Deconstructing the Dish: ‘Ohana Stir Fried Noodles at Disney’s Polynesian Resort

(Image Credit: Walt Disney World News Today, https://wdwnt.com/2019/01/review-ohana-remains-great-amongst-recent-menu-changes-and-false-claims/)

As an antidote to the almost global quarantine caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Theme Park Professor, a website devoted to trip planning, travel, and all the ephemera of the Disney parks (along with less thorough sections devoted to other Florida parks, Universal Studios and SeaWorld) launched a “Disney at home” series devoted to bringing the magic of the parks into the home. The archive directs website browsers to virtual rides, fireworks, lesson plans to occupy the kiddos, and most interestingly (to me anyway), recipes for various park favorites. Beset by uncertainty and cabin fever, those hankering for “a taste of the magic” can occupy their time attempting to make a homemade Dole Whip (perhaps a more attainable version than Dole’s DIY version that doesn’t really work) or School Bread.

Recently, the recipes have taken a more tropical dimension, with the site featuring recipes for Tonga Toast and Macadamia Nut Pancakes, culminating with various dishes at ‘Ohana, the most famous and popular restaurant at Disney’s Polynesian Resort. The restaurant features all you can eat dishes along with character experiences, allowing children (and children at heart) to meet and interact with Mickey Mouse and Lilo and Stitch in an “island chic” atmosphere. ‘Ohana remains a popular restaurant destination, one to book with an advanced dining reservation, due to the characters, the atmosphere (the sense that you are on a Hawaiian or tropical island vacation within your vacation to Orlando Florida), and the food itself, with outlets and establishments devoted to covering Disney raving about the ‘Ohana Bread Pudding, Honey Cilantro Wings, and the Stir Fried Noodles.

As someone with an interest in all things Disney and all things food, I find the series intriguing, especially as a brief mental escape from a global pandemic. I have previously made the ‘Ohana Bread Pudding, flambe and all, and found the dessert delicious but one that’s quite dense and definitely should only be eaten sparingly. The noodles intrigued me as well, being someone that enjoys stir fried noodles along with expanding my culinary repertoire. However, the recipe inspired both curiosity and concern, not so much with the degree of difficulty, but the choice of ingredients and the representation of cuisine of the Pacific Islands.

Yakisoba Noodles from ‘Ohana (Credit: Theme Park Professor, https://www.themeparkprofessor.com/2020/03/ohana-dinner-at-home/)

Ingredients:

Yakisoba Noodles

Shredded Red and Green Cabbage

Shredded Bok Choy

Pineapple Glaze

  • 2 cups of brown sugar
  • 1 and 3/4 cups of soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup of rice wine vinegar
  • 1 and 1/4 tbsp garlic
  • 1 and 1/4 tbsp ginger
  • 2 and 1/4 tsp cornstarch
  • 4 tbsp pineapple juice

Now, all of these ingredients sound delicious and for the most part work well together, the recipe is largely noodles stir fried in teriyaki sauce with cabbage thrown in. Moreover, the cuisine of the Pacific Islands is certainly influenced by local ingredients, such as coconuts and tropical fruits along with Asian culinary customs. The initial voyagers to the islands came from the Asian continent and brought their crops and livestock along with their cuisine, while more modern movement due to labor demands (especially sugar and pineapple plantations in Hawaii) fostered even greater contact and acculturation. The noodles at ‘Ohana reflect these patterns, resulting in an Asian dish influenced by the islands through the addition of pineapple.

At least, this is how the ingredients work in theory, a nominal representation of authenticity and diversity within the American icon that is Disney World. In reality, however, the components of the noodles reflect a lack of understanding of the cuisine of the Pacific Islands, the addition of pineapple juice equating the fruit as inherently “tropical” and essentializing the pan-Polynesian setting in a way to be eagerly consumed, metaphorically and literally, by the American public.

Asian and Asian inspired dishes can be readily found in the Pacific Islands, particularly in Hawaii due to the large Asian population living there. Furthermore, teriyaki sauce is not only common but beloved in the Hawaiian Islands, with the famous “Huli chicken” marinated and basted with a sauce combining elements of barbecue sauce and teriyaki. And, of course, pineapples are common to the Pacific Islands and consumed by the people living there, just not as the component of a sauce. Typically, tropical fruits are consumed as is, highlighting sweetness and freshness without adulterating, save for maybe a pinch of salt. Coconuts and coconut milk are integral for desserts, but pineapples are enjoyed as fresh fruit. Pineapples and pineapple juice as an ingredient is largely a Western imposition, to imbue a particular dish or cocktail as inherently “tropical” or “from the islands” with the addition of the yellow fruit.

This is not the first time the Disney Parks produced, marketing, and sold a pineapple flavored offering to convey the aura of a tropical vacation. But, the scrumptious, artificially flavored Dole Whip doesn’t attempt to impart a sense of authenticity, as if one was consuming the cuisine of the islands themselves. The Dole Whip is a soft serve like creation composed of natural and artificial flavors, resembling ice cream but tasting like fruit, something easily accessible and clearly recognized as American . The noodles at ‘Ohana, by contrast, are one facet of Disney’s Polynesian Resort, the hotel defining itself in the setting, iconography, and culture of the Pacific Islands. What results is a Disney-fied interpretation and representation of the Pacific Islands, what Henry A. Giroux calls “an ideologically loaded fantasy.” This fantasy ranges from the name of the resort itself (“Polynesian” a term that translates to “many islands”) to the tiki imagery to the food.

“But,” you may ask, “aren’t chefs allowed to change, adapt, and update recipes? Isn’t the addition of pineapple juice a celebration of the ingredients of the islands?” And yes, people can offer their own interpretations of a given dish, demonstrating creativity or deconstructing to its bare essences to say something about food and taste. But, however, this isn’t what’s happening with ‘Ohana noodles. Instead, this takes the broad strokes of the food and culinary customs of the Pacific Islands and adds pineapple juice to communicate the tropical nature of the dish, essentializing cuisine to a simple equation of “add pineapples and stir.”

Furthermore, the fact that this occurs within the context of cultural appropriation, taking elements from the islands and the people living there and rendering them in a way for a disconnected American public to enjoy, complicates this process. While claiming to celebrate the culture and the cuisine of the Pacific Islands, the Polynesian Resort is one component of the moneymaking apparatus for the Walt Disney Company, the latter looking to profit off of representation and diversity. What results, in the case of this noodle dish, as a misunderstanding and simplification of  cuisine and culture as part of appropriation and commodification.

The Lion King and the Constraints of Realism

(Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6105098/)

With the outbreak and subsequent crackdowns due to the outbreak of COVID-19, I have finally had time to catch up on some of the numerous movies I didn’t see in 2019. Two of the most notable have been Toy Story 4 (a movie that’s pretty good despite not having a reason to exist) and the remake of The Lion King, two of Disney’s biggest smash hits in a year where the studio grossed a record $10 billion worldwide. While Toy Story 4 was a sequel to an established trilogy, the new Lion King was a live action remake of the 1994 animated classic, adapting and retelling the same story in a new aesthetic as part of Disney’s re-imagining of its extensive library of films

Directed by Jon Favreau, given the green light after the critical and commercial success of the 2016 adaptation of The Jungle Book, the remake of The Lion King echoes that of its cinematic predecessor in that both attempt to render their respective worlds realistically. While both The Lion King and The Jungle Book were originally hand drawn animated features, the former one of the best in the medium and the latter, um, not so much, their adaptations portray the animals and landscape through state of the art CGI, aiming for “what if Planet Earth but a Disney story” rather than cartoons stretched to cinematic length. Both films look stunning, the CGI is absolutely incredible, and the remake of the Jungle Book is arguably an improvement over the 1967 film. However, the 2019 Lion King fails to hold up to the 1994 move, largely because it is constrained rather than improved by its realistic style.

This piece is not simply a defense of the original and a condemnation of the new film, a defensive reflex fueled by the nostalgia blinders of a child born in the early 1990s that has watched the original Lion King more times than any other film. There are quite a few good elements in the remake. It does look very nice, the CGI depicting the world of The Lion King as realistically as possible with contemporary technology. Favreau and the creative team made greater efforts to bring in a diverse cast, bringing in Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Simba, Nala, and Scar respectively. Timon and Pumbaa are as great in this movie as they were in the original (if not even better), with voice actors Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner incorporating meta jokes and updating the humor to appeal to both adults and children in a tasteful manner (Eichner’s Timon is a stand out, the character an even sassier version than the one voiced by Nathan Lane). Despite these positives, however, the commitment to realism works to the detriment of the adaptation, with certain narrative beats restricted by aesthetics.

