As identities around the world get further convoluted with the circulation of diverse ideas, some embrace the oncoming change, while for others, it becomes important to assert their authenticity in the face of the massive ideological onslaught.
Amidst this tumult of the citizens of the world coming to terms with their hybrid-cosmopolitan identities in a flux informed by the chaos of politics, circulating ideas, cultural and religious influences, economic conditions, our movements, restriction of these movements and multiple other factors, the arenas where these emerge from become very important.
Our food obviously embodies this tumultuous state of our identities while reflecting the metaphorical heat, using which the very same identities are processed. Whether it’s the selective condemnation of religion or the tadka of politics, our food reflects the spaces, where our identities are created from and exist in.
Society and food are almost mirror images as they reflect a lot of each other and thus, as an inevitability, politics amalgamates into our food and the structure that supersedes it. One of the best examples of this phenomenon is the very humble pizza.
Pizza happens to be one of the most versatile food items out there which aptly reflects the politics our society. You can have it sweet, sour or savoury. Pizza has a personality of its own, shaped by not just the chef but the politics of a space. Domino’s India serves Paneer Tikka Pizza, a dish unheard of in the west whereas Domino’s US might serve juicy chunks of beef in their dishes but if India takes up that trend, well…the consequences are questionable, to say the least.
Pizza hence, in the above cases, reflects the adaptive capabilities of a capitalist corporation that will go to any extent to garner a profit while keeping in mind the situation and requirement of each marketplace.
“Othering” happens to be another major socio-political ideologies that pizza reflects and which is very easily understood through the metaphor of pizza creation and consumption.
Let’s first understand what “Othering” actually means.
By “othering”, we mean, any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as “not one of us”. So in food euphemisms, thinking that pineapple pizza eaters aren’t “one of you” as pineapple isn’t the best-suited topping on pizza just because it seems odd or different to you could be another distinct instance exemplifying the same.
Simply put, you refuse to understand and acknowledge the existence of such Pizzas and homogenise all of them as ‘bad’ without acknowledging the differences each pineapple pizza might have because of the several factors that go into creating this beauty. They might be made with a different sauce, with different ingredients and made in a different place hence, making them unique. But you refuse to acknowledge the distinctness of this pizza and thereby, also defy to give it equal respect, status, rights, dignity as other pizzas.
What might also happen in this entire process of selectivity is that one might establish his/ her/ their identity based on his/ her/ their dislike for that particular pizza, defining himself/herself/themselves in opposition to the “othered” pizza.
Suppose you have been eating pineapple on pizza all your life and one day some douchebag-pardon-person comes to you and says, “Hey! that’s an anomaly and no one really likes pineapple on pizza. Put capsicum instead cause that’s what we normally eat.”(yuck)
‘We’ here symbolises the dominant powerful majority group who have been defining ideologies of the space(any space, for that matter) for a long time. It’s these bunches of douchebags who constantly define and redefine trends and hence, define your status in the society based on how well you endorse the systems regulated by them. In certain cases, they might also define themselves in opposition to your pizza.
You can succumb and give in to their majority impulses but you will never be quite them and in the process of imitating them, you may jolly well be alienated by your pineapple pizza peeps. But you can resist and stick to your pineapple eating and suffer the repercussions as the minority group.
This goes beyond scapegoating and denigration i.e there will be more done to you than just alienating you, abusing you and blaming you for everything. It’s like the time you decided to order pizza with the majority group and a fourth of the pizza had pineapple for you and they unfortunately messed up the pizza order completely but you were the sole person blamed for it because according to them an addition of pineapple complicated the order, but, obviously it wasn’t you or the pineapple.
As the philosopher, Richard Rorty put it, “everything turns on who counts as a fellow human being, as a rational agent in the only relevant sense – the sense in which rational agency is synonymous with membership of our moral community” (Rorty, 1993, p. 124).
You, my pineapple pizza eating friend have officially been “othered”. The only thing that makes sense to them is eating capsicum on the pizza and hence anyone who goes a little off from the trend is “irrational” and hence not a fellow human being and undeserving of the rights and choices provided to the member of the dominant group. You might not be asked for your choice the next time they order pizza.
The rest of your characteristics vanish in light of your pizza eating choices. You are no longer defined by your choice in dosa, drinks, breads, cheese but just your choice in toppings.
According to Chef Freud (Freud, 1921c; 1930a) “othering” is prompted by what is referred to as ‘narcissism of minor differences’ – the pizza or group that ‘othered’ is the one in closest physical and symbolic proximity, as it is seen to present a major threat to one’s identity and pride.
The fact that a pizza place is creating a pineapple pizza, different from the others and is one which might replace the methods of creation of another group’s pizza and hence pose a threat to the kind of pizza they create, incites the latter group to act and “other” the pineapple pizza creators. This happens because the customers might switch to Pineapple pizza eating from capsicum and hence ruin business. So, such majoritarian impositions are not only political but also greatly economic. The fact that these pizzerias are far away from one another might also lead to further heating up of the metaphorical oven is what Chef Freud also insists on (don’t forget to acknowledge the fact that he was quite obsessed with his mother’s recipes, it’s always good to take his recipes with a grain of salt).
This is precisely what happened to thousands of Jews in Germany and Europe. The consequences of this narcissism of minor differences can range from petty yet serious antagonism of supporters to ethnic cleansing and genocide (Blok, 2001). One might be abused for their choice in pizza and the place itself might be burned down or shut down because it posed a competition and was different.
As Chef Lévi-Strauss (Lévi-Strauss, 1955/1992) proposed that throughout human history, people have employed two strategies in dealing with the Other, the foreign, the deviant or the stranger – one is to incorporate them, as in the case of pushing people towards giving up pineapple on their pizza, eliminating any boundaries between the same and the other. The second strategy it to expel them and exclude them (‘spit them out’) by erecting strong boundaries and special institutions in which they are kept in isolation, compelling the “othered” pizzeria to shift to the peripheries of the town where no one can visit them because of the distance and, in case of the pineapple pizza eaters, no more invitations to social gatherings are made, which is to say, complete isolation is imposed.
Chef Edward Said argued that western pizzas are fundamentally created by an othering logic, one that devalues other toppings, such as pineapples, paneer and so forth. An essential feature of othering is attributing qualities, opinions and views that refer to one’s own pizza on the other. So onion goes really well with capsicum, so it must go well with pineapple too is the opinion forced onto the othered pizza without allowing the chef or the consumer to voice their opinion on this.
It might be possible to transcend ‘othering’ and establish a genuine understanding with the Other, through the use of reason (for example, by appealing to a common humanity, as Kant did i.e technically both are just pizzas despite the choice of the topping) or through empathy (for example, giving the other pizza a chance and trying to think from the perspective of a pineapple pizza eater or its creator, as capsicum). But after decades of discourse, theorising, alongside the rise of postmodernism which led to the breaking of all meaning plausible, the very act of assigning meaning and identity creation remains a hoax. And, it seems kind of silly to judge someone for something so fragmented and fleeting. It might be their identity caught in this tumultuous world where nothing is constant or might simply be their choice of topping on their slice of pizza.
Written by Devika Asthana