By Vatsala Mamgain Nov. 17, 2016
The purpose of food today is not to be eaten, but to look ravishing on a plate. It’s now against the law to consume anything edible that hasn’t spent some time in a parlour.
Idon’t know if you have noticed, but food is becoming prettier by the minute. There was a time in the past when the world was new, when food looked like food. A roti looked like a roti and a dosa like a dosa, and rice and meat curry looked like rice and meat curry. (And the khichri from dadi’s kitchen looked like the dog’s upchuck, but nobody minded, because it tasted surprisingly yummy and khichri was never supposed to be a contender for Miss India anyway.)
But now all food looks super pretty and so aesthetic that if this trend is left unchecked, by next year even the vada sambar sold by the man on the bicycle at the corner of your neighbourhood will look exactly like Aishwarya Rai.
How exactly did this happen? It’s important to know the historical context to be able to appreciate the change. As a society that had literally just escaped from the clutches of a perpetual famine, the most important thing that we as Indians cosmically asked for in food, was that it simply show up. As in literally show up, be present, be there. As agriculture improved and consequently our collective clenching of the national sphincter eased slightly, we allowed that food also had to be edible, not just present. And that’s where it stayed for a few decades, a whole nation happy that there was food on the table and some of it was edible too.
And then in a freak act of nature like Hurricane Katrina, cupcakes happened, exploding onto our food consciousness, looking cuter and more adorable than a bag full of puppies with wet noses. Naturally, everyone fell under their spell and began to believe that the purpose of food was not to be actually eaten, but to look ravishing on a plate. (Anyone who has ever attempted to eat a cupcake knows that it is the equivalent of putting the Qutub Minar in your joint and attempting to smoke it – it’s a misunderstanding on the essential nature of the thing, which is guaranteed to result in some disappointment.)
Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t as if visual appeal hasn’t always been important in food. Everybody, who has drooled over steam rising from a plate of fluffy idlis or marvelled at how yummy the bowl of Gujarati kadhi looks, with the baghaar of round red chillies spluttered in ghee, knows that part of the reason something tastes yummy is that it looks yummy. But what cupcakes did is basically blind us all to almost every other aspect of food except its look. Fondant cakes, like opportunistic viruses, also chose this moment to pop up out of wherever they had been holed up, to look impossibly delish and taste exactly like plywood. And in a simultaneous surgical strike, rainbow-coloured macarons burst out of the stylish rues and boulevards of Paris, singing Vive le France and settled in every kirana dukaan right next to the packaged soan papdi, thereby forever convincing us that the primary purpose of food was not to be eaten, but to be photographed and drive other people mad with envy on Snapchat.
I have thought long and hard about this trend and I have decided that I am going to jump right in and take my rightful place at the forefront of this movement.
That was sort of the tipping point because after that, the floodgates opened. Soon, every sort of food item began to dress fancy, wear cheap make up, and start tarting up. Now of course, when grannies have their nightly spoon of isabgol, they look nervously over their shoulders before they quaff it because it is now against the law to consume anything edible that hasn’t spent some time in a gym and a beauty parlour. For that we also have the media to thank, because it’s become critical to food and how we consume it.
Food programmes on television exploded a few years back and became incredibly popular and have taught us many important lessons. Chief amongst them being that not just food, but also the people who present food-related content have to be sexy and sultry – the roly-poly pudding chefs who look like a fabulous advertisement for their own cooking just don’t cut it. TV also taught us that the word “master” does not inevitably have to be followed either by a ji or sahab and does not have to refer to your harmonium teacher or your tailor, but can also be suffixed by chef and is used to describe people who cry copiously when they tell us their back stories and don’t just serve food but “plate” it, typically with a smear of beetroot purée at the bottom, so that it appears to have been murdered and is bleeding to death on the plate.
I have thought long and hard about this trend and I have decided that I am going to jump right in and take my rightful place at the forefront of this movement. I am going to seize upon the first principles of the pretty food revolution and take them to their logical conclusion. Since the raison d’être of food seems to have jumped from being edible to being photogenic, I am going to a) pile serving after serving of gorgeousness on to every plate of food I put out and b) take away everything that distracts from the essential sexiness of what’s already there.
So, the next time I make bhindi, I’m going to drizzle a little photoshopped Cara Delevingne and Brad Pitt on to it. Since they are so pretty and posh they will definitely take my bhindi bhaaji post on Instagram to the next level. And the next cake that I bake is going to be topped with real live kittens. If cat videos get so much play on the internet, my kitten cake is going to go viral on Facebook for sure. And if it ever comes to choosing between a dish and its dishiness, I’m going to make the hard choice and obviously choose the dishiness.
Sometimes the edible parts of the food detract so much from the look, that it isn’t even a tough decision frankly. So, if you are young and photogenic and would like to audition for the part of my shrimp batter-fried in tempura with wasabi mayo in my next food-related post, please send pics immediately. Move over Kim Kardashian, we’re going to be breaking the internet with that one for sure.