Food and Death

Blake Cooper '03, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, Autumn 1997

In the urban western world, at least in modern times, eating a piece of meat does not usually remind the consumer of exactly what is being consumed. A hamburger, fried chicken, steak, and in the ugliest example -- the hot dog -- are all meals, fuel with taste, divorced from their original origins as the body parts of living things. For many westerners, eating meat is similar to eating anything else, it is simply food. Not so in Pakistan, and not so for Sara Suleri. Suleri goes to great lengths to drive home where "meat" actually originates. In a truly repugnant example, let's look at Suleri's grandmother, Dadi, after she caught on fire and received what sound like serious third degree burns.

She lived through her sojourn at the hospital; she weathered her return. Then, after six weeks at home, she angrily refused to be lugged like a chunk of meat to the doctors's for her daily change of dressings: "Saira Begum will do it," she announced. Thus developed my great intimacy with the fluid properties human flesh...[and] on more exhilarating days I'd peel like an onion all her bandages away. [15]

And later when talking of kapura:

The culinary humor of the kidneys and testicles stewing in one another's juices is, on the other hand, very fine: I wish I had had the imagination to intuit all the unwonted jokes people tell when they start cooking food. [27]

Why does Suleri use such similar imagery when speaking of the horrible burns her grandmother (and brother) received and food preparation. Is this to shock the reader? Using the same indelicate imagery of burns when speaking of food probably makes most readers, at the very least, loose their appetite. Why do such a thing while also suggesting meals to be a cultural experience to be shared with family? What is the reader to take from Suleri's detailed obsession with death (or dying itself) and the preparation of foods.

Main Screen Pakistan Sara Suleri Meatless Days Leading Questions

Last modified 25 April 2002