Saturday, April 28, 2018

ArchaeoBroma: The 1st All India Conference on Food as Culture - Everything you need to know!

If you are into food and have any interest – be it as curiosity or immersive study, you need to block 5-6 May 2018 and make it your business be at Bombay University! I did it the moment my friend (and someone I’ve held in the highest regard ever since I first heard him talk about food) Dr Kurush Dalal called to tell me about the upcoming ArcheoBroma conference.

Anyone who operates in the area of food, especially food writing will tell you that there are very few resources and references on Indian food history. And those that exist are perhaps not the most optimal. While that cannot be corrected, this all India conference under the auspices of The India Study Centre (INSTUCEN) Trust and the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies (University of Mumbai) curated by Dr. Dalal and Raamesh Gowri Raghavan is an endeavour to start filling the gap. In its first year, it will focus on the cultural aspect of food through various sections, seeking to address orthodox as well as alternative ways of looking at food.

In their own words as part of the introduction to the document, Dalal and Raghavan state “… there is very little serious academic research into food. Not food as nutrition. Not food as farm produce. But food as an expression of culture, of cultural values, as the stuff that has determined who we are and why we are what we are, food has rarely received meticulous study of its cultural aspects. And finally, there is very little if no research on the history of the various foods that we take for granted in our Indian kitchens. Where art, architecture and literature are easily seen as the expression of a culture and its values, food is rarely seen as such, although it is central to the mundane as well as celebratory lives of people. Food carries with it multiple associations of culture including social privilege and deprivation, wealth and poverty, conservatism and liberality. To different foods are attributed connotations of identity and drift, good and bad taste, and notions of comfort and estrangement. Of all cultural traits, it is food that has undergone the most acculturation and transmission across boundaries, as well as evolution over time and space. It is a geographic, social, cultural and economic indicator.”

After an introduction by Mugdha D Karnik, director, CEMS and managing trustee, INSTUCEN Trust, the conference will unravel in several progressive sections.

The first section Concepts in Food Studies, will set an overall context by creating an academic framework for examining food when it intersects with Ayurveda (the traditional Indian doctrine of Indian wellness and health) with Shailesh Nadkarni followed by Dr. Dalal presenting on the intersection of Archaeology with food and Dr. Mohsina Mukadam, one of the few food historians in India, will share insights on Methods used in Historical studies of food which will help those of us who document food learn to ask the right questions, extract the right data and form a better structure for the overall study of food.

This will be followed by a section examining Basic Foods that will look at food through the integrated lens of nutrition, cookery and social values to examine Indian food practices related to Carbohydrates – Grains and their preparations by Saee Koranne Khandekar, Vegetable Protein – Dals and their preparations by me, Fats and fat consumption in India and elsewhere by Sid Khullar and The role played by tea and coffee in modern Indian culture by Raamesh Gowri Raghavan.

This will be followed by a section that focuses on the intersection of food and identity. As home to various diasporas, subaltern communities and remote regions, Indian food is diverse to an extreme rarely seen in other large countries. This section is divided into 3 sub sections.

The first looks at Diaspora, focusing on three communities in particular that have clear oral histories that tell of their origin from outside the Indian subcontinent, but are today well-integrated into the Indian social structure and hierarchy. The session will explore the currents and counter-currents in the history of these communities' food traditions, as they share the same living space as 'native' communities around them. Parsi Food will be presented by Rhea Mitra-Dalal, The food of the Bene Israeli community will be presented by Leora Pezarkar and Sindhi food will be presented by Alka Keswani of the Sindhi Rasoi.

The second section examines the traditions of food selection, preparation and consumption among four Autochthonous Communities focusing on some of the oldest communities to have resided continuously in and around the islands of Mumbai and Salsette, that while obscure within their own endemic habitat, have evolved a rich culture around food and its role in quotidian as well as festive occasions. Anjali Koli will present the Kolis, Soumitra Velkar will present the Pathare Prabhus, Andre Baptista will present the East Indians and Dr. Mohsina will present the Konkani Muslims.

The last section will explore four Subaltern Regions, that have rarely figured in the 'food scene' of modern urban life. Communities whose cuisine is undoubtedly mainstream in their own regions but suffers from a lack of visibility outside it. Megha Deokule will present Kodava food and culture, I will present Garhwali food and culture, Ruchi Srivastava will present Bundelkhandi food and culture and Gitika Saikia will present Assamese food and culture.

I am so excited to be part of such an epic event, and the prospect of learning so much from some amazing fellow speakers. But I am also terrified because as you might have seen, I've been asked to present two papers! Is it possible for one to be excited and terrified simultaneously? My current state of mind will confirm it is But I digress...

If you have read this far, I am sure you are as eager to be at the conference as I am, so here are the details. Participation fee: Rs. 2000/- (Fee includes conference kit, ethnic tea and lunch). Information on how to register and more information here at Instucen site on ArcheoBroma. Also here is a link to details on all the speakers. You can also write to

See you there!

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