A culture filled with glossy magazines and plastic people causes much of the Western world to view food through a distorted lens. Whether it is by not eating enough, eating too much or simply not recognizing the foods being chewed and swallowed, there lies a great disconnect between the energy exuded thanks to food and the food itself. I have fallen into this gap for much of my life. Worrying too much about what I ate and, simultaneously, not being grateful or fully conscious of the food itself.
As much as I have been socialized to think that this pressure to fit into a mold of photo shopped model people is a solely Western concept, I am starting to realize that body pressure and insecurity is a very global ideology that simply manifests differently depending on its location. Many Indian women and girls feel pressure to be thin and have lighter skin. There are skin-whitening creams from brands that run body positivity campaigns in the U.S. and white models in athletic gear on billboards all across major cities. As efforts in the U.S. are being made to lift women of all colors and sizes up, many young girls in the rest of the world are left without any presence of strong and healthy celebrity role models.
Yet India has one of the largest concentrations of malnourished children in the world, and the disparity between rich and poor, hungry and overly full, is bold and widening. This presence is tied into historical tragedies such as the Bengal Famine of 1943, which killed over two million people and makes for an upper class relationship with food I haven’t encountered before. Food here is spicy, lively and filled with time and effort. My host mother starts cooking before anyone else is stirring and sometimes even before the sun wakes. The house is always filled with spice and sweet and overwhelming options of things to eat.
As much as there are pressures and hardships historically bound from years of British colonialism and U.S. materialism that make Indian women and girls feel like their bodies and beauty don’t meet the global standard, I think India is strides ahead from much of the rest of the world when it comes to their relationship with food. People often eat with their hands, savoring each bite of the spice and consciously giving thanks for all the effort that went into their meal. The distribution of food is still grossly uneven, and the desire to look different than one does is still a society-wide concept. However, struggle has led to an Indian cuisine that takes time and love and is unlike any other food in the world. The amount of people here that I have met that are working for intuitive solutions to the problems presented is overwhelming, and it gives me hope that as India continues to find ways to lift the 99 percent up, the U.S. and other western countries will begin to take notes.