2016 Undergraduate Awards

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In Culinary Fictions: Food in South Asian Diasporic Culture, Anita Mannur argues that food offers ‘an alternative register through which to theorize gender, sexuality, class, and race’ in literature by and about the South Asian diaspora. The use of food in these texts is not merely a figurative flourish, but rather an ‘important vector of critical analysis in negotiating the gendered, racialized, and classed bases of collective and individual identity’ of South Asian bodies. Food is always already political; it must not merely be tasted, but must be read in terms of how it (re)presents and (re)produces intersecting power differentials. Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize, impels this kind of reading as injustice and violence consistently situate themselves around food: members of the Gorkhaland National Liberation Front demand an afternoon tea after robbing the judge, and Biju is continuously mistreated as an illegal Indian immigrant working in New York City’s food industry, for example. By reading how food imagery and food politics function in these circumstances one can unpack how violence is enacted at the intersections of colonialism, classism, racism, and sexism. Yet the literature has largely neglected anything more than a simple recognition of the presence of violence in the relationship between Jemubhai (a Cambridge-educated judge working in India) and his wife, Nimi (who has never left India). An analysis of food, however, enables a more thorough and nuanced reading of the violence enacted upon Nimi, situating it at the intersection of (post)colonialism, racism, and patriarchy.


Image: "Masala Chai" by Miansari66 is in the public domain.