A Slice of a Pineapple

Food Bites

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Aug 30, 2012    •    1417 Views

Sometimes food is about a lot more than eating.

When a !Kung Bushman hunter returns from the forest, he is greeted with, “What, you made us come all this way for this bag of bones?” One Bushman explained why. “When a young man kills much meat, he comes to think of himself as a chief or a big man, and he thinks the rest of us his servants or inferiors. We can’t accept this. So we always speak of his meat as worthless. In this way we cool his heart and make him gentle.”

By contrast, try to imagine a painting that shows England’s King Charles II (1630-1685) in a garden with an opulent house in the background and 2 spaniels nearby. Yes, it shows the wealth and prestige the artist wanted to convey but the clincher is a pineapple. In the picture, the king’s gardener is offering him a pineapple. Rare in 17th century England, frequently rotting during the voyage from the West Indies, the pineapple is the fruit of royalty. More than anything else, the pineapple displays power.

My source: I’ve been reading Tom Standage’s An Edible History of Humanity. A perfect vehicle for economic history, Standage’s food stories start with ancient (and contemporary) hunter gather communities, they illustrate the monumental impact of the beginning of agriculture, they tell how food connected disparate cultures around the world, they look at the spice trade, at sugar, at potatoes, at pineapples and the future. As he points out, his book is focused on the impact of food–not eating it. In addition, his notes and bibliography provide an excellent springboard for further reading. (My quote about the !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari can be found in the Standage book on p.35.)

While Standage does not discuss GDP (the money value of the goods and services a country produces), as we discuss here in econlife, food and GDP closely relate. And, for more about how we display our power and prestige, you might want to read about Thorstein Veblen and conspicuous consumption.

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