Bonding over Food: Community Building across Difference

Rachel’s Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust.  

Food is a basic necessity of life. Everyone needs food to survive. It is often said that “we live to eat,” or the other way around, “we eat to live.” Whatever the arguments may be, one thing is for certain: food is an integral part of our lives. We need food to sustain our lives. In my host organization, we always eat our lunch together in the office. It is a wonderful time for bonding. From personal topics about family issues to other topics like “why is Chhattisgarh called the rice bowl of India?” are the sort of discussions happening over lunch. Lunchtime has always been an interesting time of the day as it involves so much exchange. In a way, food has created a way for me to bond with my colleagues during this Fellowship. It also offered opportunities for me to share the types of food I eat at home, or what we Nagas generally eat. It means that I always get to try and eat different types of food which I did not know about before joining the AIF Clinton Fellowship. And to my astonishment, some curries have become my favorites by now!

I had a similar experience of bonding during my field visits. One such experience was when I spent a day with a group of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) who were members of different Self-Help Groups (SHGs) engaging in jewelry making for a livelihood. On that particular day, I was with them since morning when they started coming to their workplace to craft their jewelry. Interactions between us started like “How are you doing? Who cooks for you? How long will you stay in Chhattisgarh?”


Time passed by and time for lunch came. Despite some hesitation, they offered me to have lunch with them and I gladly accepted the offer. Their faces suddenly lit up as I sat together with them to eat. Then they asked me what type of food people from Nagaland usually eat, and this opened an opportunity for me to share my culture. I quickly opened my picture gallery in my mobile phone and started showing pictures of the types of food we cook at home. They were more fascinated rather than judgmental about my food habits.

Food has become a source of bonding with the community I worked with as an AIF Clinton Fellow. Generally, persons with disabilities are often neglected by society and are not considered as important individuals in society. Their voice is often neglected and most of them lose confidence due to the lack of self-esteem. Sharing a basic meal might not be a very significant gesture, but for PwDs it becomes important because it creates a sense of acceptance. However, it was not only them but even I felt included in that moment. Being from Northeast India, most of the time people from other states of India have stereotypes about our food habits, and that’s how exclusion happens. Food habits of the Northeastern states are very different from other states. Many people from other states in India are pure vegetarian, so even renting an apartment can become difficult.

External factors have defined our food choice and also the availability of food [1]. The society around us, the religion we follow, and social norms in our surroundings can impact food choices and preferences [2]. Our parents or any societal influence determine the foundation of our taste development and food preference [3]. According to Robin Temsu, a historian, the people of Nagaland have no interest “in these debates on food as for them meat eating is their way of life and it would be impossible to discourage them” from it [4]. To explain further:

“Temsu maintains that Nagaland culture is strongly linked to its hunter-gatherer origins. Agriculture was difficult due to the hilly terrain and therefore hunting was the mainstay. Even today, at occasions such as the Feast of Merit, people feed meat to the people of their village in order to gain respect. The folklore of Nagaland is replete with legends connected to hunting and of people whose lives were connected to the wildlife around them, he says.” [5]


Tushi Tozukum, a member of the Ao tribe and expert on tribal culture as part of the tourism department, maintains that “even today there are many occasions when animal meat is significant for rituals and occasions” [6]. He mentions the Moatsu Festival, where during the first day, a pig or cow needs to be slaughtered to begin festivities and “young men are expected to hunt birds and animals and gift them to be eligible for alliances” [7]. E. Rosse, assistant labor commissioner with the state government, concludes that it would be impossible for the Nagas to accept a ban on meat: “Meat is more the staple of the state than any vegetables”[8].

Personally, food has been an important way of bonding with my host organization and community as a Fellow. It also has given me opportunities to share food habits and clear the stereotypes.


  1. Verma, Prakhar. “Why We Eat the Foods We Eat.” Fit Yourself Club, 6 Oct. 2017. Accessed at:
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Kumar, K P Narayana. “Naga Hill Cuisine Lends Itself More To Meat.” The Economic Times, 11 Oct 2015. Accessed at:
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.

Born and brought up in Nagaland, in the Northeastern part of India, Rachel always wondered if people could make use of the abundant natural resources in such a way that it would help improve livelihoods in a sustainable manner. Having completed her graduation in Political Science, she is keenly interested in understanding the intricacies of different aspects of rural areas. This motivated her to pursue a Master’s in Development Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. During these two years, she volunteered in Care and Support Society, Nagaland, gained experiential learning with People Action for Creative Education, Telangana, as part of the course curriculum, and undertook an internship with Rajasthan Grameen Aajeevika Vikas Parishad, Rajasthan. She had worked in broad areas like livelihood for persons with disabilities in Nagaland, rural development in Telangana, health and gender related issues of the rural communities in parts of Rajasthan. Through the AIF Clinton Fellowship, Rachel aspires to gain in-depth knowledge and develop perspectives on development sector initiatives, challenges and probable solutions to these.

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