Welcome to my blog: Chomping at the bloodied bit: critical geographies of anti-slavery food activism in a global age.
The above is a cartoon by James Gillray, a talented caricaturist who rose to prominence in the late eighteenth century. Etched just before the peak of the public sugar abstinence campaign in 1791, Gillray depicts a slave driver stirring a cauldron of boiling (white) sugar and (black) slaves in an ironic reversal of the imperial myth of Caribbean cannibalism. Underneath is the headline 'Barbarities in the West Indias'. The title of my blog attempts to capture the urgent visceral and carnal fear of eating the flesh of producers that is so distinguished in anti-slavery food activism. In the hands of anti-slavery activists consumer anthropophagy (after Lévi-Strauss, to swallow up, to incorporate) has manifested in different guises during the slave sugar boycotts (1790s), the Sao Tome cocoa crisis (early 1900-1909), anti-apartheid citrus boycotts (1970s), and contemporary anti-slavery chocolate activism. Below are two oft repeated anti-slavery quotes. They are separated by over two centuries but clearly allude to the same thing; white on black anthropophagia.
“If we purchase the commodity we participate in the crime. The slave dealer, the slave holder, and the slave driver, are virtually agents of the consumer, and may be considered as employed and hired by him to procure the commodity...In every pound of sugar used we may be considered as consuming two ounces of human flesh” (William Fox, 1791, in Address to the People of Great Britain).
“People drinking cocoa are drinking their blood…It’s the blood of young children carrying six kilograms of cocoa sacks so heavy that they have wounds on their shoulders…Travelling deeper and deeper into the cocoa belt, I saw no electricity. No drainage, and child after child, machete in hand and scars on legs” (Hawksley, 2007 in Stop The Traffik Handbook, 2009: 100)
To theorize these types of corporeal connections made between boycotter, producer and consumer, I am indebted to the work of the cultural historian, Timothy Morton, who coined the idea of the blood-sugar topos as a way to understand how the anti-saccharites managed to contaminate social practices of eating sugar from the West Indies. Morton's work provides a ripe starting point for geographic inquiry. Topos, after all, is the word used by Aristotle to describe a particular type of place. The inner lining of a place. Or a place contained. In literary circles a topos is also a commonplace argument, myth or illusion that is important to the formation of rhetoric. The anti-saccharittes and food radicals of the late eighteenth century, Morton argues, used the blood-sugar topos to spoil appetites for West Indian sugar by showing how the sugar that sweetened a mug of tea was boiled up with the bitter blood of slaves.
Since the time of the anti-saccharites, colour phenotypes have sometimes operated as a visceral shorthand for contamination and purity across a variety of boycotted slave produced foodstuffs. This blog will try to understand how and why this is the case. Anthropophagia and its antonym anthropoemia (to expel, reject) are just one area of corporeal interrelations developed by anti-slavery activists to highlight unequal relationships between producers, consumers and commodities. Under the broad banner of 'bodywork' my PhD thesis ( with the geography department at Royal Holloway University of London) seeks to understand a range of body commodity connections made by two organizations, Boycott Outspan Action (1972-94) and Stop The Traffik (2006-Present). I ask what these connections achieve, and consider how they are related to more global structures of oppression or emancipation. This blog includes work from these and other organizations. It is also a chance for me to hear feedback from you, and is an opportunity to encourage links with related scholarship across geography and other disciplines.
Chalke, S (2009) Stop The Traffik. Oxford: Lion Hudson
Lévi-Strauss, Claude (1992) Tristes Tropiques, United States: Penguin
Morton, T (2000a) The Poetics of Spice: Romantic Consumerism and the Exotic. C.U.P: New York