Circle of Life
Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios, https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x7ey9kr

The remake starts just as as the 1994 version begins, with all of the animals of the Pride Lands gathering to witness the birth of the future king Simba. The new film, in its opening scenes, is almost a shot for shot adaptation of the original, with the CGI rendered animals moving in almost the same way as their 2-D counterparts. Most of the scenes in the new version echo that of the original, appealing to the nostalgia of the older audiences bringing and indoctrinating their children into all things Disney or simply watching a retelling of a beloved classic.

However, “most” and “almost” does not mean a total copy, as there are subtle differences in the new film that work to its disadvantage. The vibrant colors throughout the 1994 movie, the crimson red sunrise to open the film, the color changes and fantastical imagery during “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” (the “be careful what you wish for song“), the increasingly demonic tenor of “Be Prepared” as the song goes from Shakespearean plotting to Hitler rally to hell on earth, are all absent in the new version in the name of realism, resulting in a film that is less pretty than its original incarnation. Realistically presenting the African landscape leads to a film that resembles what we can see and know rather than one we can imagine, appealing to the mind, but not necessarily our sense of wonder.

The realistic style affects how the story unfolds, the most notable example being the wildebeest stampede leading to Mufasa’s death. In the original version, the stampede is a dramatic set piece, a fast-paced scene in which Simba struggles to survive and Mufasa rescues his son before being killed by Scar. The scene, one that traumatized many young adults of my age range, remains memorable and impactful because of its technical greatness, the tension of the moment accentuated by the sound mixing and Hans Zimmer’s score. In the original film, the animators took liberties with the speed and the physical limits of the animals, focusing instead on the tension and the emotions of the scene rather than accuracy. In the remake, a film predicated on realism, the animals only move as fast as they can in real life and only behave as they would in the wild. This works to the detriment of the scene, the emotional crux of the movie, as the pace (and even the music) slow down from those in the original, resulting in a scene with less tension that in the 1994 version.

Finally, the remake’s commitment to realism prevents the characters from properly emoting, expressing how they are feeling at any particular point as they did in the original. Though we project emotions (i.e. when dogs smile or when cats seem to pout) as well as develop our own stories when viewing animals (whether it be our pets or those at the zoo) and recognize when animals are stressed or in peril, they don’t react and emote based on a preset narrative, that’s not how real life works. The characters in the original Lion King were animals rather than anthropomorphic, but expressed emotions as humans do in order to portray the story and illustrate how the animals felt at a given moment (the movie was geared toward children after all, the young audience needed to be able to understand what was going on). Thus, in the original film, the characters smiled when they were happy, furrowed their brows when upset, and, in the case of the wildebeest stampede, very clearly expressed shock and horror at the death of a parent.

Simba (1)
Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios, https://www.gizmodo.co.uk/2016/09/disneys-is-remaking-the-lion-king/

In the remake, rather than expressing emotion like humans, the animals make faces and act like realistic animals, preventing them from emoting as they did in the original. Throughout, the characters deliver lines from the original version and those familiar with the plot know how they are feeling, but the characters do not express the emotion they are feeling in a given scene. When Scar is plotting, his face remains blank, the character reenacting lines but not demonstrating the cunning and evil qualities very clearly expressing in the original. Simba, a character that runs the gamut of emotions in the 1994 film, is a lion cub depicted in realistic CGI, his reaction to the stampede and Mufasa’s death missing the horror and emotional weight. Rather than anguish, the new version simply looks like a cat “mewing,” undermining the emotional crux of the film, the adherence to realism working against the adaptation.

Simba No
Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios, https://youtu.be/jy4UdBcyh3c

The new version of The Lion King isn’t a bad film, even if it isn’t a good or great one like its predecessor. The realistic CGI presents a beloved classic in a new style and for a new audience, allowing people my age to revisit the world of the Lion King while also bringing younger audiences closer to their parents.  The new version looks pretty and realistic, the animals ranging from impossibly cute to ferocious and the CGI state of the art, but this works against the emotional storytelling and making the animal characters relatable, especially for a younger audience. Ultimately, the film represents the difficulties in remaking animated classics as well as the complications involved in medium transfers. This is not to dismiss the remake project entirely (it is making too much money for Disney to say no), but to say that style and realism can be a constraint when retelling a story previously depicted in animation. In the pursuit of telling a story in a new way, The Lion King along with the other Disney remakes bring characters and worlds to “live action” if not necessarily “to life.”

Anachronism and Aristocats: A Case Study

(Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios, https://www.dogalize.com/2018/06/everybody-wants-to-be-a-cat/)

The recent launch of Disney+ has led many people to revisit the entirety of the Disney catalog, ranging from animated classics like Beauty and the Beast to less than stellar hand drawn features like The Jungle Book along with recent Marvel fare and nostalgic trips through Disney Afternoon and Disney Channel programming (and yes, Baby Yoda). One of the many titles available is The Aristocats, a 1970 animated film centering on a female cat named Duchess and her three kittens, Toulouse, Marie, and Berlioz, owned by a wealthy former opera singer, Madame Adelaide Bonfamille.

When Bonfamille reveals that she is leaving her entire inheritance to her cats, her butler, believing that the inheritance was to be his, resolves to get rid of the cats. Duchess and the kittens meet an alley cat named Thomas O’Malley and attempt to return to their mistress and their lavish home. And…that’s it, that’s the story. Oh, and there’s a mouse named Roquefort because France, one memorable jazz song toward the end, a racist caricature that would make Mickey Rooney blush, and likely the most notable exposure of the West African hub Timbuktu for many children.

The film is light on story, moves at a brisk pace, and contains a lot of reused animatics, owing to the ease of copying through xerography animation used by Disney since the early 1960s. It is a movie that is hardly a classic, but ultimately, it’s a serviceable film about cute cats and kittens being cute cats and kittens, one for children to enjoy and later demand toys.

However, two scenes from this film stand out, not because they are particularly bad or particularly good, but because of their odd presence within the narrative. The very beginning  establishes (very prominently) that the movie is set in Paris, 1910, still within the zenith of aristocratic values before the trauma and bloodshed of World War I. Yet, two elements within Aristocats are utterly anachronistic, deviating not only from the temporal setting but the mentalité of the era that they are worthy of discussion.

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Abstract? More like, abs-cat…(Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios)

The first moment occurs within the first act of the film devoted to illustrating the lavish lives of the “aristocats” and how they go about their day. As youngest kitten Berlioz practices piano and middle kitten Marie engages in a dramatic struggle with trying to stay in tune, the oldest kitten, Toulouse, works on his painting. The purpose of this scene is to convey a sense of refinement within the daily lives of the aristocats, highlighting art as the pinnacle of proper living.

Yet, Toulouse, a cat in 1910 Paris, does not paint within the style of the era, certainly not borrowing from the impressionist tradition of his namesake, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Instead, he approaches paint and canvas in a manner akin to Jackson Pollack, producing an abstract work of art that would certainly be familiar to the 1970 viewing audience but absolutely at odds with Belle Époque Paris. The abstract forms of art popular after World War II and the surrealist and Dadaist aesthetic tradition that inspired them emerged within a specific context, one that would tonally be at odds with the values of the aristocats.

Dadaism and surrealism began as a response and critique of the ideology and logic driving World War I, artists looking at the destructive capacity of the war and critiquing and lambasting all of the discourses that led to that point. “Civility,” a theme heavily implied in the film (though not in its racial or Social Darwinist context), drove European powers to war and violence, leading Dadaists to redefine and quite literally turn the meaning of art upside down in protest. Surrealist and abstract art, essentially a middle finger to convention and pre-World War I aristocratic values, being readily accepted by the aristocats, especially before the war, is a decision informed by misinformation about history.

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Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios

The second of anachronism occurs during the song “Ev’rybody Wants to be a Cat,” quite easily the best scene in the movie due to it’s psychedelic imagery (and being the only memorable part of the film, stereotypes and all). The song and the performance invoke jazz and swing, a dramatic shift from “scales and arpeggios” and the classical fare that would more likely be enjoyed by aristocats. Unlike abstract art, jazz was at least developing by 1910, but it was still largely confined to New Orleans, a fusion of ragtime and blues, European melodies and African percussion patterns, performed by African American musicians like Jelly Roll Morton. Jazz became wildly popular in Europe, the representation of “American music” before rock n’roll of the 1960s, but it was very, very unlikely that anyone in 1910 Paris was familiar with or a fan off American jazz. Moreover, those consisting the aristocracy would be even less likely to widely accept jazz due to the need to maintain “proper civility” and appreciate “true art.” Thus, Duchess and the kittens dancing and enjoying the jazz performance is at odds temporally and with the mentalité of the time.

For those that would argue, “this is a movie for children, one focused on cute cats not concerned with history, it doesn’t have to be historically true,” well, you’re right. The Aristocats never claims to be a documentary of the the period or an accurate encapsulation of the era, it’s light entertainment aimed at children. But, I believe that the anachronism in this film is particularly interesting and revealing, not so much for the narrative of the feature but the broader meta-narrative of Disney.

