A Culinary Read of Toni Morrison Part 2
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. Here is the second part in the series.
Historically African-American women worked as cooks for low wages as did Sethe, the central Character in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Sethe served as a cook in Sawyer’s Restaurant in Cincinnati for $3.40 a week and had the ability to take leftovers from the restaurant home to feed her family. Called toting, the practice of taking leftovers home had been a common practice between employers and employees. When you hired a cook, you also in part committed to feeding the cook and their family because before their shift ended, they packed up leftover food to take home. Employers had become so accustomed to this that they purchased groceries with toting in mind. Sethe toted salt and butter which she could afford to buy but didn’t want the humiliation of waiting at the back door of Phelps store until every white customer in Ohio in the store had been waited on before the crowd of African-American shoppers at the back door.