From the two articles, we can better understand both the atrocities and common misunderstandings which have taken root from the antebellum period through an analysis of the diets of both slaves as well as slave owners. Often when hearing facts of what occurred during slavery, our perception of the time period tends to be bias due to only perceiving small samples of the information. In In Sorrows Kitchen this misunderstanding is covered in response to the modern day image of all slavery existing on large plantations. “No myth is more pervasive in the history of the United States than the myth of the plantation South- one that is celebrated by some and decried by others.” The article goes on to say that only 1% slave owners owned over a hundred slaves; on average slave owners owned 10 slaves. This is a long stretch from our perception of slavery during antebellum America. By analyzing the diets found on a plantation, we can gain a more holistic perception of the events that actually took place during this period. This allows us to draw a fine distinguishing line between individuals of various social strata based upon the quality and abundance of their diets.

Often slaves worked in cash crop type of fields such as tobacco, indigo, cotton, and sugar. Though slaves were constantly exposed to cash crops, they were never able to access them in their day to day lives as these commodities were generally reserved to the wealthy who possessed a more lavish lifestyle. After reading both articles, we gain a clearer understanding of slave’s diets and the contrast when compared to the diets of the wealthy landowners. This gives the reader a very vivid understanding in the difference in class between the two groups as food is a relatable subject. In the personal narrative of Mary Prince, she detailed her times as a slave describing what she cooked for her owners as well as what she ate on a daily basis. Prince may have had a basic meal of “potatoes and milk” whereas she would be cooking a more extravagant full meal for her owners.  In Sorrows Kitchen, the black male slaves prepare large barbeques over the course of several days during which they are allotted barely enough food to survive. The mentality during the time was that providing for slaves encompassed giving them the bare minimum for survival and functionality. This mentality is highlighted in the excerpt from In Sorrows Kitchen, “Feeding the enslaved, however, had of necessity to be economically viable process. Rations had to be sufficiently nourishing to allow the enslaved to perform their tasks but could not be so lavish as to be unprofitable.” This meant that while slave owners where over indulging in their large barbeques and living lifestyles centered around luxury crops like tobacco and sugar, the slaves where there producing the crops and preparing the food all while barely nourished and struggling to survive. The social division of food, which is made abundantly clear in In Sorrows Kitchen, allows the reader to more firmly perceive the horrors of slavery and the reality which was malnutrition. It brings forth the reality that was not only a bland diet, but one which wasn’t fit for survival. It highlights the slave’s knowledge of a lavish lifestyle and brings forth the realization of their perception that they truly could not possess it. It allows us to highlight their hunger and proximity to substantiating food, as well as their inability to take hold of the nutrients needed to live a physically healthy life.

1 Comment

  1. Morgan Quinones

    I think the differences between the slave’s and slave owner’s diets goes beyond social class. I think the slave owner’s saw it more as a situation of optimization much like business owners today view wages. They were trying to feed the slaves as little as possible at as little of a cost to them, while giving them enough food so that they could complete the necessary work, in order to maximize the profit of their crops. It was about finding the optimizing point between the cost of the input and the benefit of the output. Employers try to find a similar balance. How much do they need to pay their employees in any given position to keep them productive without over paying for the benefit that any given employee brings to the company?

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