Skip to content Skip to navigation

Anthropologist Hayden Kantor Discusses Research on Food and Farming Practices in Rural South Asia

Photo of Hayden Kantor

Hayden Kantor

Jun 14 2019

Hayden Kantor is a fellow in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University. As a sociocultural anthropologist, his research concerns changing food and farming practices in rural South Asia. Below, the Center for South Asia interviewed Kantor as part of its annual newsletter.


How did you become interested in studying food and farming practices in South Asia?

South Asia remains a predominantly rural region. Despite gains over the last few decades, agriculture remains beset by a number of issues, including climate change, pests, and a range of market pressures. Many farmers hope that their children will escape agriculture as a profession. My research concerns how rural families navigate this uncertain future.

What are some of your current research interests?

My research concerns food and farming practices in the state of Bihar.  I examine how rural families grappling with precarious agrarian livelihoods articulate an ethics of care. Given Bihar’s history of food insecurity, I consider care primarily in terms of food practices—the daily work of farming, cooking, and commensal eating that sustains the family. I look at these relations at a moment when economic liberalization and mounting environmental risks have rendered agrarian life tenuous, fueling urban migration and reconfiguring kinship and caste relations in the village.

What courses are you teaching at Stanford? 

I teach in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric. This past year, my PWR 1 course Food Values: The Rhetoric of How and What We Eat prompts students to explore the multiple ways what we eat reflects our values. Students select their own research topic to understand how people express their food values. In the upcoming year, I will teach a new PWR 2 course Think Global: The Rhetoric of Global Citizenship. Students will interrogate the meaning of global citizenship and develop their written and oral communication skills by researching, writing, and presenting about a topic of global resonance.

How does your work inform our understanding of the region?

Many people conceive of food insecurity in South Asia and elsewhere as a dichotomy between surplus and scarcity. My ethnography complicates this binary by attending to the quotidian appetites, labors, and vulnerabilities of particular gendered and classed bodies, thus illuminating the intimate ways that people experience larger political economic formations. I argue that sensations of poverty and abundance, pleasure and dissatisfaction, coexist in a single community, household, and even a single person. Even amidst austerity, their food practices reveal how Biharis care for their families and refuse the logics of scarcity that govern their lives.