Critical Race Conversations: We Are What You Eat: Conversations on Food and Race

Thursday, October 15, 2020, 3:00 pm
Virtual Event on YouTube | 3 - 4:15 pm Eastern Time

Join Gitanjali G. Shahani (San Francisco State University) and Jennifer Park (University of North Carolina at Greensboro) for a discussion of "We Are What You Eat: Conversations on Food and Race." This virtual event is part of a series of Critical Race Conversations hosted by the Folger Institute, and is associated with Before 'Farm to Table': Early Modern Foodways and Cultures.

To map out the histories of everyday foodstuffs—sugar, spice, coffee, tea—is to map out the histories of race and colonialism. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, during England’s formative ventures across the globe, some of the earliest encounters with racial, cultural, and religious difference were registered via these foodstuffs. Long before the average English household encountered ‘an Indian,’ it encountered nutmeg and pepper from the Indies in pies and possets, in homemade contraceptives and ‘morning after’ treatments. Likewise, the English housewife in the seventeenth century had no direct contact with the enslaved people of the Caribbean plantation, but she sprinkled the products of their labor into her preserves and confections. It is in the writing about these foods that we can start to trace the intersections between food and race.

In this “Critical Race Conversation,” Dr. Gitanjali Shahani (she/her/hers) and Dr. Jennifer Park (she/her/hers) explore the ways in which food studies, critical race studies, and early modern studies inform and enrich each other. They look to modern and early modern foodways, in order to examine different forms of what bell hooks has famously called ‘eating the other.’ Interrogating the blurred criteria of what marks matter as edible or inedible, digestible or indigestible, Shahani and Park explore the range of substances, as well as the bodies themselves, that stand in for or comprise a culture’s “racial others,” in order to trouble the racialized assumptions complicit in the dietary commonplace that “you are what you eat."

Watch on the Folger's YouTube channel