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Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century
Kyla Wazana Tompkins


Winner of the 2013 Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize presented by the American Studies Association

Winner of the 2013 Association for the Study of Food and Society Book Award

The act of eating is both erotic and violent, as one wholly consumes the object being eaten. At the same time, eating performs a kind of vulnerability to the world, revealing a fundamental interdependence between the eater and that which exists outside her body. Racial Indigestion explores the links between food, visual and literary culture in the nineteenth-century United States to reveal how eating produces political subjects by justifying the social discourses that create bodily meaning.

Combing through a visually stunning and rare archive of children's literature, architectural history, domestic manuals, dietetic tracts, novels and advertising, Racial Indigestion tells the story of the consolidation of nationalist mythologies of whiteness via the erotic politics of consumption. Less a history of commodities than a history of eating itself, the book seeks to understand how eating became a political act, linked to appetite, vice, virtue, race and class inequality and, finally, the queer pleasures and pitfalls of a burgeoning commodity culture. In so doing, Racial Indigestion sheds light on contemporary "foodie" culture's vexed relationship to nativism, nationalism and race privilege.

For more, visit the author's tumblr page: http: //


Kyla Wazana Tompkins is Associate Professor of English and Gender and Women's Studies at Pomona College. She is a former journalist and restaurant critic.


"Kyla Wazana Tompkins's study on eating in nineteenth-century America is mesmerizing. From the playful literary history of children's tales in the antebellum period to the tightly woven cultural analysis of chromo-lithographed trade cards for food products in the Gilded Age, Tompkins convincingly makes the case that eating as a social practice was inextricably tangled with the construction and performance of nineteenth-century American identities." --WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly

"Racial Indigestion is as creative as it is theoretically rigorous and archivally grounded. Tompkins sets forth a marvelous, fruitful array of analytic sites and clever juxtapositions, tracing the politics inherent in the decline of the hearth and the rise of stoves, reimagining the mouth as the window to an alimentary politics, and tracking the post-Reconstruction politics of trade cards. The connections she makes between eating and vernacular culture make the book satisfyingly literary, even as it is so clearly a stellar work of cultural studies." --Elizabeth Freeman, author of Time Binds

New York University Press  /  July 30, 2012 

0.9" H x 8.9" L x 6.0" W (1.2 lbs) 275 pages