Madeline Chera
Grant Category: Fulbright-Nehru Student Research Program
Project Title: Traditional Food for All?: Heritage and Food Culture in South India
Field of Study: Anthropology
Home Institution: Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
Host Institution: Fatima College, Madurai, Tamil Nadu  
Grant Start Month: February, 2016
Duration of Grant: Nine months

Madeline Chera
Brief Bio:

Ms. Madeline Chera is a PhD candidate in anthropology at Indiana University, where she focuses on the sociocultural anthropology of food. She received her MA from Indiana University in 2014, with minors in environmental anthropology and India studies. In 2009, Ms. Chera earned dual BAs from Villanova University in humanities and honors, with a concentration in peace and justice studies. A passion for food and commitments to social justice and environmental sustainability drive her research and non-academic engagement alike. 

An international purview has long informed her pursuit of scholarly inquiry, advocacy, and public education. Undergraduate experiences in Italy and Costa Rica were followed by a semester of study in the eco-village of Auroville, where agriculture and nutrition are major foci of development projects. That semester was Ms. Chera’s first trip to India and was also pivotal in propelling her toward subsequent work related to food. 

Ms. Chera has worked as a volunteer at urban farms and food pantries, a farm educator for youth, a teaching assistant in her department, and an instructor of an original undergraduate course on agricultural biodiversity. She has presented her research work at several conferences, including the American Anthropological Association annual meetings and an international gathering at Fatima College in Madurai. Moreover, she has been recognized for her writing by the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition and other groups, and for her teaching by Indiana University. She has received numerous grants and awards supporting her studies and research. 

Ms. Chera’s Fulbright-Nehru research is focused on understanding the salience of concepts of tradition and modernity in relation to changing diets and food culture in and around Madurai. The project relies on ethnographic methods including participant-observation and interviews. The project examines how ideas about Tamil tradition and place-based identity influence food-related activities, like shopping and cooking, among urban and rural consumers. Moreover, it investigates how these activities relate to messages disseminated through institutional actors, including NGOs, public experts, entrepreneurs, and popular media, that encourage consumption of particular foods marked as part of the local heritage.