From Farmyard to Shopping Cart
Publication Year: 2010
In recent years, the integrity of food production and distribution has become an issue of wide social concern. The media frequently report on cases of food contamination as well as on the risks of hormones and cloning. Journalists, documentary filmmakers, and activists have had their say, but until now a survey of the latest research on the history of the modern food-provisioning system—the network that connects farms and fields to supermarkets and the dining table—has been unavailable. In Food Chains, Warren Belasco and Roger Horowitz present a collection of fascinating case studies that reveal the historical underpinnings and institutional arrangements that compose this system.
The dozen essays in Food Chains range widely in subject, from the pig, poultry, and seafood industries to the origins of the shopping cart. The book examines what it took to put ice in nineteenth-century refrigerators, why Soviet citizens could buy ice cream whenever they wanted, what made Mexican food popular in France, and why Americans turned to commercial pet food in place of table scraps for their dogs and cats. Food Chains goes behind the grocery shelves, explaining why Americans in the early twentieth century preferred to buy bread rather than make it and how Southerners learned to like self-serve shopping. Taken together, these essays demonstrate the value of a historical perspective on the modern food-provisioning system.
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
Table of Contents
1. Making Food Chains: The Book
I begin my food-history classes by drawing a simple line on the blackboard with the word “farm” at one end and the word “dinner” at the other. Then I ask the students to explain some of the steps that are necessary for food to move from one end to the other. Within a few minutes the simple line is a complex tree bristling with stages such as “processing,” “trucking,” “scientific re-...
Part I. Overview
2. How Much Depends on Dinner?
The science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein is credited with popularizing the saying “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” in his 1966 novel, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Or maybe credit should go to Barry Commoner, whose fourth “Law of Ecology” (1971) said about the same thing, albeit more grammatically.¹ Either way, the context was the late 1960s, when Americans were...
3. Analyzing Commodity Chains: Linkages or Restraints?
“Eating,” writes the modern-day agrarian intellectual Wendell Berry, “is an agricultural act.” An eloquent defender of the ecological and social benefits of small-scale farming, Berry is disturbed by the distancing of food consumers from farm producers in industrialized agriculture. Food, according to Berry, has become “pretty much an abstract idea—something [urban consumers] do...
Part II. Animals
4. Lard to Lean: Making the Meat-Type Hog in Post–World War II America
In July 2006 USA Today reported that pork was the “other ‘lite’ meat,” a play on the late 1980s National Pork Producers Council campaign that promoted pork as “the other white meat.” United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers announced that the pork tenderloin of 2006 was leaner than skinless chicken breast. Earlier generations knew pork as a flavorful but...
5. The Chicken, the Factory Farm, and the Supermarket: The Emergence of the Modern Poultry Industry in Britain
“Rationing and price control of feeding stuffs ends on August 1st,” declared the lead article of the British trade journal Poultry Farmer on March 14, 1953. A revolution in modern British agriculture was to follow, with the poultry industry utterly transformed through intensive rearing and factory farming. The resulting cheap chicken meat led to a revolution in the British diet. In 1950...
6. Trading Quality, Producing Value: Crabmeat, HACCP, and Global Seafood Trade
As I entered the company’s lobby, I was drawn to a brochure that announced “The Story of Crab: the Maryland Crab Cake.” The brochure featured an image of a succulent, golden crab cake made from the cultural food icon of the Chesapeake Bay region—Callinectes sapidus, or the blue crab. However, I was not in Maryland or even in America. I was in Bangkok at Pakfoods...
Part III. Processing
7. Anchovy Sauce and Pickled Tripe: Exporting Civilized Food in the Colonial Atlantic
The opening of discussions about the long-term sustainability of present consumption patterns in developed countries has focused some attention on the general characteristics of long-distance supply chains. These chains are important because of the way they shift the environmental impact of production far away from the final location of consumption. In particular, those living in rich...
8. What’s Left at the Bottom of the Glass: The Quest for Purity and the Development of the American Natural Ice Industry
In the nineteenth-century United States, ice was a unique commodity. It was both part of the food provisioning system and food itself. It had been used for centuries as a food preservation technique at the household level, but only in the early nineteenth century did ice become an item that was bought and sold. At first merchants such as the industry pioneer Frederic Tudor shipped it from...
9. Provisioning Man’s Best Friend: The Early Years of the American Pet Food Industry, 1870–1942
For food-history scholars, “food” typically means what human beings eat, and yet over 60 percent of American households also shelter tens of millions of other eaters: pet animals. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, we spent $16 billion on commercial pet food in 2007, mostly to feed cats and dogs.¹ The story of this particular food chain has...
10. Empire of Ice Cream: How Life Became Sweeter in the Postwar Soviet Union
Standing in line in the Soviet Union was often a draining experience. Long queues were a fact of life for purchasing almost every Soviet good or service imaginable. Since much of the Soviet economy was based on a general rule of scarcity where demand was expected to outstrip supply as a matter of course, lines meant competition, sacrifice, and endurance for prospective consumers....
11. Eating Mexican in a Global Age: The Politics and Production of Ethnic Food
As late as the 1960s tacos, quesadillas, and mole poblano were largely unknown outside of Mexico and its former territories in the southwestern United States. Now you can buy Mexican food in restaurants ranging from Barrow, Alaska, to Sydney, Australia, and from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Thanks to packaged taco kits, eating Mexican is possible virtually...
Part IV. Sales
12. The Aristocracy of the Market Basket: Self-Service Food Shopping in the New South
Eudora Welty was an avid grocery shopper. Whenever her mother’s pantry failed to yield a necessary ingredient, Eudora was the first to volunteer for a trip to the neighborhood grocery store around the corner from her house in Jackson, Mississippi. Eudora remembered the neighborhood grocery store as her first taste of the world outside her home. For her, grocery shopping was...
13. Making Markets Marxist? The East European Grocery Store from Rationing to Rationality to Rationalizations
As revealed in the new historiography of modern business and agricultural production, the food chains that linked farms, factories, stores, and shoppers in Western Europe and North America became increasingly intricate during the twentieth century: farming was industrialized, commodities optimized, processing Taylorized, products specialized, distribution rationalized, advertising...
14. Tools and Spaces: Food and Cooking in Working-Class Neighborhoods, 1880–1930
Three women of immigrant families who lived in Pittsburgh between 1900 and 1930 had very different experiences with home cooking. One, born in 1901 in what is now Serbia, emigrated with her parents in 1905. In America her mother helped run the family confectionery store, cooked for her boarders, and put up enormous quantities of food for her family. Her daughter re-...
15. Wheeling One’s Groceries around the Store: The Invention of the Shopping Cart, 1936–1953
The shopping cart is undoubtedly a crucial linkage in the food-supply chain of the mass-consumption era.¹ It allows consumer goods to be freed from their weight and to travel easily from the store shelves to the cashier and then to the trunk of the customer’s car. However, for a time this seemingly simple device had a hesitant career, failing to meet a stable shape. And yet, this innovation...
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