While The Jungle Book was released in 1967, one year after Walt Disney’s death, it was still a film with significant input from the man in charge. The Aristocats, the next feature released, was the first of a new era, one in which Walt was no longer at the creative helm. The incorporation of anachronistic elements, I argue, are not an attempt to blur history intentionally. Instead, latching on to popular elements of the 1960s and 1970s represents an attempt to chart a new course, to reach and maintain an audience, or as many other outlets would put it, “Disney trying to be cool.” With one man so central to the creative process within the animation studio no longer present, anything produced after is bound to be dramatically different, with some contending that The Aristocats serves as the beginning of “a dark age.” This is too much doom and gloom (many of the golden age Disney films really don’t hold up, and that’s without accounting for the numerous racist elements), but the Disney films of the 1970s and 1980s are certainly different from those that came before. The anachronism of The Aristocats exemplifies the new methods used by the animators and new thinking within the studio, one that certainly differed from “Walt’s vision.”

Cocacolonization?: A Glimpse at the Global Beverage Industry

(Image Credit: Real Meal Revolution, https://realmealrevolution.com/real-thinking/11-points-to-consider-before-drinking-brandy-and-coke/)

All of the trademarked products mentioned or discussed in this article are the property of their respective owners.

When one thinks about the iconography that defines American identity and pop culture, one would not be faulted for considering soda, specifically Coca-Cola, as something that fundamentally represents what it means to be American, for better and worse. After all, Coca-Cola was first developed and made popular in the United States and is certainly “more American” than baseball (a sport deriving from the English sport of rounders) or apple pie (again, descending from the British Isles), more exclusive than an anthem or flag (which every nation-state has), yet more common than a bald eagle (a bird I saw in the wild only very recently into my adult life).

Coca-Cola is simply everywhere in American society, available for purchase at most if not all convenience stores, markets, and gas stations. Coke products can be found at most of the major fast food chains (including longtime Pepsi partner Arby’s), while The Coca-Cola Company is one of the primary sponsors of the Olympic games and, apparently, Christmas.

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I assume drinking Pepsi automatically puts you on the naught list; Image Credit: https://www.amazon.com/Coca-Cola-Santa-Claus-Christmas/dp/B004O4KTC2

The Coca-Cola Company maintains anywhere from 42% to 45% of the market share for carbonated beverages, despite the fact that Pepsico actually doubled the revenue of The Coca-Cola Company in 2018 ($64.66 billion and $31.85 billion, respectively). Moreover, though Coke and Pepsi serve as evenly matched combatants in the “cola wars,” the Coca-Cola brand is certainly more recognizable and more closely connected to Americana, with the brand Coca-Cola worth approximately $36.1 billion compared to $18.5 billion for the Pepsi brand and trademark. Like Disney and Dole, Coke and Coca-Cola are rooted in the American consumer consciousness and represent a recognizable component of American identity, at home and abroad.

The link between Coca-Cola and Americana has not gone unnoticed, as Coke is one of the oft-cited examples of globalization as Americanization, with increasing interconnectedness sparking fears of American cultural hegemony dominating and displacing the traditions and identities of other people and populations. The global expansion of The Coca-Cola Company and the increased presence and diffusion of Coke products in particular produced significant anxiety in Europe throughout the late twentieth century, with the term “cocacolonization” gaining traction over time.

First coined by the French Communist Party in the late 1940s, the term became popular in academic circles as shorthand for American cultural imperialism with the publication of Reinhold Wagnleitner’s Coca-Colonization and the Cold War: The Cultural Mission of the United States in Austria After the Second World War (1994). With Coca-Cola the most recognized and most popular soda around the world and its intrinsic connection to American identity, it is easy and potent to center on Coke products to examine the processes of globalization and Americanization.

Despite the ubiquitnousness of Coke products both at home and abroad, The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, and the soda industry as a whole have reached a bit of a crisis. Though physicians and nutritionists lambaste the American public for drinking too much soda, the fact of the matter is that soda sales have been in significant decline since the mid 2000s, with many Americans taking nutritional science into account when imbibing, constituting the greatest change to the American diet in the last decade. With the consumption of soda declining to levels not seen since 1985, Americans have increasingly turned to bottled water. The shift from soda to bottled water has been seismic, with bottled water becoming the best selling beverage by volume in the United States in both 2017 and 2018. Even around the world, bottled water rather than soda is both the most purchased and consumed beverage by volume.

Global Beverage Sales

Image Credit: Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/232773/forecast-for-global-beverage-sales-by-beverage-type/

Global Beverage Consumption

Image Credit: Statisa, https://www.statista.com/statistics/232924/global-consumption-of-packed-beverages-by-beverage-tpye/

So, with Americans drinking significantly less soda and people around the world preferring bottled water as their beverage of choice, are the charges of “cocacolonization” overblown? Well, yes and no. Though soda sales are in decline in the United States, the process of “cocacolonization” has mutated rather than reversed, with The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo reformulating their modus operandi, changing the character but not the existence of American economic and cultural hegemony.

Soda Companies Becoming Beverage Companies

First and foremost, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi have long since ceased to be solely makers and purveyors of soda. Instead, both sodamakers have “diversified their portfolios” to borrow totally not annoying business lingo, becoming broader beverage companies and diverse corporate entities rather than strictly relying on the sales of carbonated soda.

It’s no secret that The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo own numerous brands as multinational beverage corporations. Coca-Cola owns and distributes Minute Maid products, Capri Sun drinks, Fairlife milk products, Powerade, Gold Peak and Honestea tea beverages, Vitamin Water, and all of the “Simply” brand beverages, while Pepsi owns Quaker Foods and Snacks, Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Tropicana, Naked juice products, and formerly owned Yum Brands, the company linking KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and (prior to 2011) Long John Silver’s, and A&W restaurants.

What is surprising, however, is an increasing reliance on these products, with the acquisition to the rights of various juices, snack foods, and non-carbonated beverages imperative as soda sales continue to decline in the United States. For example, Tropicana generated nearly $1 billion in revenue in the United States in 2018, a total that, if compared to the same data available for individual soda sales in the United States (and you definitely can compare Tropicana to soda based on sugar content alone), would rank as the eight best selling soda.

Best Selling Orange Juice
Image Credit: Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/188749/top-refrigerated-orange-juice-brands-in-the-united-states/

Moreover, Gatorade, the drink full of electrolytes (the thing plants crave) present at every sporting event before being thrown onto a winning coach, generated about $5 billion in revenue in 2016,  one twelfth of Pepsico’s annual revenue. With declining soda sales seemingly a given and the sheer volatility of changing consumer tastes, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have done their best to shift away from selling just soda. Both companies have continued to buy up various smaller beverage brands in the United States as well as picking up the distribution rights to international sodas, a strategy that has led to Coca-Cola and Pepsi controlling approximately 60% of the global non-alcoholic beverage industry. Thus, rather than “cocacolonization” (and “pepsicolonization,” but the latter doesn’t roll off the tongue) simply referring to the mass influx of Coke and Pepsi branded products around the world, it just as easily applies to the continued dominance of the respective companies in the non-alcoholic beverage market, colonizing the industry at the expense of smaller sodas and beverage brands.

Global Domination Becoming Global Dependence

When writing his book on “cocacolonization” in the early 1990s, Wagnleitner was specifically thinking about and responding to the establishment of American economic and cultural hegemony in Western Europe, a product of the Cold War in which American mass consumer society became prevalent, resulting in greater prosperity for a new European middle class along with the increased availability of American consumer goods, particularly home appliances. As Europeans came to live like middle class Americans, they increasingly wanted to be like Americans, wearing the same clothes, listening to the same music, and, yes, drinking the same beverages.

Both Coke and Pepsi, the mass produced and mass consumed sodas of America, became popular in Europe over the course of the late twentieth century, as those with disposable income wanted to imbibe just like their counterparts across the Atlantic. In the same fashion, those with disposable income in rapidly growing Asian economies exhibit strong demand for American products in order to partake in the new conspicuous consumption. Because of their association with Americana and due to the global expansion of their parent companies, Coke and Pepsi have managed to permeate the globe, dominating the nonalcoholic beverage market abroad.

The fact that one can get a Coke or a Pepsi in every corner of the globe certainly speaks to the power of these companies in the beverage industry and is testament to American economic hegemony, the very point Wagnleitner highlighted in his analysis of “cocacolonization.” However, into the twenty-first century, the global expansion of The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo has been a strategy not of dominance, but dependence. In their financial report for the 2018 fiscal year, Coca-Cola noted that revenue growth, the most important statistic companies use to assess their strategies and overall vitality, was strongest in European, African, and Asian markets as well as the Middle East (deemed a separate market from the “Asian” region). The sale of unit cases (packaged Coke products) grew by 2% in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa and 4% in Asian territories, while the sale of concentrate (the various syrups used to make Coke products) increased by 4% and 5% in the same markets, respectively.

