Puffed rice to potato chips: malnutrition & changing food culture in India

Dutta, Kaberi

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Malnutrition has been a chronic problem in India, initially owing to abject poverty of its population. But lately, despite considerable improvement in the economic conditions and government’s efforts of providing subsidized food to the poor in various forms and through various outlets, nutrition status of societies has not experienced the expected improvement. This, the current study finds, is linked to skewed and misinformed perceptions of nutrition among the new-age parents across rural societies, shaped by the media in a vacuum of information and knowledge. The modern food industry and capitalist enterprises enter the societal psyche through this gap with their lucrative campaigns, which have had captivating impact in shaping what I describe as “food euphoria” for some kinds of items while a “food fatigue” for other, more traditional kinds of eating practices. Greater ‘values’ and ‘meanings’ are attached to certain kinds of processed and packaged food for their perceived benefits of both mind and body today, following which purchasing decisions are made and the items consumed. Apart from such misinformed decisions, ecological shifts and climate change are also affecting nutritional outcomes with negative impacts such as navailability of milk in the daily diets of children. Altered social dynamics like migration of parents have added significant extra burden on the children that manifest in an array of health hazards encompassing the psychological and nutritional. This demands a multiscalar and multidimensional approach towards the governance of nutrition that is proving to be overwhelming for policy actors. However, uncovering multifarious drivers is an important first step to understand how intricately poised the nutritional outcomes were. It clearly underlines limited efficacy or even futility in some cases of food subsidies aimed at alleviating poverty-related malnutrition. It bolsters the anthropologist’s conviction that matters of health, more so in public health, were a societal, cultural construction instead of being deterministic and rather simplistic biomedical eventuality (Dauglas & Khare 1979). In Sundarbans, ‘nutrition’ remains situated at the complex intersections of modernist cultural evolutions in the society and becomes a product of interplays between diverse ranges of ecological, social and economic entanglements.

Document type: Master thesis
Publisher: CrossAsia E-Publishing
Place of Publication: Heidelberg
Date: 2016
Supervisor: Sax, Prof. Dr. William
Version: Primary publication
Date Deposited: 20 April 2016
Faculties / Institutes: Universitäten / Institute > South Asia Institute / Department of Ethnology
DDC-classification: Customs, etiquette, folklore
Controlled Subjects: Indien, Mangelernährung, Fehlernährung
Uncontrolled Keywords: Indien, Mangelernährung, Fehlernährung / India, Malnutrition, Food Culture
Subject (classification): Anthropology
Countries/Regions: India
Series: Themen > Health and Society in South Asia Series
Volume: 13