Food as Mediation

Manpreet K. Janeja
Date and Time: 
Monday, October 21, 2013 - 3:15pm

Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)


What can the study of everyday ordinary food prepared and consumed by ordinary people in mundane settings reveal? Taking the meal as the fulcrum of much activity in Bengali Hindu and Muslim daily life in two of Asia’s largest cities: Calcutta (India) and Dhaka (Bangladesh), this paper traces the vicissitudes of a constantly negotiated and contested normality through its culinary incarnations in forms of religious belonging/not-belonging, attuned to present-day class dynamics and to the historical crises of Partition and its complex all-pervading aftermath. Evoking the tastes, smells, sights, textures, and sounds of everyday life through ‘home cooking’, the paper reveals just how much agency food exerts through the demands it makes on people, and how it mobilises those around itself in all kinds of roles. In doing so, this ethnographic rendition of food as mediation offers pathways of engagement with issues of trust, hospitality, and human environment interactions.


Manpreet K. Janeja, Assistant Professor at the Department of Cross-Cultural Studies and Regional Studies, Copenhagen University, is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Centre for South Asia (CSA), Stanford University. Her work straddles the anthropology of trust, food and eating, cities, migration, law, and religion. She is the author of Transactions in Taste: the Collaborative Lives of Everyday Bengali Food (Routledge 2010; 2013). Linking issues of agency, place, hospitality, and ownership to the study of food as an artefact, the book invites the reader to approach the form that a meal acquires as a window on the flux of everyday life in South Asia (India and Bangladesh). She is currently working on her next book-length project provisionally titled The Aesthetics of School Meals: Distrust, Risk and Uncertainty, which draws on fieldwork in England and India. Her research has been supported by the Universities of Cambridge and Copenhagen, and she has held prestigious fellowships including the Eugénie Strong Research Fellowship in Social Anthropology at Girton College, University of Cambridge.

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