Skip to navigation – Site map

Making Sustainability Palatable? Changing Practices of Middle-Class Food Consumption in Bangalore

Sunayana Ganguly


This paper nuances the perspective of the Indian middle class as conspicuous consumers who have inherently unsustainable consumption practices and discusses the powerful role that cultural practices play in shaping consumption and waste. Using 127 qualitative interviews with people from the IT sector, it examines some practices and transformations in cultural arrangements that are intimately linked to food consumption and the identity of the middle class in Bangalore. This material challenges the assumed correlation that if middle-class income rises, people consume more wastefully. In particular, the emphasis on freshness and the low reliance on packaged products for daily consumption results in a low volume of food waste generated in the household. Making a distinction between the public and private space, the paper argues that culture and traditional ethos can be powerful allies of sustainable consumption.

Top of page

Full text

This study was part of the research project ‘Changing patterns, practices and policies among “new consumers” in India and the Philippines’ funded by the Swiss Network of International Studies (SNIS) and coordinated by Suren Erkman, Shalini Randeria and Marlyne Sahakian.

1. Introduction

  • 1 NCAER (2011) National Survey of Household Income and Expenditure (NSHIE)/Market Information Survey (...)
  • 2 Last official numbers available were 53.3 million middle-class households by 2015-16 and because of (...)

1The Centre for Macro Consumer Research (part of the National Council for Applied Economic Research, NCAER) predicts that by 2025-26 the middle class in India will grow from an estimated 53.3 million households (encompassing 267 million individuals) in 2015-16 to approximately 113.8 million households (incorporating about 547 million individuals) (NCAER, 20111 cited by Edison, 2017, 45).2 This rapid expansion in numbers and income has been linked to conspicuous consumption and this ‘new’ middle class has been much maligned for its increasing appetite for such consumption. It has been suggested that consumption is significant in shaping middle-class culture and mediating the relationship of the middle classes to culture, nation and identity (Van Wessel, 2004). Characteristics of this new middle class are discussed by various theorists who point out that members of this segment of society have large disposable incomes at a relatively young age, enabling expenditure on the non-essential consumer products that drive conspicuous consumption. This has been specifically linked to a culture of consumerism and global capitalism where images of social mobility are associated with newly available commodities, such as mobile phones, automobiles and fast food. Derne (2005) points out that shared consumption patterns and gender arrangements define the orientation of different parts of the middle class—locally oriented versus transnationally oriented—and define their relationship to the global economy.

2The middle classes in India have been portrayed as ‘rapacious consumers’ (Huberman, 2012, 9; Kamath, 2014,1) who have to move to a more sustainable form of consumption. Focusing on the city of Bangalore, this paper nuances this narrative of the inherently unsustainable consumption patterns of India’s urban middle class. Instead, it suggests that some cultural practices ingrained in certain consumption arrangements can be preserved and encouraged, feeding into other practices that can aid sustainable consumption. Transitions in patterns of consumption are central to understanding how the consumption boom among the middle class is experienced and lived. Yet very few studies exist on understanding, exploring and more particularly nuancing the narratives on middle-class consumption. This paper discusses certain practices and transformations in cultural arrangements that are intimately linked to food consumption and the identity of the middle class. The study focuses on IT professionals who share consumption and gender arrangements representative of a larger ‘new middle class’ that is undergoing social transformations due to the tension between the influences of globalisation and their identity as Indians. Shah (2009) makes this tension explicit, noting that educated young Indians preserve traditional values of collectivism in the family but are more individualistic in the workplace. This paper contextualises the idea of this tension, rooting it in cultural norms and practices that shape the food consumption patterns of the middle class. In particular, it examines the ethos of the emerging middle classes, negotiating identities that are both global and local, and studying specific practices that change when others remain stable. It posits that sustainability has for too long been seen as a stand-alone ideal, and that cultural practices and traditions can play an important role in shaping sustainable consumption practices.

3Theorists (Shah, 2009; Dwyer, 2011) have made definite distinctions between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ middle classes in India. The idea of belonging to the middle class is quite broadly appropriated by many segments of society. For example, the category of people discussed in this paper identifies as middle class, more specifically ‘upper-middle class.’ Others, falling within the same spectrum of middle class identity would consider themselves the elite given that they are largely from the upper castes. While the categories of the old middle class have been well researched (Misra, 1961; Sarkar, 2002), the culture, lifestyle, consumption habits and domestic arrangements of the new middle classes remain largely under-scrutinised. In the context of post-independence, the older middle class was mostly weaned on the introduction of the new economic system and industry and with the subsequent growth of new professions (Misra, 1961). The old middle class had heterogeneity with regard to profile, containing both civil servants and the petty bourgeoisie. However, it was largely homogeneous in terms of caste in that it was largely the upper castes who were able to take advantage of the new educational institutions set up to act as a medium between the British and later the Indian government and the wider populace (Misra, 1961; Mukerji, 2002).

4The idea of mediation between the different class and caste structures in India was reinvented with the discussion on the ‘new’ middle classes. These can be seen as turning away from Gandhi and Nehru’s socialism to a more materialistic outlook emphasised by the state’s more neo-liberal turn (Fernandes, 2000). They were discussed as the drivers of this new liberalised economy through their adoption of new consumption practices that in turn would allow for the expansion of the market. They were to be the mediators between the older, more conservative economic approach and a new, more dynamic, consumer-driven growth paradigm. Turning away from the limited state-led opportunities for employment, this burgeoning new middle class was linked to the service sector of the economy and to professional, white-collar employment in the private sector, especially within multinational corporations. This is particularly relevant to the identity of the new middle classes in Bangalore, who flooded in from different parts of the country with the expansion of jobs in the IT sector, finding themselves at the centre of a transforming cultural identity.

5In spite of this, one finds that the emerging middle class is discussed largely in terms of the production of a new cultural image and social status of the Indian middle class rather than of the entry of a new socio-economic group (Fernandes, 2000). The endurance of a given socio-economic group is also seen in the stability of certain consumption patterns that endure even in the context of new modes of consumption. This is validated by our data, where we see homogeneity in terms of caste and class but some heterogeneity in terms of community. This paper delineates specific communities based on regional and cultural identities—that is, people who identify themselves as Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, etc. rather than in Jati or caste terms. Our analysis finds that region has a strong bearing on food preferences, particularly on the type of food cooked at home.

6While the state and the market were structural forces that drove the reconstitution of the middle class, this paper largely keeps these structural processes in the background and instead explores the practices and values that are carried and mediated by the middle class. It aligns itself with Wacquant’s idea that ‘class identities, practices and “lived experience” are not “afterthoughts” tacked on to pre-existing classes; they enter into the very making of these classes’ (1992, 51). Consumption is a good connector of these lived experiences to structures of nation, community and the world beyond. As Ray (2012, 172) points out, ‘for the urban middle classes […] national identity is no longer taken for granted but becomes an all-absorbing project that is often enacted through consumption.’ But how this consumption plays out, what residual practices and values are attached to household routines and arrangements or even in which spaces this consumption is enacted has not yet been adequately explored.

