experiences, and slowly burrowing into established, traditionally conservative institutions dictated his career path.

Many books were referred to during the conversation. I will include a list in a separate post. The one which I look forward to reading next is “The Indecisive Chicken: Stories and recipes from eight Dharavi women” by Prajna Desai.

Thank you so much Rushina, Vikram and Krishnendu for sharing your expertise and experiences.

What is the last non-cookbook food book that you read? Please share in the comments below.

Image of the Book Cover Courtesy

Further Reading:

Link to to articles by Vikram Doctor

Link to Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal's blog:

Selected Publications by Dr. Krishnendu Ray

  • The Ethnic Restaurateur (Bloomsbury, 2016)

  • “Fed by the Other. City Food and Somatic Difference,” Groniek. Eetcultuure (2015) No. 202, pp. 67-84.

  • “The Immigrant Restaurateur and the American City,” Social Research 81, (Summer 2014), pp. 373-396.

  • “Taste, Toil and Ethnicity: Immigrant Restaurateur and the American City,” Ethnologie francaise, (2014) XLIV, p. 105-114.

  • “Disreputable Cuisine and Circuits of Masculinity,” Himal SouthAsian (April 2013) 26, 2, pp. 26-42.

  • Curried Cultures: Globalization, Food and South Asia (University of California Press, 2012).

  • "Dreams of Pakistani Grill and Vada Pao in Manhattan: Reinscribing the Immigrant Body in Metropolitan Discussions of Taste." Food, Culture & Society vol. 13. no. 4 (December 2010).

  • "A Taste for Ethnic Difference: American Gustatory Imagination in a Globalizing World." In Globalization, Food and Social Identities in the Asia Pacific Region, ed., James Farrar (Tokyo: Sophia University Institute of Comparative Culture, 2010). (link)

Here is the list of books mentioned during the conversations between Vikram Doctor Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal @rushinamg and Dr. Krishnendu Ray @krishnendu_ray during the ‘Cook the Books’ session on November 20, 2021.

If you are interested in the production, distribution and consumption of food, then this is a definitive reading list (in alphabetical order).

Please feel free to add to the list in the comments below.

Deener, Andrew. The Problem with Feeding Cities: The Social Transformation of Infrastructure, Abundance, and Inequality in America. University of Chicago Press, 2020.

Farchy, Jack, and Javier Blas. The World For Sale: Money, Power, and the Traders Who Barter the Earth's Resources. Oxford University Press, 2021.

Kingsman, Jonathan Charles. Out of the Shadows: The New Merchants of Grain. Independently Published, 2019.

Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and power: the place of sugar in modern history. Viking, 1985.

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