One morning in mid-December, just as three of this magazine's editors were coming out from a small restaurant after an unappetizing, but essential breakfast break, we were greeted by three caparisoned elephants. They were all fairly of the same height, led by traditional drummers, with bells around their necks and a few people atop them as they gently glided past the narrow streets of Jew Town. In Kerala, a state where there are fan clubs for temple elephants and a reverence usually reserved for film, sport personalities or a politician elsewhere, it shouldn't have been a surprise to see the majestic - a word that, for me, encapsulates all that elephants stand for - animals walk past, the excesses of touristy Fort Kochi's souvenir shops, run by handsome Kashmiri men, shops of cheap clothes and expensive antiques furniture on either side of them. This parade could only happen in Kerala and remain, at once, part of the routine everyday, and part a mildly anachronistic exercise in a section of town wholly caught up in the modern economies of tourism and trade.
In a world of these and other excesses, under a collateral project of the grand spectacle that is the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Forager Collective realized its first work. Working backwards after the idea for this magazine came up during the course of a video call between two countries, the Collective came together to investigate into issues and ideas that are changing and shaping the politics, culture, physical geographies and socio-economic structures in the contemporary world. This magazine is one of the things that the Collective does.
The detail of the first installation the Collective made, in a garden behind a gallery in Jew Town, Fort Kochi, is on this issue's cover. We called it Table of Contents: Genesis. With the transposition of farming symbols from Indian currency notes and coins on to a used wooden table, we explored the influence of money in food structures and farming practices, a connection that is deeply pervasive and always visible, but scantly acknowledged. It also raised several questions for us about the very many roles of food and food practices in our lives, several of which we take for granted, several that we forget to question, several that we refuse, knowingly or otherwise, to acknowledge.
The Forager's second issue examines some of these issues that we fail to recognize and/or question. In All That We Eat or Don't Eat - A Triptych, Sayan Bhattacharya talks about, among other things, prejudices against widows in certain sections of the Hindu caste order that continue to be given social and moral legitimacy and his reluctant acceptance of it. Eating beef, in India, is an invitation to be judged and for moralities to be questioned. While Sayan expresses his initial bewilderment at what the fuss that surrounds it is all about, the accompanying artwork by Nanaiah Chettira makes a strong comment on the burden of caste and tradition that is, for most Indians, a heavy and often unavoidable cross to bear.
We also have Serubiri Moses, a writer/photographer from Uganda for whom the butcher's, and the way he chooses to display cow ribs, becomes a commentary on intertwined personal histories, community, faith and a study in aesthetics. The deep bonds between families, traditions and the making of food is further explored in Inside La Industria Membrillera where the artist Francisca Benitez revisits an old family tradition of quince paste making in Chile and comes away with an understanding of the prevalence of an alternative economy, one that is dependent on edible capital.
Speaking of traditions old and new, we have an essay from South Korea where Sooyoung Leam and Sonja Hempel detail how the country's favourite stew, the Buddae Jjigae, developed in the aftermath of the Korean War in the 1950s, the recipe emerging from a combination of leftovers and tinned ration food. Today, it gets exported to the US as something distinctively 'traditional', its recent origins from a time of impoverishment and un-excesses long forgotten. Perceived notions of what is traditional, what is old and what is natural is challenged by photographer Chinar Shah's highly pixelated images from the online game Farmville that seek to step away from, and comment on, the culture of food porn. In the accompanying essay, Aileen Blaney writes, "The brilliance of photography for how it has reimagined food for the consumer has made it as indispensable as a limb to the multinational food industry and, equally, the arm that this photographer would like to cut off". Last, but most certainly not the least, the complex equations and negotiations that make up the practice of democracy in a political landscape are at the base of Malavika Rajnarayan’s semi-fictional piece on vultures and Indian thalis in Finding Democracy. Her accompanying illustration invites you to find your own way to democracy, for there are many such ways, few of them straightforward.
Time and again, our contributors remind us of the complexities that go into the food we grow, make, eat and use as an excuse to meet, bond and live. We hope the essays and artworks in this issue make you do a little bit of the same.
Bon Appetit, then. Also, have yourself, dear reader, a Happy New Year. May the food and drink at your table always be abundant and bring you joy and health.
Deepa Bhasthi is a writer living and working in Bengaluru, India. Her works are available at http://dbhasthi.blogspot.com
She is the Editor of The Forager.