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Editorial – Food and Sexuality

Sliced oranges and lemons along with whole carrots, ginger, turmeric, and red chillies on a rough grey surface.

One of our earliest pleasures in life is food. Most of us learn to associate the foods we were brought up on with comfort, love and satisfaction. We don’t often examine our food preferences and prejudices and sometimes dismiss in quite cavalier a fashion those food customs that may appear ‘strange’ to us. Food unites, but as we are sadly witnessing, it also divides. What people eat and how they eat it is related in many ways to class, caste, purchasing power, and other factors of social currency and control. Shylashri Shankar is a writer and researcher who has explored the connections that food has with history, society, religion, identity and politics. In a deeply thoughtful interview with Shikha Aleya, Shylashri talks about food, sexuality, power, comfort, pleasure, social control, and identity. She introduces us to the lovely concept of ‘mosaic bundles’ of food identities for different groups across India. As Shylashri says, “We can use the concept of mosaic bundles for different relationships between food, and gender and sexuality. Our mosaic bundles change with age, season, beliefs, time, and geography.” What a freeing thought!

We do change and so does our body and its demands. In a beautifully written piece, Afshan Mariam shares food memories and family ‘secrets’ as well as a recipe to meet the demands of a body that goes through its own cycles. There’s food for comfort and restoration. There’s also that which is forbidden. Annika Amber delightfully recounts the erotic adventures of paan – yes, our very own betel leaf concoction. Annika traces the history of paan and almost in parallel fashion that of her own relationship with it. Hers is a happy story about something forbidden. Then there are unhappy ones. Ankita Kundu dives into the world of mukbang – the practice of ‘eating broadcasts’ – to find that it is filled with hatred and derision for people who do not match the ideal body type and who like to eat and create and share videos of themselves doing so.

Sourav Kapri examines two films each of which depicts a woman who transgresses social and sexual norms and has a special relationship with that which she consumes, be it tea or food. Speaking of special relationships, we bring you a translation into Hindi of Vani Viswanathan’s article about filter coffee and celebrations, and Noopur Raval’s article about green tea and living as well as one can. Plus, a short film, Ilish, filled with tender, sad and funny moments about a loving couple and the quest for a very special food item.

We have a confession to make! Our mid-month issue on Food and Sexuality has made us very hungry! Our contributors have cooked up the most delicious offerings created with a sensuous mix of spices, some mellow, some teasing, some pungent, each one perfectly seasoned.

Shikha Aleya’s deceptively light-hearted and fun article begins with a made-up entré and before we know it, we are dipping into multiple platters of gender, sexuality, identity, class, caste, and varied food options, licking our fingers, and marvelling at the medley of flavours.

Hanish Srinivasan writing with exquisite care about a dish that for him is more than just food converts it into a repository of personal and collective significance and memory. Lavanya Arora introduces a dash of yearning, a hint of hope and a generous sprinkling of promise in a short and well-crafted poem while Rajiv B concocts a delightfully naughty take on nuts (pun intended).

Sailaja P delivers a dish with a punch in her mouth-wateringly delicious short story. Anoushka Bhudia’s artwork sets up a meal with different courses. To round off all this feasting, we bring you the Hindi translation of Annika Amber’s ode to paan. A perfect ending to a perfect meal!

What are you waiting for? Settle down and tuck in. And when you find all sorts of hungers awakening (don’t say we didn’t warn you!), may you always eat well!

Cover Image: Photo by Josh Millgate on Unsplash

Submit your writing and art on the theme "Comprehensive Sexuality Education" to the August 2023 issue of In Plainspeak. Email your ideas and drafts to by 05 August 2023.