Long before the founding of the Jamestown, Virginia, colony and its Starving Time of 1609–1610—one of the most famous cannibalism narratives in North American colonial history—cannibalism played an important role in shaping the human relationship to food, hunger, and moral outrage. Why did colonial invaders go out of their way to accuse women of cannibalism? What challenges did Spaniards face in trying to explain Eucharist rites to Native peoples? What roles did preconceived notions about non-Europeans play in inflating accounts of cannibalism in Christopher Columbus’s reports as they moved through Italian merchant circles?
Asking questions such as these and exploring what it meant to accuse someone of eating people as well as how cannibalism rumors facilitated slavery and the rise of empires, To Feast on Us as Their Prey posits that it is impossible to separate histories of cannibalism from the role food and hunger have played in the colonization efforts that shaped our modern world.
Funded in part by the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts.
Rachel B. Herrmann is a lecturer in modern American history at Cardiff University.
“To Feast on Us as Their Prey raises the academic-historical study of cannibalism to a new level. ‘Cannibal’ is a loaded word; in the past, New World colonists, who feature prominently in these pages, denounced Native populations as ‘kennyballes’ and ‘canibales’ as a rationale for conquering them. Yet there is ample evidence that ‘civilized’ people too, including some colonists, resorted to cannibalism as a coping strategy in famine conditions in the past—and that they were forgiven for doing so. The topic is an inherently complex and disturbing one, which the ten essays in this collection handle with sensitivity, learning, and originality.”
—Cormac Ó Gráda, author of Eating People is Wrong and Other Essays on Famine and coeditor of Famine in European History
Food and Foodways is a series from the University of Arkansas Press that explores historical and contemporary topics in global food studies. We are committed to representing a diverse set of voices that tell lesser known food stories and to provoking new avenues of interdisciplinary research. Our strengths are works in the humanities and social sciences that use food as a critical lens to examine broader cultural, environmental, and ethical issues. In addition to scholarly books, we publish creative nonfiction that explores these topics with a focus on food’s sensory dimensions.
Introduction – “Cannibalism and . . .” (PDF Download)
Rachel B. Herrmann
Chapter 1 – Rituals of Consumption: Cannibalism and Native American Oral Traditions in Southeastern North America
Gregory D. Smithers
Chapter 2 – First Reports of New World Cannibalism in the Italian Mercantile and Diplomatic Correspondence
Chapter 3 – Sex and Cannibalism: The Politics of Carnal Relations between Europeans and American “Anthropophagites” in the Caribbean and Mexico
Kelly L. Watson
Chapter 4 – Spaniards, Cannibals, and the Eucharist in the New World
Chapter 5 – “And Greedily Deuoured Them”: The Cannibalism Discourse and the Creation of a British Atlantic World, 1536–1612
Jessica S. Hower
Chapter 6 – Imperial Appetites: Cannibalism and Early Modern Theatre
Chapter 7 – Retelling the Legend of Sawney Bean: Cannibalism in Eighteenth-Century England 135
Chapter 8 – Honor Eating: Frank Lestringant, Michel de Montaigne, and the Physics of Symbolic Exchange
Chapter 9 – Conspicuous Consumptions in Atlantic Africa: Andrew Battell’s Fearsome Tales of Hunger, Cannibalism, and Survival
Chapter 10 – “The Black People Were Not Good to Eat”: Cannibalism, Cooperation, and Hunger at Sea 195
Rachel B. Herrmann
Conclusion – Beyond Jamestown
Rachel B. Herrmann