By Kirk Starratt
How did we end up eating food from the other side of the world? What happens in those places sending and receiving the food?
These are questions Dr. James Murton, associate professor in the Department of History at Nipissing University in North Bay, Ontario, is asking as part of research into the history of the globalization of food.
Murton said some early examples of globalized foods are wheat, sugar and Annapolis Valley apples. He finds Valley apples particularly interesting, because apples are perishable and meant to arrive fresh.
Murton said he is interested in looking into what was happening in areas where the apples were being packaged and prepared for shipping, but that information is proving rather difficult to procure.
“I’m hoping to get at some of that,” he said. “I want to know who was involved and what they were doing.”
For example, government statistics are valuable in many regards, but aren’t great for telling you the human stories of what was happening on the farm, what conditions were like and actions people needed to take. For this reason, Murton is seeking people from the Valley region who were involved in the apple industry in the mid-20th century to interview.
Murton said he is particularly interested in the pre-Second World War era, but believes he could draw some inferences from post-Second World War testimonials.
Apples used to be packed in wooden barrels. Murton said stems were clipped and padding placed between layers of apples. The barrels had to be carefully shaken to help the apples settle so they could be packed tight for shipping, but they had to be careful not to crush or otherwise damage the tender fruit.
“As an environmental historian, I’m interested in how the apples themselves dictated the process,” he said.
There were many different varieties shipped. It would have been important to understand the characteristics of each and therefore the different nuances of packing and shipping required.
The apples would have had to be kept at a certain temperature and, although there were refrigerated ships, the vessels weren’t necessarily intended to ship apples and temperatures weren’t necessarily constant.
Murton said he has looked at records for the Port Williams area and was able to gleam some insight into the local production and purchasing of shipping barrels, for example. Barrel cooperage was an industry in and of itself. He said from an environmental history perspective, the globalization of food was just getting underway and many of the objections to the practice that exist today weren’t necessarily present at that point. The world was witnessing the beginning of commodification.
Murton will be arriving in Nova Scotia to conduct research Nov. 12. He already has some interviews set up and he plans to visit the Acadia University archives and the provincial archives in Halifax. He said if people can reach him in time, he might be able to meet with them during this visit, but he will be back again if people aren’t able to make contact prior to his arrival.
If you were involved in the apple industry in the mid-20th century and would like to contribute to Murton’s research, he can be reached by phone at (705) 476-4027, (705) 474-3450 Ext. 4402 or by e-mail at email@example.com.