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Food Safety and Global Comestibles

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-24, 13:27 authored by Nicole TaruleviczNicole Tarulevicz
Our newspapers and computer screens are flooded with food scares and scandals. From mass meat recalls in the US to melamine in Chinese milk, we learn of the substitution of cheaper ingredients to increase profits, about the adulteration of food with harmful chemicals and about deliberate food fraud. A popular tendency is to see this as a product of recent globalization and the industrialization of the food system. Globalization has complicated the food system but issues of food quality played out on the global stage since the trade in black pepper and nutmeg and are deeply bound with imperialism and industrialisation. “Imperial machinery” secured the abundance and cheapness of food, but also fuelled worries about how technology could be used to ‘deceive and cheat consumers’ and to expose local markets to competition from distant producers.
Historians have increasingly recognized the centrality of comestibles to imperialism, tracing how it changed the domestic and daily habits of those at the centre of empires. What has received less attention is the history of food quality in colonial contexts. This paper takes the Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore as its example and traces the evolution of food safety regulations, advertising, campaigns and public health messages to show how anxieties about the safety of food are complicated by a reliance on the global pantry. Although importing the vast majority of your food seems like a particularly twenty-first-century situation, for Singapore this has long been the case. It does not have, and has never had, an agricultural hinterland and this makes it a powerful historical example with relevancy to contemporary debates.


Publication title

American Historical Association




School of Humanities



Place of publication

New York

Event title

American Historical Association

Event Venue

New York

Date of Event (Start Date)


Date of Event (End Date)


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  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in history, heritage and archaeology

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