Dear India, What’s Wrong With Women Eating?
Indian women want to know why the nation does not like them eating.
The Quint DAILY
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I am a foodie! I have always loved anything and everything remotely connected with food. I eat to celebrate my reasons for happiness, and I also love to eat in my days of sorrow to bring some hope.
However, not all women in India can eat in bliss.
While poverty remains one of the main reasons for under-nourishment in females, reduction in poverty over the years has not resulted in better nourishment for women. So why don’t better economic conditions translate into ‘good times’ for women? Why do Indian women who can afford nutrition, still stop themselves from eating?
The answers to these questions may well lie in the fact that India ‘does not like’ its women eating.
1) Men Need More Nutrition
Men have always superseded women in the patriarchal Indian family structure. Traditional wisdom decrees that men need nutrition while women can survive on leftovers.
Although women are responsible for cooking in most Indian households, the most nutritious portions of the meal usually go to the male members.
So deep-rooted is this perception in rural India that one of the earliest social welfare advertisements run on Doordarshan, titled Poshak Ahaar Maan ko Bhi Chahiye, shows a pregnant woman who takes pride in serving every bit of the cooked meal to her husband and the kids. It is after much counselling that she understands how a malnourished mother leads to malnourishment in the child.
2) Women Are Permanently On a Diet!
No we are not, and all of us do not believe in eating healthy all the time.
Salad? Women. Steak? Men. Moscato? Women. Bourbon? Men. Gender and food stereotypes are part of our everyday life. A deeper look into these perceptions reveal why salads seem feminine and nachos seem manly. Studies show that food packaging usually conform to stereotypes. While women are mostly featured in healthy, ‘diet’ products, men are often shown enjoying sumptuous hamburgers or junk food.
In reality, healthy eating habits are gender neutral and should be adopted by all. The general perception that women possess Chidiya ka pet and they eat very little, does more harm than good to women. Eating less is by no means the key to a healthy life.
3) Endless Wait on Dining Table Makes a Good Wife!
Some may find it weird and others may find it funny, but food and marriage are linked in India.
In rural areas, married women eat after the husband and everybody else in the family has had their meal. In cities, women usually don’t eat without their husbands. If he is late or not eating at home, women prefer to wait or skip dinner.
Bollywood’s Pativrataa Patni, dressed in her best attire, waiting endlessly at the dinner table, has long glamourised the habit of starving for the husband. As a couple or a family, eating together is indeed a pleasurable activity, but the problem lies in presuming that a married woman does not enjoy a meal or a lavish dinner without her husband, and when he is not around cooking is not important.
4) We Are Stunned to See Lone Women at Restaurants
If you are still struggling to understand why and how this happens in India, try eating in a restaurant as a single woman. If the initial weird looks do not deter you, order sumptuously and relish the food. You will easily notice everybody from the waiter to your co-diners finding the sight of a hungry single woman drinking and eating all by herself, bizarre and surprising.
The stares are inversely proportional to the status of the eating joint. Least in five star hotels but most in roadside eateries.
During my stay in London a few years ago, I often flooded my friends’ and family’s chat feeds with the candle-light dinners I had with myself. Crispy veggies, interesting cutlery, amazing weather and fine wine were always reasons for me to cook and enjoy my meals.
One of the most consistent replies, however, was, “What is the need to make such an effort?” I know of not one, but many instances of women being ridiculed or considered self-centred if they eat without their husbands, or cook lavishly for themselves.
It is time India realises that women deserve to cook and enjoy a meal– all by themselves.
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