Let’s Talk Food: Coming Together Of Local And Global

Food is a stimulating site to understand any society as reflected in this famous quote by famous food scholar Jean Brillat-Savarin, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.” In times like ours, where the boundaries between the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern,’ the ‘local’ and the ‘global,’ the ‘urban’ and the ‘rural’ are getting blurred, food can reveal the changes and continuities in socio-cultural practices in a society.

It will not be an exaggeration to state that one’s identity is closely related to what one eats. It is particularly evident amongst people living outside their countries as food becomes an instrument for these individuals to maintain and display their ethnic and national identities. Food becomes closely associated with ‘memory’ and ‘nostalgia’ amongst diasporic groups that try to hold on to their ‘local’ habits in a global setting. For many ‘upper’ caste Hindus residing abroad, a vegetarian diet becomes a primary tool of distinguishing themselves from others. In a largely non-vegetarian world, by non-consumption of meat, these people create distinctions between the ‘self’ and the ‘other’. It becomes a way to proclaim that they have not lost their ‘Indianness’ and Indian identity despite living abroad.

The introduction of packaged foods complicates this relationship between food and identity. For many Indians living abroad as well as working women residing in India, these very packaged foods become ways to hold on to their Indian past and identities. By eating ‘home-made’ Indian processed foods, these people maintain their connections with ‘authentic’ Indian food. Packaged Indian food then offers these women an opportunity to keep connected to their Indian identity and fulfill the role of a ‘good mother’ by providing food from the ‘homeland’.

Food and food ways then become crucial ways of negotiating national identities in an increasingly globalised and cosmopolitan context. This relationship between food and identity amongst the Indian diaspora in a globalised and capitalist context prove that the understanding of food’s role in building social relations is not outdated. Food and cuisine are still in some ways tied to the locale. By consuming vegetarian food, relying on packaged food to satiate their Indian taste buds, the diaspora holds on to one of the most important parts of their identity – their food ways. The packaged foods signify ‘Indian’ food and hence its consumption is meaningful.

The relationship between gender and food is also striking as it is still women who are associated with food-related activities and are the primary providers of food in diasporic Indian groups. Memories of home-made food are related to a woman figure, be it the mother or grandmother. These examples illustrate that the local has not been completely overwhelmed by the global, but has been reshaped.

Popular culture is a crucial medium to disseminate ways and eating habits related to food and food ways amongst both urban and rural people. Television has seen a prolific rise in food-themed shows in the last few decades. These shows have not only popularized different kinds of cuisines amongst urban Indians but have also portrayed gender roles related to cooking and food. The availability and popularity of international cuisines in India also indicate towards a trend of the global becoming more easily available. This is aided by television shows like “Master Chef” that have made other food cultures extremely popular among urban youth in many countries, including India. While some shows like “Khana Khazana” fall in the genre of passing on recipes and cooking tips, other shows like “Master Chef ” examine the cooking skills of contestants. There are also other shows like “Farah Ki Dawat that have celebrities from various fields appearing as guests, trying their hand at cooking and entertaining the guests.

These shows also illustrate ways in which food traverses the boundaries between the local and the global. For instance, “Master Chef” is a British show that has been adapted in various countries including Australia and India. It has enjoyed immense popularity amongst the audiences. One particular season of “Master Chef ” (season 4) in India was completely vegetarian in its nature. This is a prime example of the ‘local’ being integrated into the ‘global’ as the original version of the show is mostly based on non-vegetarian cuisine. Another way in which the two come together is in the kinds of dishes that are prepared by the contestants and celebrities. For instance, in a complete Indian setting, dishes that have originated in Italy and China are cooked and served. In one of the episodes of the show “Farah Ki Dawaat“, Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty made the Italian dish pasta along with the pesto sauce that is used in it. This illustrates a kind of hybridity that is present in both the preparation and consumption of food in a globalized world as an Italian cuisine takes center stage in an Indian setting.

Thus, globalization has not meant that the ‘local’ has disappeared. Rather it is integrated and accommodated with the ‘global’ as examples of these food practices show.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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