Tag Archives: indian food

Elders Eat First

Context and Background:

Food is a big part of Indian culture and here, my informant is almost like my grandmother and my late grandfather’s family friend. She tells me a belief about food in India. 

Performance: (via phone call)

There is a belief that whenever we are making food for the family, the first bite is always eaten by the elder of the family. Elder meaning, the oldest child of the family. In a family of mom, dad, and two children, this means, either the elder child can eat it because they are the oldest sibling, or the mom and dad can eat if they were the older sibling in their family. It excludes the younger sibling for eating the first bite. The reason behind this is because we believe that if the elder eats the first bite, there will be plenty of food for the entire family. But if the younger child eats first, there will be a shortage of food. 


After recording this conversation, my and my friend also had a conversation about her childhood. She told me she had 11 siblings and most families in her village were quite big. At the time she was born, in the 1950s, it was common to have a lot of children because there weren’t many birth control options. These villages could also be poor, so food on the table was something they had to worry about. This folk belief is a natural consequence of their circumstances, they had to make sure there was enough food on the table for everyone. If believing that the older child ate first gave them some peace of heart and so they adopted and spread this folk belief. Even in the 2020’s, my mom always makes me eat first bite because of this belief. 

“Every grain of rice has a destiny”

Context/Background: The informant’s mother used to have a saying that she would express to them growing up. Pertaining much to emphasizing not wasting food, there is an element of attributing energy and value to it.


“So growing up… my mom used to say every grain of rice had a destiny whenever you threw any sort of food away- it wasn’t just about rice, but just food in general. And it was basically just like something that her and everyone in her family- and I’d assume, our ancestors before that- would always say to like… encourage you not to waste food ’cause they were very like… economical and practical about that… and… yeah. I think it’s just like… every piece of food… or the value that was behind it was that every piece of food like has a certain amount of energy to it and that energy is like… if you… if you get the food, you’re supposed to ingest that energy and use it to fuel your body and if you throw it away, then you’re like… throwing away the like, potential energy of that food that it was supposed to give you.”

A) Some earlier datings referencing the “destiny” and a “grain of rice” can be found in studies referencing an Indian Subcontinent which indicates that “every grain has a name (of who will eat it).”

Introduction: She was first introduced to the saying by her mother who would recite it to her family in an effort to get them to appreciate food and not waste it.

Analysis/Interpretation: I think this proverb is very valuable cross-culturally because of the emphasis placed on the value of not wasting and appreciating any food you’re given access to. I think there are definitely similar elements across different cultures. Growing up, in my aunts home specifically, there was a large emphasis on not wasting anything on the place which was very known and heavily present.