New Work Forum: Continuing the Conversation About Hunger in Violent Appetites

By Carla Cevasco

Violent Appetites: Hunger in the Early Northeast, by Carla Cevasco. Image courtesy of the author.
Violent Appetites: Hunger in the Early Northeast, by Carla Cevasco. Image courtesy of Amanda E. Herbert.

Long before Violent Appetites was a book, it existed in conversation with classmates and colleagues, conference audiences, the other scholars I read and cited, and with readers at The Recipes Project. So it is a joy to return to the conversation here with such a brilliant and generous group of scholars. I am deeply thankful to Peggy Brunache, Eleanor Barnett, Juneisy Hawkins, and Kate Mulry for sharing their thoughts on my book and its place in the field of food history, and to Amanda Herbert for proposing the New Work Forum series. I will conclude the series with a few reflections on each of the essays and how my thoughts on hunger are continuing to evolve in conversation with these authors.

Penobscot people, Berry box/container. Collected by Dr. Frank G. Speck (Frank Gouldsmith Speck/F.G. Speck/FGS), Non-Indian, 1881-1950. Media/Materials- Birchbark, Folded, stitched. Place- Old Town; Penobscot County; Maine; USA. Catalog Number2/8170, National Museum of the American Indian. Image courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian. https://americanindian.si.edu/collections-search/objects/NMAI_30154
Penobscot people, Berry box/container. Collected by Dr. Frank G. Speck (Frank Gouldsmith Speck/F.G. Speck/FGS), Non-Indian, 1881-1950. Media/Materials- Birchbark, Folded, stitched. Place- Old Town; Penobscot County; Maine; USA. Catalog Number2/8170, National Museum of the American Indian. Image courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian. https://americanindian.si.edu/collections-search/objects/NMAI_30154

Brunache’s contribution, drawing on her scholarship about foodways, drawing on her scholarship about foodways, identity, and resistance, centers on how Indigenous peoples have “performed culinary resistance through a politics of food and stood culturally resilient against colonial manipulation and assimilation.”

One of the most striking aspects of completing Violent Appetites in the first year of the covid-19 pandemic was seeing how Indigenous food sovereignty movements across the continent have mobilized in response to the crisis. These movements attest to the power of Native traditional hunger knowledges, which have endured hundreds of years of colonial invasion and stand ready against the crises of the present moment.

One of my hopes is that the concept of hunger knowledges as I’ve developed it will be useful to scholars looking at many different contexts; people have always worked to overcome hunger, and these traditions are vital in confronting hunger in our own time.

Copper-deficient & copper-replete fleeces, Royal Veterinary College. Courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.
Copper-deficient & copper-replete fleeces, Royal Veterinary College. Courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.

Barnett brings her expertise as a historian of early modern religion as a historian of early modern religion and food to her examination of how “food has long been tied to spiritual beliefs regarding divine intercession,” and analyzes “the centrality of food in the expression and formation of different” Indigenous and colonial “religious identities” in early America.

When I first started writing the book, I did not anticipate how crucial religion would turn out to be, from the theological debates over cannibalism among Protestants and Catholics in early modern Europe, to the southern New England Indigenous Christians whose practices of fasting and repentance mirrored Reform Protestant rituals but were rooted deeply in Native traditions of communal mourning. I especially appreciated Barnett’s description of these beliefs and practices as “spiritual foodways,” a phrase which elegantly encapsulates what it took me many words to discuss.

Beluga whale skull. Image courtesy of wikimedia commons.
Beluga whale skull. Image courtesy of wikimedia commons.

Hawkins, who specializes in food economies, provisioning, and Anglo-Spanish relations in the colonial American southeast, begins her essay by noting that the field of Food Studies has only recently begun to wrestle with hunger rather than plenty: “What happened when people did not have food? What happened when communities were confronted with the possibility of starvation? This field, which as far as I know has not been officially named, can be understood as Hunger Studies.”

Hunger Studies does exist, but as an applied field that seeks solutions to the problem of hunger in our current moment. It is not a neat parallel to the field of Food Studies, which asks both “what is food?” and “what does it mean?” I believe that soon Hunger Studies will be asking similar questions, as an increasing number of historians including myself, Rachel Herrmann, James Vernon, Nicholas Crawford, and Tom Scott-Smith, among others, have turned to understanding the changing meanings of hunger in different places and times.

And, following on the work of archival theorists like Marisa Fuentes, it is becoming clear that hunger, like many forms of historical inequity, has profound effects on the production of the historical record, as Hawkins explains at the conclusion of her piece.

Image courtesy of wikimedia commons.
Lightning-blasted tree. Image courtesy of wikimedia commons.

Finally, Mulry, whose work examines the relationships between environment, health, and the body in the Anglo-Atlantic world, draws out the connections between hunger, colonialism, and imperial demography in her essay: “As imperial authorities sought to increase their own numbers while violently displacing Native peoples, they sought more food. The English and French invaders understood food as an instrument to achieve social and political control,” while Native peoples used food to resist imperial incursion.

As Mulry reminds us, feeding the populace has always been a political project, and hunger is far more often politically imposed than completely inevitable.

I’ve worked on Violent Appetites for the better part of a decade and it’s surreal to finally have the completed book in my hands. I am grateful to everyone at The Recipes Project for using this forum to welcome the book, and look forward to continuing the conversation.

The book may be done, but I will never be finished thinking and talking about food and hunger. More than 38 million people in the United States, including 12 million children, are food insecure as of 2020, with even more going hungry during the pandemic. Hunger is concentrated disproportionately in communities of color. While these numbers are horrifying, beyond the statistics lie many hunger knowledges, the resourceful, ingenious ways that food insecure people survive day by day. In seeking solutions to the problem of hunger, it is crucial not to disregard the strategies that people are already using and have been using for generations. Hunger knowledges deserve to be celebrated as legacies of resilience that can also inform the future of how we fight food scarcity.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search