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Visceral politics of food: the bio-moral economy of worklunch in Mumbai, India

Kuroda, Ken (2018) Visceral politics of food: the bio-moral economy of worklunch in Mumbai, India. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.cyfaiifu0aid


This Ph.D. examines how commuters in Mumbai, India, negotiate their sense of being and wellbeing through their engagements with food in the city. It focuses on the widespread practice of eating homemade lunches in the workplace, important for commuters to replenish mind and body with foods that embody their specific family backgrounds, in a society where religious, caste, class, and community markers comprise complex dietary regimes. Eating such charged substances in the office canteen was essential in reproducing selfhood and social distinction within Mumbai’s cosmopolitan environment. These engagements were “visceral” since they were experienced in and expressed through the intimate scale of the gut, mediating and consolidating boundaries between self and Other on lines of (incommensurable) food habits. Such tensions, most visible between vegetarians and meat eaters, were aggravated in the wake of the “beef ban” in March 2015, which illegalized the slaughter of cattle in the state of Maharashtra, wherein cosmopolitan pleasure gave way to visceral disgust and estrangement. In connection, this thesis examines the vast work-lunch economy of Mumbai through three prominent businesses: the Dabbawalas, a 125-year-old home food delivery network; tiffin services, informal catering businesses operated by housewives, who commercially hybridize homemade food; and tech food start-ups, run by a generation of young entrepreneurs striving for novel takes on homemade food. Whereas anthropological literature on India has analysed either the emergence of a new urban public sphere since India’s economic liberalization, or the ripples it has made in the domestic sphere, this thesis examines how these businesses address commuter specific bio-moral anxieties of maintaining communal identity, purity, and wellbeing within the stressful environment of contemporary Mumbai, by means of mediating domestic intimacy with the urban public, at an affordable price. These interventions are conceptualized as “technologies of purity”, specific forms of visceral politics of food.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2018 Ken Kuroda
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Bear, Laura and Banerjee, Mukulika

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