Cooking Beyond Compulsion: How Food Allows Indian Women To Explore Their Culture

Cooking Beyond Compulsion: How Food Allows Indian Women To Explore Their Culture

Growing up in a culture that previously imposed the importance of culinary excellence on women, a lot of us grew up in a vacuum of internalised hatred against this very vital life skill. The singular narrative peddled an entire generation of women to move away from our own heritage and lose out on forming a relationship of knowledge and wisdom with our mothers and grandmothers. 

The skill of cooking in its true essence pervades gender and many such boundaries in society. If one thinks of it, the entire chain of events leading to a fully cooked meal includes so many different moving parts. From the fields to our plates, the journey of food can encapsulate an entire culture and cooking is a path to discover that connection. 

Especially in a country like India where food underwent a multitude of changes and encountered a number of new influences. However, it stood the test of time in retaining its authenticity while branching out in different areas. Food in India narrates the story of hope and resilience; taking this thought forward, writer Archana Pidathala explores questions of identity and the self while meeting custodians of seed, soil and water. 

Her recent book ‘Why Cook’ brings together inspiring women including artists, creators, entrepreneurs, musicians, writers and farmers. As she explores their personal reasons to cook and how cooking and food anchor them in their own journeys. Beyond being an arbitrary everyday regime, the book dignifies the act of cooking through an intimate lens. Treating it as a means of navigating loneliness and grief

The writer hopes that we revel in the scent of fresh earth and woodsmoke, and above all cherish everyday moments and meals. Explaining how the cookbook features 90 heirloom recipes, from the southern Indian region of Rayalaseema to the western coastal plains to the snow-capped Himalayas. “Celebrating the genius of home cooks who continue to combine flavours in ways that have been done repeatedly for generations.”

Cooking is a radical act of sisterhood and self sustenance for women. Our kitchens in the east are a means of forming community and it is time for us to look beyond the shams of orthodox roles. The task truly takes effort and it is through the labour of many women before us that led to our refined palettes. 

At present, people in urban India can bask in its glory through a genderless gaze. On reaching this secure place each one of us can pursue the skill as a means of connecting with our past as well as finding grounding in the present. ‘Why Cook’ essentially draws out this path through 16 unique stories of women that seek belonging and reconnect with their lost homes through cooking. 

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