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Racial Indigestion

Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century

Kyla Wazana Tompkins
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Racial Indigestion
    Book Description:

    Winner of the 2013 Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize presented by the American Studies AssociationThe act of eating is both erotic and violent, as one wholly consumes the object being eaten. At the same time, eating performs a kind of vulnerability to the world, revealing a fundamental interdependence between the eater and that which exists outside her body.Racial Indigestion explores the links between food, visual and literary culture in the nineteenth-century United States to reveal how eating produces political subjects by justifying the social discourses that create bodily meaning.Combing through a visually stunning and rare archive of children's literature, architectural history, domestic manuals, dietetic tracts, novels and advertising,Racial Indigestiontells the story of the consolidation of nationalist mythologies of whiteness via the erotic politics of consumption. Less a history of commodities than a history of eating itself, the book seeks to understand how eating became a political act, linked to appetite, vice, virtue, race and class inequality and, finally, the queer pleasures and pitfalls of a burgeoning commodity culture. In so doing,Racial Indigestionsheds light on contemporary foodie culture's vexed relationship to nativism, nationalism and race privilege.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3837-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century
    (pp. 1-14)

    In 1900, the Thomas Edison Company produced a silent gag film calledThe Gator and the Pickaninny, depicting a theatrical scene in which a black child is fishing on a water shore. An alligator crawls up behind him and eats the child up; soon after, a man runs up, cuts open the alligator, and pulls the child out whole. Celebration ensues. On one level, this film does not stray far from the features we can expect from the American popular entertainment of the era, with its broad racist humor—signaled by the very term “pickaninny”—and its vaudevillian gag and...

  5. 1 Kitchen Insurrections
    (pp. 15-52)

    We begin at the hearth. Here, at the mouth of the fireplace, at the bottom of the chimney’s throat, lies the ground for what follows in chapters 2 through 5, a conversation about the literature and visual texts that flowed from nineteenth-century eating culture. Across this conversation the hearth—and its descendant, the kitchen—will become less and less the primary location of U.S. food culture, and a more public eating culture will emerge, shaped by the ideology, literature, and architecture of domesticity in the early republic but rooted, as the material in this chapter argues, in early modern feast...

  6. 2 “She Made the Table a Snare to Them”: Sylvester Graham’s Imperial Dietetics
    (pp. 53-88)

    As one of the century’s best-known antimasturbation campaigners, Sylvester Graham has long been thought of, particularly in popular histories of food and medicine in the nineteenth century, as the apotheosis of nineteenth-century quackery.¹ This chapter argues against the ongoing tendency to treat Sylvester Graham’s work as a punch line for the rhetorical excesses and perversities of his period. Excessive he is indeed, but as scholars have shown, the perversities with which Graham was associated—masturbation and vicious consumption among them—have a significant place in literary history.² Indeed, when it comes to conversations about Graham—whom I take to be...

  7. 3 “Everything ’Cept Eat Us”: The Mouth as Political Organ in the Antebellum Novel
    (pp. 89-122)

    Toward the end of Suzan-Lori Parks’s playVenus, the embattled Saartjie Bartman, also known as the Venus Hottentot, is offered a box of chocolates by her lover and captor, the Baron Docteur. Parks’s 1997 play dramatizes the life of Bartman, a nineteenth-century woman who was brought to England from Africa as a freak-show performer because of her allegedly large buttocks and hips. When the real Saartjie Bartman died in 1815, Georges Cuvier—botanist, zoologist, and the model for the Baron Docteur character—dissected her body and preserved her genitals—pickled them, actually—in a jar at the Musée d’Homme in...

  8. 4 A Wholesome Girl: Addiction, Grahamite Dietetics, and Louisa May Alcott’s Rose Campbell Novels
    (pp. 123-144)

    The first line ofWork, Louisa May Alcott’s 1873 novel, opens on a revolutionary note. Revolution was in the air: the end of the Civil War had brought enormous change, beginning with the emancipation of the slaves and the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. Three years after the publication of the novel Alcott’s nation celebrated the centennial of the Declaration of Independence; the hundred-year mark was also in the air as a measure of the nation’s success. Thus, when Christie Devon makes her announcement to Aunt Betsey, she is speaking into the zeitgeist. In fact, inLittle Women, which was...

  9. 5 “What’s De Use Talking ’Bout Dem ’Mendments?”: Trade Cards and Consumer Citizenship at the End of the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 145-182)

    The food reform movements that emerged during the antebellum period and that evolved to haunt the novels of post-Civil War writers such as Louisa May Alcott contained a remarkably prescient fear of the food culture that was to succeed them. By the Gilded Age, at the close of the nineteenth century, the bourgeois household seemed unable to resist the “rich, savory” foods to which Graham so objected. The tempted but generally abstemious approach to consumption of antebellum Anglo-America disappeared underneath an almost orgiastic flood of commodities.

    I argued in the introduction that a truly materialist approach to the American culture...

  10. Conclusion: Racial Indigestion
    (pp. 183-188)

    As I finish this book, I have been writing and thinking about food for almost two decades. From my beginning as a food writer and journalist and then on through my graduate education, food, eating, and the life of ideas have maintained an intricate relation to each other. Throughout my education I wrote about food; food and eating culture harassed me until finally I gave in and started the project that became this book.

    This book had another prelife in a paper about Martha Stewart that I wrote as an undergraduate at York University. At the cookbook store where I...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 189-240)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-258)
  13. Index
    (pp. 259-275)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 276-276)
  15. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)