The Ten: Vidya Balachander
Name and job title
Vidya Balachander, food & travel journalist and editor.
Where were you born, and where do you live now?
I was born in Chandrapur, a small, dusty town in the state of Maharashtra in India. I now live in Dubai.
How you describe your job?
I curate and edit the South Asia vertical of Whetstone Media. My aim is to act as a conduit to offer a diverse and inclusive set of voices writing about South Asian food a platform on Whetstone.
How much did you spend on your last cup of coffee?
I think it was 20 AED (almost 4 £) for a flat white with almond milk
What is one ingredient that is crucial to your work and/or life?
As a South Asian, there are so many ingredients that are dear to me. But I think the one thing I could not do without is perhaps rice. And unsweetened, home-set yogurt. I often eat the two mixed together and it is my absolute comfort meal.
What does a food and/or drinks system mean to you?
To me, a food system — one that is equitable — means easy access to fresh fruit, vegetables and other produce, and the wherewithal to make or procure nutritious meals.
How does your immediate locale affect your work?
As someone who is curious about food, it is impossible to remain oblivious to one’s surroundings. Dubai, where I am currently based, is a terrific food city. Not just by way of the number of restaurants and cuisines that one can enjoy and experience here, but also in terms of the intersection of communities that live, work and eat here. In subtle and subliminal ways, observing this ecosystem informs my worldview — and by extension, the work I do as a writer and editor
Where do you draw inspiration from, in your work?
As an editor, I draw inspiration from the unique lens that each writer brings to their experience with food. By sieving and threading their words, I feel like I am acquiring an education in the vastness and complexity of food by proxy.
What impact do you want to have?
I would like to pass on the mic to those we seldom hear from, to make it less intimidating to tell stories authentically from our part of the world, and to curate with an empathetic eye. As a writer, I want to write about food in ways that are unusual and thought-provoking, and tell a far-deeper story about the world than is immediately evident by what we eat.
What change do you want to see in the food and/or drinks system?
The truth is that food has always been a hugely contentious subject, especially in India. The rising wave of right-wing intolerance towards minority communities has translated to violence for the simple act of eating a certain kind of meat. This is a kind of violence that Dalits (or the so-called ‘untouchables’ in India’s stratified caste system) have always been intimately familiar with, whereby their food choices — often born from a lack of choice — have been rejected or vilified. There is a lot that is broken about this food system — one that forcibly restricts access, and criminalises communities for the elemental act of eating. While this is a depressing reality, I take heart from those who are fighting to have their voices heard.
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