How beef became Kerala’s object of desire

Interesting article on evolution of food habits in Kerala.

Beef is a secular dish in Kerala. Much of Kerala’s population, cutting across class, caste and religion, consumes it. Any attempt to restrict its consumption, hence, triggers a sharp reaction from Malayalis. This explains the rare unanimity among Kerala’s politicians while protesting the police raid at the Kerala House canteen in New Delhi this week over rumours that its kitchen served beef. But there is more than just the palate that has united Malayalis against the current attempt by the Sangh Parivar to force the dish off the menu.

The beef ban demand is seen as an attempt to curtail the people’s right to choice of food, proxy intimidation against the religious minorities, and imposition of a food politics alien to Malayalis. Recognising that beef could trigger a backlash against the party, state leaders of the BJP have clarified that they do not advocate a ban on its consumption in Kerala. Kerala’s love affair with beef, especially its secularisation, is a relatively recent phenomenon, and reflects the dramatic social changes that the state has seen over the past few decades. Until the 20th century, the idea of common dining did not exist in Kerala.

There was no standard cuisine, but distinct menus shaped by caste, community and regional food preferences. The signature meat preparations were the monopoly of the Christians and Muslims, who together constitute over 40 per cent of the state’s population. Communities almost never inter-dined, and various social taboos regulated the compartmentalisation. When caste reform movements emerged in the 20th century, inter-dining became an important part of the  radical agenda. But the fare remained vegetarian.

Hanu G Das, who has researched the evolution of Kerala’s food culture, says while Dalits were a part of the inter-dining events, their food was kept out. He argues that the Kerala caste reformation project de facto valorised vegetarianism and excluded subaltern food (which included meat, especially beef). The Gulf migration that started in the 1960s transformed Kerala’s economy and triggered a new shift in the food story as well. With the emergence of the remittance economy, incomes started rising and consumption picked up. As people travelled, they were forced to accommodate food differences. The emigrating Malayali discovered Arab cuisines while working in West Asia. Back in Kerala, vegetarian hotels were forced to yield space to non-vegetarian fast food outlets. The new cuisine economy was secular in taste and welcomed dishes, especially made of meat. 

Nice read..

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