“Food is adjacent to so many other things that impact us: gender, caste, a vast variety of beliefs…” According to former journalist Peter Griffin, discussions around the subject of food can be relatable, fascinating and endless.
He should know: as founder and admin of the vibrant Facebook group Simple Recipes For Complicated Times, he has been privy to the cooking struggles, recipes and cravings of over 6,000 Indians since the group launched, when the pandemic began.
The experience, he says, has taught him something. Something beyond the host of regional recipes, shortcut kitchen “hacks” and produce advice that members have been sharing. From one man’s light-hearted rant about disliking nuts to another woman’s memories of her aunt in Kashmir, who taught her to be independent, opinionated and feminist without actually using the term feminist, food and the kitchen shapes our lives and personalities in ways we often do not realise.
Griffin is now taking these conversations to a different platform, in a different format. His ongoing Table Talk conversation series features an in-depth discussion every other Sunday, each with a noted guest from a far-flung walk of life. From theatre artiste Kirtana Kumar’s experience of moving from city to farm and foraging for her own produce, to food writer Antoine Lewis tracing the influence of different countries in what is now considered quintessentially Indian diet, each person, brings a different discussion to the table.
He recalls Lewis’s conversation in detail: “It was about authenticity. So much of what we consider authentic, essentially Indian food is actually not Indian. India has about three native spices, yet we call ourselves the land of spices. The chilli is not native to India; it came via the Portuguese, as did the tomato and the potato. The thing with food is that it migrates, morphs, changes. We are not exactly eating what our great-grandparents grew and ate.”
His audience for these conversations has so far have varied between 10 and 30, but as word spread, the next edition has 50 registrations already. Griffin is both cautious and optimistic; he has enough topics and speakers in mind for another six months, but recognises that scheduling is a challenge. “It’s more of a challenge because I want these conversations to be topical, and cannot predict what topic would be relevant a few months down the line,” he states.
Griffin adds, “If it gets successful, and I am able to accommodate the number of people who want to come in, then I would have to consider doing it in a webinar format.” But to enable that, he would have to spend some money, he observes, “in which I have to make some money off it [Table Talk], at least enough for it to pay for itself.”
There are options he can consider, from sponsorship to ticketing, but that is too far in the future to thresh out. For now, his focussing is on the next edition, and the next, with everyone from authors to anthropologists slotted in. “The people I have lined up are knowledgeable, have fun stuff to share and are interesting speakers,” he says, and registrations are open.