Ep #53 Making Meaningful Anthropology: Amita Baviskar on Maggi Noodles and Anti-Dam Movements

“It was a really difficult dilemma for me, because I felt that I needed to stand by my work, but at the same time what was more important was the social movement, because you know, what am I writing for?” 

In this episode (which is our first interview of 2020!) we bring you our interview with Dr Amita Baviskar that was recorded at the AAS Conference last year, which Amita was one of the keynote speakers at. Amita is currently based at the Institute of Economic Growth in India, with interests in food, social inequality and ecological politics, author of multiple books including ‘In the Belly of the River: Tribal Conflicts over Development in the Narmada Valley‘, recipient of the 2010 Infosys Prize, and is a visiting fellow at several universities, including Stanford, Cornell, Yale, The Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) and UC Berkeley.

Amita spoke with our very own Alex D’Aloia about her work on the anti-dam movement in the Narmada Valley, India, discussing the controversy that arose among other activists after publication, her tips for early career anthropologists looking to make meaningful anthropology, and wrap up by unpack(ag)ing the meaning behind Maggi 2-minute noodles and how this relates to caste distinctions in India.

We should also mention that this is Alex’s first interview! Let us know what you thought about the interview, or any questions you have about the episode, certain topics you’d like us to tease out more, or just anthropology in general, at either @TSFTweets on Twitter or search for The Familiar Strange Chats group on Facebook.

Protesters at the Narmada Valley dam.
(Image ‘Protest against the Maheshwar Dam in the Narmada Valley’ by International Rivers, 2006)


“The anthropologists did play a role in the beginning in trying to frame policies that, on the one hand, tried to protect Adivasis, but at the same time, left them open – completely exposed to their lands being taken away from them. Since then, we have a lot of Adivasis who have engaged and mobilized politically to try and fight against what has been happening, and then there’s been a wave of anthropologists, including myself, who’ve been, you know, watching these struggles, sympathetically trying to write about them, and trying to bring readers’ attention to the fact that these are struggles which are not just about the particular interests of these extremely vulnerable groups of people but that these are actually struggles which are about these larger questions of: what development is, who is it for, what kind of futures do we want to imagine for ourselves, what kind of vision of justice and equality do we have?”

“Often people will not any longer listen to reason, to rational arguments, but if you can appeal to them on the grounds of the things that they hold valuable – if you can make that connection to their feelings, to their emotions – one has a greater chance to get through.” 

“To the people going out into the field, think carefully about what’s at stake, is it really important to focus critically on the activist? Or should a point of critique be some other entity, some other institution, you know some other set of people?” 

Transcription of Ep #53 Making Meaningful Anthropology: Amita Baviskar on Maggi Noodles and Anti-Dam Movements

[00:00:00] Alex: Hey, everyone. First off, we The Familiar Strange want to acknowledge and celebrate the First Australians on whose lands we are producing this podcast and pay our respect to the elders of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, past, present, and emerging. Let's go.


[00:00:29] Alex: Hello, and welcome to The Familiar Strange. I'm Alex, your Familiar Stranger for today. Welcome to the podcast, brought to you with support from the Australian Anthropological Society, the Australian National University's College of Asia Pacific and College of Arts & Social Sciences, the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science and produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Today, I'm speaking to Dr. Amita Baviskar from the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi, India, a job she describes as letting her research anything she wants, if only we were also lucky. Amita received her PhD in sociology from Cornell and has subsequently been a visiting scholar at several institutions, including Oxford, Stanford, Cornell, Yale, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Cape Town. In 2010, she won the Infosys Prize for social sciences for her work on social and environmental movements in India.

Her book, In the Belly of the River: Tribal Conflicts over Development in the Narmada Valley, examines the anti-dam movement in India and was a landmark publication for its analysis of social movements in the country at the time. However, it also generated some controversy among the activists she worked with, and we discussed this in the interview, both how it happened and what advice she would have for others entering similarly politically charged environments.

I interviewed Amita during the Australian Anthropological Society Conference last year, just after she had given one of the keynotes. In it, she implored anthropologists to talk to a wider audience and engage in debates and work that was meaningful to those outside our discipline. As a student heading into academia myself, this really resonated with me, and we talk about what advice she has for early career researchers on the topic later in the interview.

