Chocolate is political. Critical awareness of where cocoa beans come from, who works for the pleasurable consumption of chocolate products, and of the ethics and sustainability of food production is not confined to foodies discourse. Debates about fair trade and workers’ rights and child labor are nothing new, either, yet they reveal an uncanny resemblance to (neo-)colonial trading systems. In 1920, W.E.B. Du Bois perceptively described the contradictions underlying the United States’ appetite for colonial commodities. In “The Souls of White Folks,” he writes: “Rubber, ivory, and palm-oil; tea, coffee, and cocoa; bananas, oranges, and other fruit; cotton, gold, and copper—they, and hundred other things which dark and sweating bodies hand up to the white world from their pits of…

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In 1928, the Dole Hawaiian Pineapple Company published an advertisement of a pineapple cannery that declared in bold, black letters: “The Perfect Servant Lives in Honolulu.” This advertisement was not referring to a perfect factory worker, but the perfect canning machine: the groundbreaking Ginaca invented by engineer Henry Gabriel Ginaca, which profoundly advanced the pineapple canning process in the early twentieth century. The 1928 advertisement showed an aerial view of the Ginaca machines, with pineapples descending down long, slender conveyor belts. Inside the Ginacas were tubular slicing knives that could cut and can as many as 100,000 pineapples a day. Eventually, the Ginaca not only cored, peeled, and sliced the fruit into neat squares, but also sized it to fit…

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At the age of sixteen, Benjamin Franklin, the first dreamer of the American Dream, turned vegetarian after he had read one of Thomas Tyron’s books, probably his masterwork The Way to Health that was first published in 1683. Tyron, an English vegetarian, moralist, and author of many self-help books and pamphlets, had convinced Franklin of the many benefits of a “vegetable diet,” and so the latter, according to his autobiography, made himself familiar with the preparation of vegetarian dishes. In going vegetarian, Franklin was not primarily motivated by health issues. Rather, he found that doing without meat would help him save half of the wages he earned as an apprentice in his brother’s print shop. “This was an additional fund…

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Labels are useful. They offer a shorthand view of what lies beneath. When applied to people, they encapsulate identities, worldviews. When applied to packaged foods, they convey nutritional quality, expiration dates, an origin story. But, as we know, labels can also be harmful. They elide complexity, collapsing what is multifaceted into something flat. Canned foods, as the first packaged foods, have a long history of labels—both useful and, potentially, harmful. When canned foods first came on the scene in the early nineteenth century, there was huge variation in how they were labeled. There was no standardization, and individual canneries put just enough on the containers to indicate what was inside. The development of lithography in the 1880s brought changes. While…

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The tasting room is full of the heady smell of fermented apples and alcohol, and the sound of good-natured conversation and laughter. The tasters, who are in various states of inebriation having been drinking now for a good couple of hours, are huddled around worn wooden tables upon which sit multiple plastic cups filled with amber liquid of varying levels and hues. Marking sheets, with scribbled notes denoting flavours, balance, and sweetness, litter the table and, after taking a mouthful from their cups, each taster marks a number on the matrix – giving the cider they have just drank a definitive mark out of ten against key pre-defined characteristics. This is the judging room of a U.K. regional cider festival…

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