Everyday food as a colonial continuity? On colonialism in our food
We are now standing in front of Cron & Lanz, which is probably the best-known confectionery in Göttingen. It first opened its store doors in 1876 and has had a shop in the same place since 1912. Cron & Lanz was founded at a time when products such as chocolate, cane sugar, coffee, and tea were becoming increasingly affordable. Originally introduced to Europe primarily as luxury goods beginning in the 17th century, by 1900 at the latest, most of these goods were part of the everyday lives of almost every Central European person. The wealthier people drank their coffee black, for instance at a coffee circle; for the working classes, a watered-down cup became a hot meal and a normal part of everyday life.
But what do these products have to do with colonialism? What mechanisms made it possible for stores like Cron & Lanz, with their sugar- and cocoa-laden products, to establish themselves as a fixture among Göttingen’s citizens?
Many of today’s foods and their ordinariness cannot be explained without a variety of colonial structures, some of which continue to influence modern-day life. One such trace is that European powers, as part of their expansionary efforts, pushed the cultivation of crops around the world, churning up the plant life of different parts of the world and, in the process, turning whole areas of land into plantations. The European powers strove to grow the highly demanded raw materials in their colonial possessions at a low cost. They did not shy away from seed theft and smuggling to get what they were going after. Cocoa and coffee are striking examples of this: while cocoa originated on the American continent, it was primarily cultivated in West Africa. On the other hand, coffee originating from the Arabian Peninsula was imported and grown in the Americas. All this did not happen in agreement with the local people but was determined by the European states’ ideas of how to shape the world.
Another colonial trait is that many of the raw materials were grown highly labor-intensively: it was not uncommon for both the local population to be exploited and enslaved people and later migrant workers, who got brought to the European colonies for this purpose. Today, this migration in the course of slavery and later forced labor is visible worldwide, through the large number of people, for example, living in the Caribbean and the USA, having West African ancestors. This Eurocentric, i.e., one-sidedly European, approach changed the world ecologically, economically, ethnically, and culturally; often with serious and negatively lasting consequences for the colonized areas and their inhabitants.
Striking graphics about transatlantic enslavement and the colonial triangular trade are available here (German) at the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung.
The revolution on the island of Haiti, which has received little attention in the past, deserves mention in the context of slavery and heavy plantation labor to produce colonial goods. On the plantations of Haiti, thousands of people who came from the African continent were enslaved to provide sugar and coffee to the European market at affordable prices. The people of Haiti achieved their independence from France in 1804, creating the first state in the modern sense that was run by black people and that wanted to grant equal rights to all people. You can read more about this for example here (German).
In order for the goods produced in colonies to make their way to cities like Göttingen and become more and more affordable here, it was not only due to the low costs of production under terrible working conditions, but also due to a revolution in transportation: steamships and railroads made the transport of goods faster, easier to plan, and less expensive. In 1900, Göttingen counted 50 so-called colonial goods stores, which sold mainly, in addition to many other products, well-traveled items such as coffee, tea, sugar, cocoa, rice, etc. to the population of Göttingen. It was not uncommon for colonial goods to be advertised through racist images on the packaging or in the logo of the brand – they often showed Black people as servile and childlike.
Do you remember the term “colonial store”? What do you associate with it? Or did you possibly enter one as a child of the post-war period? Did you maybe even come across such a racist advertisement?
Today, the term “colonial goods” has mostly disappeared from our vocabulary. But we still consume many products from far-away continents at low prices, whose conditions of production mostly remain hidden under the complex web of international trade relations. The extent to which goods such as sugar, cocoa, and tea, but also rubber for car tires and cotton for the textile industry, have contributed to the creation of an unequal world, and continue to do so today, is a matter for much debate. But that they have played their part cannot be seriously denied.
What does this mean regarding the chocolate praline from Cron & Lanz that we give to our grandma for Christmas? What does this knowledge change about the morning routine of drinking coffee? What change would you like to see?
P.s.: What does the name Edeka stand for? More about this here and also here:
EDEWA – Einkaufsgenossenschaft antirassistischen Widerstandes (in German)
- Kamenov, N. (2016) Globale Geld-und Warenströme. bpb
Link: https://www.bpb.de/geschichte/zeitgeschichte/postkolonialismus-und-globalgeschichte/231933/globale-geld-und-warenstroeme ; Zuletzt aufgerufen am: 16.8.21
- Osterhammel, J. (2021). Warenökonomie und Mobilitätsfolklore. Zeitschrift für Ideengeschichte, 15(1), 5-13.
- Wendt, R. (2021) Die Verzuckerung der Welt. Zeitschrift für Ideengeschichte, 15(1), 26-35.
- Europa zwischen Kolonialismus und Dekolonisierung (2018). bpb. Link: https://www.bpb.de/shop/zeitschriften/informationen-zur-politischen-bildung/280690/europa-zwischen-kolonialismus-und-dekolonisierung ; Zuletzt aufgerufen am 21.11.2021