Finally, we discussed Amita's current work around industrial foods in India, particularly the ubiquitous Maggi noodles. These are small serve, pre-packaged foods, the kind whose silver plastic wrappers scream modernity. At the same time, they also value neutral foods in an Indian context, riven by caste distinction. Amita discusses how in not being associated with a particular religion or caste, they take on a whole host of new meanings for those who eat them. Before we dive into today's interview, did you know that we have a Facebook chat group? Join us on The Familiar Strange chats on Facebook and provide some valuable insights on today's interview. Without further ado, here's my interview with Dr. Amita Baviskar.


[00:02:58] Dr. Amita Baviskar: I work in what I like to call the cultural politics of environment and development. What that means is that I look at conflicts over resources, which are often also conflicts over different systems of values and identities. I look at the kinds of political actions that people engage in to meaningfully deal with what matters to them, what makes life worthwhile.

[00:03:25] Alex: What might be an example of one of these conflicts?

[00:03:29] Amita: Well, the first bit of research I did was in central India in the valley of the river Narmada, which was the epicentre of a really big controversy because the government was going to build a large dam, which it has actually gone on and completed, and the dam displaced very large populations, hundreds and thousands of families of very small indigenous communities. The word used in India is Adivasis. For these Adivasis, no amount of compensation for the loss of their homes, their forest, their community would actually rehabilitate them. We see there a conflict in terms of who has the right to decide what should happen with this land and with this river.

It's a conflict about different visions of development. For the government, a large dam is a way in which you can take irrigation to areas which don't have assured rainfall. It's a way of taking electricity to cities, to factories, and it's also a way of, they say, controlling floods and managing water better. For people who have been at the sacrificial end of these large projects, people who have had to give up their land and their way of life in order to make way for these gigantic schemes, in fact, this form of development actually means a destruction of everything that matters to them.

The conflict is at the level of values. What is development? Does development mean welfare for the most vulnerable populations or does it mean that rich people go on becoming richer because farmers who are powerful get water that allows them to grow more chemical-intensive crops, like sugar cane, like cotton, and the disparities, which exist in India, get wider and wider. Those are the kinds of really hard questions about what India should be

[00:05:30] Alex: For sure, that's really interesting. When you say the Adivasis might have a different conception of development, what sort of things might they actually look to?

[00:05:39] Amita: A lot of Adivasis are really desperately poor. For them, development might mean something as modest as being sure that their family will eat six months from now, being able to afford a better house, better lifestyle. Except that now all those questions are complicated because of the direction in which consumption is going. For a lot of Adivasi households, the man may decide it's better to have a mobile phone than milk for my children. Might decide that we need to save money in order to have a motorcycle than save money for investing in say education or improving the land.

That conversation about what development might mean and how different people have different visions of development is actually vitiated or distorted by the dominant model of development that all of us are influenced by. When we talk about Adivasi alternative ways of being, then one has to look at some of their traditional practices, which have always emphasized, for instance, the idea of reciprocity, that to accumulate wealth is in some ways selfish, and it's only when you share that wealth with others that you accrue goodwill, you accrue social and political power and status.

There's an ethic of sharing, of non-competition, which is quite different from the dominant rat race that people are increasingly being pushed into. There's also the way in which Adivasi ethics focus on self-reliance and self-sufficiency, on being able to gather a whole series of different kind of things from the land, from the forest, and brilliantly, innovatively using them in order to create a mosaic of livelihood practices. That has now shrunk to mean that you work on the land for three months, and then you go off and you work as wage laborers in other parts of the country on construction sites, in agricultural fields, and so on.

Even the form of knowledge where you knew that this little bit of land should be used for growing this or this particular tree can yield this fibre, which you can then use to make this kind of rope, and this rope is different from the other kind of rope you'd need for something else. There was just tremendously locally sensitive information and knowledge that people used in order to be able to optimize their relationship with the environment in a way that also then allowed them to take time off.

