[I]t looks as though […] McKay has set out to cater for that prurient demand on the part of white folk for a portrayal in Negroes of that utter licentiousness which conventional civilization holds white folk back from enjoying—if enjoyment it can be called. W. E. B. Du Bois, Review of Home to Harlem, June 1928 (359–60) In 1928, W. E. B. Du Bois, sociologist, author, and one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, published a review of the younger Harlem Renaissance writer Claude McKay’s first novel Home to Harlem. He didn’t like it. He believed that the novel catered for white readers who wanted to see the wilder side of Harlem life:…

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In the 1970s, Christmas Eve was divided between extremes. First, we had Toast Hawaii, like many other Germans in the Federal Republic: take a slice of sandwich bread, cover it with ham and a wheel of canned pineapple, top it with a slice of gleaming yellow processed cheese, bake it, and stick a bright red maraschino cherry in the resulting crusty indentation. Arranged on bread that, according to ‘low-food biographer’ Carolyn Wyman, was “tamed to be more palatable to a broader range of people from … the small kid to the adult,” Toast Hawaii was the stringy glue that held our nation together. An exotic feast for eyes and palate, it created a sense of belonging against all odds, even for a ten-year-old like myself.…

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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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