Politics of Vegetarianism - Identities between the individual and the community

Panel in the 7th Annual International ADI Conference on Food, Feeding and Eating In and Out of Asia

Convenors: Ravinder Kaur and Maansi Parpiani, University of Copenhagen

Food habits, cultures and choices are at once individual and collective. They define communities vis-à-vis others’ ideas of food but also reflect a highly subjective stance over one’s own body and consumption. Refraining from the consumption of meat in this context, is particularly contentious, deriving motivations from ideas of religious sanction, notions of caste purity, and co-relations with bodily health, disease and psychological strength. With global meat consumption steadily increasingly with rising incomes, this panel questions the ways in which vegetarianism is becoming a new political arena where new markers of identity, inclusion and exclusion are contested and formed. Consider the recent demands to separate dining area into vegetarian and non-vegetarian in a university hotel mess, or the establishment of vegetarian only housing complexes in cosmopolitan Mumbai, or more recently the move to ban non-vegetarian food in a newspaper office in India. The sign of vegetarianism now mobilizes an altogether different political vocabulary as it works to rearrange the social-political landscape.

The spatial content surrounding the food choices and cultures becomes crucial, given that food is intrinsically linked with commensality and social life. Ideas of smell, co-dining and co-habitation acquire spatial traction. With whom and where we eat thus becomes as important as what we eat. A range of communitarian activities ranging from celebration of festivals to the making of communitarian geographies and neighbourhoods come to be formed along vectors of food and its related orientations.
The organization of beef and pork festivals represent subversive counter cultures against the dominant strain of vegetarianism and/or selective meat consumption.

This panel would be equally interested in exploring movements for vegetarianism that associate themselves with ideas discourses of health, disease prevention and ecological sustainability. This encompasses the burgeoning movements for ‘organic’ food in metropolitan cities across the world as also the ancient and ‘indigenous’ traditions of home/organic remedies for disease, that are witnessing a return into popular culture. The market logics of these foods associate a premium to their price, creating a relationship of direct proportionality between good health and higher expenditure. Farmers markets, organic restaurants and vegan groups are examples of communitarian formations surrounding these new movement that derive their vocabularies from discourses as varied as environmental degradation, patriarchal gender norms and food science research. The emphasis on vegetarian habits within both the two above contexts form parallel trends in the starker delineation of identities in society from the pivot of food, that the panel would be interested in exploring, from different geographies, historical times and ideological perspectives.


  • Ravinder Kaur, Associate Professor, Director of  Centre of Global South Asian Studies, Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen
  • Maansi Parpiani, PhD Fellow, Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen

This panel is sponsored by FSE (The Danish Council for Independent Research - Social Sciences).