The Adivasi calendar, the agricultural calendar, the ritual calendar traditionally has been one of periods of work marked by periods of rest where you celebrate festivals and weddings, and you drink and you have a good time. Whereas now the dominant mode that they are being increasingly socialized into is you work, work, work all through the year. You earn money. It's still not enough because you've got more needs than you had earlier, so you work some more and people are exhausted, but they think that's the way to prosper. There are ways of being that Adivasis know of from their elder, that with a little bit of help, they can actually revive and rebuild in a way that is more in keeping with the current pressures on them.

That requires a longer conversation, but it also requires breathing room. You can't have that conversation unless people are free a little bit from the daily grind of trying to earn living, so they can actually catch their breath and think and reflect on how they used to be and what they are now and what they want to be in the future.

[00:09:33] Alex: That's really interesting. Then when you say breathing room, are you seeing any attempts by the Adivasi to instigate and try and get this space for reflection, or is that just an ideal that we'd hope for?

[00:09:46] Amita: I think there are small groups working at the grassroots with Adivasis as well as with other small farmers’ communities to try and create that breathing space where people can actually think about what their practices have been, how they've changed, and the direction in which they want to go, and how they must then change what they're doing right now. It's happening in small measures, but I think these are significant.

For instance, there's a lot of discussion now around the crops that farmers grow, that the older crops were varieties that were more hardy. They could tolerate drought much better. They weren't as high-yielding as the new hybrids, but then the new hybrids need a lot of money because you have to pump in fertilizers, pesticides, a whole lot of inputs that cost people money, and that might not actually pay off in the end. There's now talk of going back to that low-risk, but also low-yield economy of the older crops, but now these are groups of farmers organizations that are trying to get higher value from these crops.

In elite circles in India, it's now become fashionable to eat millets, because that's high fibre, it's organic, often. New markets are being found for the kinds of things that Adivasi farmers grow. Much more accessible is the demand that these kinds of millets should be offered a minimum support price as the government does for wheat and rice. That would mean that farmers are assured that these crops will get them a decent return.

There's also a demand that these nutritious millet varieties and cereals should be included in the public distribution system where the government gives subsidised food to school children, but also to households to consume at home. These are all ways in which one can make sure that there's a revival of traditional forms of agriculture and a way of life organised around that form of agriculture.

[00:11:48] Alex: That's really nice because that actually moves into some of the themes you've talked about in your keynote, in that here is the world of India crying out for certain things. Now, my question, I suppose, is, do you see a place for anthropologists in this transformation?

[00:12:04] Amita: Anthropologists have been involved since the beginning in these transformations. In fact, some of the most heated debates when India became independent and soon after, so after 1947, were to do with the place of Adivasis in India's plan for national development. There were particular anthropologists, like most famously Verrier Elwin, who argued that Adivasis have a different ethos, a different culture, and the government should make sure that they're protected in the places where they live, that the lands are not taken away from them, and they're able to therefore sustain their cultural connections with the land.

There were others who argued that, no, the division of Adivasis from dominant Hindu caste society was a plot by the British to try and divide India, and that Adivasis were for all intents and purposes Hindus. This debate in which Adivasis were posed as one or the other was, unfortunately, one in which nobody asked the Adivasis what they wanted, as happens quite often. The anthropologist did play a role in the beginning in trying to frame policies that, on the one hand, try to protect Adivasis, but at the same time, left them open, completely exposed to the lands being taken away from them.

Since then, we have a lot of Adivasis who have engaged and mobilized politically to try and fight against what's been happening. Then there's been a wave of anthropologists, including myself, who've been watching these struggles sympathetically, trying to write about them, and trying to bring greater attention to the fact that these are struggles which are not just about the particular interests of these extremely vulnerable groups of people, but that these are actually struggles which are about these larger questions of what development is, who is it for? What kind of futures do we want to imagine for ourselves? What kind of vision of justice and equality do we have?

A number of anthropologists have been engaged in supporting these kinds of struggles and working with communities, but it's hard to play that role because often it means that, you know, you don't really have a paying job that will allow you to do it. So people have to figure out ways and means of doing this in a way which then also allows them to do work that they find worthwhile but also allows them to support themselves.

[00:14:36] Alex: That really is a tough question that I think a lot of anthropologists face. What would you suggest to young career anthropologists who perhaps want to make that change, want to do a meaningful anthropology? What would you suggest to them?

