Let's Talk About Eating Disorders in Brown Families

Food in Brown homes can be a love language, a guilt trip, or even an apology. So what happens when eating becomes disordered in a culture so centered around food?

Imaan Sheikh

November 25, 2020

Let's Talk About Eating Disorders in Brown Families
(Illustration: Imaan Sheikh)

“Come eat.”

If you’re Brown, these two words are more than an invitation. They could be a loving plea or they could be an order; they may indicate general hospitality, grudge-tinged support, or an apology. Food holds more than nutritional value in Brown communities: it’s the box of mithai at the birth of your niece, the deg of biryani at a loved one’s funeral, your suitcase full of mom’s achaar being unzipped with suspicion at customs.

Food isn’t just a love language, either: it is pivotal to how we connect. In a culture where it is common to pray away depression, repress sexuality, leave grief unprocessed, and even discourage overt displays of joy — ever been told jitna hasna utna hi rona, if you laugh too much you’ll cry just as much? — food becomes a vehicle for emotion. You grow up learning to read all the tones coded into a simple plate of food — and maybe you catch yourself expecting others to know how to, as well.