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This study is an ethnographic enquiry into the pre-school Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP), in India’s western Gujarat state. The broad objective was aimed at understanding the institutional barriers and sociological process that had led to the exclusion of families and children under the age of six from the SNP. This study was undertaken because despite enthusiastic State investment in human resources and food funding, the uptake of SNP was poor. The study method involved multi-sited ethnographies conducted in four rural villages of Gujarat. The research concluded that caste and religious identities shaped dominance and control, restriction of social interactions, and food commensality. The authors situate these compelling findings within the broader discourse of food as a process of ‘othering,’ and stigmatised identities as they relate to consumption of ‘polluting’ food, the symbolic role of food when coupled with caste, and association of religion with food. Observations of SNP delivery sites suggest that spatial and moral dimension of societal caste conflicts directly influence local ‘biologies’ by reproducing and amplifying such tensions in the Anganwadi health centres. Crucial symbolic and cultural markers of food, nutrition, distribution, and consumption are rendered invisible to official health providers resulting in failure of the SNP programme. Current research on global health advocating ‘scaling up of models’ is an ethical violation if it glosses local ecologies that shape poor uptake of SNP by the affected communities.
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