[00:14:50] Amita: I think one must take one’s training in anthropology out into the world. Whatever one is doing, there's a certain perspective, an anthropological perspective that one can bring to bear as an executive in a giant corporation, a schoolteacher, somebody who runs their own business. I think it helps to have an anthropological training because it teaches you to be critical but at the same time empathetic, to listen and observe and place things in context and to try and understand across differences. I think these are really valuable resources regardless of what you do.

Having said that, I think if the idea of anthropology as speaking for points of view that have been marginalized and neglected, speaking for all sorts of people who are just getting a rough deal in a world that's now driven by large corporations and what I will call insane states like particular governments in the US, in India, and so on where there's a rise of authoritarianism that's dangerously supported by populism as well.

I think we have to be even more creative than the people we are up against, and that's a real challenge, but then I would think that what one needs to do is take our anthropological strengths and come together with people who work in different media, radio, create funny little videos, make sure they go viral, make short films, write better, write in ways that engages people's attention.

Most of all, I think it's important that we abandon our cerebral slightly distant and aloof mode of engagement, because we think often that's what intellectual work demands, and actually combine our minds with thinking about feelings and emotions in a way that is compassionate and respectful. What I mean by that is that often people will not any longer listen to reason, to rational arguments, but if you can appeal to them on the grounds of the things that they hold valuable, if you can make that connection to their feelings, to their emotions, then one has a greater chance of being able to get through.

I see that happening a little bit in India with activists and scholars who are coming together and making videos about… trying to just overcome the division that's been created between Hindus and Muslims. I see them try to change that narrative, through films, through music, through humour. Increasingly, I think that that's the way to go.

[00:17:52] Alex: During your keynote, you mentioned that your first book, you did a lot of work with activists, but that ended up with some tensions.

[00:18:00] Amita: Yes.

[00:18:00] Alex: I was wondering if first for the audience, you could maybe talk a little bit about what those tensions were, and how they came about?

[00:18:07] Amita: I think the main difference that emerged once I had written my PhD thesis, which then later became a book. Was that I was reflecting on the social movement as a kind of political achievement, where activists had managed to accomplish something extraordinarily difficult. They brought together two very different groups of people in an alliance. One these hill Adivasis, who were desperately poor, very, very low in the social hierarchy, and these upper-caste landowning commercial farmers in the plains.

What brought them together was the fact that both sets of people were losing their land to the dam, but in the way in which the movement was represented and perceived to the outside world, it was a figure off the hill Adivasis. People dressed in loin cloths with bows and arrows, making impassioned speeches about “The land is our mother. We feed it her breast. If you take a child away from her mother, the child will die,” and so on. Very organic, very rich symbols, which also suggested that these were our Adivasis who lived in harmony with nature, that this was a precious bond that if broken would destroy them forever and so forth.

There was no doubt a grain of truth in all of these political symbols and statements, but the problem was that a lot of Adivasis were no longer in a position to lead ecologically sustainable lives. Partly because of state policies which denied them access to the lands that they cultivated, a whole host of other issues as well. You couldn't represent them as ecologically noble savages without actually concealing a lot of the kinds of processes that were undermining and eroding Adivasi livelihoods. At the same time, the story about these valiant people fighting against the dam left out of the picture the rich farmers who were engaged in precisely the kind of chemical-intensive, water-intensive agriculture that the anti-dam movement was challenging because it was against that form of development.

I wrote about these issues because I thought it was important that one understand the rather complex ways in which people's lives are embedded in certain kinds of contexts and we must learn how they negotiate these and manage to transcend them and come together and ask really important questions, which are also to do with fighting for their lives. The fact that I did this was seen by some movement activists as perspective that perhaps gave away too much and that they felt it rendered them vulnerable to criticism from people who opposed to the movement. The government could say, oh, you see, you activists are misrepresenting the situation on the ground and so on.

They asked me to not publish my work. It was a really difficult dilemma for me because I felt that I needed to stand by my work but that, at the same time, what was far more important was the social movement because, what am I writing for? I have my PhD degree. It's one more book in the world, what difference does it make? But here are people who have devoted their life to trying to stop a dam that's going to displace them. What right do I have to think that my version of events should be juxtaposed with this absolutely brave, heroic struggle that they were a part of?

