Monday, May 17, 2021

Rant: Be Skeptical of Food & Drink Origin Stories

Over the years of writing historical articles about food and drink origins, I've realized how often the most popular origin stories aren't true. However, those same origin tales get disseminated by many different sources, creating an illusion of the veracity of those origins. Thus, those erroneous origins become "common knowledge" and trusted by many people. You need to be more skeptical of these origin tales, to seek out evidence proving or disproving these origin stories.

Companies and individuals like to be seen as the inventor of something, or at least be connected in some way to the inventor, such as a family member or community member. This helps them stand out, and gives them a sense of pride, of accomplishment. It can also sometimes be a marketing ploy. Many of these origin tales don't arise until years after the alleged invention, when it may be more difficult to disprove their claim. 

Fortunately, the digitization of newspaper archives has made it easier to conduct research, to assess the veracity of these claims, and I've done so with numerous food and drink origin tales. Sometimes, I've even found evidence to dispute a claim of invention within ten minutes of research. It certainly takes much longer to put together a fully researched article, but you can often quickly determine whether your research will be fruitful or not. 

For example, when I was researching A History of Sake Brewing in the U.S., the prevailing opinion was that the first Sake brewery outside of Japan was established in Hawaii in 1908. Some of the support for this opinion came from employees of the brewery during the 1970s. My research proved that wasn't the case, and that the first Sake brewery was actually founded in Berkley, California, in 1902. The Hawaiian Sake brewery was actually around the 4th or 5th Sake brewery in the U.S. I even found evidence that the original owners of the brewery were fully cognizant of the prior Sake breweries. 

I was once told that the earliest known written documentation concerning Pechuga, basically a flavored Mezcal which commonly adds meat to one of the distillation steps, was from the 1950s. As I was intrigued by this topic, I did my own research and wrote An Expanded History of Pechuga Mezcal, and found multiple documents referencing Pechuga, extending back to 1863. This has enhanced our knowledge of Pechuga, and shows what can be accomplished with some determined research. 

Most recently, I posted The True Origin of Hawaiian Pizza, disputing the common claim that Sam Sam Panopoulos, a Greek-born Canadian, invented Hawaiian pizza in 1962. On May 10, 2021, the Economist even published an article on Hawaiian pizza, repeating this claim about Panopoulos. However, I proved that pineapple on pizza existed for at least nine years prior to its alleged invention in 1962. It was even in a Boston restaurant prior to 1962. 

Like with most topics, you should be skeptical of food and drink origins. Even origin tales that seem to be the most popular and widely publicized can turn out to be false. Seek out evidence and proof of these origin tales. 

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