“Food doesn’t have to be Instagrammable, because hunger isn’t Instagrammable”
Kunal Ray and Sumana Roy of On Eating explain how the seemingly ordinary turns out to be wondrous, and also announce their Hindi-language anthology
On Eating (www.oneating.in) is an e-journal publishing prose, poems and photos on food cultures from India. In contrast to food magazines or websites that promote “premium” eating as an expression of lifestyle, the publication embraces the everydayness, messiness, and political and emotional shades of food and eating. Editors Kunal Ray and Sumana Roy talk about the endeavour.
At a time when politics over what to eat and other aspects of culture leaves India in a turbulent state, On Eating focuses on food cultures to look at the country’s art, history, politics, sociology, science, literature, poetry, and spirituality. How would you like to join the discussion?
If you notice, the first essay that appeared in our journal or inaugurated On Eating was written by Manoranjan Byapari, a Bengali Dalit writer who, amongst other experiences, recounts his journey as a randhuni (cook) in Bengali weddings and the humiliation that he faced in that role. We thought, in some ways, this beginning would set the tone for the journal because there are many experiences associated with food – joy, memory, oppression, and subversion, among others, that constantly overlap and intersect. As editors and curators, we have endeavoured to publish a diverse cross-section of writing and art on food in India with the understanding that what is marginalised does not necessarily owe to socio-political marginalisation. It also has to do with the invisibilising of lives and stories that are not considered worthy of national attention. We want to be a repository of these private and secret histories. That is why stories of pickle-making are as important as trying to understand the role caste often plays in determining how and what we eat and with whom.
The multilingual nature of the journal seemed natural to us as people who live in this country, surrounded by more than one language. We wanted On Eating to be an archive of as many kinds of eating cultures as possible – keeping it an English language journal would have restricted its scope. English India eats and writes differently from the other Indias, as you know. It is our ambition that the people and culture being written about should be able to read what is being written about them – and hence the natural decision to keep the writing in the language in which it has been written, along with English, and another language. We usually ask the writer to choose the language they would like their writing to be translated into. This choice, our writers have told us, is quite often a political one. Think of a menu card on a streetside mobile restaurant – its unique language of English, Hindi, the local languages and their received pronunciation. The language of that menu is a living thing. We want the same for On Eating.
The journal was launched during the Covid pandemic. Was it because of a delay owing to lockdowns?
We have always discussed food with each other, but this substantially increased during the lockdown. The journal was actually conceived during the lockdown when we acutely felt the lack of a space where we could read about people like us who lead fairly regular lives and are fond of eating or want to know more about eating cultures. While doing this, we were also aware of our privilege, of being a handful who could earn a living from the safe confines of our homes while a large majority was underfed or remained hungry.
How and why did you go about securing funding?
I think part of this question is answered above. We wanted to pay our contributors. We pay a small honorarium to all our contributors – writers, translators, illustrators etc. It is just a token of appreciation for their effort and hard work. All artists ought to be paid. Nobody should have to work for free and a journal on free labour may not eventually be sustainable.
Suhit Bombaywala is an independent journalist. He lives in Mumbai.