Eating meat, particularly beef, has become an increasingly controversial subject in Indian public discourse since the Bharatiya Janata Party's victory in the 2014 general election. Contemporary Indian media might lead one to conclude that the nation is divided between supporters of Muslim, Christian, and Dalit pro-beef activists, on the one hand, and (occasionally violent) right-wing Hindu cow protectionists, on the other. However, this study by social anthropologist James Staples convincingly demonstrates that attitudes toward meat eating among nonactivist communities in southern India cannot be reduced to this simplistic binary. Through a detailed examination of the ways in which people negotiate the politics of eating meat in their everyday lives, Sacred Cows and Chicken Manchurian calls attention to the ambiguities, contradictions, and compromises that characterize Indian foodways as they evolve within specific historical and material contexts.

Staples (a vegetarian) has worked in this region for decades, and it shows in the...

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