ALCStudies Journal

Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies Web Site & Blog

H.J. Heinz and the End of ‘Starving Time’

We are finally at the end of a long winter. Spring arrived Saturday. Coincidentally, the Post Gazette published a March 14th article on the buy local movement in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. My wife Jeannine and I subscribe to a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box each spring through the East End Food Coop. We look forward to fresh fruits and vegetables from surrounding farms. It’s an interesting exercise trying to decide what to do with some more esoteric items. (How much kohlrabi can you eat?) But we love cooking with fresh produce and experimenting. Beer is the liquid bread of life, according to Tom Standage. I occasionally bicycle over to East End Brewing Company on Susquehanna Street to put a growler in my pannier and sample their seasonal ale when I’m out on the town.

People forget there was a time when you couldn’t get fruits or vegetables in certain seasons. I recall from my history classes that early spring was among the worst. After the long winter, provisions were exhausted and it was too early for planting. People literally starved waiting to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Pittsburgh was part of changing that. H.J. Heinz got his start before the Civil War peddling homemade horseradish through the streets of Sharpsburg. His business grew to an international conglomerate in the 1880s that employed thousands in Southwest Pennsylvania and raised the region’s standard of living. The growth of railroads allowed Heinz to sell its products across the country, giving settlers and immigrants access to healthy food whatever the season. By the 1890s it brought 57 varieties (any easy-to-remember number; there were plenty more) around the world. According to Nancy Koehn, Heinz pioneered the use of market research and used early customer-relationship management (CRM) to maintain relationships with grocers and know what was selling through its far-flung salesmen.

Go ahead and buy designer arugula from a local farmer to assuage your conscience. But remember that a German immigrant and businessman from Southwestern PA let you afford to do so.

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