Issue 9 Food for Thought:
Food, Embodiment, and Knowledge

Homepage Intro Content

Note From The Editors

The paradox of studying food is that scholars necessarily rely on the very instruments of discourse that reify a hierarchy of the senses designed to render food unworthy of serious thought: Images and texts appeal to the “higher” sense of sight; they “figure the material as intellectual, imaginative, symbolic, aesthetic,” Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson claims (2004, 17). Reason cannot be found in the “lower” senses while eating reminds us too much of our body’s needs. But Krishnendu Ray reminds us that “much of the sociology of the body continues to be devoted to theoretical argumentation focussed on gender, sexuality, and disease, belying the sense that all social action {…} is always embodied” (2016, 26).

Read more in the Note From the Editors

Today’s Special

Salt image



Sarita Gujjar sweeps shiny white crystals from her courtyard in Nama town near Asia’s largest alkaline lake, Sambhar in North-western state of Rajasthan. Beyond her courtyard, as far as one’s eye can see, lay tiny mounds of these crystals crisscrossed by tractors’ tyre marks. “There is so much salt here that even if it snows Nama, you will have people earning money by selling snow,” she says. Her husband is nowhere to be seen. “If you go inside the lakebed, you will probably find him digging a pit on the lakebed. But why would you risk your life through the maze of wires. Stay here,” she tells me, showing power cables emerging out of the lake bed in the distance.

Later I learn that these cables are covered with salt and sand and extend up to a mile inside the lakebed, from where Sarita’s husband and thousands of other workers pump out the brine to extract salt crystals. Often, men, women and cattle fall prey to these power cables, while the local government does not even recognize the salt manufacturing activity in this part of the lake. Rajasthan government, I am being told, has decided to look the other way even as 400 salt manufacturers illegally pump out the brine from Sambhar’s lakebed.

Waiting for over an hour for Sarita’s husband, I could see silhouettes emerging from the mirage that has settled over the Sambhar Lake’s dwindling lake area on that hot April noon. It is difficult to distinguish who is who. All of them were covered with white crystals but Sarita quickly identifies her husband. “That’s him,” she points out. Still baffled, I wait for dust … err…salt to settle. Finally Parsvnath emerges. “I was working in Gujarat till last year but it became difficult for us to live there. The money is good but we did not have any house. The government has started evicting all the salt pan workers so we had to move,” he says, as Sarita prepares his meal. “Here the money is not great. There is a lot of risk too but I think we will not be evicted,” Parsvnath compares Nama and Rajula, a town in coastal Gujarat known for its salt pans.

A kilogramme of salt probably costs about Rs 20 but Parsvnath says that it only costs 40 paise to manufacture one. The daily wages are mostly used to pay debts to the money lenders attached to each salt pan owner. “We are given a loan right at the start of our jobs to buy essentials and then the daily wage is spent on paying back that loan,” he says. When I ask him, if all this is worth the salt, he says this is better working as brick kiln labourer.

Graphic image element
Graphic image element
Graphic image element
Graphic image element