I decided to still go ahead and publish because I felt that, at the end of the day, the anti-dam movement was big enough and strong enough to actually ride out even the perceived criticism that might come their way after my book was published. To be sure, not very many people read academic books. I felt, at the end of the day, they have much more control over the media, over the overall image, and so on. I can write my little book and some people will find it interesting. I was pretty sure that most people would not see it as a hostile interpretation of the movement and so on. I went ahead and published. The book had a certain amount of attention because it was about this famous movement.

At that time in India, very few people had written about movements in quite the same way as I had, which was to analyse how things came together. What happened was that the activists felt betrayed. They were very hurt that I had gone against their wishes. They also felt betrayed because they'd allowed me complete access. We were friends. We shared rooms, we shared our life stories. There was a great sense of injury that they had, and to some extent, that expressed itself in their trying to then prevent my having access to people in the valley.

The book was in English and inaccessible to most people. I should have actually worked hard on bringing out a Hindi edition so that they could have read it themselves. A lot of people in the villages got the impression that I had written something bad about the movement. It took me a long while where I continued going to the valley, spending time with villagers. I wrote a fair bit in the National Press, which was favourable, outright speaking up for defending, representing the movement's point of view, and so on.

It took a lot of that sort of continually having to show my credentials and prove my support for the cause that eventually allowed people to, again, accept me as somebody who was on their side rather than somebody who stabbed them in the back.

[00:24:40] Alex: Thank you so much for sharing that story. It's a really important one to anthropologists, I think, because we, not all of us, but most of us put ourselves in positions that are potentially similar. For an anthropologist either in the writing-up stage or maybe even before they go into the field who might potentially deal with similar issues, they're looking at activists, they're looking at disenfranchised communities, what advice might you offer?

[00:25:07] Amita: Looking back now, I think the advice that I would offer would be to just think through very carefully why one is motivated to focus on one set of relations and not the other. In the long run, I think what matters more are the kinds of relationships that one forms with people that one is working with. And to be truthful in those relationships, even when you differ is the more important thing.

I decided, at the time when I was writing my book, that to be truthful for me meant being truthful to the villagers with whom I lived rather than to the activists. That was a choice which played out in a certain way. I have to say that because of that choice, I still go back to the same families with whom I lived 30 years ago. It's a really warm relationship. I've seen theor children grow up, I've seen grandchildren come into the family. It's a bond that I get a lot out of.

To people who are going out into the field, I would say, think carefully about what's at stake. Is it really important to focus critically on the activists, or should a point of critique be some other entities, some other institution, some other set of people? I also think that what I didn't have then, which I now realise, is just greater modesty and less of an ego. I saw myself as this enterprising anthropologist. I should be allowed to say what I want, otherwise it's censorship, and “I will not buckle down to censorship”.

There was a lot of, I think, self-indulgent heroics at play, which shouldn't have been there. I think patience and willingness to just work persistently on trying to figure these things out would have served me better.

[00:27:18] Alex: I think that's a really sound advice for any of us in that policy field. You're currently at the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi. Just to start with, what sort of work do you do there? What does your role currently entail?

[00:27:31] Amita: I have probably the best job in the world, which is that I get paid money to do whatever I like.

[00:27:39] Alex: It's not bad.

[00:27:40] Amita: [laughs] It's not something which is going to be around very long, because the government's cracking down on these kinds of research institutions where you're paid a salary just to go out and do the research you want to do. Mostly I work alone, so I don't need much by way of funds because I don't have research assistants, and so on. I travel cheap. Most of the places where I do work, I wouldn't be able to spend money whenever I wanted to.

It's easy for me to do what I do, and it's been really lucky that I've had the opportunity to do that. The fact that we don't have a teaching program makes that flexibility even wider, though I miss teaching. There's just something hugely gratifying about that 1 student out of 40 who comes up and says, "Oh, that really made me think," or "That changed how I thought about this thing." There's just something really rewarding in that.

[00:28:38] Alex: You also mentioned that- you described your current job as being able to research whatever you want, which sounds like the dream. What have been some of your favourite projects of what you've done in this position?

