Chewing Gum: The Fortunes of Taste
Chewing Gum first became popular in the 1860s when General Santa Ana (of the Alamo/DAvy Crockett fame) introduced it to a New York inventor. Not long thereafter, it became wildly popular in the U.S., serving in some respects as a barometer of modernity. It was one of the first products to be heavily advertised on billboards in the U.S., and it built the fortues of the Wrigley family (owner of the Chicago Cubs). As a functionally useless item, it was as good an indicator as any of the triumphs of consumption for consumption's sake.
But this is a story about more than simple American consumption. The craving for chewing gum played a role in Central American revolutions, and had a major impact on the ecology of the Central American jungle. Until the 1950s, chewing gum was produced from chicle, tapped from trees growing on the Yucatan peninsula. After World War II, synthetic gum replaced chicle for Americans, putting many of the chicleros out of work (and reviving an exploited Yucatan landscape in the process).
In Chewing Gum Redclift tells the history of the commodity in the U.S.A. and tje Yucatan, alternating chapters on each. The chapters on the U.S.A. offer interesting and amusing details on the evolution of gum as a ubiquitous product. The chapters on the Yucatan are equally interesting but wildly different - engaging accounts of revolution and INdian mystics fighting against the Mexican government. Chewing Gum closes with a chapter on the Yucatan today - one of Mexico's major tourist destinations. Recnetly there has been a revival in demand for chicle because it is deemed more 'authentic' and organic that synthetic gum. Interestingly, Redclift connects this desire for authenticity, chewing gum and the Tucatan to the larger issues of globalization, sustainability, and ecology.