The "Middle Passage" is the term used to describe the forced journey of African slaves across the Atlantic Ocean to the American continents. The Middle Passage was endured by millions of Africans from approximately 1518 until the middle of the 1800's.
While aboard the ships that were taking them to slavery, the captives were fed simple foods such as beans, corn, yams, rice, and palm oil. When food supplies ran low, preference was given to the ship's crew, and the slaves had to make do with little or no food.
Many slaves were so horrified by the conditions on board the ships that they attempted to commit suicide. One method of suicide was by refusing to eat. The ship captains, however, wanted their precious cargo to stay alive. They would punish and torture slaves who refused to eat. Some captains force-fed the slaves by using a tool called a speculum orum, a kind of pliers that holds a person's mouth open.
Historical Slavery, eNotes
The Middle Passage refers to one leg of a triangular trade route between Europe, Africa, and North America from the beginning of the 16th century to the beginning of the 19th. Specifically, the middle portion referred to is the leg that ships traveled from Africa to America, and which usually carried slaves. The slaves were bought from the African "slave coast" using goods from Europe, then traded to North America for goods (such as tobacco) that Europe wanted.
During this trip, the slaves were often chained together and typically ate only one or two meals each day, with water. These meals consisted of beans, boiled rice, millet, cornmeal, and yams. These were foods that could be kept for long periods of time, either dried or in cans. If there was not enough food, sailors and slaveholders would eat before the slaves. When journeys were lengthened by storms or lack of wind, slaves sometimes starved to death.