[00:28:48] Amita: Oh, what hasn't been a favourite project? My attention now is on consumption patterns. Villages, towns, rich people, poor people, everybody's eating industrial foods. In my work, I'm trying to look at why they eat them. The answers are really quite different in different groups and sections of society. I look at it not just in terms of what it means for nutrition, but actually what it means in terms of people's sense of self.

It's a new line of research for me, but I found that food is something that instantly evokes a lot of interest. Everybody wants to talk to you and everybody has something different and unique to say.

[00:29:38] Alex: Look, it sounds really fascinating. Would you be able to let us know- You said that these industrial foods have an impact on people's sense of self. Would you be able to give us some examples of these impacts?

[00:29:48] Amita: Sure. Yes. When I'm talking about instant noodles, I'm also actually talking about a whole class of edible commodities, which are packaged and which are processed. It could be corn chips. It could be what are called in India glucose biscuits—a whole set of things that are available at very, very low prices to poor people. This particular marketing phenomenon of selling small quantities of goods at low prices was a huge marketing breakthrough in the 1990s, and it was made possible because of a particular kind of packaging technology, which, you know, you get these metalised polymer films where big corporations can make sure that their goods make it into the tiniest village shop without losing- they don't spoil and so on.

[00:30:40] Alex: Yes, exactly.

[00:30:41] Amita: What was remarkable about these goods in the Indian context is that they are not associated with any particular caste or community, but that nice, metallic, shiny packaging is only the mark of modernity. For a lot of people who are poor and who belong to lower castes or who have to be Muslim, their food practices have been the source of a great deal of stigma and discrimination in India.

As you know, there've been cultural wars, violent ones, around the eating of beef. People look down on Muslims on the grounds that they eat beef, they might not actually do so, but that's how they're labelled. People who eat pork, often the former untouchable caste, because that's the cheapest meat that they can afford, are also looked down upon for eating something that's unclean. Apart from that, there's all sorts of other restrictions around who you will accept food from, whose company you will sit and have a meal with. Food and marriage are the two main enduring ways in which the caste system lives on.

What's interesting in the Indian context is that these package foods, junk foods basically, are a way of being able to avoid all of this really fraught ground of home-cooked food. “Who is this community?” and “Will I take food from their hands or not?”, et cetera. These foods are neutral in cast terms, and for a lot of people whose diets have traditionally been stigmatized, to consume these is a way of saying “We're as good as everyone else. You can't point fingers at what's on our plate because this food is on your plate too.”

That, together with the fact that these commodities are advertised on television, and what you see in the advertisements are these lovely children dressed in beautiful, clean clothes in this lovely house with a beautiful mother and she's making Maggi noodles for them. There are those sorts of associational elements as well that “We can't have those beautiful clothes and that gorgeous mother or that beautiful house, but, well, we can eat Maggi too.” There's a certain sense of cultural belonging in this larger aspirational, consumerist India, that these commodities allow. To me, those are very important aspects of what makes them so popular.

I don't want to take away from the political economy of fast food and how evil and pernicious that is, but I do want to say that people make their own meanings out of these commodities, and we have to understand those meanings in order to see people not just as people who've been fooled by capitalism, but people who are trying to figure out their own ways out of older systems of cast inequality and oppression, of religious difference that they then find hard to live with.

[00:34:02] Alex: To bring it back to what we were talking about before and about anthropologists being listened to and trying to have an impact, do you have an idea of the impact you'd like this research to have? Is this heading somewhere, or is it just you were interested, and it's what you felt like talking about?

[00:34:19] Amita: This research on food, especially on industrial foods, I think is important because unlike say in Europe or North America, and I dare say in Australia as well, where there's a lot of attention on changing food practices, there's a lot of concern around what people are eating, where it's coming from, the conditions under which it's produced. In India, that conversation is just beginning to start.

When you talk to people, everybody is anxious, but they don't yet have a clear sense of where food is coming from and what conditions it's being produced under. Part of my work is just to follow these commodity chains. Next after packaged foods, I plan to look at chicken, which has now emerged as the biggest source of animal protein in India, and possibly palm oil. I haven't yet decided, but the idea is to take the conversation which is happening among right-to-food activists who concentrate primarily on the question of nutrition without looking at the cultural and social values that people attribute to food and to help people understand better the kinds of transformations that are going on.

