Slaveholders did not intend to starve their slaves, for they knew that weak slaves
meant a decrease in production. A weekly allowance, a limited share, was given to the
slaves that although sometimes, but not always sufficient in bulk, was of improper
balance. The basic weekly allowance of an adult slave consisted of cornmeal and three to
four pounds of salt pork or bacon. Slaves were victims of ill-informed masters who knew
little about nutrition. They did not know about vitamin deficiencies and how they lead to
disease; much less about providing balanced diets. Even slaveholders themselves ate
unbalanced meals, although they had higher quality food. They even enjoyed dishes prepared
by their black cooks, such as gumbos and okra, and watermelon, which was brought over from
Slave men contributed and took the initiative to hunt, fish and trap animals. Families
were able to supplement their meals with wild game and trout. Had it not been for the men,
families would have starved to death. Malnutrition, the condition of being poorly
nourished, was a common affliction amongst slaves, but could have been worse if they had
not helped themselves out.
The insufficient amount of food provided often led slaves to steal from their masters.
Slaveholders underestimated the amount of food their workers needed, so the rations
provided would often disappear within a few days. Some were left to cultivate their own
vegetables, but were too exhausted with all the extraneous field-work to come home and
tend their gardens. Slaves turned to stealing hogs and corn in order to enrich their
diets. Rarely, if ever, did they savor milk, eggs, fruits or vegetables.
Problems families had with nourishment not only occurred with malnutrition, but also with
finding an efficient method of preparing their food, which was their responsibility. This
became a problem because they were not provided with adequate utensils. Slaves, already
out of energy, got home at night to prepare their suppers. Corn had to be ground and
firewood had to be collected. These individuals were degraded to eating like animals with
their hands. Pots and pans were provided for cooking vegetables, fat, and grits, given of
course, that they actually had the time to grow their own food. Thus, poorly fed,
malnutritioned, slaves, led to less work output.
Some masters, however, did display some interest in their slaves' nutritional development,
although that interest was due to a desire to produce more. Breakfasts and dinners were
served at communal kitchens, prepared by slave cooks themselves. At other plantations,
breakfast and dinner was carried out to the fields in buckets. Families' importance
decreased, but slaves were better fed and therefore healthier.