Today is International Migrants Day. Food and migration are often thought of together, mostly in the ways that migrants bring culinary traditions and flavors with them to new places, and the hodgepodge of delicious restaurants in areas with high immigrant populations. But food, especially food insecurity, is also a key reason why people migrate. This is true in Nepal, where rice is both central to food and cultural identity and also the face of food insecurity and a changing society.
“Dal bhat khaanu bhayo?” (have you eaten dal bhat yet?) is an equivalent greeting to “how are you?” after all, and for good reason, since the lentil soup and rice dish is eaten at all times of day throughout the country. Rice keynotes important ceremonies that bookmark one’s life, too, from Annaprasana – celebrating the first time a baby eats solid food – to Antyesti, Hindu funeral rites where rice balls are offered to ancestors. Despite the ubiquity of bhat (known as chamala before it is cooked)in the most quotidian and the most sacred events in Nepali life, rice, and the socio-cultural traditions that surround its cultivation, is also part of the driving forces behind migration.