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French Beans and Food ScaresCulture and Commerce in an Anxious Age$
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Susanne Freidberg

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780195169607

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195169607.001.0001

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Feeding the Nation: The Making of Modern Food Provisioning

Feeding the Nation: The Making of Modern Food Provisioning

Chapter:
(p.32) (p.33) 2 Feeding the Nation: The Making of Modern Food Provisioning
Source:
French Beans and Food Scares
Author(s):

Susanne Freidberg

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780195169607.003.0004

In the late 20th century, a time when many Europeans protested against the corporate conquest of their food shops and farmlands, the sentiments expressed above were no doubt commonplace. The quotation, however, dates back to the 1889 International Hygiene Conference in Paris. Then as now, scientific and technological innovations and the expanding reach of “merchant companies” were stretching the geographic and biological limits of food supply, and sowing controversy along the way. On one hand, food was getting cheaper, more abundant, and more varied, especially in cities. On the other hand, food was coming from farther away and passing through more hands, and national governments could not assure that it was safe or truthfully marketed. As the conference-goers acknowledged, national borders were not stopping either epidemics or the trade in “falsified products.” The period between the mid-19th and early 20th centuries bears further examination not simply because it saw anxieties and controversies over food remarkably similar to those of the turn-of-the millennium period. In addition, events and developments of this era set the stage for contemporary food globalization through diverse and culturally distinctive commodity networks. With Europe’s colonization of Africa came the establishment of enduring relation ships of trade, aid, and investment in African food production. With the emergence of the bureaucratic welfare state, corporate food processing and retailing, and new food sciences and technologies, it became possible to provide the mass market with reasonably safe and wholesome food; with growing consumer awareness and activism, it became both economically and politically necessary. With the emergence of an urban bourgeois society devoted to gastronomy— the “science of taste”—both the French state and French farmers realized food’s power as an expression of natural and national distinction—a distinction that strengthened national consciousness around food on both sides of the Channel. In short, this era saw what turned out to be a number of pivotal debates and struggles over how to define and best provide for food safety and quality. It was also an era when metropolitan elites looked to their expanding overseas empires not just to enrich national economies but also to consolidate nationhood.

Keywords:   Canned food, Famine, Gastronomy, Intermediaries, London, Nutrition, Paris, Pure food movement, Succarsales, Terroir

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