7This paper does not contest that the accumulation of commodities has a role to play in the identity of the middle class. However it problematises this view by suggesting that identities are negotiated and their meanings are embedded in complex symbolic systems that complicate the singular narrative of conspicuous consumption. If sustainable consumption is embedded in interaction and cooperation and is a political act that marks social location and identity formation, then the role of culture that has governed so many of the rituals associated with food consumption is an important point for interrogation. With rapid urbanisation, the loosening of caste structures and exposure to different ideas and varieties of food, consumption and practice of eating has been the site of rapidly changing dynamics. Social and environmental equity is at the heart of sustainable consumption. While the characteristics of conspicuous consumption and rampant consumerism have been ascribed to the new middle classes, we find that actual, everyday consumption is far more nuanced. After presenting the conceptual framework and methodology, the paper explores how the notion of freshness informs consumption and disposal practices and how this translates into sustainable or unsustainable patterns of consumption. In conclusion, the paper asks whether sustainability needs to be made ‘palatable’ in relation to the food preferences of the middle classes observed in Bangalore.

2. The Role of Culture in Sustainable Consumption

2.1 Conceptual Framework

8The role of culture in sustainable consumption has largely been framed from the perspective of a ‘consumerist culture’ (Miles, 1998; Bauman, 1998; Jackson, 2006). Culture can be evaluated in multiple ways. While norms, values and tacit knowledge inform individual practices, such practices are nested in broader narratives of culture that influence consumerism and consumption. Evans and Jackson (2008) draw a distinction between consumerism and consumption, arguing that while the latter does result in environmental impacts, in theory it can be balanced against the objectives of environmental sustainability. Consumerism by which economic consumption becomes a way of life (Miles, 1998), they argue, is inherently unsustainable. It has been pointed out that in India this culture of consumption has largely been driven by the availability of new commodities rather than by changing cultural imaginations (Derne et al., 2013), particularly with reference to food practice in an emerging middle class. While growing consumerism does influence structural realities, some existing practices endure. Practices involve a set of shared and established understandings, procedures and objectives. The starting point of this discussion is that acts of consumption are generally performed through interaction and cooperation with others. This interaction exists at several levels including within families, at the workplace or in an extended living space like a building. All of this shapes consumption in specific ways while retaining certain cultural practices at its core (Wood et al., 2005).

9Culture refers to the beliefs, values, behaviour, and material objects that, together, form a people’s way of life (Ritzer, 2001). The notion of culture, however, is one that involves both collective meaning-making and the transforming nature of this meaning. McCracken (1986, 71) points out that ‘cultural meaning is located in three places: the culturally constituted world, the consumer good, and the individual consumer.’ The culturally constituted world is made up of everyday experiences, which are interpreted and shaped by an individual, by the beliefs and assumptions of one’s culture. Individuals who are not self-aware with regard to their own conduct that is nested within certain belief systems, do not necessarily actively reflect on everyday practices. Practices can then represent a certain amount of inertia because of how they are continuously reproduced; theories of practice therefore emphasise processes like habituation, practical consciousness, tacit knowledge, norms and values and tradition (Warde et al., 2007). McCraken (1986) highlights the role of the phenomenal world in culture, but the extent to which these worlds are shared and the common understandings that are forged in practices around consumption have, to date, been much less investigated. In particular, in understanding sustainable consumption it is important to investigate the underlying collective norms and practices that define sustainability in a society, class or country, which may or may not be different from universally held norms and cultures of sustainability.

10Sustainability in general refers to the use of any system in such a way that its capacity to reproduce itself will not be destroyed in the long run. This reproduction is also central to the phenomena of culture that emphasises the sustainability of certain practices and material expressions. Today there seems to be a widespread consensus that current global systems of production and consumption are not sustainable; that ‘current unsustainable patterns of production and consumption must be changed’ (UN, 2000, paragraph 6). However, it is difficult to reach a globally valid and acceptable definition of which consumption patterns would be sustainable. Many contested definitions of sustainable consumption have been developed by various organisations (Jackson, 2006). They differ in the extent to which they demand a change in consumption patterns, and in their setting of priorities. In essence, sustainability is a broad concept that deals with issues of lifestyle, social inequality and power and therefore is a political issue.

11A holistic definition of sustainability requires that ecological, economic and social sustainability be considered equally and simultaneously. Consumption is similarly complex in its scope and scale. Brunner (2009), for example, conceptualises consumption as a dynamic, multi-level process that starts with the emergence of needs and desires and comprises the gathering of information about products, purchasing decisions and acts of purchasing, and use and transformation (for example, by cooking) of goods and services, and goes all the way to waste disposal. Consumption is not an isolated, individual act but is embedded in a social and structural framework of relationships and trends in society, and is dependent upon everyday structures such as the household and the market, as well as everyday practices. The role of culture in these acts of consumption is important, especially regarding the way it shapes the collective phenomenal world. McCraken (1986, 72) defines it in two ways: ‘First, culture is the “lens” through which the individual views phenomena; as such it determines how the phenomena will be apprehended and assimilated. Second, culture is the “blueprint” of human activity, determining the co-ordinates of social action and productive activity, and specifying the behaviours and objects that issue from both.’

12The culture associated with consumerism also has distinct characteristics, which Bauman (2007) argues value novelty, pressure individuals to consume in order to shape and re-shape their identities, and create loosely affiliated communities through shared consumer practices and symbols. In the context of India, this mediation between different identities is expressed in the distinction between the outer world, which is the realm of commerce—being part of a global workforce, and the inner, which is the space of the spiritual where everyday practices are tied to one’s cultural identity. Chatterjee (1989) has discussed this idea of distinction in the context of colonisation, arguing that colonised people were able to adapt to Western technology and material life in the public sphere without threatening their self-identity and cultural traditions within the private sphere.

13Recognising consumption practices in simple forms of distinction and rejection can be reductive. Instead, one finds that there is a wealth of cultural associations identified with food consumption practices. These cultural associations can be both sustainable and unsustainable, and for the purposes of this paper I analyse certain practices that nuance the ideas of conspicuous and sustainable consumption and consumerist culture. In particular, I evaluate how intrinsic structures of residual culture and ethos shape everyday food consumption practices, allowing individuals to keep their tenuous hold on environmental and social sustainability as they mediate between their identities both as Indians and as citizens of the world.

