A Culinary Read of Toni Morrison
This series is part of a larger book project on food in African American literature in which books like Beloved are used as historical sources to talk about food traditions, the food industry, and food as identity and power within various contexts and regional differences over time. We look at food in historical context and unpack multiple meanings to individuals, ethnic groups, communities, and businesses, and how those meanings change.
Toni Morrison (1931-2019) was born in Lorain, Ohio. She published the novel Beloved in 1988, which won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award. As early as page three of Beloved, you read about the relationship between the novel’s characters and food. “The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were 13 years old … [a]s soon as two tiny handprints appeared in the cake ...” Neither of them “waited to see more; another cup full of chickpea smoking in a heap on the floor; soda crackers crumbled and strewn in a line next to the door still.”
Beloved unpacks African-American history between circa 1845 (twenty years before the start of the US Civil War) and 1875 (the beginning of the end of the Reconstruction era). The novel takes the reader back and forth in time contrasting the lives of enslaved folk and food in slave societies in Georgia, North Carolina, and Kentucky with a free African-American community in Cincinnati.