Are Indian Women Only Supposed To Serve The Food, And Not Eat It?

Why feel shy of expressing hunger? And why not just pick up your plate to eat without being embarrassed? What's with the fuss, women?

Why feel shy of expressing hunger? And why not just pick up your plate to eat without being embarrassed? What’s with the fuss, women?

Khana khana or breaking the bread, sharing meals is the ultimate Indian hospitality. And we often say, atithi devo bhava,’ because we respect the divine in our fellow humans. 

We don’t just put food on the table for the guests to help themselves, a good hostess will personally wait on the guests. She will serve with large heartedness and coax them to have a second helping. And when that is accepted, it not only means appreciation but also breaking barriers of reserve. Meanwhile, the good lady, in all probability, will be the last to sit down to eat only making sure everyone else has eaten.

Are they ‘content’ only watching others eat?

A sadhya is a traditional Kerala meal served on a banana leaf which is an experience in food gastronomy. And during those, the appetising aroma of hot rice with ghee, piping hot sambar, rasam, avial, elisseri, papadom and payasam was hard to resist.

Women appreciate such things more, simply because rarely do they get served in homes or have the luxury of being waited upon. They are usually the last to sit for their meals and often don’t get to taste some dishes as they are over by then. And women don’t reserve a portion for themselves in the kitchens, but are content if families had their fill. 

During on such sadhya, as we were about to sit down for the meal, women in the group suggested that the men eat first and women can go later. This meant further delay as a sadhya meal is an elaborate affair with 20 plus items.

‘Oh it doesn’t matter as long as the men have eaten’

One round could stretch for more than half an hour, but the ladies felt more for the men so we waited for  our turns. It is strange that most men don’t ask ladies to go first or offer to eat after them and women don’t ask for it either.

At a feast, the food always tastes good in the first few rounds when it is hot and the portions generous. Later they are adjusted according to the guests. Women who got to sit later didn’t get to taste a few items and had to make do with melamine plates as the caterer had run out of both food and banana leaves. “So what?” the women said,“…hum log hi to hai..kya farak padta hai…” As if we didn’t matter but were more than happy for the menfolk who had eaten well.

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Why should women pretend they don’t have hunger urges? Is it a part of our social conditioning that women show restraint without salivating when it comes to food.

Do men know how much their wives, mothers and daughters eat?

Waiting over meals is a ritual in most Indian households. In fact, it’s considered rude and inappropriate to eat before men in the family. A well meaning neighbour was shocked to hear that I often ate my meals before my husband. How can you not love your man enough to wait for him, is what she probably meant to say.

While wives or mothers know exactly how many rotis, portions of rice, gravies and vegetables their men ate most men don’t know how much their mothers or wives ate. Women hover around until men finish and are quick to refill food and coax for extra helpings without ever reserving some portions for themselves. 

Actually, it’s love that we manifest in our food. I remember when I was growing up, mothers sat over hot smokey stoves, rolling the rotis ever so watchful of everyone having had their fill. In the end they simply picked up the plates, cleaned the floor and sat down to eat whatever remained. They even sometimes scraped off kadais and pots. Nobody saw her eat or asked if she had enough on her plate. Isn’t it important for a woman to feel loved and nourished through food too?

And we take these habits to work too

Women care a lot about men and their food habits. Once at a house party where dosas were on the menu the women insisted that men enjoy hot dosas off the tava only. They wouldn’t let the hostess prepare them beforehand.

The obliging hostess agreed and waited until men finished their drinking sessions while the maids grumbled for being held up. What’s the fuss, I wonder when men hardly ever bother how the food tastes, especially after a couple of drinks.

Such practices are carried to workplaces out of force of habit. At an office party women generously suggested that the men go first, a practice they  carried from their homes. Luckily, the boss insisted that staff eat together. Why feel shy of expressing hunger and suffer the indignities of pretending? And why not just pick up your plate to eat without being embarrassed What’s with the fuss, women?

Few argue that women prefer to eat after men because they are uncomfortable being seated along with men. They say women are unused to intermingling or socialising with men with ease, so they prefer to huddling in groups and eating together. So what appears harmless has significant connotations. It is food patriarchy that segregates men and women, keeping them apart and out of touch of each other’s lives.

Here’s what women need to change

  • Raising your family to respect mealtimes. Waiting is too bad for anyone. 
  • Sharing and bonding is best learnt through food. And food tastes better together than at lonely tables. Best conversations are over meals, stuff that makes memories for later.
  • In many Indian households, women aren’t allowed to with in-laws out of respect for men or whatever reasons. Here it is for women themselves to take the lead and break down barriers. And what better manner than eating together to bridge distances of heart and fostering a spirit of inclusiveness at mealtimes

Please feel free to share and comment on the blog, it helps me know the reader’s perspective.

Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Hum Saath Saath Hain


About the Author

Bharati Muralidhar

Writing is soulspeak will dare to dream own up my piece of, wife, daughter, sister, friend we all are.. but, being your own person even more. read more...

35 Posts | 161,638 Views

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