Ai Hisano exposes how corporations, the American government, and consumers shaped the colors of what we eat and even the colors of what we consider “natural,” “fresh,” and “wholesome.”
The yellow of margarine, the red of meat, the bright orange of “natural” oranges—we live in the modern world of the senses created by business. Ai Hisano reveals how the food industry capitalized on color, and how the creation of a new visual vocabulary has shaped what we think of the food we eat. Constructing standards for the colors of food and the meanings we associate with them—wholesome, fresh, uniform—has been a business practice since the late nineteenth century, though one invisible to consumers. Under the growing influences of corporate profit and consumer expectations, firms have sought to control our sensory experiences ever since.
Visualizing Taste explores how our perceptions of what food should look like have changed over the course of more than a century. By examining the development of color-controlling technology, government regulation, and consumer expectations, Hisano demonstrates that scientists, farmers, food processors, dye manufacturers, government officials, and intermediate suppliers have created a version of “natural” that is, in fact, highly engineered. Retailers and marketers have used scientific data about color to stimulate and influence consumers’—and especially female consumers’—sensory desires, triggering our appetites and cravings. Grasping this pivotal transformation in how we see, and how we consume, is critical to understanding the business of food.
Richly textured and full of colorful characters, Ai Hisano’s Visualizing Taste shows us that what many consider ‘natural’ about food is in fact historically and culturally constructed. This book highlights how central the history of the senses is to the development of capitalism and modern consumption. Original, fascinating, and eye-opening.
An intriguing analysis that establishes food color as a critical example of how twentieth-century business strategies deployed the human senses. Visualizing Taste makes us think about what color means, to producers and to consumers.
Seeing is believing, right? Not so fast. In this nuanced and highly original history of the ‘capitalism of the senses,’ Ai Hisano shows how the American food industry taught consumers to associate particular food colors with freshness, authenticity, and safety. In colonizing perception to suit business needs, food marketers radically changed the way we think about nature, health, beauty, and truth itself.
Visualizing Taste makes a major contribution to business history and the history of the senses by investigating the multiple factors, including government regulation, that have shaped the visual presentation of today’s comestibles. Through Ai Hisano’s critical interrogation of the color code, this book will refresh your palate.
Hisano’s book provides a compelling historical perspective on contemporary debates on sensory marketing and branding.
Hisano examines how the appearance of everyday foods has changed from 1870 to 1970 in the United States…Natural dyes were common before synthetic alternatives offered an extensive spectrum of artificial colors. This fundamentally changed not only the color of processed foods like Jell-O and meats but also of fresh foods like fruits and vegetables—all at the behest of corporate interests. The author reveals the irony that growers, producers, and retailers redefined these ‘artificial’ colors as ‘fresh’ and ‘natural.’
- 2020, Winner of the Hagley Prize in Business History
- 336 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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