Metabolic Living: Food, Fat, and the Absorption of Illness in India
The Taste No Chef Can Give
Chapter 2 is concerned with absorption between persons and urban space. Moving from the scales of the globe and nation toward the scale of the street, it addresses how metabolism is spatial, and how biomedical sciences and the science of urban politics overlap. Mumbai’s famous fried street food called the vada pav connected biomedical concerns about rising rates of obesity to violent local politics and multinational food company interests. In doing so, projects to claim and reform the vada pav define the grounds of the political life of an object beyond the act of its consumption. Using the concept of “gastropolitics,” the chapter first describes how a local political party branded its own version of the food, and then shows how corporate franchises inspired by McDonald’s rendered the vada pav “safe” and “clean” through mechanized standardization. Rather than taking the metabolism of fried food for granted, the chapter deemphasizes its consumption. It instead foregrounds the political circumstances that inform and animate the food, through observations and interviews at street-side vada pav stalls, at new corporations determined to standardize vada pav, and with nutritionists who condemn the vada pav as the source of Mumbai’s obesity problem.