Women's Day: The Subversiveness Of India's Female FoodTubers
Image Credit: YouTube screengrab / @TheTraditionalLife

FOOD IS, at once, a lovely fantasy and a basic necessity, a comfort rooted in treasured memories and a means of escaping from reality. From everyone, food elicits emotion. For those who then choose to engage with food in digital spaces as well, through creating content or as viewers, it becomes a medium through which one responds to the world. From abating loneliness and building community to expressing creativity, opinion, and memory, food serves as a way for people to bond and grow online. In India in particular, people also feel a fierce pride in the country’s cultural diversity, celebrating the cuisine and traditions to which they belong.

For instance, YouTube has a large number of cooks, from different corners of the country, sharing recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation, which they explain in their preferred language. There’s The Traditional Life (@TheTraditionalLife) where a family of three   Ram, Valar & Naviish   from Thanipadi, a small village in Tamil Nadu, showcase not just food related content but also offer a peek into their daily lives. From waking up early in the morning to sourcing fresh ingredients and cooking recipes the traditional way, they bring viewers into their little home, which is surrounded by farmland on all sides, showcasing a slow, authentic life.

There’s also creators like Aapli Aaji (@AapliAajiOfficial), where a grandmother from Maharashtra, always with a smile on her face, shares varied recipes with her viewers in Marathi. On Veg Village Food (@VegVillageFood), another grandmother, with her grandson, takes on large-scale projects, cooking 1,000 samosas in one video and 2,000 Maggi packets in another. With 1.53 million and 5.65 million subscribers respectively, these women have managed to turn a lifelong skill into something that earns them money, fame, and based on the comments under their videos, a whole lot of love.

A large number of home cooks, most women, enthusiastically share their recipes and tips on the platform. Taking something that, in a patriarchal society, is seen as their duty, they’re adding an element of fun and community through uploading it on YouTube - essentially, their agency and individuality come through through something that’s imposed upon them. It’s also their ‘I was here’ moment, recorded on the internet for posterity. Just a few among the many, many channels that fit this description are Pratibha ke Swad ka Ghar (@swadkaghar6304), Rashmi Recipes (@RashmiRecipes), Padma’s Kitchen (@padmaskitchen996), and Menka’s Kitchen (menkaskichen1575). Several women who started this way have managed to make it big and now see their YouTube channel as a career or business, essentially treating it like a full-time job. 

(Read more about women cooking on YouTube here.)

There’s also channels where cooking happens with a purpose larger than just sharing recipes. There’s Bong Eats (@BongEats) where the two creators’ aim is to document and preserve the food of Calcutta, recreating popular and obscure recipes alike. Eat Your Kappa (@EatYourKappa) sees Nambie Jessica Marak not just cooking traditional North Eastern recipes, but also exploring tribal food cultures and recording day to day life of the area. And Ranjitha Kasi of Miniature Cooking Show (@MiniatureCookingShow) cooks tiny food in miniature utensils, combining her two loves, cooking and craft. “I’ve always loved cooking and now I get to create my own videos. YouTube also helps me make money. But most importantly, my videos are inspiring other kids to start cooking too. That’s the best part,” says the 23-year-old.

Cooking videos are among the few spaces on the internet where negative or hate comments are rare. People come together to celebrate a shared love for food, discuss recipe variations, reminisce about cooks and memorable meals, appreciate the creator, and talk about how they’re inspired. It’s worth noting, however, that these videos are in line with the patriarchal, gendered view of women being preparers of food. When women engage with food in other ways, for instance by consuming it, the ratio of negative comments, especially focused on their looks, shoots up. “Anyone can have a healthy appetite but women are not allowed to have a healthy appetite because we’re supposed to have smaller bodies and take up lesser space, socially as well as psychologically,” says psychotherapist Smiti Srivastava. The obvious target then is how they look or the weight they’ve gained. “Hate comments are about internalised negativity, toward eating or toward a woman,” she adds. 

Videos of women eating online include mukbangers like Tamil Foodies (@TamilFoodiesDivya), Food Plaza (@FoodPlaza2016), and Maddy Eats (@MaddyEats), and vloggers like Indian YouTuber Neelam (@IndianyoutuberNeelamvlogs), Sinful Foodie (@SinfulFoodie), and Sugar Spice Nice India (@SugarSpiceNiceIndia), among several others. 

In a previous article on Slurrp, we talked about the gains and drawbacks of women eating online, from earning fame and money to being subjected to cruel and dismissive comments, and from gaining confidence to dealing with serious health challenges. 

“The screen invites us to be vulnerable. It also exposes us,” says Srivastava. “It can be an enabler or an intrusion,” she adds. While one person might find community with online friends, another might use the internet as an unhealthy coping mechanism to escape from their real life loneliness. But it’s not enough to say that one is responsible for how they act online. Many factors like age, social atmosphere, influences, the people one is surrounded by and so on, have an impact on how one engages with digital spaces. From health concerns for those eating on screen to no time to rest for those cooking on screen, there’s always going to be a dark side to the internet. But on the occasion of women’s day, it’s worth acknowledging the many positive, rippling effects of a woman putting herself on screen, be it the satisfaction and pride she’s feeling or the confidence and financial independence she’s gaining. Each video is helping build a larger community, bringing together like-minded people, and inspiring more women to step up and do something that allows her to experience and express her own agency.