Living And Fashion

How caste influences food: The Big Fat Bao’s Instagram series is a revelatio

The Lakuti is a dish made using solidified goat or pig’s blood (rakti in Marathi) fried in some oil along with onions, haldi and chilli powder. This seemingly easy-to-make dish, however, is a caste marker in India where it is associated only with Dalit households. With an illustration of this dish, a Mumbai-based designer who prefers to be identified by the name ‘The Big Fat Bao’ (TBFB) (because the bao, she claims, best represents her personality) makes an observation: “(Lakuti) is not a dish for ones with a delicate digestive system. It is known to cause constipation. In some places of Maharashtra, Dalit women use Rakti as a verbal abuse against men. For eg. Sinaacha pavnaaraa ani rakticha jevnaaraa. Which loosely translates to “dung seeker and Rakti eater” meaning both the dung seeker (brahmin man) and Rakti eater (dalit man) are the same when it comes to our oppression. (sic)”

The 30-year-old artist who studied in Coimbatore and has spent time working in Chennai, comes from a family of mixed cultures. Her mother is from a Dalit family in Maharashtra and her father from an upper caste family hailing from Kerala. TBFB grew up in Mumbai.

TBFB is not the first to talk about the food history of Dalit communities and politics. Pune-based visual artist Rajyashri Goody’s Eat With Great Delight, an exhibit in which she explored and presented the politics of food from Dalit communities, is her predecessor. But, TBFB has chosen the medium of Instagram, where she has been doing this series on caste and food for a while now.  Previously, she also did a series for Dalit History Month, sketching and sharing stories of women who impacted and inspired her choices in life. On this, she says, “I wanted to celebrate the women who played an important role in my life. Whose work and stories have transcended my life to give me strength and courage and speak about things that matter to me on an open platform.”

According to her, the choice of medium came as a natural response to the increasing food-related content that was being shared by many on Instagram, especially after the pandemic. “It started with the dalgona coffee and we’ve been seeing these extremely aesthetic presentations of food, all of which I don’t get to have unless I’m going out to a restaurant. Noodles, fried rice and cake are not everyday food for me. There has been such a great influx of food photography, and how it’s arranged that I began wondering where is the kind of food that I grew up having?” asks TBFB.


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