Cooking with conviction : food and foodways in the U.S. carceral state

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2017-05

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Cooking With Conviction: Food and Foodways in the U.S. Carceral State is a multifaceted study that uses food and foodways as lenses to explore race, rights, and radicalism. In an effort to articulate the existence of and limitations around the right to food, I situate my analysis in the context of legal, cultural, and theoretical frameworks. My research traces historical continuities between the oppressive conditions of slavery and hyperincarceration, as well as between culinary practices of enslaved people and current prisoners, emphasizing a long trajectory of nutritional deprivation and resistance to it. Centering interviews of formerly incarcerated people, and examining their narratives in context with legislation, legal decisions, governmental reports, studies by nonprofit organizations, and cookbooks, I provide a nuanced account of traditional prison kitchens, covert cooking in individual cells, and the work of organizations that offer food-based opportunities post-incarceration. My work not only considers the historical and contemporary policies and practices that the state employs to deny nourishment to low-income people in general, and Black and Latino people in particular, but it aims to amplify the voices of individuals and communities who are typically silenced by foregrounding their food-based contestations to the prison industrial complex. Finally, I craft a comprehensive strategy that encompasses various aspects of food – its flavors, nutritional content, and textures, as well as multiple meanings of food – as sustenance, starvation, and protest, while incorporating and valuing the traditions and memories of diverse groups of people, to assert food rights. Ultimately, this dissertation suggests that food and foodways may be viable tools in the struggle to end the United States’ reliance on policing and prisons and to engage in the everyday work of freedom building.

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