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Socio-cultural practices: legacies of slavery and marginalisation
Just as opossum, 'coon', jackrabbit and squirrel were conceptually linked to a rural,
impoverished African-American diet and socio-cultural context, so too were organ
meats (tripe, heart, chitlins, liver and others). Alice, especially, emphasised the link
between eating animal organ meats and survival. She talked about her father, who
worked in a rural California slaughterhouse, and his contribution to family well-
being. 'Nearly every day he would bring home a bucket of meat that the
slaughterhouse didn't want: chitlins, tripe, the things they charge you a fortune for
now. Chitlins, tripe, the stomach, sweetbreads….' These organs were (and in some
cases still are) considered 'trash', vulgar and disgusting by white America, much like
the 'trash' animals hunted in the rural South. And yet, organ meat became a dietary
staple—indeed a necessity for survival—for black slaves seldom provided with
sufficient food.
ALICE: The reasons blacks know how to eat chitlins and all the things that are
repulsive in an animal is that we learned it from slavery because we had
little to eat…
VIVIAN: We took whatever was left, and what they [white slaveowners] didn't
know how to prepare or they couldn't stomach, that's what they gave the
slaves to eat. So we acquired that taste.
Despite its obvious significance to African-American culture and African survival
during the period of slavery in this country (as described by Vivian and Alice), the
consumption of organ meat, like hunting 'trash' animals, seems to be losing some of
its cultural significance in today's largely urban context. Indeed, many of the
participants were completely unfamiliar with certain popular organ meats:
Bernadette admitted to not knowing what 'sweetbreads' were, while Laura
mistakenly described them as pastry ('it's bread. That's all it is'). Nevertheless, organ
meat and animals such as opossum, 'coon' and squirrel ('all the things that are
repulsive' to white society) appear to maintain an important and critical place in the
history of African-American culture, not only as cultural artefact ('we acquired that
taste') but as symbols of survival, resistance, perseverance, ingenuity and cultural/
ethnic pride. As Alice claimed: 'We [African slaves] were creative, we learned…and
we ate what the white people didn't want.'
Cross-cultural animal practices
The dietary practices of other cultures in the Los Angeles area were debated,
critiqued and defended by the focus group members. Focusing almost entirely on
dog-eating practised by many Southeast Asian cultures, this topic, interestingly and
significantly, emerged within the context of 'trash' animal consumption by blacks in
US rural landscapes. Indeed, the topic was initiated by Vivian with the phrase, '[s]ince
you mentioned the opossum…'. Discussion of dog-eating primarily focused on the
revulsion of one young woman, Susan, on the one hand, and on an effort to
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