What peanuts mean to those who sell it on Delhi streets

Crunchy Tales

Born into slavery, George Washington Carver (1864-1943) pioneered numerous agricultural innovations using peanuts and in fact is credited with inventing peanut butter.

Even though, Carver did not espouse any political ideology or worked for the Civil Rights movement in the United States, he was dubbed as the ‘Black Leonardo’ by the Time magazine in 1941.

His ‘apolitical’ life perhaps exemplifies what gastronomist Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin had once said. “The destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they feed themselves.”

When we talk about how food or peanuts in particular, can give an insight into the lives of people, India and its capital can be easily found at its centre stage as it is the second largest producer of peanuts followed by China. Metrolife spoke to the people who sell peanuts in a bid to understand what value the crop holds for them.

Among the many peanut sellers who spoke to this paper, an overwhelming number of them come from Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. Some of them have left behind their own farms and migrated to metropolitan cities for a ‘better life’.

Santosh Kumar, for instance, had a small piece of land in which he along with his family cultivated several vegetables. “The cost of farming is too much. There is hardly any profit and we often have to incur a large amount of debt. That’s why I came to Delhi.

I buy peanuts for around Rs 65 a kilo and sell them for Rs 100,” said Kumar, adding, the generated profit however diminishes further after he has to pay the ‘protection money’ demanded by local goons. Others who spoke to Metrolife, said selling peanuts is more like a seasonal thing and the rest of year they either sell fruit juice or other street food items.

Omvati, who originally hails from Etawah in western Uttar Pradesh, has been selling peanuts near Delhi’s Jantar Mantar for the last 22 years. Her husband too was a peanut seller, and according to her when he passed away, their only son decided to ‘hang around’ the house rather than be a peanut seller. “I have been working for more than 20 years now. My only wish is to support my grandchildren’s education because their father has not been able to find any suitable work,” Omvati said. Back home, Omvati too had a farm and a small garden.

For Vandana Shiva, an anti-globalisation author and a renowned environmentalist, the migration of farmers or other residents of under-developed states of India has a pattern to it. Peanut selling according to Shiva is a manifestation of how the agriculture-based society of India is slowly going the ‘Mexican way’.

“If one can compare Mexico and India, many similarities can come to fore. Mexico too had a healthy agriculture-based economy. The exploitation of farmers has now forced people there to take up crime and now almost one-third of their economy depends on drug produce. Look at Vidharbha where farmer suicides has become the norm of the day,” Shiva said.

“If selling peanuts as a part time job is more reliable that cultivating crops then you know there is something seriously wrong with our policies,” Shiva added.

While Carver might have contributed towards the uplift of Afro-Americans by hiring thousands of former slaves, peanut sellers here seem to be waiting for an ‘Indian Leonardo’.

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