Following recent research in cultural studies that has observed “the emergence of biopolitics in the Americas,” this article proposes a new aspect to the early modern experience of eating. Rather than simply a vehicle for pollution, eating appears in the 1555 captivity of the Hessian adventurer and autobiographer Hans Staden by Tupinambá in Brazil as a flashpoint for techniques of coercive self-governance. Working as an arquebusier on early Portuguese sugar plantations, Staden witnessed the dangerous sweetness of early modern capitalism. Yet Staden’s keen sensitivity to the political economy of cassava root flour, a commodity on which he himself depended, also suggests he witnessed his own unhappy conscription into a regime that required him to discipline himself in order to survive. Staden’s frustrated memories showcase biopower’s surprisingly intimate, personal, reach, revising our understanding of modernity as altogether distinct from the feudal past.

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