(By the way, you should absolutely download the financial reports for various companies. Aside from all of the jargon, they are interesting reads as well as free information).

Though sales of Coke products (with Pepsi’s numbers following similar trends in global markets) continue to grow in foreign markets, the saturation of the beverage industry in the Western hemisphere along with the decline of soda sales in the United States is very apparent in the data. Unit case sales failed to post any growth in Latin America and grew by only 1% in North America, while concentrate sales increased by 1% in Latin America and declined 1% in North America, reflecting the decades long decline in soda sales.

Thus, though the global expansion of Coca-Cola and Pepsi highlight the strength of these beverage companies, their foray and increased presence in foreign markets is increasingly a strategy of dependence, relying on global consumption rather than forcing it. Just as recent works of scholarship on imperialism demonstrate that European countries like Great Britain and France survived specifically because of their empires rather than truly being masters of colonies in Africa and Asia, with American consumers turning away from carbonated beverages, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have turned to other beverages and the rest of the globe to ensure their viability in the twenty-first century. Moreover, analysts and insiders assessing the beverage industry continue to fear and predict that global tastes will reject soda in the same manner as the United States. While Coke and Pepsi represented American identity throughout the twentieth century, there is the very distinct possibility that they will be rejected out of nutritional concerns as well as outright rejection of American ephemera into the twenty-first century.

The purpose of this article is not to argue against “cocacolonization” or to reject the conflation of globalization as Americanization, but to reexamine and reassess what “cocacolonization” means in the twenty-first century. The expansion into global markets requires The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo to respond to consumer tastes and demands around the globe rather than simply dictating them. Though soda still generates billions of dollars in revenue and remains a popular fixture in the United States and around the world, “cocacolonization” is not the just mass presence of Coke and Pepsi products. The two soda giants have increasingly turned to other beverages and now rely on global markets, Coke and Pepsi depending on the “peripheries” for revenue growth rather than expanding as a statement of power. As various countries continue to develop economically and consumer tastes shift and change both at home and abroad, it will be interesting to see and analyze the development of the worldwide beverage industry as well as the place and presence of Coke, Pepsi, and soda within it.

Dole and Disney: An Enchanted Partnership

(Image Credit: Magical Recipes, http://www.magicalrecipes.net/aloha-isle-dole-whip-recipe/)

The Dole Whip and various products mentioned in this article are the respective property of The Dole Food Company and The Walt Disney Company.

Ah, pineapples. The mere mention of the fruit invokes visions of tropical beaches and vacation cocktails. A fruit with regal appearance that served as a status symbol in the eighteenth century, it has made its impact on cuisine as an accompaniment for ham, a key component of a rum-soaked cake turned upside down, and an unfairly maligned pizza topping, as well as a crucial part of the visual imagination of tropical tourist destinations.

If someone were to ask where pineapples come from, the gut reaction answer (particularly from an Amerocentric point of view) would be that they come from Hawaii, the golden fruit part of the iconography of the 50th state along with volcanoes, surfing, and a truly awful exhibition football game. And yes, of the approximately 154,000 tonnes of pineapple produced in the United States, the vast majority come from the tropical Hawaiian Islands. But, the United States (and therefore Hawaii) actually rank 26th when it comes to worldwide pineapple production, dwarfed by the output of top producing countries Costa Rica, Brazil, and the Philippines. Nevertheless, pineapples remain part of the essentialization and commodification of Hawaiian imagery today, a base association owing in large part to the colonial relationship that still exists between Hawaii and the continental states.

Hawaii’s association with pineapple production and the fruit in general is due to the efforts of The Dole Food Company, formed from the merger between Castle & Cooke and the Hawaiian Pineapple Company in the early twentieth century, the latter of which was founded in 1901 by the eponymous James Dole. Dole purchased land throughout the islands for pineapple plantations, in particular a 20,000 acre holding that would become a plantation on the island of Lānaʻi, the largest plantation dedicated to growing pineapple. Combining new mechanized technology, developing machinery that could peel, core, and process anywhere from 35 to 100 pineapples per minute, with exploitative labor (as if “plantation” didn’t give that away), the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, and therefore the Dole Food Company, dominated the production of canned pineapple, producing seventy percent of the world’s pineapple crop by 1923.

But, it wasn’t through mass production alone that Dole Food Company became synonymous with canned, frozen, and even fresh pineapple. Dole and the Hawaiian Pineapple Company launched a mass advertising campaign beginning in the 1920s, tying pineapple to the latest culinary fashions along with the landscape of Hawaii. Dole Food Company along with eight other companies made Hawaii the largest producer of pineapples up to the 1950s, pineapples and America’s tropical outpost becoming one and the same in the minds of consumers. But, the desire for cheap labor led Dole along with others to shift operations to Thailand and the Philippines, with the Dole Pineapple Cannery eventually closing in 1991.

Despite the fact that pineapple production, both fresh and canned varieties, shifted to other parts of the globe, pineapples remain something fundamentally Hawaiian (and by default American) in conception, with many consumers (myself included) not truly considering where the fruit comes from. Many fresh pineapples that you find in the supermarket come from Mexico or other Central American countries. Dole Pineapple Juice, a product packed and shipped by the company most associated with Hawaiian pineapple, is a product of the Philippines. Nevertheless, through advertising, media, reputation, and tradition, pineapple and Dole products in particular remain “American” in the imagination.

This brings us to Dole Food Company’s longstanding partnership with Disney, a continuation of the aggressive marketing strategies used by the fruit company and an  alliance that has furthered the prestige of both corporate entities since the late twentieth century. Dole and Disney both stress their ties to wholesomeness and market their products as family-friendly, and have increasingly worked in tandem with one another over the past few years. While Dole markets its produce as healthy for mind and body, Disney views its media as nourishment for happiness and the soul, assumed goodwill and integrity key components of both brands. The cooperation between Dole and Disney resulted in a dessert that fans claim is just as magical as the rides and characters at Disneyland and Disney World, the “Dole Whip.”

The partnership between Dole and Disney began in 1976, when Dole Food Company took over the primary sponsorship for one of the most well-known attractions at Disneyland, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. Debuting in 1963, the Enchanted Tiki Room is a Polynesian themed attraction celebrating island romance and wonder in a magical theater-in-the-round. Initially serving pineapple juice and fruit spears, the Dole Whip came into being in 1986, a dessert similar to soft-serve ice cream made with Dole brand pineapple juice powder. A sweet treat now made entirely with vegan ingredients, the tropical themed dessert spread to other Disney parks, now being sold in Magic Kingdom and Walt Disney’s Polynesian Resort, and attracted a cult following, with 1.3 million Dole Whips purchased on an annual basis. Though the dish can also be found at the Dole Plantation tourist attraction in Oahu, Disney has created “Dole Whip devotees,” with merchandise created in homage to the cult classic along with a podcast named after the theme park dessert.

The Dole Whip adds to the allure of Disney parks, a beloved food item with a false sense of exclusivity that attracts fans young and old, spurring demand for vacation pilgrimages to Disney parks. The belief that a proper Dole Whip can only be found in “the happiest place on earth” and the fact that the dessert consistently appears on “best food at Disney” lists boosts the reputation and “magic” associated with all things Disney. For Dole Food Company, the cult status of the Dole Whip boosts the exposure of and reputation for Dole fruit products, while the continued sponsorship of the Enchanted Tiki Room perpetuates the assumption that pineapples and Dole pineapple packing are fundamentally connected to the culture of Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. Moreover, the presence and popularity of Dole within Disney parks helps tie the company to American pop culture and ephemera, marketing itself in alliance with Disney, one of the brands most associated with Americana. Though having long shifted operations out of the Hawaiian Islands, Dole and it’s products remain tied to the consumer consciousness as American aided in large part through its partnership with Disney.

Dole superhero
Image Credit: The Packer, https://www.thepacker.com/article/marvel-superheroes-coming-dole-produce

The collaboration between Disney and Dole does not end with the Dole Whip, as the two companies have increasingly worked with one another in the past few decades, their cooperation reinforcing hallmarks of family-friendly products and all in all wholesomeness. To understand the structure and function of this alliance outside of Disney parks, one must look at another popular yellow fruit mass produced by Dole Food Company, the banana.

Since 2016, select fresh produce items, particularly bananas distributed by Dole, have featured stickers and logos with various Disney and Pixar characters, ranging from Finding Dory and the upcoming Lion King remake to a celebration of the 90th anniversary of Mickey Mouse’s existence. Rather than simply your imagination tricking you into thinking you’re seeing the presence of Disney, its characters, and merchandise everywhere you go, this part of a co-branded effort to “provide high quality produce to help families lead healthier lives.”

