Indian food systems are famously intricate, but the southern state of Tamil Nadu has a single foundation for its cuisine: rice. A few generations ago, other grains collectively called “millets” were the daily staple for many Tamil people. Then, they almost totally eschewed millets in favor of polished, white rice, as the latter became more accessible. Yet in the past few years, public health and development professionals have launched efforts to re-popularize millets as neglected and underutilized species that have the potential to positively affect consumer nutrition, use of environmental resources, and livelihood stability. Drawing on ethnographic evidence collected through field research in and around the city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, this paper explores how the particularities of Tamil history and cultural values shape the current confused status of millets there. By emphasizing the interplay of structure and change over time, the paper considers how a denigrated food from the past can be made “good” and “right” in the present. It brings to the foreground unresolved challenges that could impede the goals of millet promotion efforts. These challenges will likely need to be addressed if millets are to have a place in future Tamil food culture.
Chera, Madeline. 2017. "Transforming Millets: Strategies and Struggles in Changing Taste in Madurai." Food, Culture & Society 20, no. 2: 303-324. DOI: 10.1080/15528014.2017.1305830.