Delicious Foods by James Hannaham


For these folks, rise and shine meant get a hit off a dirty pipe, but Darlene ain’t had me or her bag no more, so she had to mooch. After breakfast—aka a hard-boiled egg, a gritty, no-name yogurt, and a half-pint of ’bout-to-go-sour nonfat milk—Jackie unlocked the door to go out and smoke, but she wouldn’t let Darlene search nobody for the pocketbook.

I was misled by that title. I suppose that’s what happens when I try to avoid reading too much of the synopses of books I want to read. I get misled by a title like Delicious Foods. I am a bit of a foodie and I like books about food so I thought, ooh! when I saw this book on the Tournament of Books 2016 longlist. So I was a bit bewildered when it opens with a young boy, a teenager rather, named Eddie. He seems to be in quite a spot of trouble. He’s driving a car that’s not his. He doesn’t have a licence. Oh and he has no hands.


So what is Delicious Foods all about?

The story is told in three voices. Young Eddie there, his crack addict mother Darlene, and Scotty. Scotty is Darlene’s good friend aka crack. I think if I had read that in a synopsis I would have never read this book. But it somehow works. And it is an intriguing voice. A seductive voice – at least to the addicts.

“Hello, Darlene, I said, and my smoke entered her lungs for the first time, gentle like a handshake at the start, then my lovely fingers of smoke got in her breath and grabbed it right where Nat’s breath had once spent all that time. I am so glad we met.”

Eddie has run away from a farm. A farm that enslaves its workers, partly by conning drug addicts into signing bizarre contracts, charging them ridiculous prices for all kinds of crappy things like horrendous accommodations, letting them smoke crack, threatening them with violence. There’s also the fact that they are in the middle of nowhere, without even an inkling of where that middle of nowhere really is.

“For 360 degrees, the view stayed ’bout the same. Bunch of shiny-ass, frilly leaves of corn be fluttering out to the horizon, like the invisible hand of God ruffling em, and they get small in the distance and morph into a emerald glop. Beyond that was some teeny-tiny gray trees and a long chain of them electrical Godzilla towers in the far far distance where the world start to curve, a crazy distance couldn’t nobody imagine running away to. No wonder they let her walk around during the day.
Darlene gave a nervous look to the chicken house, like she wanna skip out, but then a man she ain’t never seen before come out the nearest building and called her back by name. The way he said her name made her feel like she had did something wrong by wandering off – the second syllable came louder than the first, exactly the way her daddy used to say it when she got him pissed. The sound of the voice alone tugged her back over to the coop and she picked up speed as she went.”

That, by the way, is Scotty. And it takes a while to get used to the idea of crack having a voice, but Scotty has a fascinating way of looking at things:

“Maybe I attract a certain kinda person. Folks always saying that I do. Doctors talking now ’bout how people bran chemistry make some of em fall in love harder with codependent types. But I feel a obligation to Darlene. Out all my friends – and, baby, I got millions – she make me wonder the most if I done right by her. Sometimes I think to myself that maybe she shouldna met me. But then again, can’t nobody else tell her side of things but Yours Truly, Scotty. I’m the only one who stuck by her the whole time.”

Apparently Hannaham was inspired by a case in Florida, where black workers were given crack and alcohol, although this is, in reality, an unusual case. Yet one can totally see this happening today, which is why this story is especially disturbing.

Delicious Foods is a book that deserves more readers. It’s an exploration about modern slavery, exploitation, drug addiction, racism. It is dark and yet hopeful. There is unfortunately not much food in Delicious Foods, but it makes you think about those very fruits and vegetables that you are consuming, whose hands may have picked those strawberries, whose arms hefted that huge watermelon (or Vodka Watermelon) you’re about to cut into, what conditions these farm workers labour under.

I don’t think I will be able to look at a watermelon in the same way again.



I read this book for Diversity on the Shelf 2016  hosted by The Englishist


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