Food, Farming, and the Caring Family in Bihar, India

What does it mean to care and be cared for under conditions of chronic economic insecurity? My book project considers how rural families grappling with precarious agrarian livelihoods articulate an ethics of care. Given Bihar’s history of food insecurity, I examine care primarily in terms of food practices—the daily work of farming, cooking, and commensal eating that sustains the family. These practices also entails multiple forms of care directed at non-human others: animals, crops, foods, land, and gods. I explore 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.

This project challenges the surplus/scarcity dichotomy that often frames scholarship on food insecurity and the global food economy. My ethnography complicates this binary by attending to the quotidien 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.

The Wenner-Gren Foundation and the American Institute for Indian Studies funded 16 months of archival and ethnographic research. My dissertation was awarded Cornell’s Guildford Essay Prize in 2016, a university-wide award “given to the doctoral student in any field whose thesis is judged to display the highest excellence in English prose.”


  • South Asian History and Culture (2016): “‘A Dead Letter of the Statute Book:’ The Strange Bureaucratic Life of The Bihar Food Economy and Guest Control Order, 1950-1954”
  • American Anthropologist (2018): “Building Beyond the Bypass Road: Urban Migration, Ritual Eating, and the Fate of the Joint Family in Patna, India”
  • Food, Culture & Society (2019): “A Body Set Between Hot and Cold: Everyday Sensory Labor and Attunement in an Indian Village” — published in
  • Anthropology of Work Review (2020): “Locating the Farmer: Ideologies of Agricultural Labor in Bihar, India”
  • Moveable Gardens: Itineraries and Sanctuaries of Memory (2021): “People and Food in Motion: Agricultural Dislocations and Culinary Remembrances in Bihar, India”

PDFs are available on my page.

Copyright © 2022 Hayden S. Kantor