Both companies previously launched their own respective programs for nutritional science, with Dole creating the Dole Nutrition Institute in 2003 and Disney launching its Nutrition Guideline Policy and the “Mickey Check” in 2006, the latter of which marking nutritional sound food items with the stamp of Disney’s famous mascot. While nutrition and the incorporation of more fruits and vegetables is certainly important, the collaborative effort furthers the desire for Disney and Dole to stress the wholesomeness of their respective brands and for Dole to entrench itself within consumer consciousness as an American company.

For Disney, establishing nutrition standards and programs helps the company already adored by many garner further goodwill, earning the trust of children and their parents purchasing products with Disney characters. Furthermore, specifically labeling bananas ensures brand exposure, making sure children and families have visual hints about upcoming Disney features. Bananas serve a popular and convenient snack food for many, with Americans consuming about 19 pounds per capita of bananas annually and more than 100 billion eaten around the globe, but they are often a snack given to children, the target audience for Disney products as well as the marketing push with Dole. Working with Dole to brand fruits and vegetables with Disney characters helps to augment Disney’s claims about pursuing nutrition, but also ensures that young consumers of bananas get a frequent reminder about upcoming films and further entrenches Disney characters within the psyche of youth. As the saying goes, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, while a banana a day makes sure you see Toy Story 4 on opening weekend.

The reinvigorated partnership certainly benefits the Dole Food Company as well, a mutually beneficial alliance in the same manner as the Dole Whip. Dole fruits and vegetables marked with stickers or logos featuring Disney characters or the Mickey check help transfer the goodwill associated with all things Disney to Dole products, a bag of salad greens or a bunch of bananas getting the approval of Mickey and Minnie Mouse meaning more to children (or even adults) than adhering to the guidelines of the FDA. Furthermore, the presence of Disney iconography on Dole products establishes Dole Food Company and its bananas, pineapples, and other produce as something fundamentally American, tying goods from all around the world to one of the hallmarks of American pop and corporate culture. No matter where said produce comes from or how it is harvested and brought to the supermarket shelf, the collaboration between Disney and Dole conveys trust, wholesomeness, and Americana.

Though Disney is no stranger to corporate synergy and brand alliance, working extensively with Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Burger King throughout the late twentieth century, its association with Dole is truly interesting. Rather than simply an alliance based on financial incentives or a recent contract won by the highest bidder, the partnership between Dole and Disney is one in which reputation iconography and seem to be the biggest concern. The Dole Whip ensures that people are aware of Dole’s role in pineapple packing while also adding to the mystique and lore of Disney parks. Moreover, recent efforts at co-branding help to reinforce the brand mission toward health and wholesomeness for both products as well as ensuring the omnipresence of Disney characters and helping Dole latch on to a key component of American pop culture. Though Hawaii is no longer the center of world pineapple canning and production, the fruit and islands remain tied to one another because of Dole’s history and dominance of the industry, this conceptualization no doubt strengthened by the alliance between Dole produce, the Enchanted Tiki Room, and Disney.

Roast Beef and Chicken Tikka Masala, Coca-Cola and Chinese Tea: A Historiographical Review of English Food History of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century (Introduction and Part One)

(Image Credit: Historic UK, https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/The-Great-British-Pub/)

“One cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad.  The only thing they have ever done for European agriculture is mad cow disease.  After Finland, it is the country with the worst food”

-Jacques Chirac (2005)[1]

At an international meeting between French, German, and Russian officials in 2005, Jacques Chirac, the President of France at the time and former Prime Minister of France, condemned the food and cuisine of the British Isles, a bit of light (if lazy) comedy to ease the tension of the diplomatic meeting as well as locus of commonality between the three nations.  Though at points throughout history the three countries have been at odds with or fighting against one another, the leaders could all smile and take pleasure in the fact that for all of their differences, at least their food was not as bad as that of Great Britain.

Within gastronomy and culinary history, French food is viewed as the pinnacle of gourmet cuisine, a “triumph” according to Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson and still the foundation for much of the curriculum of culinary schools.  French dishes and restaurants, ranging from Michelin star establishments serving caviar, foie gras, and pressed duck, to traditional and rustic fare like beef bourgignon and ratatouille, are considered among the best in the world, with French cooks and chefs lauded for their creativity and mastery of ingredients, techniques, and flavors.

By contrast, food from the British Isles is presumed to be bland, boiled, and lacking in diversity, particularly when compared to the food prepared across the English Channel, a stereotype no doubt aided by the fact that a dish as simple as bone marrow on toast constituted “a cooking revolution” in London’s restaurants.[2]  Though Great Britain surpassed France in naval strength and economic prowess throughout much of modern history, food and cuisine serves as an arena of French supremacy, an aspect of contrast between the two countries and an expression of bourgeois civility and explicitly French genius and artistry.

Just as much of the world celebrates and studies French cuisine, scholars have turned their attention to studying the history of French gastronomy, using food as a lens to reveal new information about the history of France.  Some books offer overviews on the origins and development of French cuisine, such as Ferguson’s Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine (2006), while others hone in on a particular facet of French food history, such as the beginnings of the modern restaurant, the association of champagne with all things French, and the interconnectedness between colonialism and cuisine in Vietnam.[3]

Despite being disparaged by much of the international community, scholars have likewise contemplated the history of food in England,[4] using food as a way of examining trade, culture, empire, and society.  Works on English food range from longue durée social histories, such as Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England: A Complete Guide to the Food that Makes us who we are (1954), John Burnett’s Plenty and Want: Social History of Food in England from 1815 to the Present Day (1966), and The Making of the Modern British Diet (1976), edited by Derek Oddy and Derek Miller, to analysis of international trade and exploitative labor, such as Harold Innis’ The Cod Fisheries: The History of an International Economy (1954), Sidney Mintz’s Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (1985), Mark Kurlansky’s Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (1997), and Catherine Higgs’ Cocao, Slavery, and Colonial Africa (2012).

Interestingly, there are significantly more works on the food of the English Middle Ages and the early modern period than books that track the history of food in the nineteenth and twentieth century.  Moreover, scholars that do focus on the modern era often look to the food of the empire, with a significant amount of historical attention on the British Raj along with studies on the British colonial impact on various African cuisines.  Additionally, with food being a popular subject for a popular audience, there are many long histories of English food written by non-academics, with the authors of these books often aiming for a comprehensive account of food throughout English history rather than focusing on particular periods.  Nevertheless, despite the negative stereotypes about the cuisine of the British Isles, there is a significant body of literature dealing with the history of English food, offering new methods for studying, understanding, and teaching the history of England along with opening up opportunities for comparative work with the scholarship on the history of French gastronomy.

This paper reviews five different works dealing with the history of English food and cuisine, concentrating on works published since the late 1990s in order to highlight more recent publications.  The review essay will assess the arguments, sources, and methodology of five books, comparing the individual analysis and situating them within a larger historiography.  The books in question range from recent attempts at unpacking the social history of English food with an explicit attempt to incorporate elements of “the cultural turn,” to large comprehensive accounts by non-historians, to a book that views the British Empire as an interactive system through the lens of food.

This essay examines Liquid Pleasures: A Social History of Drinks in Modern Britain (1999) and England Eats Out: A Social History of Eating Out in England from 1830 to the Present (2004), written by John Burnett, Kate Colquhoun’s Taste: The Story of Britain Through its Cooking (2007), Clarissa Dickson Wright’s A History of English Food (2011), and Lizzie Collingham’s The Hungry Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World (2018).  Though it is rather unconventional for a historiographical review essay to include works by non-academics, the fact that food and food history are popular topics among general audiences and the fact that works by culinary celebrities are more likely to be rented, purchased, and read than books by scholars merits their inclusion into this essay; in the same way that films dealing with historical themes are indeed historical arguments regardless of their accuracy, accounts of the history of food by non-academics must be treated as part of the broader historiography regardless of their intellectual rigor.  All five of these works reveal something new about the history of England in the nineteenth and twentieth century while also provoking further questions and research for historians of modern Europe.

Burnett’s Liquid Pleasures: A Social History of Drinks in Modern Britain investigates the history of drinking in England, declaring that the choice of beverage and the physical consumption of drink are social acts, causal agency rather than inevitable.[5]  Though most people would argue that tea is the national beverage of England, Burnett traces the history of consumption of this along with water, milk, coffee, soft drinks, beer, wine, and spirits throughout modern British[6] history.  Burnett argues that changing drinking patterns throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century represent a change in mentalité, with the choice of drinks subject to a range of cultural and social forces and changes due to connections and globalization.[7]

Two major “drink revolutions” constitute major shifts in Great Britain, the first occurring in the mid-seventeenth century with the transition from beer and ale predominance to the influx of coffee and tea, signaling the “threshold of the modern world,” while the second began in the 1960s with the introduction and popularity of cold soft drinks, a poignant example of American economic hegemony after World War II.  While previous economic and social historians studied the trade and supply and demand of various beverages, Burnett contends that scholars had not done enough research on the consumption of beverages, with the notion of trickle-down dissemination and conspicuous consumption not enough to explain how and why the middle and lower classes of English society drank what they drank.  A social history that attempts to account for cultural factors, Liquid Pleasures endeavors to present a history of England, culture, and society through its beverages.

