Food and the Status Quest: An Interdisciplinary Perspective

By Polly Wiessner; Wulf Schiefenhövel | Go to book overview
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Catherine Panter-Brick

T he relationship between food proscriptions and caste status in the Indian subcontinent is very well known ( Khare and Rao 1986; Vayda 1987). Indeed, Dumont treatise ( 1966) on Indian caste ideology and structure was entitled Homo hierarchicus, and included a discussion of the rules governing caste relations with respect to potentially polluting food and drink. Similarly, Marriott ( 1968) examined the nature of food transactions that defined caste hierarchy and relations in one Indian village. In turn, Ferro- Luzzi ( 1975) detailed the types of food restrictions for as many as 260 animal and 130 vegetable species that served to mark the identity of particular human groups, whether tribes and castes, or vulnerable groups such as pregnant and lactating women.

This chapter examines the relationship between food and status at the level of individual households within and between castes, and the impact of status on food procurement, food consumption, and nutritional status, rather than conversely the use of food in the quest for status (see other contributors in this volume). It presents findings from rural Nepal to examine three main propositions: (1) low socioeconomic status compels a quest for food, (2) status affects food distribution within the household, and (3) status has an impact on nutritional well-being. Nepal is an appropriate setting for such an enquiry, since the caste hierarchy links many ethnic groups, broadly categorized into Tibeto-Burman and Indo-Aryan origin, which adopt very different subsistence strategies ( Acharya and Bennett 1981).


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