Food and Nutrition in Indian contexts
Funding Agency(ies):
Principal Investigator(s):
Dr. Brigitte Sebastia
Axis 1. of the Social Sciences Department /

These past decades, India has been facing a drastic increase in food-related diseases, which need to be examined in depth. The main objective of the programme Food and nutrition in Indian contexts is to analyze all the factors which have contributed in the past and have an effect today in the changes in food patterns and habits, in order to bring our contributions to decision-makers involved in agriculture and food policies, as well as in the medical milieu. To investigate the complexity in these changes in food patterns, the programme hosts interdisciplinary researches which explore historical, social, economical and environmental fields, in relation with the transformation of agriculture and life style, urbanization, government policies, impact of religion, migration, food education and revival of traditional food. The programme participates to a UNESCO Chair on the food heritage and is developing two investigation projects which will be submitted for European Commission funding Horizon 2020:

1- “Sauvegarde et valorisation des patrimoines alimentaires”. Project integrated in the Unesco Chair programme, hosted by François Rabelais University, Tours and the Institut Européen d’Histoire et des cultures de l’Alimentation, Tours, in association with the programme ‘Alimentations du monde’, Montpellier SupAgro. This Unesco chair is involved with France and India, as well as five other countries: Brazil, Hong-Kong, Liban, Marocco, Niger. (See website of the IEHCA)

This programme aims at documenting the production, cooking and consumption of plant foods in South India. This choice is based on the fact that plants, including food grains, vegetables, fruits, and spices, represent a large part of the Indian diet of vegetarians, as well as of non vegetarians. A particular emphasis will be put on rice and millet/sorghum, given that cereals compose, as per socio-economic status, castes and religions, 60 to 80% of South Indian diet, and rice consumption prevails over millet/sorghum today. To comprehend the transformation in consumption patterns, the programme proposes to collaborate with historians and socio-anthropologists. Written sources and research fields in archeology, epigraphy, religion, epic and ancient laws, literature and correspondence of travelers, missionaries and doctors of various origins, would allow to document food plants cultivation, consumption and representation. This historical material will be crossed with ethnographies conducted in different socio-demographic milieus, to investigate plant food consumption and perception among different generations. Ethnographies will lead also to document the transformation of food offerings in religious celebrations and food conception and prescription in the medical fields (biomedicine; traditional medicine) for general health as well as for food-related diseases. The underlying perspective of this project is that, understanding the evolution of food consumption may contribute to giving a better consideration to food traditionally eaten, and to support their reintegration into the contemporary meals for improving health, notably malnutrition and metabolic diseases.

2- Exploratory projects for Horizon 2020

A/ ‘Small farms and food and nutrition security’

The project aims to increase the involvement of small and marginal land holders in farming in order to enhance food plant production at the local and national level and nutritional benefits of diet at the family level. Focussing these categories (< 2ha) is all the more relevant so as they compose 80% of land holders, a percentage steadily increasing as revealed by the NSSO (National Sample Survey Organisation), and they tend to abandon cultivation due to economic stress. The project will explore how to develop diversified crops suitable to the physicochemical properties and conditions of soils, capable to compensate the deficit in plant food neglected by the agricultural policy, and to provide a nutritional value to the diet of producers. The link between farmers and market including agro-food industry will be also taken into account to define the choice of crops, as the surplus can be beneficial not only to the farmers’ economy but also to the consumption of local populations. The project aims to rely on the traditional method in farming which will benefit from the scientific knowledge in agricultural biotechnologies. The academic consortium which is developing will also include the collaboration of some NGOs selected on their works in the rural development which echo the project.

B/ Malnutrition is at the heart of a multidisplinary project associating the social sciences et the sciences of nutrition. Its objective is to develop combinations of plant foods acceptable in terms of organoleptic characters, palability, preparation easiness and socio-cultural and economic values, by diverse categories of populations affected by sarcopenia or deficiencies in macro- and micro-nutrients.   

Main collaborators to the projects

  • Dr. Marc de Ferrière de Vayer (François Rabelais University, Tours)
  • Dr. Edmond Rock (INRA Clermont-Ferrand – Human Nutrition)
  • Dr. Prathap Kumar Shetty Halady (Head of the Dpt of Food Sciences and Technology, Pondicherry University)

Associated researchers

  • Dr. Raji Sugumar (Bharathidasan Govt. College for Women (Autonomous), Puducherry)
  • Dr. A Shahin Sultana (Dpt of Social Work, School of Social Sciences and International Studies, Pondicherry University)
  • Dr. Thanuja Mummidi (Dpt of Anthropology, School of Social Sciences and International Studies, Pondicherry University)
  • Dr. Usha Antony (Dpt of Food Biotechnology, Anna University, Chennai)

Doctorate students

  • Preetha Thomas (the University of Queensland, Australia)
    Dietary modernism at home and in the diaspora: An exploration of changing dietary practices and health in South Indian families residing in India and Australia
  • Michael Bruckert (Dpt of Geography, Université de Paris-Sorbonne)
    La viande à Chennai : production et consompation
  • G. Sathya (Dpt of Home Science, Bharathidasan Government College for Women)
  • Vimalavalli (Dpt of Home Science, Bharathidasan Government College for Women)

Conferences and Workshops


  • ‘When checked sugar was there’: Lay epidemiology and the prevention paradox in Kerala, south India, by Caroline Wilson, 15 February 2012.

Dr. Brigitte Sebastia

Staff ( IFP & External )

SEBASTIA B., Affiliated Researcher