2.2 Methodology

  • 3 Data were gathered by the author and by Malavika Belavangala who was a research associate in the pr (...)
  • 4 Zonal classification of Bangalore

14This study is based on qualitative interviews carried out and observations made among ‘middle-class’ households in Bangalore between (July–September) 2013 and (January–May) 2014. In the first phase of data collection a total of 100 individuals were interviewed regarding their household practices. Interviews took place mostly in a workplace setting in the IT sector. Using snowball sampling, we recruited respondents from large companies like Infosys and EMC as well as medium-sized companies, but no small start-ups.3 We identified three large companies located in South Bangalore4 and two medium-sized IT companies in North and East Bangalore and organised interviews with their employees through the respective Human Resources departments. Short, semi-structured interviews lasted approximately 3040 minutes. Out of the total, 53 respondents were men and 47 were women. In addition, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with an additional 27 individuals, also identified through the snowball sample. Interviews were conducted mostly in their households, and included observations of consumption spaces in the home. Out of these, nine primary respondents were men and 18 were women, though we often spoke to spouses, parents and household helps who lived in the same house. Other spaces of consumption were also observed, such as supermarkets and wet markets. The majority of respondents lived in apartments, both gated and non-gated. Others lived in stand-alone houses and rented guest accommodation. We conducted in-depth interviews in Koramangala and in Electronic City (South Bangalore), in Kanakpura (South-West) and Indiranagar and Whitefield (East Bangalore) and Sadashivnagar and Yelahanka (North Bangalore). We used a key informant interview guide. Our goal was to reflect and nuance consumption behaviour, from the purchasing to the disposal of food. The focus was not on unavoidable food waste but rather on leftovers. We recognised that talking to one household member is not representative of ‘the household’. All of the interviews were transcribed and coded using NVivo software. The coding followed the key themes used in the design of the interview guide, and used an iterative process by which we identified themes that emerged during the analysis of the transcripts.

15We found that using income as a sole indicator of position in the social stratification system would be problematic due to the reticence of interviewees to reveal real income figures and also because one’s position in the hierarchy is not determined solely by financial capital, but also by social and cultural capital. A grounded theory approach to sampling was used, in particular relying on snowball sampling to identify the participants of the study. Snowball sampling is respondent driven, with subjects being recruited and referred by acquaintances. Combined with the grounded theory approach, the sampling aimed at capturing typical and exemplary cases, and thus the diversity of the middle classes. While the first criterion adopted definitions of the middle class based on a presumed income range—which is very broad when it comes to national definitions of ‘middle-class’ incomes—the subsequent criteria were based on other characteristics, including household size and composition; housing type; the key informant’s occupation; origin and migration from smaller towns to the megacities; and time spent/travel abroad. This frame of analysis allows us a richer tableau within which to capture the complexity and heterogeneity of the emerging middle class.

16The changing material and economic dimensions of the post-liberalisation period are best demonstrated in a city like Bangalore, which came into its own with the rapid expansion of the IT sector. In the decade 1991–2001, the population of Bangalore grew by 37.7 per cent, making it one of the fastest growing metropolises. This rapid expansion was a result of the migration of a labour pool of highly skilled, English-speaking young urban professionals who found an expanding employment sector. This new middle class built on an economic shift from public sector companies to a more globally connected, IT-driven economy (Fernandes, 2000; Upadhya, 2008). While studies have provided important insights regarding the cultural construction of the new middle classes (Fernandes, 2000), less attention has been paid to the role of culture in the consumption practices that lie at the heart of the reinvention of the middle classes. The following analysis unpacks the routinised practices of consumption and interrogates the idealised discursive construction of the ‘new’ middle class. It finds that membership of the middle classes is not the only influencer of the norms and practices of consumption. Rather, membership of a community, workplace, generation and religion also influence everyday consumption practices and bring a more rounded interpretation of what it means to be middle class. The majority of our respondents were Hindu (107); others were Christian (15) or Muslim (5). While caste was not explicitly discussed during the interviews, given the Hindu majority, emphasis has been given to the Hindu world view rather than that of other religions. It must be noted, however, that Christian and Muslim respondents did not seem to have divergent practices with regard to notions of freshness or the storage and disposal of leftovers; the main difference was mainly in the choice and frequency of meat consumption, rather than in associated practices.

3. Sustainable Practices: Freshness, Reheating and Packaged Foods

3.1 Culture Underpinning the Food Consumption World View of India’s Middle Class

17According to Pattanaik (2014, 24), ‘The best way to destroy a culture is to destroy the kitchen’. The author argues that the traditional Indian kitchen was a sacred space and that there has been a fundamental change embodied by the transition to a modern/secular Indian kitchen that values efficiency, sanitariness and convenience over tradition and ritual. The in-depth interviews we conducted were all in similar, secular kitchens, with respondents reminiscing about kitchens with certain traditional elements: segregated spaces and utensils for meat and vegetarian food, hand-ground spices and clearly defined gender roles with regard to the kitchen.

18The notion of palatability has been discussed in the literature in terms of intake and selection (Pliner and Mann, 2004). It is entwined with taste and associated sensory stimulation, with neurochemical effects, but also with cultural identity and class. Taste preferences and aversions, what is agreeable to the palate, are rooted in learning through experiences influenced by attitudes, beliefs and expectations (Clarke, 1998). Palatable food is also not necessarily the healthiest food but the question of what is palatable is often shaped by a cultural environment that ‘teaches us about the types of food that can be eaten, and how they are supposed to taste’, regulated by ‘distinct “flavour principles” within a given culture representing familiarity and safety and therefore more readily accepted’ (Pfeifer, 2009, 1). Traditionally, in India, the ritual, the social, nutritional, medical and the economic have all been inextricably linked to food practice, thought and attitudes. All of the above dimensions and their interaction with food are also linked to ultimate spiritual liberation or the Hindu ideal of moksha. Good food not only creates a good body (medical) but a good mind (yoga). What you eat therefore determines what you are and also what you will be (Khare, 1992, 27-52). Food is a medium through which faith and community are expressed; the rituals and taboos around food determine identity and social hierarchy. Sharing of food therefore also becomes a political act that determines hierarchy, caste and religion. The question of whom food is shared with, and how, ranges from to whom leftovers can be given, to feeding the poor, to mutual exchanges of special food prepared during festivals. The saying ‘You are what you eat’ is explicitly mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita (Bhaktivedanata, 1972, Chapter 17).

19Foods that are considered good increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Such nourishing foods are sweet, juicy, fattening, and palatable. Foods that are too bitter, too sour, salty and pungent, dry and hot, are related to sexual passion and heat. Such foods cause pain, distress and disease. Food cooked more than three hours before being eaten is considered stale, putrid, decomposed and unclean. The time element of when food is cooked until when it can be eaten and therefore ‘fresh’ is embedded in cultural codes and norms.

20 Thus, although this message does not contain precise instructions about what ‘to do’ or ‘not to do’, it describes the effects of different kinds of food and leaves the final choice up to the individual. This regulated nature of consumption is embedded in the texts of Hinduism, espousing values of moderation, self-restraint and the suitability of specific types of food. Consumption of particular kinds of food has been used to keep hierarchies within both caste and family in place, and to define belonging by who can eat what, when and with whom. Food has also been a site of political resistance with lower castes rejecting the taboos put in place by upper-caste Hindus with regard to food; for example by consuming beef as an act of cultural rebellion. While political expression and identity formation has used food as a symbol, very few studies look at how the role of culture in organising everyday consumption can be a powerful and familiar ally of sustainability.

3.2 The Emphasis on Freshness

  • 5 In the Indian subcontinent, a joint family corresponds to an extended family whereby several genera (...)

