Violent Appetites reveals the disgusting, violent history of hunger in the context of the colonial invasion of early northeastern North America. Locked in constant violence throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Native Americans and English and French colonists faced the pain of hunger, the fear of encounters with taboo foods, and the struggle for resources. Their mealtime encounters with rotten meat, foraged plants, and even human flesh would transform the meanings of hunger across cultures. By foregrounding hunger and its effects in the early American world, author Carla Cevasco emphasizes the fragility of the colonial project, and the strategies of resilience that Native peoples used to endure both scarcity and the colonial invasion. In doing so, the book proposes an interdisciplinary framework for studying scarcity, expanding the field of food studies beyond simply the study of plenty.
We’ve invited subject-specific experts in the field to share their insights about Violent Appetites. This month readers will learn from posts by Peggy Brunache, Eleanor Barnett, Juneisy Hawkins, and Kate Mulry, with a response by Carla Cevasco. Instead of a traditional book review — the well-worn two paragraphs of summary, one paragraph of criticism — we’ve asked our contributors to focus their posts on a specific kind of source or theme. For Violent Appetites, these include food and identity, food and religion, food economies, and food and populations.
Peggy Brunache draws upon her acclaimed work as a food historian, archaeologist, and specialist in foodways of the African diaspora to explore the nuances of race, identity, and conflict in Violent Appetites. In her post, Brunache highlights how European colonisers dismissed and defamed Indigenous people and their culinary traditions; but, she reminds us, despite the strictures and punishments levelled against them, Native women and men pushed back, as “Indigenous communities performed culinary resistance through a politics of food and stood culturally resilient against colonial manipulation and assimilation.”
Eleanor Barnett, a cultural historian of food and early modern religion, shares her impressive knowledge of spiritual practice to explore the roles of belief and faith in Violent Appetites. She notes that the book illustrates how hunger and religion — phenomena that were deeply entwined in both Indigenous and European contexts — were nonetheless perceived and experienced very differently by different groups of people. Separate faith traditions around moments of plenty and paucity increased tensions between Native women and men and the European colonisers who attempted to control them.
Juneisy Hawkins, an expert in food economies, provisioning, and Anglo-Spanish relations in the colonial American Southeast in an Atlantic World context, foregrounds provisioning in her piece on Violent Appetites. Hawkins explains that this act — managing the hunger of groups of people, whether they were soldiers in British garrisons or Indigenous families — helped to structure many of the interactions explored in Cevasco’s work. Hawkins coins the phrase “Hunger Studies” to describe the contributions that Violent Appetites makes to the existing scholarship, particularly as it relates to managing how (and whether) people ate.
Kate Mulry reflects on Violent Appetites via her own deep expertise in the ways that ideas about the environment, health, and the body shaped and were shaped by Anglo Atlantic political cultures. In her post, Mulry analyses the ways that this book addresses the management of populations writ large; by “fantaciz[ing] about which populations would eat and which populations would starve,” Mulry reminds us that colonial administrators, governors, and political philosophers actively imagined feeding their empire.
To close the series, the author of Violent Appetites, Carla Cevasco, will reflect on the themes raised in the forum and how they reflect her own sense of her work.
Over the course of this month, our RP readers will gain invaluable insights into the coverage and scope of Violent Appetites. Not only do these posts offer a more varied and perhaps engaging reading experience than is gained in a traditional book review, the authors have helped us to ask broader, more inclusive questions about how humanities scholarship can speak to the concerns, questions, and struggles that we all share.