Burnett begins by tracking the consumption of water throughout English history, centering on water purification efforts of the nineteenth and twentieth century and municipal control over the water supply.  Though officials of the British Empire trumpeted the benefits of laissez-faire, competition between water distributors brought too little water of poor quality to the majority of the population, resulting in the collective ownership of water as an ideological break from free trade.  Though the struggle to provide clean tap water was decades long and required massive engineering expertise and enterprise, distributing clean water and marking a dramatic shift away from the nineteenth century “dark age” of waterborne diseases, Burnett notes with ironic amusement that today people want to purchase “natural” spring water.[8]

Burnett transitions to the consumption of milk, a beverage that served as a pillar of the agricultural community as a commercially traded commodity, while the elite largely mixed it with their tea or coffee to curb acidity or prevent the cracking of china.  Modern standards of cleanliness, health, and nutrition established in the nineteenth century had the effect of putting many small cowherders out of business and preventing the adulteration of milk by adding water or other products, with the increased quality of the product along with state organized milk delivery increasing consumption.  Milk transitioned from a symbol of rural society to an instrument of social policy during World War I and World War II, with destitute farmers needing to turn to dairy in the midst of agricultural depression and the presence of milk in war rations making it an essential product of the home, particularly a necessity for growing children.  Despite this, Burnett notes that the consumption of milk declined since 1969 due to its decreased use in cooking and questions with regard to its nutritional value due to high fat content.  The consumption of beverages throughout history are determined by social and cultural factors rather than a constant, with the history of milk an illustrative example of changing tastes and patterns of consumption.

Burnett then discusses the history and consumption of tea and coffee, both of which kickstarted the “drinking revolution” of the mid-seventeenth century.  The aristocracy first consumed tea as statement of status, with tea a way to show off various porcelain and mahogany drinkware, but made its way to the middle and lower classes over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth century to become “a national drink.”  Importantly, Burnett explains that the middle class did not simply drink tea as a way of emulating the elite; the adoption of tea was an active process of cultural construction, a revolt against outmoded extravagance and immorality.[9]  Middle class women in particular drank tea to define temperance, civility, and domesticity, as coffee was associated with the coffeehouses of the masculine public sphere, while drinking in excess was the vice of the aristocracy and working class.  The expansion of the British Empire and “free” trade[10] made tea and sugar cheaper and more readily available to the working class, the stimulant beverage constituting a significant portion of the diet of the industrial working class.  Tea was a national beverage by the early twentieth century, but after World War II it represent the staid, old-fashioned lifestyle of the past, with postwar generations demanding and desiring new beverages.[11]

Though coffee was widely popular in the seventeenth century, the affordability of tea starting in the eighteenth century relegated the former to a small consumption base among the elite.[12]  However, new espresso bars in the 1950s and the association of coffee with an American middle class lifestyle and worldview, imagery depicted in advertisements, have made coffee more popular in England today (though not popular enough to displace tea).

The most dramatic transformation of consumption within the British Isles was the widespread popularity of soft drinks after World War II.  Though there were nascent attempts to create sodas and fountain drinks throughout the nineteenth century, it was the cultural shift after World War II and the establishment of informal, individualized consumption patterns of on-the-go lifestyles that fostered “a soft drink revolution” in England (and throughout the world), the entrenchment of Americanesque mass consumer society fundamentally altering drink preferences and consumption patterns.[13]

Burnett concludes with chapters dedicated to the production and consumption of beer, wine, and spirits.  While beer was central in English society during the Middle Ages, Burnett notes that its history is one of overall decline.  The introduction of new beverages like coffee and tea, the temperance movements of the nineteenth century, and the restructuring of working class lifestyles produced more leisure time, leading working class men to spend less times in pubs and taverns, all had an impact on reducing the consumption of beer.  Wine, by contrast, maintained a fairly marginal place within British society until the lowering of import duties when Great Britain joined the European community in the 1980s.  Over the late twentieth century, wine became associated with the modern home and the comfort of domesticity and middle class living, increasing in popularity and reflecting a pre-Brexit Europeanization of taste.

The consumption of spirts experienced ebbs and flows throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century, affected by advertising, rationing, and work and life patterns within English society.  The choice and consumption of drinks, particularly in the modern period, was always subject to change, with certain beverages displacing others within English society due to affordability or cultural importance.  Analysis of the drinks of England offers a new way of understanding societal change, particularly class differences and the omnipresence of American economic hegemony after World War II.

Burnett builds his analysis from quantitative data collected from economic documents, ledgers, and surveys, as well as medical treatises and cookbooks from the Middle Ages to the present, Parliamentary Papers, documents from the Royal Commission and Select Committees, secondary economic histories and histories of trade, histories of beverages, and histories of the middle and working class throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century.  Though in many ways a work of social history reflecting Burnett’s academic training and previous works, discussing as few individuals as possible in favor of bottom-up analysis, Liquid Pleasures does account for cultural factors that led to the popularity of particular beverages at particular times.  Though people may prefer the taste of particular beverages, (and even considering the fact that today many drinks are specifically designed to taste good to the most amount of people) the consumption of beverages is a conscious decision made by individuals that when taken together reveal societal trends worthy of historical analysis.

Burnett is most successful when he is discussing the histories of milk and tea, as people did not inherently drink these products, both required changing cultural norms and easier accessibility.  Moreover, though not his explicit focus, his analysis on the increasing popularity of soft drinks in England coincides with increasing American economic hegemony after World War II and supplements literature on Americanization of the European continent, with “Coca-colonization” an often-cited facet of the “irresistible empire.”[14]  Burnett’s study uses the drinks of England as a lens to understand societal and cultural trends, viewing English history through the beverages its people consumed.

Burnett’s England Eats Out: A Social History of Eating Out in England from 1830 to the Present, the last book published before his death in 2006, traces the history of eating outside of the home from the nineteenth century to the time of his writing (2004).  As with Liquid Pleasures, Burnett investigates how and why people chose to eat their meals outside of the home rather than treating eating out as a given or an inevitability.  Eating in restaurants, taverns, and public houses became more important as home and work became increasingly distant from one another in the modern era, with the increased urbanization of England creating greater reliance on commercial producers and retailers rather than the very literal “farm to table” eating patterns of the past.[15]

For much of England’s history, eating food outside of the home was associated with work, men and women eating out for utility rather than pleasure.  However, the English elite began dining in French style “restaurants”[16] as an expression of wealth and status, breaking up the “monotony” of English roast meats with French style sauces, soups, ragouts, and vegetables.[17]  These dishes were prepared by émigré chefs fleeing the French Revolution, transitioning from the royal court to the homes of the English elite, demonstrating commonality between the cuisine of England and France despite the imagined contrast between the two.  Though the elite ate out for pleasure, the lower classes largely ate outside the home out of necessity until the mid-twentieth century, when the arrival of American chains, ethnic restaurants, and the renaissance of the public house coincided with increased disposable income and the arrival of mass consumer society.  Unlike Liquid Pleasures, the history of eating out in restaurants, taverns, and pubs is largely a teleological one in which increased income fostered greater consumption, eating out a product of modernity and greater leisure time and experiencing less volatile ebbs and flows than drinking patterns in England.

Though the history of eating in restaurants is largely straightforward, requiring a shift in culture but largely dependent on disposable income, Burnett explains that the total volume of eating outside of the home has not changed since 1830.  Just as scholars studying the history of drinking often narrowly focus on alcoholic beverages, centering on restaurants and restaurant culture misses how the working class and impoverished “ate out” in the nineteenth century.  For the poor, eating outside of the home meant survival rather than pleasure, England’s destitute relying on charity, soup kitchens, factory canteens, and affordable fish and chip shops for sustenance amid long working hours and squalid conditions.

