Business, Quaker chocolate and dried peas

On a more upbeat note, I just saw a fascinating article in the Globe about how all this to-do about contaminated products from China tends to forget that American capitalists did the same kind of shady things, or worse, when we were industrializing in the 19th century:

Taking a page from the British, who had pioneered many ingenious methods of adulteration a generation or two earlier, American manufacturers, distributors, and vendors of food began tampering with their products en masse — bulking out supplies with cheap filler, using dangerous additives to mask spoilage or to give foodstuffs a more appealing color.

A committee of would-be reformers who met in Boston in 1859 launched one of the first studies of American food purity, and their findings make for less-than-appetizing reading: candy was found to contain arsenic and dyed with copper chloride; conniving brewers mixed extracts of “nux vomica,” a tree that yields strychnine, to simulate the bitter taste of hops. … Sugar was blended with plaster of Paris, as was flour. Milk had been watered down, then bulked up with chalk and sheep’s brains. Hundred-pound bags of coffee labeled “Fine Old Java” turned out to consist of three-fifths dried peas, one-fifth chicory, and only one-fifth coffee.

I didn’t know it was that bad. When I was in England I heard that one of the ways Quaker businesses distinguished themselves was that people trusted they wouldn’t pull these kinds of dirty tricks. For example, the person told me, people trusted Cadbury’s to not put sawdust in the chocolate. I was surprised that people would’ve been all that worried about that back then, but now it makes sense.

How things have changed — the current (non-Quaker, tsk tsk) management of Cadbury’s recently decided not to alert the public of a salmonella contamination in their chocolate. The article quotes a business school professor as saying the company’s Quaker founders would have been appalled.

All of which brings us to the question, why are there so few Friends today in the business world? There are certainly some, but it seems to be an occupation that in some quarter is not always looked well upon, despite the fact that everyone at meeting depends on businesspeople for the wheels they got to meeting on. It’s seems related, though I’m not sure exactly how, to issues of social class among modern (liberal?) Quakers that have been talked about recently

3 Responses to “Business, Quaker chocolate and dried peas”

  1. 1 Pam Aug 28th, 2007

    dried peas? huh?

    As for the rest of it, It’s been niggling at me too.

    I used to be very involved in the co-op movement. I guess I still am, but in a different way. I just joined the last food co-op in Minneapolis that I’m not a member of (I think that’s 5)

    The first co-op was started by weavers in England who didn’t want to buy overpriced flour full of chalk from the company store anymore. Co-ops and Quakers go together, in my opinion, but not as much as I’d expect in reality (same for vegetarianism, but that’s another issue)

    One very serious issue is that it’s really hard to functiton as a small business these days. Reagan apparently took away most of the supports there were, and it’s gotten worse and worse under every president since as far as I know, even Clinton (gasp!)

    There’s less and less opportunity to be in business these days. Walmart and Target sell most of the stuff that gets sold, and every one of their stores is -50 (?) (I actually have no idea) mom & pop dry good stores, hardware stores, etc.

    But there are still plumbers, roofers, etc, who own their own businesses. And dang few of them are Quakers, it’s a little weird, really.

    I wonder if it’s partially a class thing. I commented somewhere on class-related post about how quakers can sometimes stand back from the “real world” for fear of getting their hands dirty. Business these days seems to involve a lot of duplicity if you want to be successful (but then, your point here is that it did then) - so we’d rather own “socially responsible” mutual funds (which invest in coca cola and walmart!) and turn a blind eye, I think sometimes…

    In any case, I am finding that I’m dissatisfied with my work-life. Part of me wants to be off in a rainforest studying something alive, but another part of me simply wants to earn an honest living doing something that actually needs to be done. I felt crazy, but satisfied in a way I haven’t in a long time, when I was a collective member/owner of a hippy vegetarian cafe here in Minneapolis, which closed about 10 years ago now..


    I find that I’m too chicken, or simply too group oriented, to want to do this alone, but I love the idea of doing it as a collective. I fantasize about starting some sort of quaker intentional community that simply does an honest business (I think of East Wind nut butters, which I don’t know a TON about - they’re not quakers, but a successful back-to-the-land hippy collective business) but I don’t find many folks who are interested in doing it with me.

  2. 2 Bill Samuel Sep 1st, 2007

    Actually there are a fair number of Friends in business, but not many of them are liberal Friends. I do think it’s the class thing.

  1. 1 The post-religious destiny of Quakerism at The Seed Lifting Up Pingback on Sep 2nd, 2007

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