I think I have a keen interest in influencing the ways in which we think about food. For instance, a lot of right to food activists who are committed as I am to the idea that the government must provide subsidised food to people will say that “You see, we need to have intensive cultivation of wheat and rice because it is those commodities which get produced in large enough quantities to be able to distribute around the country.”

Whereas I would say we've been too dependent on wheat and rice. It's not ecologically sustainable for us and all this effort that's gone into subsidizing wheat and rice has actually been at the cost of the cereals and the nutritious millets that people were growing. What we need to do is change agriculture around and create more interest in eating these kinds of cereals and so on.

I think that there's a value to this work which can contribute to that larger understanding of what is good to eat, what is good to think with, to paraphrase Mr. Lévi-Strauss, and to actually make a difference in terms of what people actually do get to eat and cook, and that's still such a basic challenge for so many Indians that I think it's a worthwhile project to follow through on.

[00:36:57] Alex: Yes, absolutely. It's a really important project. I think we'll leave it there. Sorry, it was a long one.

[00:37:02] Amita: I'm exhausted [laughs].

[00:37:04] Alex: Yes, no, totally fair, but thank you so, so much.

[00:37:07] Amita: Good. I hope--


[00:37:25] Alex: That was it. Me and Dr. Amita Baviskar. Today's episode was produced by me, Alexander D'Aloia, with help from the other Familiar Strangers, Julia Brown, Jodie-Lee Trembath, Simon Theobald, and Kylie Wong Dolan. Our executive producers are Deanna Catto and Matthew Phung. Subscribe to The Familiar Strange podcast. You can find us on iTunes, Spotify, and all the other familiar places, and don't forget to leave us a rating or review with your likes and dislikes. It helps people find the show and helps us make the show better. If you'd like to support us, please check out our Patreon page, patreon.com/thefamiliarstrange, not The Strange Familiars, which is another fun podcast, just not ours.

You can find the show notes, including a list of all the books and papers mentioned today plus our blog about anthropology's role in the world at thefamiliarstrange.com. For those of you wondering what this anthropology thing is, Jodie has just written a blog on exactly that topic. Check it out at thefamiliarstrange.com. If you want to contribute to the blog or have anything to say to me or the other hosts of this program, email us at submissions@thefamiliarstrange.com. Tweet at @TFStweets or look us up on Facebook and Instagram. Music by Pete Dabro. Special thanks to Nick Farrelly, Will Grant, Martin Pearce, and Maud Rowe. Thanks for listening and see you in two weeks. Until next time, keep talking strange.

[00:38:41] [END OF AUDIO]


You can find Dr Baviskar’s profile here: http://www.iegindia.org/staffmembers/faculty/detail/3541/3
And the list of her published books here:

You can find Amita’s book ‘In the Belly of the River: Tribal Conflicts over Development in the Narmada Valley’ here: https://www.amazon.com/Belly-River-Conflicts-Development-Environmental/dp/0195671368

And read a brief abstract of Dr Baviskar’s recent work on Maggi Noodles: http://www.iegindia.org/upload/profile_publication/311018_105637AB_Abstract.pdf

If you’d like to hear Amita’s keynote speech at the AAS Conference 2019, head here: https://www.aas.asn.au/aas-annual-conference/past-conferences/

For a different take on the Maggi noodle situation in India (even during a scandal) check out this article from Eater: https://www.eater.com/2019/1/30/18202879/maggi-noodles-india-banned-lead-safety-concern-cult-following

What do Maggi Noodles mean to you?
(Image ‘For Sale – Maggi Noodles from Goa’ by Joegoauk Goa, 2015)

Don’t forget to head over to our Facebook group The Familiar Strange Chats. Let’s keep talking strange, together!

Our Patreon can be found at https://www.patreon.com/thefamiliarstrange

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com
Shownotes by Matthew Phung and Deanna Catto
Podcast edited by Alex D’Aloia and Matthew Phung

Feature image ‘Activists and affected people march against the construction of dams in the Narmada Valley’ by International Rivers (2006) from Flickr

Leave a Reply