Considering #SlaveFood: Did white babies really receive the ‘perfect’ milk from Black women?


I’ve heard arguments many times on both sides of the fence about breastfeeding and nutrition and opinions, evidence, etc on how closely a woman’s breastmilk reflects her diet.  One side says that regardless of what a woman eats when she is nursing she still makes a perfect milk. I took this to mean that if she has a more ‘unbalanced’ or ‘unhealthy’ diet, her nursling will still get the right amount of nutrients  it needs (this is what us students were taught during Certified Lactation Educator training). Other folks say that is incorrect. That of course it matters what a woman eats because milk is a part of her body so it will reflect her biology — she (and her milk) is what she eats! I don’t have that much clinical knowledge about breastmilk to form my own conclusions, but I do have some opinions and a few questions.

I know that I’ve heard many stories about breastmilk reflecting what someone eats. A long time ago when my mom was nursing my little sister she pumped pink milk — because she had eaten strawberries and us kids marveled at it while we were about to feed it to her while we were babysitting. Just the other day someone told me that their friend ate so much garlic when she was nursing that when she weaned her baby she had to put the herb in her food to keep her happy or else she refused to eat. While I was reading through some of the comments just the other day in the midst of the ‘there is no difference in a breastfed sibling and a formula fed sibling’ debacle one woman said that her mom was an incredible alcoholic and nursed and that is what she believes contributed to the demise of her sibling’s health.

So, one has to wonder.

I’ve said on here before that to a great extent I don’t fully believe in the idea of ‘slave’ food. It’s true that in some ways Africans were not given what they had known as nutrients that were part of their normal cultural heritage and with that particular idea along with a few others I believe that slave food exists in this context. But I have heard so many people talk about the ‘scraps’ that were thrown to us in those days — the parts of an animal  the slavers wouldn’t touch — the eyeballs, the intestines, the tongue, feet, brain, etc. — whatever else. I only think those are ‘scraps’ in that particular context because of the power dynamic and what European colonizers deemed worthy — but when it comes to a larger picture of how food is regarded on a global basis  in various cultures around the world including some African countries, indigenous communities and more then those are important and nutritious parts of a group’s diet and contribute greatly to their overall health and well-being.

Those are my thoughts.

But of course I could be wrong.

And if these ideas make or do not make sense to you I wonder about the health dynamic in this scenario of Black women as wet nurses and being forced to stop feeding their own children from their bodies and made to do so for a slaver’s baby. If slave food was really ‘slave food’ — a culmination of unhealthy pieces of refuse, and if Black women were already unhealthy because of the climate — being in this institution and they had to eat said slave food and birth children and feed them — were they really giving their best? Or if slave food really isn’t slave food at all, were Black women healthier that we think they were? Or is there something else?

All of this popped up in my mind while I was writing a paper and of course I don’t have an answer or even a real opinion, but it is something I’m wondering about.

What are your thoughts?

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