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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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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In 2015, Whole Foods Market earned $536 million in net profits. By late 2016, the natural foods behemoth operated more than 450 stores. But in the summer of 2017, Amazon purchased the company for a whopping $13.7 billion. Now the organic supermarket pioneer is owned by one of the most brutally efficient and standardized retailers in the world, a corporation with a relentless focus on selling things cheaper and faster. Whole Foods has forever changed the natural foods business in the United States. But how did all this happen? The company launched in 1980 in Austin, Texas, in a very different time and place for natural foods than today’s Seattle where Amazon is based. Austin had carried the unofficial title of countercultural and progressive…

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If health-conscious people were to choose between diets recommending natural or processed food products, which would they choose? The language of dietary advice today is dominated by notions of nature, organic farming, and organic products. It seems that such labels are very appealing to people wanting to live more healthy lifestyles. Only 40 years ago, however, health experts and dietitians in the Polish People’s Republic used a far different language to convince their beneficiaries to eat certain foods. It was the language of science, industry and technology. Embracing Technology In 1970s media discourse, the word “natural” was hardly ever used; both in cookbooks and women’s magazines. It was obvious then that vegetables, fruit, mushrooms and milk were all-natural. What seemed…

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After 55 years as Weight Watchers, in April of 2018 the company unveiled a new name—“WW”—and new approach to commercialized dieting. CEO Mindy Grossman proclaimed that “healthy is the new skinny, and that’s very empowering for people.” Shifting from a focus on losing weight, she told Forbes Magazine that the company’s goal was “to help people be the healthiest version of themselves” and to “inspire health habits for […] communities.” WW’s swerve to “wellness” was critiqued by members of the Health At Every Size movement, including nutritionists who worry that this new veneer of wellness hides the same damaging attitudes about food and body size. Vincci Tsui, a HAES-focused registered dietician tweeted that “the diet industry is listening, but instead…

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