As with the influx of soft drinks, the democratization of eating out began in the 1960s with the entrenchment of American mass consumer society.  More income and leisure time led to English families taking more holidays and leaving the home more often, promoting increased eating in restaurants, establishments explicitly designed to be different from the home and make eating out “an experience.”[18]  Though France had the greatest influence on English cooking and eating, ethnic restaurants, particularly Indian and Chinese eateries, and Americanization in the postwar decades made England “an eating out nation.”[19]  Ethnic restaurants catered to new immigrants working in undermanned industries after World War II and eventually attracted English patrons due to their affordability and “touch of exoticism,” with Indian restaurants in particular decorated with ornate imagery invoking the hegemony of the British Raj.[20]  Ethnic restaurants took over catering and eating out immediately after World War II, and though it is still popular to “go for a curry,” it was (and is) Americanization that influenced eating out habits more quickly and deeply than in most other countries.[21]  For better and worse, according to Burnett, England is now a nation that eats outside of the home, with dining turned into an experience at the expense of declining home cooking, resulting in standardization of cuisine.

Burnett’s sources in this book range from statistical data collected by The Compass Group, MSI Market Research for Industry, Gallup Poll social surveys, Taylor Nelson Sofres Research Group, food and medical treatises, wage and economic reports, letters, dietary surveys, cookbooks, advice publications, restaurant reviews, domestic magazines from the nineteenth and twentieth century, vacation and holiday literature, hotelkeeper’s gazettes, diaries, good food guides in the postwar decades (especially the 1960s), reports from National Catering Inquiry, and scholarship on the history of the rural and working class, works on food policy during the World Wars, and more general monographs on nineteenth and twentieth century England.  Though lacking the ebbs and flows of drink consumption patterns, the history of eating out in England does illustrate societal change over time, particularly class differences in the nineteenth century as well as the impact of American consumer hegemony after World War II.

The history of eating in restaurants also ties into the history of immigration to England, particularly Indian and Chinese migrants after World War II, using restaurants as a method of defining a social niche and providing food for their community.  The popularity of ethnic foods, particularly Indian curries, feeds into the narrative of England and Great Britain as a tolerant, multicultural society, exemplified by former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook declaring chicken tikka masala “a British national dish.”[22]  Despite this narrative and its positive connotations, a celebration of diversity and casting the former empire as a happy family and nation, subsequent work by Uma Narayan and Elizabeth Buettner deem food “the acceptable face of multiculturalism,” a limited acceptance of diversity and a primary vehicle for denying and masking along with articulating racism.[23]  Britons can eat curry and claim to be tolerant while at the same time associating new immigrants with the stench of their food while simultaneously fleeing neighborhoods seen as overcrowded by new immigrants.

Additionally, the history of eating out speaks to the hegemony of American mass consumer society in England as well as throughout Europe after World War II, with Americanization resulting in a greater disruption of tradition than any other factor.  Though not a prominent theme for Burnett, a social historian emphasizing the eating habits of different classes, it is an avenue for further research and for scholars to study the nature of Americanization in England and whether there were similar efforts toward resistance as there were in France.[24]  Both the history of drinks and drinking as well as the development of eating out in England offer new ways of interpreting the history of the British Isles with significant opportunities for comparative work with the rest of the European continent.

 

[1] Paul Hechinger, “Five Myths About British Food,” BBC America, 2012, Accessed May 18, 2019, http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2012/03/five-myths-about-british-food.

[2] CNN, “The Dish that Sparked a British Cooking Revolution,” YouTube Video, Oct 19, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n97pPlhqc9U.

[3] Rebecca Spang, The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture, 2000; Kolleen Guy, When Champagne Became French: Wine and the Making of a National Identity, 2003; Erica Peters, Appetites and Aspirations in Vietnam: Food and Drink in the Long Nineteenth Century, 2011.

[4] Though unified as “Great Britain” since 1707, scholars largely examine the foodways and trends within England alone. Titles often describe “a history of English cuisine” rather than “a history of British cuisine,” largely reflecting their source base (or, more problematically, using “British” and “English” interchangeably).

[5] John Burnett, Liquid Pleasures: A Social History of Drinks in Modern Britain, (London: Routledge, 1999), 5.

[6] Though using “British” in the title, the book is predominantly (if not entirely) an English history based on the contents and source base.

[7] Burnett, Liquid Pleasures, 1.

[8] Ibid, 28.

[9] Ibid, 50.

[10] Free in quotes due to the infamous relationship of growing Indian opium to trade for Chinese tea, augmented by the gunboat diplomacy of the British East India Company.

[11] Burnett, Liquid Pleasures, 68.

[12] Brian Cowan’s Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse (2005) discusses the importance of the English coffeehouse as a space of political and intellectual discussion in the seventeenth century, while The World that Trade Created: Society, Culture, and the World Economy, 1400-Present, edited by Kenneth Pomeranz and Bernard Topik explains the economic motivations as to why tea became cheaper and more popular in Great Britain (1999)

[13] Burnett, Liquid Pleasures, 108.

[14] Victoria de Grazia, Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance through Twentieth-Century Europe, (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005).

[15] John Burnett, England Eats Out: A Social History of Eating Out in England from 1830 to the Present, (London: Routledge, 2004), xii.

[16] Burnett credits Spang’s work on the origins of the modern restaurant in eighteenth century Paris.

[17] Burnett, England Eats Out, 3.

[18] Ibid, 324.

[19] Ibid, 327.

[20] Ibid, 283.

[21] Ibid, 328.

[22] Robin Cook, “Robin Cook’s Chicken Tikka Masala Speech Excerpts,” The Guardian, April 19, 2001, Accessed April 4, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/apr/19/race.britishidentity.

[23] Elizabeth Buettner, “Going for an Indian: South Asian Restaurants and the Limits of Multiculturalism in Britain,” The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 80, No. 4, A Special Issue on Metropole and Colony (December 2008), Accessed February 4, 2016, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/591113, 901.

[24] Richard F. Kuisel, The French Way: How France Embraced and Rejected American Values and Power, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012).

Roast Beef and Chicken Tikka Masala, Coca-Cola and Chinese Tea: A Historiographical Review of English Food History of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century (Part Two)

(Image: O The Roast Beef of Old England (‘The Gate of Calais’), William Hogarth and Charles Mosley, 1749; Image Credit: Tate Organization, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hogarth-mosley-o-the-roast-beef-of-old-england-the-gate-of-calais-t03918)

Significantly different from the works of Burnett is Kate Colquhoun’s Taste: The Story of Britain Through its Cooking.  Unlike Burnett, Colquhoun’s previous books are works of literature in a Victorian setting, a writer of historical fiction rather than a historian with academic training.  Moreover, Colquhoun is certainly not analyzing the food and cuisine of England[25] from the perspective of a social historian, instead tracing the development of food from antiquity to the present.  Thus, her work is more of a history “of food” rather than a history “through food,” aiming for a comprehensive account rather than more narrow focus and attempting to reach a general audience rather than an academic one.

Nevertheless, Colquhoun’s work makes extensive use of primary sources and, because it is still a work of English food history, it is worthy of investigation and analysis and constitutes part of the historiography of English cuisine.  Furthermore, books like Colquhoun’s are more common within the field than more narrow inquiries like Burnett’s accounts of drinks and restaurants.  As a more typical contribution to the knowledge of English food and cookery, building analysis from primary sources, and more likely to be read by a nonacademic audience less discerning of what “history writing” is, it is imperative to place Colquhoun’s contribution within the larger historiography.

Colquhoun argues that cuisine and cookery serve as a valuable common language reflective of English history in which old and new march happily hand in hand.[26]  After tracking the history of English food and dining since prehistory, Colquhoun devotes the last third of her book to the cuisine and culinary norms of the nineteenth and twentieth century.  She argues that the nineteenth century was marked by an increasing gulf between the haves and have nots, as a cult of epicureanism developed within the aristocracy (aided by the arrival of chefs from France) while the English poor subsisted on imported grain (provided without instruction on how to cook new products such as rice and maize).  She also discusses the emergence of cookbooks and home economy manuals in the nineteenth century, which promised to help housewives reign in waste, use leftovers, and above all save time, for the Victorian age was one where time was money and speed was progress.[27]

Along with new norms of domesticity, the nineteenth century brought new technology to the home, turning the kitchen into a laboratory of the household regardless of the consistent heat of the range cooker.  While domestic technology, home entertaining, and food on the table helped the middle class to define their identity, the working class and urban poor survived off of penny pies, cheap fish, and potatoes, with mass poverty eating a subsistence diet fueling the material progress of the English nation.[28]

Poverty was so widespread and malnutrition so common that Colquhoun contends that the rations of World War I constituted and improvement in the average standard of living.  War rations, making sure all of England had enough to eat during World War I and World War II, depended on tinned food and processed good, both of which helped to bridge the dietary divide between rich and poor over the course of the twentieth century.[29]  Thrift was patriotism and waste “helped the hun” during World War II, with the housewife expected to make a nourishing meal for the whole family out of tinned meat, potatoes, hard bread, and powdered eggs.  The postwar decades, an end to war rationing, marked a return to French and Mediterranean dishes as well as an explosion of and access to kitchen appliances, again a result of American mass consumer society becoming entrenched in Europe after World War II.  At the same time, England witnessed the emergence of ethnic restaurants and new ethnic cookbooks like Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Food (1968) and Madhur Jaffrey’s An Invitation to Indian Cooking (1973), books that offered new dishes while simultaneously recapturing and perpetuating tradition of how one might have dined in the British Empire.[30]

Colquhoun defines the late twentieth century as an age of plenty in the British Isles, an age where its population loves food, celebrity chefs, and cooking programs but at the same time spends less on food than ever before, eats processed pot noodles and McDonald’s, and has “yet to learn how to talk about food as memory and history, to relax into it as part of the framework of our ordinary lives rather than as an issue, a programme, a new ingredient, or a political promise.”[31]  With the rapid change of the postwar decades, Colquhoun laments that the history of food is being lost, the heritage and tradition of the kitchen and cooking giving way to an increasingly atomized lifestyle.  Thus, she believes her work serves as an antidote to this loss of memory, telling the story of England through its cooking to remember what was.

