HARVARD STUDIES IN BUSINESS HISTORY
Cover: Visualizing Taste: How Business Changed the Look of What You Eat, from Harvard University PressCover: Visualizing Taste in HARDCOVER

Harvard Studies in Business History 53

Visualizing Taste

How Business Changed the Look of What You Eat

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.

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