There are endless questions to ask about food and the complex journey it takes to reach our plates. From farmers and fast food chains to politics and technology, we need to step aside from common conversations about food, and break down barriers few of us know exist. What are the systems trying to feed us, and how do they work?
Here at Sliced, we’re so excited to begin with our Watermelon issue. Few foods spark so much joy as the first watermelon in summer. Yet, beyond occasionally worrying about genetic manipulation, we rarely say anything more about it than how much we love this fruit—and possibly moan about the seeds. But, as you’ll see flicking through our metaphorical pages, the watermelon is as contested as any other food. Its history is complex and its future is up for grabs.
After emancipation, recently freed black people often farmed, ate and sold watermelons in the U.S. South. The fruit had been a central part of their lives during slavery, and remained important in the new social order. But selling watermelons gave them more power, which southern whites saw as challenging the racial hierarchy. In quicktime they transformed the watermelon into a symbol to depict black people as messy and lazy. It became a racist trope which reinforced violent notions that black people were an ‘unwanted public presence
This idea exploded in cartoons and media, but depressingly still endures to this day. Not too long ago, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in a previous profession as a columnist, referred to black people in Africa as having ‘watermelon smiles
’. In 2014, Jacqueline Woodson described the pain
of having her dislike of watermelon soup turned back on her as a racist joke by a friend on stage at an awards show.
are endless, proving food is as powerful a symbol as any other, and that we need to discuss food in more detail. This is as true for issues in sustainability, agriculture, innovation, nutrition, taste and more, as it is for a food’s place in our culture and history.
Sliced is here to facilitate such conversations. Interrogating and reimagining food seriously will enable us to value it properly once again; to drive change and innovation, and to use food as a positive force for more sustainable societies.
In this first issue, stories about the watermelon’s dangerous history, its place in popular culture and why we overstate its nutritional benefits will help us to understand the ways we think about this food. Articles about the future of watermelon production and the forces shaping watermelon taste give us ample jumping off points to consider the watermelon’s future.
We’re excited to get started.