V. Sujatha is a Professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems in Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. In her paper, Econometric and Existential Understanding of Food: Analysing Economic Growth and Nutritional Status in South India, published in Indian Journal of Human Development this year, she argues against the “binary between objective and subjective approaches to social reality”.
No doubt that the quantitative approach is rigorous, essential for national and international comparisons and is guided by the imperative to provide food security for the citizens, but the entire nutrition discourse need not be determined by averages arrived at through statistical models with no reference to the life-experiences of the people whose nutritional status is at stake. In the expert framework of scientism, food is seen as a commodity and as a measurable intake whose quantity has an impact on body weight and height. My argument is that such a view is partial and has to be complemented by other approaches to grasp the problem of nutrition in its manifold dimensions.
In a section that asks the question, Is Malnutrition only a Problem of Quantity of Food?, she discusses the social dynamics of nutrition. She writes, “In my previous interviews in Central Tamil Nadu during 1990, farmers saw food as the mediator between the ecology and their own body, because food consisting of plants and animals carried ecology into the body.” With a large amount of data collated from the field and from secondary sources, using both qualitative and quantitative information, she deftly shows how “in a rapidly changing society, capabilities such as education and cash income may not translate into better nutrition and why they are not always cumulative.” There is a lot to learn from both her methodological approach and her insights on the everyday life of food.