21One of the basic principles of eating in Ayurveda is to eat as close to the source as possible so that food retains its living intelligence and energy, which is referred to as Prana or life force. Another, connected, principle is to maintain a strong Agni or digestive fire. Heavy foods, too much food, cold food, and leftover, frozen, canned or processed food—even cold water taken with one’s meal—are believed to contribute to reducing the digestive fire. In addition, reheating food is thought to cause it to lose its life force or nutrient value. In the case of leftovers, the principles were explained to us by one practicing Hindu respondent in a joint family5 working in IT, who said:

The Bhagavad Gita says that food that’s beyond [prepared before] three hours is stale. Usually the reason behind this is that there is something called Satvic food, Rajistvic food, and Tamsic food; after three hours it becomes stale. So usually we don’t have it for the next day.

22The core principles of eating are divided into categories that are Satvik, fresh/healthy food; Rajas, tasty/stimulating food; and Tamas, stale/preserved food. These broad classifications are exhaustive and detailed with regard to individual produce—for instance, apples and rice (among other elements) would fall into the first category; avocado and pepper into the second; and meat and leftovers into the third.

  • 6 One crore in the Indian numerical system corresponds to ten million. A conversion into Swiss francs (...)

23While only a minority of our respondents (ten in total) were familiar with particular principles of Ayurveda, the emphasis on the freshness of food was significant. In terms of reheating, at least five respondents refrained from reheating food completely and would only eat what was fresh. This means every meal is cooked afresh. We found that most of our respondents carried over leftovers from the previous meal. However, the majority of meals would be carried over only once and not more. This reliance on fresh cooking means freshly procured produce and less waste at the household level in terms of energy in the areas of processing, transporting, freezing, reheating and packaging. In 2013, it was estimated that 13,300 crore6 worth of fruit and vegetables were wasted in India due to inadequate storage facilities (DNHS, 2013). While this is significant in terms of waste at the structural level of the supply chain, our research found that organic waste at the household level remained negligible.

24The emphasis on freshness is so ubiquitous that in the 127 coded interviews, freshness was mentioned 380 times in the context of food. This then shaped shopping and purchasing decisions and day-to-day routines of consumption. This emphasis on freshness also has an impact on the use of other mainstays from developed economies: ‘ready-to-eat’ meals and frozen food. In many societies, the necessity of convenience has substantially changed practices compared to those of few decades ago or even those followed more recently (e.g. Jaeger and Meiselman, 2004; Scholderer and Grunert, 2005; Warde, 1999). In many countries today, women, who remain the cornerstone of the kitchen, are able to supplement meals with ready-to-eat options that can be cooked in a microwave and stored in refrigerators. Further, it is widely expected that the demand for food-related convenience will continue to increase (Carrigan et al., 2006). The growth of ready-to-eat or packaged meals should have had a significant impact on the increased number of women entering the work place in post-liberalisation Bangalore. A study in India (Harish, 2003, 50) noted that ‘with the advent of industrialisation and the absolute influence of the West in the form of processed and fast foods, the traditional Indian diet is slowly but steadily losing its importance.’ Our study found, however, that this was not the case. While 72 respondents mentioned some form of packaged food in terms of breakfast cereal, cooking spices or instant noodles, the idea of fresh food still dominated the day-to-day cooking and buying of fruit and vegetables. This is encapsulated in the response of a 41-year-old software project leader who lives with her husband and two children in a two-bedroom apartment:

I don’t use packaged food […] other than raw materials [….] there was a time when I didn’t have much help and all, I used to buy some [; now] I do everything at home, even curd or atta [flour].

25While 60 per cent of our respondents were women in the workplace or men with working wives, very few ate pre-packaged meals or frozen food. In addition, while 90 per cent owned refrigerators with freezers, most freezers photographed in the course of the study came up largely empty or were used to store peas or pulses during the hotter months to keep things fresher. Research by Wilhite (2014, 299) in Kerala—another region of South India—notes this uneasy relationship that many Hindus and Christians have with the refrigerator, pointing out that cold food and drink is considered bad for the body and the storage of food was undesirable as it is believed that it accumulates ‘bad substances’ causing imbalances in the body. While he points out that these beliefs are changing, we find that with respect to freezers there is an aversion to storing food over long periods of time.

26 Thus, one finds that ready-to-eat meals, a mainstay in households in advanced countries, have witnessed a declining market in Bangalore. Three reasons for targeting the Bangalore market have been cited by global brands bringing in ready-to-eat meals: nuclear families, working women and convenience. However, our results show that very few families, even nuclear ones with working women, buy pre-packaged meals for their families. The concept of freshly cooked food continues to be very strong and even working women would prefer to order in or hire a cook who would come in for a few hours a day to prepare fresh meals for the whole family. Perceptions of ready-to-eat also differ—pre-packaged food that requires some form of preparation is apportioned a higher value and is distinguished from other packaged food. For example, this 31-year-old working woman who works as a communications manager in an IT company and who lives with her husband in a large apartment complex makes a distinction between packaged products:

No, we don’t really [buy pre-packaged food]…. see, there are two kinds of ready-to-eat foods… ones like MTR or your Aashirwad [brands of food], the ones where you literally cut open a packet or you immerse the packet in boiling water, and we don’t go for that because it’s not nice enough, and we know for a fact that it’s not healthy … these days, we started buying the MTR rava idli [South Indian dish] or whatever…You get those packages, but it’s not really ready-to-eat in the sense that you have to process it, you have to make it.

27There is a value attached to the act of cooking that undercuts the idea of packaged food. Bourdieu (1984, 170) states that the habitus is ‘necessity internalized and converted into a disposition that generates meaningful practices and meaning-giving perceptions.’ There are symbiotic relationships between habitus and cultural capital. In the context of food consumption, this implies that food choices are rooted in values and perception, which are embodied through repeated observations. The reliance on fresh produce, the value attached to freshly cooked food and a certain cultural suspicion of freezers demonstrate that freshness is rooted in a cultural habitus in India. While the social context of the new emerging middle class has changed the array of material conveniences available to a consumer, by—for example—bringing more diversification into choices with regard to food procurement and storage, the key cultural perception of freshness cannot be accounted for within a social or material context, but is rather a cultural value that has historical roots.

4. Leftovers

28The cultural imagination of India, from ancient times, has been centred on food. It has been a biological necessity with rules governing the practice of eating, as well as a medium of cultural and social transaction. It has been classified and scrutinised as a marker of social boundaries and is central in ritual and imagination. Food is offered to the gods and the leftovers that are distributed become a main point of contact between the divine and the devotees (Wezler, 1978). For instance, in the temple of Tirupati, rich and powerful people often donate food that is offered to the gods. This is then recycled into ‘divine leftovers’ and distributed to a larger populace. This act of distribution, argues Brekenridge (1986), has a larger cultural and political significance by which the donor establishes a moral authority. The control and redistribution of leftovers, then, establishes superiority and control over the asymmetric distribution of food among people. This associated control also trickles down into household practices with regard to the distribution and disposal of leftovers and points to the changing patterns of interaction in emerging middle-class households in an urban city like Bangalore. The control associated with caste also has parallels with the added dynamic of class and the asymmetrical power dynamics between members of the household and their household help. In our interviews we saw, however, that with the loosening of caste structures and the changing dynamics of labour—which has moved from live-in help to people who come in for a few hours a day—there is a reticence to hand over leftovers. One major change in terms of cooking is that caste has, for this group of working professionals, become an irrelevant consideration when choosing a household help, even though upper castes traditionally could not eat food prepared by lower castes. To begin with, shared food at the workplace, the lack of a full-time household help and an interest in eating out have made caste an irrelevant consideration in the preparation of food. Although this was not explicitly asked as part of the interviews, none of the 127 households interviewed directly mentioned caste as a factor when choosing either domestic help or restaurants (where one does not know who is preparing the food), whereas region and community (in terms of regional and cultural affiliations) were often considerations.

