Way back in December Sadie McC. sent in this Canadian ad for Tetley Red Tea, a variety that apparently originated in southern Africa:

We get several of the standard signifiers of “Africa”: tribal music with drums, elephants, and huts with thatched roofs (rooves? What’s the spelling consensus these days?). Both what mostly struck Sadie and I is our feeling that if we were marketing a food product, probably we would go with not choosing imagery that made the product look an awful lot like blood. My usual argument to students is that things in ads are not accidental; millions are spent on ad campaigns, and they are scrutinized, focus-grouped, and every detail is poured over by many individuals, all to add to the overall design. But in this case, I’m going to assume that somehow nobody noticed that the commercial kinda makes it look like wisps of blood creating scenes of Africa.

Anyway, I was looking around online for information about tea cultivation in Africa and found this short video showing a person harvesting tea leaves in Malawi:

It might be a good video to show if you’re talking about globalization and agricultural labor, to get students thinking about how our food gets to us and who is doing the often non-mechanized, back-breaking labor required for us to have such a wide variety of foods available year-round. In the video, the men don’t look obviously miserable, but my guess is that picking leaves with your bare hands for hours at a time, while carrying bags of leaves on your back, is pretty unpleasant, physically demanding work that probably isn’t highly paid. And I could be wrong, but I’m betting workers don’t wear protective gear to keep them from coming into contact with chemicals when the crop has been sprayed with fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or whatever else they might spray on the fields.

Apparently, due to the perceived healthiness of green teas, imports to the U.S. were up 7% in 2008, to about 257 million pounds. I was surprised, however, to learn that we’re only the 7th biggest consumer of tea. Having grown up in Oklahoma, where sweet tea was ubiquitous and nearly mandatory, and is the only beverage served at my family’s get-togethers, I sort of have this idea that everyone drinks iced tea, all the time, and expected us to rank higher.

Random tea-and-Gwen-related story: I was a waitress in Wisconsin for a while, and one time a woman ordered “regular” tea. I brought her a glass of unsweetened tea in a glass. She stared at it and said “I just wanted plain tea.” I assured her I had brought the unsweetened kind, but she insisted again that she just wanted “normal” tea. I was pretty confused at this point and explained again it wasn’t the raspberry-flavored tea and it wasn’t sweetened, it was just plain. She then very slowly, in that extra-loud and enunciated voice people use to talk to people they think are either not too bright or maybe don’t speak their language very well, that she wanted “the kind that comes hot, in a teapot,” making exaggerated gestures like she was pouring tea into a cup. I called my mom later and she was as befuddled as I was to think that anyone would mistake that kind of tea for normal tea.

And then I found out the Brits drink milk in tea.

UPDATE: Commenter Christine says,

…red tea is not just from southern Africa, but very specifically South Africa, with strong historical ties to colonialism in the area. Even the other name the tea is known by, rooibos, is an Afrikaans word; the Afrikaans language developed among Dutch settlers in South Africa. Cultivation of the plant began in the 1930s; commercial production came about around WWII; apartheid laws were enacted in 1948.

And reader Steve W. sent in two photos of some coffee he saw for sale at Panera Bread, where the package assures buyers that “every detail matters” and that the coffee is made from “handpicked beans that are carefully selected”:



As Steve points out, for most of us, when we see descriptions like “handpicked,” we usually don’t connect it to actual people doing actual work. It’s also interesting that the phrase “handpicked” is used to imply that the product is somehow special and carefully produced. But the video above shows handpicked tea, and I don’t think you can argue it was being carefully chosen (the workers, after all, need to pick as quickly as possible to increase their pay), but also you’ll see the phrase used in situations where most of the crop is harvested by hand, meaning that it doesn’t indicate any special production process at all.

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