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Lounge Review | The Forager

'The Forager' seeks to fill the gaps in food writing

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Let’s face it. Generally speaking, standards of food writing in this country are pretty abysmal. Till a few years ago, there was little space for it in the mainstream media. Such focus as there was concentrated on the rather grim subject of agriculture; food, as a consumable, was usually relegated to 200 words from the rookiest reporter, fresh off a free meal. With a few exceptions, publishers considered food books—read, recipe collations—as the perfect way to meet summer sales targets.

Then came food television and the smartphone and changed everything. From the rather dreary foodscape of the 1990s to the full-blown food porn celebration of the noughties was a quick leap. Suddenly, everyone was a food blogger or a food photographer or, yes, a food writer (strictly distinct from food reviewers, who can be regarded as a whole separate species!). The available column inches in newspapers expanded as supplements went colour and their frequency increased from weekly to daily. Unfortunately, the sudden surfeit of space, and the lack of checks and balances in new media, didn’t do much for the overall quality of food writing. Of late, this has been changing, but the separation of the grain from the chaff is a long process.

The time, then, is perhaps right for the emergence of an online magazine that bows neither to the dictates of conventional media nor the desperation of new media-estes. The Forager was launched at Galleryske in Bangalore last week, seeking, perhaps, to fill the large gaps in food writing. I’m not entirely sure because I may not have quite comprehended its statement of purpose: “Against a backdrop of successive consumers’ coming of age at the many thresholds of modernity and the culinary bricolage giving cities shaped by globalization’s compression of time and space their contemporary edge, the idiosyncrasies of food practices in the contemporary moment present a giddy concatenation of cultural mingling, mimicry and borrowing at one end of the spectrum, and at the other, raise the more critical issue of food security at a time when global elites’ fickle food preferences are synced to fashion’s and not nature’s seasons; such are the territories we are setting out to explore in this and future editions of our magazine."

Phew. After that editorial—which, to me, sums up all that’s alienating about art writing in India today—I had apprehensions about the content, but there are surprises in store. Of the seven essays in the inaugural edition, the pieces that worked the best for me were the two artists’ pieces: “The World In A Supermarket Aisle", a sensitive reading of the impact of a globalized economy on daily life, and “Things You Learn When You Forage", an account of the “human stories" around wild plant life. “Curry German Style" is a charming, if not particularly novel, description of an encounter with an Indian restaurateur couple in small-town Germany, while “In Food And Holy Matrimony" looks at the synergies of the two in Tamil cinema.

Esoteric? Unapologetically, yes. That, perhaps, will be the toughest test for The Forager going ahead: Will it be content to be an artistic endeavour, a niche magazine, happy to indulge in some irrelevant and self-indulgent—and intelligent, if occasionally unintelligible—navel-gazing? Or will it rise above its obvious limitations and create some ground-breaking literature and art on food, especially in the Indian context? Run as it is at the moment, as a labour of love by a “collective" of seven—a journalist, a couple of artists, a lawyer—united by their common interest in food, it has the potential to go either way or forge its own path.

Whichever way it goes, The Forager might also be well-advised to change its 9.5-size Courier New font. As sleek as it looks against the very spare template, it doesn’t make for the friendliest reading.

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