29Traditionally, food exchanges in India among Hindus reflected minute differences of caste status, such that both the asymmetry of caste status and equality of status were symbolised through the giving and the receiving of certain kinds of foods. For instance, Hindus can consume only food cooked and served by an equal or superior caste. With changing social dynamics, especially with regard to eating out, these restrictions are no longer so carefully followed. People of different castes and religions work, study and live together and especially while eating out there is no information available on the caste status of cooks. In general, we found our respondents to be more liberal in their world view with regard to sharing food with people of different castes and religions.

  • 7 I would like to thank Shalini Randeria for introducing me to this line of enquiry.

30The western concept of leftovers is too prosaic to capture the different categories of waste that encompass the Hindu world view with regards to food sharing, storage and disposal. The English word ‘waste’ is unable to capture the nuances of the highly differentiated grammar and dense vocabulary7 of the symbols and rituals both of transforming food into something edible and rendering it waste. Purity and pollution have very specific connotations in Hindu dietary customs. Pure foods, in this context, are those that are protected by a husk or peel, like rice, or are inherently pure, like milk. Alcohol and meat are inherently impure (Kittler et al., 2012, 445). Once rice is cooked it is believed that it should not come into contact with meat or fish, even in terms of respective containers touching one another. This renders the food Jhuta or Entho, which are Hindi and Bengali terms, respectively, meaning polluted or contaminated. Other sources of contamination include the sharing of plates, sharing spoons, individual vessels being used to contain different dishes coming in contact, touching shared food with the hand you are eating with, and any food left over on your plate. Previous generations sometimes maintained separate kitchens and vessels for vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. One can never offer ‘touched’ food to the gods and one never tastes food that is cooking as it becomes contaminated and cannot be shared. Leftovers have to be disposed either by throwing them away or by giving them to a lower caste. Traditionally, uncooked food could be given as alms to people of any caste and would not be considered as part of the category of waste. However, stricter rules governed cooked food. This is distinct from the way food is shared among Muslims who consider sharing from a single plate a sign of equality and brotherhood. In the Bohri Muslim community, eating from the same thaal or large plate institutionalises communal sharing. One respondent explained that the concept of the thaal also restricts food waste as more food can be served only given the consensus that everyone around the plate will finish it.

31Today, middle-class households no longer assume that a lower caste and/or poorer domestic help will gratefully receive leftovers from the kitchen. When respondents in Bangalore offer food to their cooks, maids and other domestic help today, they do so while keeping in mind differences in tastes and are cognisant of their right of refusal. There is an attempt to treat them with respect by not simply assuming that they will be grateful recipients of any or all leftovers, which would be considered low-status food.

32Leftovers are still passed on to support staff in some households. A 37-year-old mother working in IT justified the giving away of leftovers by the fact that the family had no interest in consuming them the next day:

It depends…there are certain things, which we know would get eaten in the next meal; but there are things like a leftover dal—you cannot have the same dal again….yeah, but if you have made like a palak-paneer [a dish made of cottage cheese] or something, you know it is something different, so you wouldn’t mind eating it a second time, so that does not get passed on for the very next meal. But yes, sometimes even that, if it is not eaten the second time, then by the next day, end of the day, we would give it to the support staff.

33Another respondent points out that she gives her maid, who comes in for a few hours a day, food only if she cooks too much, and never leftovers, which would be portions of a food that had already been consumed by the family. Most respondents did not offer any food to the help, who in most cases came in for a few hours a day. One 28-year-old marketing executive placed emphasis on the fact that they only offered their help fresh food and it was the same food that they ate. For many respondents, there was ambivalence about offering or assuming that their help would want leftovers. Examples of comments about leftover food include: ‘It’s free…if she wants to take it, she can take it, but she doesn’t take it usually’, ‘My morning cleaning maid takes it.... there are only one or two maids who do not take it; but it’s not spoilt food, we don’t give away spoilt food…spoilt food is thrown out, but if it is cooked in the night, we keep it for her’. These statements point to a shifting consciousness with regard to the power dynamics inherent in offering and accepting food. Even for full-time help, we find that people are conscious of the different tastes that their household help may have. A young mother working in IT says that her full-time help makes ‘a lot of complaints about our food because our food is not oily, it’s not spicy enough…so what she does is she probably adds some more spices or some aachaar [pickle - they keep specifically for her]’. Others are adamant that even if the maid may take it, it is ‘unfair’ to offer food that is more than a day old. One respondent stated that while his family does not have a problem with eating leftovers, the two maids they have refuse to eat anything that is not fresh and they consciously only give them fresh food. This change in attitude is captured in the semantics inherent in the politics of giving away food, as exemplified by this 37-year-old single IT executive who lives alone, who says:

I don’t like giving leftover food to my maid or my cook or driver, whoever, because if I don’t think I can eat it, what makes me think others can eat it, right? …I have left it to them to make that choice, and I’m, like, ‘I will not give it to you, but you are more than welcome to take it and go’, only because I just don’t feel right to kind of give it to them.

34Given the erosion of traditional patterns of giving away leftovers to lower-caste domestic help or even the lowest caste (sweepers or bhanghis), one finds that middle-class households try to cook only what they can consume and are far more sensitive about the baggage of caste in terms of giving and receiving food.

5. Unsustainable Practices: The Home and the World

35The influential book by Rabindranath Tagore The Home and the World discussed by Partha Chatterjee (1989) examines the duality of identity in the public and private sphere in colonial India. The private space, which is also considered the feminine space, remained the repository of cultural tradition, while the public or masculine space allowed individuals to adapt to Western technology, ideas and identity. The tension between the identity of an individual within the private sphere of family and community and their interaction with the global economy in the public sphere is best captured in the transitions relating to consumptionboth within and beyond the home. The interesting characteristic of the emerging middle classes in Bangalore is the balance they have to strike between their aspirational goals and their cultural roots. The culture by which regional cuisine is prepared at home, how the kitchen remains a feminine domain and how festivals are celebrated remain constant over generations. However, the public space is marked by a more global identity of experimenting with different kinds of cuisine and acquiring novel consumer goods (see also Karanth, 2017, this issue). Middle classes mediate or negotiate between a global, consumerist culture, which emphasises accumulation and novelty, and their subscription to preserving the familial and familiar within the home.

