Accepted Paper:

Beyond beef: putting Indian Christian eating practices in perspective  

Author:

James Staples (Brunel University)

Paper short abstract:

The culinary experiences of South Indian Christians indicate the importance of meat to forging positive identities in relation to those they perceive as their Hindu oppressors. . Here, I attempt to go beyond what meat-eating meant to those I worked with to consider the significance of their eating-practices within the wider South Asian context.

Paper long abstract:

While meat-eating among lower caste groups in India might once have been interpreted by anthropologists simply as a marker of their ritual impurity, subsequent research demonstrates that rules governing non-vegetarian diets are not only as complex as those of people who eschew meat altogether, but also that meat-consumption can sometimes be status-enhancing or a powerful act of defiance rather than a symbol of subjugation. The culinary experiences of South Indian, low-caste Christians that I refer to in this paper indicate the importance of meat, and especially beef, to forging positive identities in relation to those they perceive as their Hindu oppressors. Here, though, I attempt to go beyond what meat-eating meant to the rural Christians I worked with (which I have analysed elsewhere) to consider the significance of their eating-practices within the wider South Asian context: a context in which, for example, meat consumption has also come to index a certain kind of urban, cosmopolitan modernity - sometimes referenced by my informants to shore up justification for their own practices - and in which increasing demand for meat more generally threatens broader environmental and economic changes which, in turn, have likely longer term implications for those I worked with. In short, will the beef that currently sustains them cheaply and to their social advantage continue to do so, or do their culinary practices, entangled as they are in a wider network of ideas, people, ideas and commodities, suggest other possible outcomes?

Panel P03
Biting back: eating and not eating meat in industrializing food systems