“Multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism creates anxiety because they expose us to new ways of being”

Tulasi Srinivas

The Marxist approach to identity asks how relations among people are shaped by relations between people and things. If this is the case, can the saying “we are what we eat” be accurate for diasporic populations? With the advent of modern packaging, the development of national brands which would compete in supermarkets was not too far behind (Twede, 2012).  In the US, the Robert Gair Company (RGC) was the largest producing package producers, promoting that they were “changing the buying habits of a nation” (Twede, 2012). They pushed for the creation or corporate identities that would survive for over decades; of these include Colgate, Palmolive, Johnson and Johnson and Colgate (Twede, 2012).  In America, the “profit through volume” ideology was derived from mass-produced packaging between 1880-1900; this increasing advertisement of “branded standardized packages to promote to consumers in store, thereby developing a new way of consumer culture with items like Nabisco, Quaker Oats, Campbell’s soup, Nabisco, Heinz and Coca-Cola” (Twede, 2012).

Modern packaging, mass production and mass marketing largely changed our relationship to food, playing a key role in creating demand for brands. (Anonymous, 2000) Consumers are now able to purchase a greater quantity of a multitude of foods which may be shelf-stable food of out-of-season, exotic and prepared foods that simplified or replaced meal preparation, (Twede, 2012)  such as the Shan Biryani Masala packets for quick preparation of biryani. This includes spices that are not necessarily available year round, or even in the locality that one is in.

Though this was the progression of packaging in the West, India and their packaged spices were not too far behind. In an Indian newspaper entitled “Financial Express”, Jyotiraditya Scindia the minister of state for commerce and industry, had stated, when inaugurating the world spice congress,

“There is a demand for organic spices in the world. Fortunately, more than 80% of Indian spices are made organically. Growing demand for natural color and flavour is opening doors for chilly and turmeric. Our thrust is to develop better products and organic farming methods…..60% of our exports are in the form of value added products. Our goal is to increase the export, quality and production…”Emphasis is now in packaging and branding and development of new products and methods for growing spices. Thrust is on the marketing pro-activity in the global market. India’s value added spices is gaining more demand in the US,”

But this demand did not only begin 5 years ago. When large South East Asian populations migrated to the west, they created diasporic communities. Thus, they searched for the nostalgic spices of their past. In 1996, trade in spices amounts to between 400,000 tons and 450,000 tons annually, valued at US$1.5 billion to $2.0 billion (Fazli, 1996). Pepper, both black and white, paprika, chillies and cayenne pepper are of the most imported spices (Fazli, 1996). North America and Western Europe continue to be the two leading importing regions for most spices. (Anonymous, 2000)

Though the advent of packaging has allowed the flavours of spice travel far and wide, there is still a large concern for the maintenance of quality and safety of spices. This is especially in terms of microbiological contamination (Fazli, 1996). In industrialized countries about 50/ to 60% of the spices sold are used by industry, mainly food industries; around 10% by the catering sector; and the remainder are consumer packed and sold through retail shops for home use (Fazli, 1996). Until recently, the most widely used method for disinfection of dry ingredients such as spices was fumigation with ethylene oxide, but as this is being deemed unsafe; ionizing radiation treatment has been proved to be more safe and effective (Fazli, 1996).

A study was completed to compare the cooking habits between middle class professionals in Banglore, India and diasporic Boston, US. There was a clear emergent world of prepared packaged foods as a means to maintain social identity through food “as mother made it” while engaging in a transnational world of speed and economy (Srinivas, 2013). Referring back to the Marxist approach discussed earlier, how does eating packaged Indian food relate to identity? Srinivas (2013) suggests that “the way in which this peculiar and rich form of consumption can expland and enrich our understandings of the family, motherhood, and the construction of a cultural utopia Indian recipes are complex, often using many ingredients and spices and many different cooking method such as roasting, baking, flash frying, steaming and so on in combination so they fuse into complex layered flavours” (Srinivas, 2013).Thus, embracing the use of packaged goods explains how loose concepts were far greater than losing their identity.

More specifically biryani brands such as Shan Biryani market their product for the same reason the cooks claim to use it: a quick and easy recipe.

The Shan Biryani Masala is an optimized mix of ground spices and herbs that you can use to quickly prepare a wonderfully aromatic and flavourful dish of biryani rice. Suitable for use with beef, chicken or mutton, this Shan biryani masala is available in a fifty gram pack. A recipe with easy to follow directions is available on the back which requires basic and easily available ingredients. You can save time and minimize the irritation required in having to identify the spices required and measuring them out by using the Shan biryani masala. Recipe in Urdu, Hindi, Arabic & Bangla inside.

Though the Shan Birayni bran in particular is a product of Pakistan, several other brands exist that market more authentic, quick and easy recipes of regional biryanis. For example Parampara is a product of India which provides fast and easy recipes for regional biryani in India. While analyzing the ingredients below, not much of a difference exists, but it would be ignorant to ignore the quantities of each ingredient that exist in both packages that may make the taste vary a little, making the recipe more specific to a region.

Parampara Ingredients:

Onion (25%), Refined Vegetable Oil (13%), Garlic (12%), Ginger (12%),Coriander Leaves (9%), Spices, Salt, Mint Leaves, Green Chilli, Sugar, Red Chilli Powder, Tomato, Coriander, Fennel, Turmeric.

Shan Biryani Ingredients:

Salt, red chilli, onion, garlic, cumin, niegella see, turmeric, cardamom, black peper, clove mace, citric acid, amorphous silicon dioxide


Husain, Fazli. 1996. Trends in the international spice trade. International Trade Forum(2): 14-17, (accessed March 16, 2015).

Need to invest in branding, packaging spices: Scindia. 2010. Financial Express, Feb 04, 2010. (accessed March 16, 2015).

Product packaging: Empty promises? 2000. Consumer Policy Review 10, (6) (Nov): 206-211, (accessed March 16, 2015).


Twede, Diana. 2012. The birth of modern packaging. Journal of Historical Research in Marketing 4, (2): 245-272, (accessed March 16, 2015).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s