36The distinction between the global and private is evident from the differences in consumption within and outside the home. The distinction is class-based, reflecting Bourdieu’s (1984) idea that food preferences can be linked to a form of class culture. While he focused largely on what people prepared and ate as an expression of their class and social position, we saw that routinised cooking practices or rather ‘what is cooked everyday’ at home largely express regional tastes and traditions, articulating regional community membership rather than class. However, the search for novelty and the expression of class finds its place in the public space of eating out. The activity demonstrates both an individual or family’s disposable income and a distinction in taste by demonstrating an individual’s global lifestyle. Our interviews revealed that going out to eat did not only reflect the popularity of trendy global cuisines, it also allowed people to step out of the community distinctions of what was prepared at home. Eating out was also a chance to sample the culinary diversity of cuisines within India, which respondents would otherwise have only limited access to. Many of our respondents professed a love for ‘Punjabi, Rajasthani, Bengali, etc.’ cuisine that would not be cooked in their South Indian homes. Others with more conservative tastes would often eat South Indian cuisines out, but would order more elaborate dishes or visit famous eateries. A 26-year-old southern Indian research associate who works in a global IT start-up and lives with her husband put the eclectic mix of choices succinctly:

We always try out different restaurants. We have this policy of not stepping into the same restaurant twice. Only once. There are heaps of restaurants here. So we try different ones. Once we had burritos, once we had Adyar Anand Bhavan [South Indian eatery]. Then we have from ‘dhaba’ [Punjabi fast food].

37This is re-iterated by a school teacher with two children whose husband works in a large multinational IT firm and who had lived in the United States and Europe for seven years, who said: ‘Each time a different restaurant, but we have tried all kinds of food…we basically don’t frequent one place…we try different restaurants…we have been back only nine months, so there are lots of places to try…. Bangalore is booming.’ The idea of Bangalore booming is significant as individuals and families find a rapidly globalising environment in which to demonstrate their ‘symbolic capital’—the acquisition of taste and style that represents their upwardly mobile and global status. In this class, the demonstration of status plays a more important role than religion in the public sphere, while the distinctions and ethos of a family and community are still reflected in the unchanging patterns of what is cooked everyday in an Indian family home.

38The other sense in which cultural barriers have been eroded is in the increased incidence of non-vegetarian food in households. There is often a distinction between non-vegetarian and vegetarian food within and beyond the home. Several respondents ate non-vegetarian food outside the home, especially if parents, spouses or even roommates were vegetarian. In some cases, the children ate non-vegetarian food that was cooked specifically for them, while the parents maintained their vegetarianism. Even of those who ate meat, very few consumed it on a daily basis. In fact, meat was restricted in most cases to once or twice a week, usually on weekends, if cooked at home. Among meats, pork and beef consumption was the lowest. While this low level of consumption with regard to beef can be explained by religious constraints, as the majority of the research participants were Hindu, there is also a cultural barrier to eating pork. Chicken was the most widely consumed meat, followed by mutton. While studies have found that there is a definite shift in food preferences away from cereals towards meat, fish, eggs and fruit/vegetables (Vaz et al., 2009; NSSO, 2012), in terms of global statistics non-vegetarianism still has a low incidence in India. According to a global meat consumption chart compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, 2009) of the United Nations in 2007, India came in last in a total of 177 countries. Its annual consumption of meat per person was just 3.2 kg, at a time when Americans were eating as much as 125 kg per head and the world average was 38.7 kg. More recently, in 2014, India’s per capita consumption of meat was 5.5 kg—although some estimates place it lower—against the world average of 43.1 kg (Jishnu, 2014). Bangalore, however, is one of the biggest consumers of meat in the state of Karnataka. Statistics from 2010 show that 30 per cent of the meat produced in the state was sold in Bangalore (Lakshmikantha, 2010). While meat eating seems to be very restricted within the house, the story is different when eating out, where people tend to experiment with non-vegetarian food a lot more, including beef. The writer and researcher Pushpesh Pant states, ‘All taboos and religious strictures on food don’t apply once people are out of their homes. This is particularly the case with men and young people’ (Jishnu, 2014, 1). Central to changing tastes in eating out is the explosion of restaurants, the majority of them hawking items that are meat-based. The availability of fresh meat, the influence of friends, and interesting dishes in restaurants were also cited as reasons for eating for non-vegetarian food.

39Interestingly, while vegetarianism in India has been seen as an upper-caste, brahaminical structure that is intertwined with a specific caste identity, the major reason given for remaining vegetarian was often health. The practice of eating vegetables may have originated in a particular community or caste identity, but people are reconfiguring their choices to a more modern rationality of health consciousness. In general, animal products have a much higher environmental impact than plant products, meat and fish making up the largest share of that impact. The type of meat in question also makes a significant difference, cattle having the highest impact and chicken the lowest. Traditional strictures on eating thus have an important rationale when looked at through the lens of sustainability. However, changing lifestyle dynamics, increased exposure to different kinds of food, and upward mobility loosen the traditional stronghold of the home and community.

6. Analysis and Conclusion

40The emerging middle classes are increasingly mediating between the private space of home and the community, while being exposed to global markets and to other countries and cuisines. In identifying changing patterns, one obligatory backdrop must be that of globalisation. It has been pointed out that exposure to a distinct multinational and transnational workspace diffuses similar cultural elements across the globe (Sklair, 2002). While this has certainly led to exposure to a global culture of consumption, it has not erased national, local or community specificities (Appadurai, 1996; Jackson, 2004). Instead, these global forces interact with local and traditional practices and tastes and are turned into niche novelties that are incorporated into existing patterns of consumption. These can build on both social and environmental sustainability.

41Sustainable consumption is often seen as a stand-alone ideal, delinked from the lens of culture; however, they are intimately related. Sustainable consumption has to embed social sustainability, and in a traditionally hierarchical society like India we find incremental transformations taking place, as observed in the emerging middle classes in Bangalore. One finds that the principles of purity and pollution, so central to consumption transactions in India, are being reconstituted. As discussed, food consumption has traditionally been closely classified and coded in India along lines of caste. This coded the asymmetry of access to food by a system of caste classification. We found a changing outlook in the way this asymmetry is treatedfood is now carefully offered with an awareness of differing tastes that humanises the food’s recipient. People are also careful about what food they offer, and while they may keep cutlery for their help segregated, the food often is not. In addition, the assumption that people should always take what is offered causes a certain discomfort. This also means that more and more people are taking responsibility for their own food, either preparing manageable amounts or consuming it within the family before offering it to anyone else.

42 This has an important impact on food waste in the household. Given that people do not store food for long periods and prefer freshly cooked food, there is a daily inventory of fruit and vegetables. The consequence is that there is a low volume of food waste in the household and much of it is organic waste, given the low reliance on packaged products for daily consumption. It is also interesting to note that almost all the households interviewed had empty freezers, which means a very low reliance on frozen, stored food. While the presence of the freezer could have ‘locked’ consumers into specific patterns of daily consumption through the convenience of technology, we find that the culture of freshness still persists, resisting the notion of storing food over long periods. This is in marked difference to other countries, where frozen food is the mainstay of consumption. The impacts of home-made, freshly cooked meals are lower than those of frozen meals, meaning lower energy consumption, less packaging waste and less food waste due to expiry.

