What the Book is About

There are five very different chapters in the book, with very different casts of characters. But across the book, there are really a few central questions: how do people use eating to tell stories about who they are? why and how did food become a way of telling stories about racial difference? why is eating often a metaphor for, or itself a mode of expressing, erotic or sexual feelings?

The impetus for the book came from my feeling that what we now recognize as two major ways of relating to food and eating in the contemporary United States -  foodie-ism (the performance of personal specialness and class privilege via elite knowledges about food and/or wine) and localism (the political movement to cut down on pollution, oppose industrial food and agribusiness, and support local economies) - had a shared history in the consolidation of the United States as a nation organized around the idea that whiteness would be its ideal and most privileged racial identity.

I began with two lines of inquiry, but three texts: the fourth chapter of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and two books written by the nineteenth-century dietetic reformer Sylvester Graham. In future posts, I’ll talk more about where these texts led me…..

* - the image above is from a short story by Louisa May Alcott that I discuss in a forthcoming book chapter. The image is of a little white girl sitting on a cake toadstool, being served by a man named, and made up of, brownies.

Back of the Book

The 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 and 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 Indigestion tells 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 Indigestion sheds light on contemporary “foodie” culture’s vexed relationship to nativism, nationalism, and race privilege.

I found the cover image for Racial Indigestion while browsing at an online auction site, Ben Crane’s Trade Card Place. I love the playfulness and latent eroticism of the image, and I was particularly intrigued by what remains unsaid: why is the girl’s face covered when the boy’s face is not? Is this image taken from a popular play or song or children’s story? Then too, in a period that frowned upon interracial relations so much, what do we say about the fact that these two figures are facing each other, straddling a peppermint stick?
Images like this one were stock images, that advertisers bought from publishers. They then either bought an image for the back of the card or they stamped the name of their store on the front image. There are about 42 images in Racial Indigestion, most of them reprinted in these rich chromoliothographic colors. I’ll be posting more of them in the days to come. High-res

I found the cover image for Racial Indigestion while browsing at an online auction site, Ben Crane’s Trade Card Place. I love the playfulness and latent eroticism of the image, and I was particularly intrigued by what remains unsaid: why is the girl’s face covered when the boy’s face is not? Is this image taken from a popular play or song or children’s story? Then too, in a period that frowned upon interracial relations so much, what do we say about the fact that these two figures are facing each other, straddling a peppermint stick?

Images like this one were stock images, that advertisers bought from publishers. They then either bought an image for the back of the card or they stamped the name of their store on the front image. There are about 42 images in Racial Indigestion, most of them reprinted in these rich chromoliothographic colors. I’ll be posting more of them in the days to come.