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.

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Jacket: An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns, by Bruno Latour, translated by Catherine Porter, from Harvard University Press

Honoring Latour

In awarding Bruno Latour the 2021 Kyoto Prize for Arts and Philosophy, the Inamori Foundation said he has “revolutionized the conventional view of science” and “his philosophy re-examines ‘modernity’ based on the dualism of nature and society.” Below is an excerpt from An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns. For more than twenty years, scientific and technological controversies have proliferated in number and scope, eventually reaching the climate itself. Since geologists are beginning to use the term “Anthropocene” to designate the era of Earth’s history that follows the Holocene