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Culinary scapes: Contesting food, gender and nation in South Asia and its diaspora

Anita Mannur, University of Massachusetts Amherst


“Culinary Scapes” analyzes culinary cultural production produced and consumed by South Asians in various “national” sites: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Britain, Canada and the United States. It juxtaposes contemporary South Asian cultural production to identify the potentials as well as limitations of thinking through culinary practices to understand how South Asian subjects inhabit multiple identitarian locations made possible by particularized relationships to food and culinarity. This juxtaposition of texts reveals that food is implicated in vital ways in a number of cultural, political and economic debates that both produce and contest ideas about gendered national culinary identity. The dissertation uncouples the seamless link between “food” and “nation” in a range of South Asian contexts to argue that food and nation and gender are not naturally linked, but instead are rendered isomorphic within the popular imagination for politically motivated reasons. The first chapter offers a schematic overview of culinarity in different disciplinary locations. It ends with an exploration of the politics of food production in Ketan Mehta's Mirch Masala (Spices ). Chapter II analyzes how the rhetoric of cookbooks, including those by Kala Primlani and Madhur Jaffrey, discipline middle class “housewives” in India and the United States into performing versions of Indianness, upholding the values of middle class Hindu India. Chapter III explores how queer desire—routed through culinarity—emerges against the backdrop of the classed and sexualized domestic sphere in Romesh Gunesekera's Reef and Deepa Mehta's Fire. Chapter IV examines how food is embedded in discourses about authenticity and citizenship within diasporic contexts, comparing Shani Mootoo's “Out on Main Street” with Sara Suleri's Meatless Days . Chapter V asks what it means to think “beyond the nation” analyzing the gendered, culinary television and cookbook performances of Padma Lakshmi and Raji Jallepalli as well as the writings of Geeta Kothari. It asks how fusion cuisine can be read against U.S. racial discourses of assimilation and otherness. The final chapter reflects on the politico-economic implications of thinking about food and nation in isomorphic terms by reading Nisha Ganatra's Chutney Popcorn alongside debates over basmati rice patenting in South Asia.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Womens studies|American studies|Asian literature

Recommended Citation

Mannur, Anita, "Culinary scapes: Contesting food, gender and nation in South Asia and its diaspora" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3068578.