43In addition, an aversion to throwing food away was expressed by almost every respondent. Most said that they had a good idea of quantities and cooked only what they needed on a daily basis. Leftovers were either consumed during the next meal or given away, either to staff (although there was an ambivalence attached to this practice, as discussed above) or fed to street animals or birds. Thus, we find that culture that affects daily consumption practices also has an impact on sustainability. Eating out, however, generates far more waste, both in terms of packaging and also food waste in general. While people often ‘doggy-bagged’ leftovers, wasting food was far more likely to occur while eating out than as a result of cooking at home. The transition to more meat-based diets also has a higher environmental impact, but even here meat consumption usually only increased while eating out as most people did not cook meat at home more than once or twice a week. In this regard, within the private space respondents were more vegetarian.

44Several factors determine consumer behaviour such as food choices and food preparation, including aspects such as individual preferences, socialisation in a particular food culture, personal contexts, mobility, infrastructure and food availability. Individual consumption decisions are determined not only by cultural and symbolic functions but also by structures such as access to food and infrastructure (for example, purchasing power, food procurement infrastructure, information about products and outlets). For a comprehensive analysis of the role of culture in food consumption patterns, one must take into account both individual practices of food consumption and the structural context that the individual mediates with, which shapes and is shaped by these practices. These structures can either facilitate or obstruct sustainable food choices and practices. In the case of the above examples, we see that some intrinsically sustainable practices are built into the cultural aspects of consumption. These can be built on, reconstituted and accommodated within the new global identity of the middle class, as tradition structurally supports certain sustainable forms of food consumption and practices around eating. Practically, despite the limited aspects analysed here, this offers up the hope that the endurance of certain selective sustainable cultural practices can be incrementally built upon to counter unsustainable forms of consumption that run counter to the cultural psyche of the emerging middle class.

45The material presented here challenges the assumed correlation that if middle-class income rises, people consume more wastefully, with the caveat that this is with particular reference to food. Instead, our data nuance the idea of a conspicuously consuming and unsustainable middle class. While there is a change in terms of consumption in the public sphere, which can have environmental and social impacts, there are also inherently sustainable practices that should be encouraged and preserved. At the level of consumption, one does not have to make sustainability palatable, as a number of practices are already sustainable, linked to people’s traditional food practices.

46This brings us to the tension we encounter at the theoretical level between the consumption driven by culture and consumerism. In India, we are at a moment where individual and collective cultures are nested within a larger globalised consumerist culture. The sacred and the profane are expressed in nuanced practices of consumption. For instance, individuals are liberal enough to marry out of the community, but the household as a unit remains vegetarian and individuals only consume meat outside the home—and even then a prescribed selection of meat. These peculiarities and nuances in consumption drive the modern, upwardly mobile, urban Indian to inhabit several identities. While colonialism has seen this particular distinction between the home and the world before, the tension between them is now not as stark. Instead they are mediated through the prism of community, class and culture, shaping choices that are not either/or but both/and. Another important dimension of change is that much of it is being driven by greater health and environmental consciousness—matters that are explored in the other contributions to this special e-issue.

Top of page


Appadurai, A. (1996) Modernity at Large (Minneapolis, M.N.: University of Minnesota Press).

Bauman, Z. (2007) Consuming Life (Cambridge: Polity).

Bauman, Z. (1998) Work, Consumerism and the New Poor (Milton Keynes: Open University Press).

Bhaktivedanata Swami Prabhupada, A.C. (1972)  Bhagavad-Gita: As It Is (Bombay: Bhaktivedanata Book Trust).

Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (London: Routledge).

Breckenridge, C.A. (1986) ‘FoodPolitics and Pilgrimage in South India, 1350-1650 a.d.’ in Khare, R.S. and M.S.A. Rao (eds.) Food, Society and Culture (Durham N.C.: Carolina Academic Press).

Brunner, K.-M.(2009) ‘Nachhaltiger Konsum: Am Beispiel des Essens’, SWS-Rundschau, 49, pp. 29–49, (accessed on 10 April 2017).

Carrigan, M., I. Szmigin and S. Leek (2006) ‘Managing routine food choices in UK families: The role of convenience consumption’, Appetite, 47(3), pp. 372–383, DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2006.05.018.

Chatterjee, P. (1989) ‘Colonialism, nationalism, and colonialized women: The contest in India’, American ethnologist, 16(4), pp. 622–633, DOI: 10.1525/ae.1989.16.4.02a00020.

Clarke, J.E. (1998) ‘Taste and flavour: their importance in food choice and acceptance’, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 57, pp. 639­–643, DOI: 10.1079/PNS19980093.

Derne, S. (2005) ‘The (limited) effect of cultural globalization in India: Implications for cultural theory’, Poetics, 33, pp. 33–47, DOI: 10.1016/j.poetic.2005.01.002.

Derne, S., M. Sharma and N. Sethi (2013) ‘Structural Changes Rather than the Influence of Media: People's Encounter with Economic Liberalization in India’, in Mathur, N. (ed.) New Consumer Culture, Modernity and Identity (New Delhi: Sage), pp. 145–167.

DH News Service (DHNS) (2013)‘India wastes Rs 44,000 cr worth food every year’, Deccan Herald, 23 August.

Dwyer, R. (2011) ‘Zara Hatke (“Somewhat Different”): The New Middle Classes and the Changing Forms of Hindi Cinema’, in Donner, H. (ed.) Being Middle Class in India: A Way of Life (New York: Routledge).

Edison, J.C. (2017) ‘Financial Analysis of the Real Estate Industry in India’, Journal of Business and Economic Development, 2(1), pp. 44-56, DOI: 10.11648/j.jbed.20170201.16.

Evans, D. and T. Jackson (2008) Sustainable Consumption: Perspectives from Social and Cultural Theory, RESOLVE Working Paper 05-08 (Guildford: University of Surrey), (accessed on 10 April 2017).

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) (2009) The State of Food and Agriculture (Rome: FAO), (accessed on 10 April 2017).

Fernandes, L. (2000)‘Restructuring the new middle class in liberalizing India’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 20(1-2), pp. 88–112, DOI: 10.1215/1089201X-20-1-2-88.

Harish, R. (2003) ‘Indian Dietary Habits: The Changing Trend’, Food & Nutrition World, pp. 49–50.

Huberman, J. (2012) Ambivalent Encounters: Childhood, Tourism, and Social Change in Banaras, India (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press).

Jackson, P. (2004) ‘Local Consumption Cultures in a Globalizing World’, Transactions of Institute of British Geographers, 29, pp. 165–178,

Jackson, T. (2006) ‘Consuming Paradise? Towards a Social and Cultural Psychology of Sustainable Consumption’, in Jackson, T. (ed.) The Earthscan Reader in Sustainable Consumption (London: Earthscan), pp. 365–397.

Jaeger, S.R. and H.L. Meiselman (2004) ‘Perceptions of Meal Convenience: The Case of At-home Evening Meals’, Appetite, 42(3), pp. 317325, DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2004.01.005.

Jishnu, L. (2014) ‘Meaty tales of vegetarian India’, Down to Earth, 14 December, (accessed on 9 August 2016).

Kamath, V. (2014) ‘As India shops like never before’, The Hindu, 9 January, (accessed on 3 July 2016).

