Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Attempts to engineer India’s food markets are guided by assumptions about refrigeration. Entrepreneurs, pundits, and policymakers cite refrigerated shipping as a means to ensure that produce, and the social worlds in which it circulates, will be fresh, cool, and free of rot. Yet while cold storage is celebrated as a form of preservation, it is also scrutinized as a strategy to manipulate prices, suspected as a trick to mask spoilage, or enjoyed as the source of coldness that is pleasurable and consumable in its own right. This paper contrasts the promise of refrigeration, as articulated in attempts to introduce large grocery chains to Indian markets, with comments by shoppers who revile it as a breeding ground for disease and deceit. In both cases debates about the healthiness of refrigerated food are moral arguments that characterize participants in the grocery supply chain. Conversations with shoppers suggest that rather than simply extending the life of perishables, refrigeration masks or disrupts the traces of touch and time that record connections between farms and markets. Examination of these completing perspectives reveals why attempts at marketization that hinge on the expansion of refrigeration technology are frequently met with panic, uncertainty, and failure.