Though not a professional historian in training, Colquhoun bases her work on letters, diaries, manuscript collections, household accounts, paintings, drawings, poems, plays, published records, cookbooks, and novels from the sixteenth to the twentieth century along with secondary sources on food and cooking in English history.  Though a history “of food” in England, highlighting cuisine and recipes throughout history, rather than history “through food,” using food, cooking, and eating as a lens to understand societal change and cultural shifts, Colquhoun’s work nevertheless discusses food throughout English history and makes it accessible for a nonacademic audience.  Moreover, the discussion of rationing during World War I and World War II explicitly appeal to the emotions of the reader and bring the difficult living conditions and lack of resources to life in a way that academic monographs are unable.  World War II in particular led to all but meatless, fatless, fruitless, and cheeseless larders, with wives aiming to stretch limited meat, offal, and Spam supplies by mincing and frying along with creating pies made from rolled oats and mashed potato filled with root vegetables.[32]  Furthermore, the lack of basic necessities like cream, milk, eggs, and even coffee make the struggle of domestic life during war quite visceral and would prove particularly useful as an illustrative example in a classroom.  Though not a focused study like historical monographs, aiming for broad coverage and accessibility rather than in depth research on a particular topic for an academic audience, Colquhoun’s work nevertheless provides a history of English cuisine and therefore English history and society using food as the primary category of analysis.

Clarissa Dickson Wright’s A History of English Food is another attempt at a comprehensive survey of English food by a nonacademic, this time by a celebrity chef and television personality, starring in the late 1990s BBC series Two Fat Ladies.  Dickson Wright defines the food of England as “an amalgam of its history and experience,” with cuisine and culinary norms constantly changing and food itself revealing information about society.[33]  As with Colquhoun, Dickson Wright attempts to track the history of English food in its entirety, but begins in the Middle Ages rather than going all the way back to prehistory, devoting the last third of the book to the culinary norms of the nineteenth and twentieth century.  Though still citing cookbooks from the past, Dickson Wright uses significantly fewer primary sources than Colquhoun, but manages to include the work of social historians like Hartley and Burnett that Colquhoun neglected.  Moreover, as a cook and culinary personality, Dickson Wright includes comments about the quality of particular dishes or cooking styles, her book once again a history “of food” rather than history “through food.”  Nevertheless, because of her fame in the British Isles, her television program lending her significant clout in discussing matters of food and dining, Dickson Wright’s account is more likely to be picked up, purchased, and/or read by those interested in food history, and it must be analyzed and interrogated as part of the historiography of English food.

Dickson Wright’s discussion of the culinary history of the nineteenth and twentieth century begins with the emigration of French chefs fleeing the French Revolution, bringing over ostentatious dishes as well as service a la française (food served all at once) consumed by the aristocracy as an expression of decadence and status.  Though Dickson Wright (along with other authors of works on English food) focus significantly on the cuisine of the monarchs, particularly their adoption of French cuisine, she explains that English rulers and the elite were “tasters” rather than “taste makers,” abiding by the culinary fashions of the time rather than dictating them.[34]  Dickson Wright provided numerous details about the excesses of elite consumption in a more humorous manner, especially compared to Colquhoun’s moralizing tone, but notes that the chefs of the time paid great attention to presentation at the expense of taste.

She declares that it was in the Victorian age that people “forgot how to cook,” perpetuating the stereotype of poor English cookery, as wives and cooks began the tradition of overcooking vegetables and the increasing reliance on canned and tinned goods made food more inventive than the past but increasingly dull.[35]  In particular, Dickson Wright blames Isabella Beeton and her Book of Household Management (1861), a home economy tome aiming for comprehensiveness and accessibility, for making the cuisine of England standardized, bland, and reliant on canned and tinned foods, the latter owing to American advances in industrial food production.

As with Colquhoun, Dickson Wright uses food to examine inequality in England in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, for though the dining habits of King Edward VII and his court represented the ultimate expression of overindulgence, with standard lunch and dinner involving up to twelve courses, the majority of the population relied in imported goods, as sixty percent of British food supplies were imported from the Empire or the United States.[36]  The dining habits of the elite and the nonelite highlight the point made by Colquhoun that nineteenth century England was a time of great inequality, a massive gulf between haves and have nots.

Dickson Wright spends less time (and puts less emotional weight) on food rations during World War I and World War II, but nevertheless mentions the lack of resources available to wives and cooks in the midst of war.  Though English troops managed to eat well on the front lines, having enough to eat even if it required a rock or hard object to break a biscuit open, those at home had to make something out of nothing, with food imports cut in half in wartime.[37]  Dickson Wright praises the ingenuity of cooking during World War II, as rations on flour, eggs, sugar, butter, and meat forced cooks and wives to create dishes like carrot fudge (a concoction created from carrots, gelatin, and a trace amount of concentrated orange juice) for sustenance as well as easing the burden and fear imposed by war.[38]  Moreover, the advent of nutritional science by the twentieth century and the inclusion of nutritionists in the Ministry of Food meant that though rations limited the quantity of food available, England actually ate a healthier and more nutritionally sound diet during the war.[39]

The postwar decades produced significant change to food culture in England, as rations came to an end and increased disposable income meant that fewer people went hungry than in the past.  Additionally, Dickson Wright praises the more cosmopolitan attitude toward food since the 1960s, with just about every national cuisine represented by a restaurant or a cookbook somewhere in England, with “English national gastronomy” now including Indian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern dishes rather than solely traditional fare and French dishes.[40]  While there is certainly more to eat in England based on quantity and diversity of cuisine, Dickson Wright laments increasing standardization, as supermarket chains selling processed goods displaced small food shops since the late 1950s and the varieties of produce and livestock breeds have decline to a select few that manage to sell.  Dickson Wright ultimately concludes that English food is a constantly evolving movable feast, with cuisine and culinary norms subject to both change and continuity accounting for both tradition and modernity, with the changeability and adaptability of English food being its greatest strength.

Dickson Wright’s account of the history of English cuisine draws from works of literature (she intersperses literary references throughout the text), recipes, cookbooks, and food and medical treatises from the sixteenth century to the present in addition to works of scholarship, largely social histories like the work of Braudel, Hartley, and Burnett.  She uses significantly fewer primary sources than Colquhoun’s work on the long history of English food, and thus, Dickson Wright’s book is significantly less rigorous in an academic sense.  Her work is a long history “of food” in England and the British Isles, a book given legitimacy due to Dickson Wright’s celebrity status in the English culinary world.  Though aimed at a general audience, particularly a British nonacademic audience curious about food and the cuisine that defines their identity rather than looking to scrutinize English culinary history, Dickson Wright’s work does not present any erroneous information even if it lacks the depth of research present in other works on English food history.  More concerned with giving opinions on the quality of food at a given time or telling stories, A History of English Food is more likely to be read than works by academics and it nevertheless adds to the knowledge base of food throughout English history, particularly offering new models and methods for understanding society and development in the nineteenth and twentieth century.

[25] Again, although using “Britain” in the title, this is a history of English food and cuisine.

[26] Kate Colquhoun, Taste: The Story of Britain Through its Cooking, (New York: Bloomsbury, 2007), xi.

[27] Ibid, 275.

[28] Ibid, 288.

[29] Ibid, 336.

[30] Ibid, 363.

[31] Ibid, 373.

[32] Ibid, 341.

[33] Clarissa Dickson Wright, A History of English Food, (London: Random House Books, 2011), ix.

[34] Ibid, 320.

[35] Ibid, 351.

[36] Ibid, 396.

[37] Ibid, 398

[38] Ibid, 417. Dickson Wright explains that she couldn’t bring herself to experiment with the carrot fudge recipe but was mildly intrigued to know what the end result was.

[39] Ibid, 424.

[40] Ibid, 455.