, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 177–193 | Cite as

Unreliable eating: Patterns of food adulteration in urban India

  • Harris Solomon
Original Article


This article is about food safety and food adulteration in urban India. Situated at the relational interface of foods and their contaminants, it considers ways of thinking and acting at the porous boundaries between bodies and environments. The article details how people attempt to detect where food and its adulteration begins and ends, through ethnographic reflection on several events of adulteration in Mumbai and a context of changing food safety policies in India. The article develops the concept of reliability as a lens onto food politics different than one delimited strictly in terms of consumerism. Reliability refracts the politics of difference at work in times of toxic food environments, in contemporary India and elsewhere, wherein tensions between poison and nourishment take on renewed charges. This framework recasts a choice-focused approach to thinking about food safety by centralizing how living with harm – rather than ridding the world of it, element by element – is what is at stake.


food safety toxicity Urban India materiality food politics corruption 



This research received support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the National Science Foundation Cultural Anthropology Program and Fulbright-Hays. I am ever-grateful to my friends and neighbors in Mumbai who shared with me different possibilities to think about eating, especially Thelma Poojari, Vikram Doctor, Kalpana Swaminathan and Ishrat Syed. I thank Emilia Sanabria and Emily Yates-Doerr for their careful reading, thoughts and encouragement. I also wish to thank Jennifer Ashley, Anne Blackburn, Lawrence Cohen, Mike Fortun, Hayden Kantor, Stacey Langwick, Nadine Levin, Lenore Manderson, Kathleen Millar, Michael Montoya, Amy Moran-Thomas, Elizabeth Roberts, Ian Whitmarsh, Gabriel Rosenberg, and the Editors and anonymous reviewers at BioSocieties for their guidance and feedback.


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Copyright information

© The London School of Economics and Political Science 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Harris Solomon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Cultural Anthropology and the Duke Global Health InstituteDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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