Fields of Life and Death: Cholangiocarcinoma, Food Consumption, and Masculinity in Buddhist Rural Thailand
The Mekong region presents a record incidence of cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer). Scientists identify correlations between the development of this aggressive disease and the consumption of raw fish in local dishes. While made aware of these correlations by comprehensive health campaigns, some villagers in Thailand’s notoriously neglected Northeast refuse to cook the fish before consumption: a phenomenon that puzzles medical experts and policy makers. Based on ethnographic data, this paper suggests that practices surrounding the consumption of raw food in the area have become taboo. Rather than disappearing, they now play a key role in bonding rituals where rural masculinities are expressed via spectacles of risk taking that transgress normative ideals of manhood as epitomised by urban men and Buddhist monks.