Hot industries in cold places

The African Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis) in Kew’s Palm House doesn’t look very impressive. It’s crammed in a bed with other palms, without much of a trunk visible. Scars from pruned branches are visible in the photo the right, along with the sharp spines that line palm fronds. On the upper walkway in the PalmContinue reading “Hot industries in cold places”

Palm oil and soap marketing

This image didn’t make the cut for Oil Palm: a Global History, but it’s remarkable for three reasons. First, it actually (or at least attempts to) depicts a West African person. Most Palmolive advertising pointed to a fictive Egyptian origin for palm oil, erasing West Africans from the commodity chain (see ad at bottom ofContinue reading “Palm oil and soap marketing”

Oil Palm: a Global History coming June 2021

My new book on the global history of the oil palm industry has a cover and a release date! Look for it in June 2021, from the University of North Carolina Press. Preorder now to take advantage of a 40% discount off the list price! Tracing the history of the oil palm tree out ofContinue reading “Oil Palm: a Global History coming June 2021”

ASEH 2018 twitter presentation on oil palm in Asia

The graduate student caucus of the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) organized a pre-conference on twitter to highlight academic contributions at the conference, and to provide an opportunity for those unable to travel to Riverside, CA to participate by sharing their own work and commenting on presentations. I was fortunate to be able toContinue reading “ASEH 2018 twitter presentation on oil palm in Asia”

“Not a blade of grass left standing”

“Not a blade of grass left standing.” This wasn’t a  description of an environmental calamity, but rather the sales pitch for Gramevin, the trade name for a herbicide sold by Shell Chemicals. Commercial plantations in Southeast Asia were the target audience, and the grass in  question–lalang (Imperata cylindrica)–was a constant enemy of planters. The grassContinue reading ““Not a blade of grass left standing””

For your salad and your skin?

It’s difficult to imagine a vegetable oil bottle offering a recipe for homemade cosmetics today. The line between “food” and “cosmetics” is well-defined in contemporary consumer culture, even if many of the ingredients are the same. Early cottonseed oil marketers didn’t want to leave any potential market untapped: this advertisement, circa 1895, encourages homemakers toContinue reading “For your salad and your skin?”