Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century

By Kyla Wazana Tompkins | Go to book overview

1
Kitchen Insurrections

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 and banquet literature and transatlantic pantomime theater. Out of this olla podrida of environmental, cultural, and political forces will emerge a charged eating culture, in which racially marked and working-class bodies are as closely bound to food imagery as they are infused with a suppressed political affect barely contained by eating spaces and the literary forms they produce.

By focusing on the hearth and then the kitchen not simply as ahistorical spaces but as work sites whose symbolic function changed radically across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, even when actual architectural changes may have lagged quite far behind, I join in a long line of feminist critics who have investigated the central role of cooking spaces in organizing and defining the value of female labor and the valence of women’s political and cultural citizenship across the nineteenth century.1 My interest in the hearth and kitchen as the literary and architectural sites from which the United States’ eating culture emerges is an attempt to invest feminist, literary, and cultural criticism with a more nuanced idea of the links between food and literature across the nineteenth century, in part by connecting images of the hearth to the early modern and transatlantic cultural flows that consistently linked food and eating imagery to class and bodily inversion.2 In this chapter, then, I build on these feminist critics’ work to argue that the hearth and kitchen have a specific literary history of their own, which produced effects on nineteenth-century literature and

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