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Bryn Mawr College

Publication Date

Fall 12-2-2014

Program Name

India: National Identity and the Arts


The Jains are a small but influential minority community in India. Their religion is structured around the concept of ahimsa, the strict adherence to nonviolence in one’s every under taking. The ideal Jain diet does the least amount of harm to both oneself and one’s environment, including plants and microscopic organisms. Many foods — including meat, honey, alcohol, and underground vegetables — are forbidden. While Jain philosophy is adamant about avoiding foods that are obtained through violence, it says little about the perspectives and lifestyles of those most often charged with maintaining this diet: Jain laywomen. Because these women are the primary chefs of Jain cuisine, they are especially affected by the implications of upholding the traditions of a minority community. Through a series of interviews and observations focused around the topic of Jain women and cooking, this paper uncovers the deeper relationship that these women hold with their food. It argues that women are especially affected by the power of the restrictive Jain diet as it constructs their religious and gendered identities. It is especially interested in how eating and cooking Jain food can be interpreted as a performance of piety, control, purity, and modernity amongst these women. By investigating these topics, I attempt to answer a deeper question of how culinary traditions can serve to preserve and proclaim identity amongst minority groups, and how women fit into this cultural conservation. I aim to convince the reader of the essential relationship that religion, gender, and food share as modes of reaffirming identity.


Anthropology | Asian Studies | History of Religions of Eastern Origins | International and Community Nutrition | Nutrition | Other Food Science | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Women's Studies


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