Karanth, G K (2017) '"Foodscapes" in Bengaluru - Changing Patterns of Family Eating Out and Waste Generation’, International Development Policy, 8.2, DOI : 10.4000/poldev. 2480.

Khare, R.S. (ed.) (1992) The Eternal Food: Gastronomic Ideas and Experiences of Hindus and Buddhists (Albany: Suny Press).

KittlerP.G., K.P. Sucher and M.N. Nelms (2012) Food and Culture (6th ed.) (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth).

Lakshmikantha, B. (2010) ‘Bangalore has lion’s share in state’s meat consumption’, DNA India, 16 July, (accessed on 19 October 2015).

McCracken, G. (1986) ‘Culture and Consumption: A Theoretical Account of the Structure and Movement of the Cultural Meaning of Consumer Goods’, Journal of Consumer Research, pp. 71–84, DOI: 10.1086/209048.

Miles, S. (1998) Consumerism (London: Sage).

Misra, B.B. (1961) The Indian Middle Classes: Their Growth in Modern Times (Oxford University Press, Bombay).

Mukerji, D. (2002) Indian Culture: A Sociological Study (New Delhi: Rupa and Company).

NSSO (National Sample Survey Organisation) (2012) Household Consumer Expenditure in 2011–12. NSS 68th round, June 2011–July 2012, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Report No. 560 (63/1.0/1), (New Delhi: NSSO).

Pattanaik, D. (2014) ‘Feasting and Fasting in Hindu India’ in Chaudhary, N., S. Anandalakshmy and J. Valsiner (eds.) Cultural Realities of Being: Abstract ideas within everyday lives (London and New York: Routledge), pp. 23-40.

Pfeifer, G. (2009) ‘Factors in Food Choice’, The Psychologist, 22(7), pp. 588–589, (accessed on 10 April 2017).

Pliner P. and N. Mann (2004) ‘Influence of social norms and palatability on amount consumed and food choice’, Appetite, 42, pp. 227–237, DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2003.12.001.

Ray, K. (2012) ‘New Directions of Research on Indian Food’, in Claflin, K. and P. Scholliers (eds.) Writing Food History. A Global Perspective (New York: Berg), pp. 165–180.

Ritzer, G. (2001) Explorations in the sociology of consumption: Fast food, credit cards, and casinos (Thousand Oaks, C.A.: Sage).

Sarkar, S. (2002) Modern India: 1885–1947 (Delhi: Oxford University Press).

Scholderer, J. and K. G. Grunert (2005)‘Consumers, food and convenience: The long way from resource constraints to actual consumption patterns’, Journal of Economic Psychology, 26, pp. 105–128, DOI: 10.1016/j.joep.2002.08.001.

Shah, G. (2009) ‘The impact of economic globalization on work and family collectivism in India’, Journal of Indian Business Research, 1(2/3), pp. 95–118, DOI: 10.1108/17554190911005318.

Shukla, R (2010). How India Earns, Spends and Saves- Unmasking the Real India (New Delhi: Sage and NCAER-CMCR).

Sklair, L. (2002) Globalization: Capitalism and its Alternatives (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

UN (United Nations) (2000) Millennium Declaration, Resolution 55/2, 8 September, (accessed on 10 April 2017).

Upadhya, C. (2008) ‘Rewriting the Code: Software Professionals and the Reconstitution of Indian Middle Class Identity’, in Jaffrelot, C. and P. van der Veer (eds.) Patterns of Middle Class Consumption in India and China (New Delhi: Sage), pp. 55-87.

Van Wessel, M. (2004) ‘Talking about consumption: How an Indian middle class dissociates from middle-class life’, Cultural Dynamics, 16(1), pp. 93–116, DOI: 10.1177/092137400404275.

Vaz, M., A.V. Bharathi, S. Muthayya, J.T. Smitha and A.V. Kurpad (2009) ‘Food Frequency Questionnaire-Based Estimates of Compliance to ATP III (National Cholesterol Education Programme) Recommended Diets in a Middle-Class Adult Population of Bangalore City’, Journal of the Association of Physicians of India (JAPI), 57, pp. 443–446, (accessed on 10 April 2017).

Wacquant, L. (1992)‘Making class: the middle class(es) in social theory and social structure’, in McNall, S.G., R. Levine and R. Fantasia (eds.) Bringing Class Back In: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives (Boulder, C.O.: Westview Press), pp. 39−64.

Warde, A (1999) ‘Convenience food: space and timing’, British Food Journal, 101(7), pp. 518–527, DOI: 10.1108/00070709910279018.

Warde, A., S-L. Cheng, W. Olsen and D. Southerton (2007) ‘Changes in the practice of eating: a comparative analysis of time-use’, Acta Sociologica, 50(4), pp. 365–387, DOI: 10.1177/0001699307083978.

Wezler, A. (1978Die wahren Speiseresteesser (Skt. vighasdsin) (Mainz: Akademie der Wissenschaften und Literatur in Mainz).

Wilhite, H. (2014) ‘The body in consumption: perspectives from India’, in Southerton, D. and A. Ulph (eds.) Consumption: A Multidisciplinary Point of View (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Wood, W., L. Tam and Q.M. Witt (2005) ‘Changing circumstances, disrupting habits’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88(6), pp. 918–933, DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.88.6.918.

Top of page


1 NCAER (2011) National Survey of Household Income and Expenditure (NSHIE)/Market Information Survey of Households (MISH) (New Delhi: NCAER).

2 Last official numbers available were 53.3 million middle-class households by 2015-16 and because of the country’s relatively large household size this translates into 267 million people (Shukla, 2010).

3 Data were gathered by the author and by Malavika Belavangala who was a research associate in the project.

4 Zonal classification of Bangalore

5 In the Indian subcontinent, a joint family corresponds to an extended family whereby several generations live in the same household.

6 One crore in the Indian numerical system corresponds to ten million. A conversion into Swiss francs would equate INR13,300 crore to about CHF 2 billion.

7 I would like to thank Shalini Randeria for introducing me to this line of enquiry.

Top of page

Cite this article

Electronic reference

Sunayana Ganguly, « Making Sustainability Palatable? Changing Practices of Middle-Class Food Consumption in Bangalore », International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 8.2 | 2017, Online since 03 November 2017, connection on 16 November 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/poldev.2478

Top of page

About the author

Sunayana Ganguly

Sunayana Ganguly is currently Assistant Professor at the Azim Premji University in Bangalore. She received her PhD in Political Science from the Freie Universität Berlin where she was affiliated with the Environmental Policy Research Centre, while working with the German Development Institute in Bonn. At the time of writing this paper, she was a research associate at the Industrial Ecology Group, University of Lausanne (Switzerland), working on the interdisciplinary research project on the dynamics of consumption patterns, practices and policies among new consumers in two megacities of South and South-East Asia: Bangalore in India and Metro Manila in the Philippines. Her work explores environmental governance, civil society, deliberative democracy and sustainable consumption with a focus on South Asia.

By this author

Top of page


Creative Commons License
International Development Policy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Top of page
  • Logo The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies
  • Logo DOAJ – Directory of Open Access Journals
  • Logo ERIH PLUS | NSD
  • OpenEdition Journals