Carla Cevasco is Assistant Professor of American Studies at Rutgers University. This interview is based on her new book, Violent Appetites: Hunger in the Early Northeast (Yale University Press, 2022).
JF: What led you to write Violent Appetites?
CC: In grad school, I read Mary Rowlandson’s narrative of being the captive of Weetamoo, a Wampanoag leader, during King Philip or Metacom’s War in 1676. Throughout the narrative, Rowlandson is always frantically searching for her next meal, whether it’s moldy cake from her pocket, or a boiled horse hoof stolen from a toddler. At the end of the narrative, she notes Native peoples’ ability to survive, even in wartime, by eating a wide variety of foods. I became really interested in how Indigenous people and colonists understood and approached hunger differently, and why colonists always seemed to be so hungry when Indigenous people usually weren’t.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Violent Appetites?
CC: Native people were much better equipped to handle hunger than were British or French colonists, because Native survival strategies were rooted in their deep knowledge of their homelands. The colonial invasion tested but did not overwhelm Native resilience against hunger, even as colonists tried to argue that colonization would “save” Indigenous people from scarcity.
JF: Why do we need to read Violent Appetites?
CC: Hunger is generally pretty understudied in both food studies and history. While Violent Appetites is about a specific place and time—Northeastern North America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—it’s also a book about the practice of studying hunger, and what we can learn from understanding hunger in the past.
JF: Why and when did you become an American historian?
CC: I grew up on a farm in a house from the 1730s, so in a sense I was kind of destined to be a scholar of early American food. Growing up not far from the site of the 1704 Raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts, I was always fascinated by the local Indigenous and colonial histories of the area but didn’t have frameworks for wrestling with that history yet. It wasn’t until college, when I took classes on women’s history and Indigenous history, that I was exposed to the ways that studying historically marginalized people could transform understandings of the past. I took that enthusiasm with me to graduate school, where my first semester included a course on American Food History, and from there I was hooked on studying food and its meanings across cultures.
JF: What is your next project?
CC: While I was researching Violent Appetites, I kept coming across stories about hungry children, and realized that children’s hunger deserved its own book. So, my next project is about the feeding of infants and children in early America, and how emerging categories of race, gender, and Indigeneity shaped understandings of what children should eat.
JF: Thanks, Carla!
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