Pineapple and Celery, Symbols of Wealth and Prestige in British History
Thu, October 21, 2021

Pineapple and Celery, Symbols of Wealth and Prestige in British History

Fancy watches, cars, private jets, and yachts are the common signifiers of wealth among the elites nowadays although the status symbols may vary / Photo by: Americana22ount via Wikimedia Commons

 

Fancy watches, cars, private jets, and yachts are the common signifiers of wealth among the elites nowadays although the status symbols may vary. For instance, having a big family in some countries is a sign of wealth because it is expensive to raise kids, while owning a house in a nation of limited land is the ultimate status sign.

Pineapple as a Symbol of Wealth

But did you also know that pineapple and celery were also once symbols of wealth and prestige? Lauren Alex O' Hagan, a research associate in the Cardiff University’s Centre for Language and Communication Research, recently shared that pineapple was one linked with luxury and prestige in British history, particularly in 1668. It was during that period when the food gained notoriety among the elites because the King of England, Charles II, used the fruit as a part of the empire’s public relations opportunity. For instance, the King ordered that pineapple be placed at the top of a pyramid of fruits at the dinner table when the French ambassador visited England to mediate a debate over Saint Kitts island. It was a move to emphasize the country’s ascendancy and led to a public relations triumph, published literary magazine The Paris Review.

Lauren Alex O' Hagan, a research associate in the Cardiff University’s Centre for Language and Communication Research, recently shared that pineapple was one linked with luxury and prestige in British history, particularly in 1668 / Photo by: Victoria Rachitzky Hoch via Flickr

 

Early Concept of “Food Selfie” in England

O' Hagan went on to say that if the generation today uses food on social media as a prop alongside other items, like handbags and jewelry to display a certain lifestyle to the outside world, England also has its early concept of “food selfie.” This is best presented in a painting titled Royal Gardener John Rose presenting a pineapple to King Charles II. The art was made by a Dutch landscape painter Hendrick Danckerts. The first pineapples were likewise cultivated in Britain during the Georgian era (art period from 1717 to 1830). Those who owned pineapples during that period would often display the fruit only as an ornament and use it party to party while it doesn’t rot.

Ceramic firms also started to create pineapple stands that allow pineapples to be placed in a center hole while the other fruits lay in the edge to be used in gatherings. People who wanted to flaunt their status then started carrying pineapples. It held such symbolic worth that even maids who transported the fruit were considered at great risk because they may be attacked by thieves. Various court cases involving pineapple theft also appeared in 1807. An infamous case was of Godding, who was sentenced to seven years of hard labor because he was found guilty of pineapple theft.

Soon, the pineapple lost its prestige because steamships started to import the fruit so regularly that the working class could already afford it. This caused the upper class to search for new food that would distinguish them from the other classes. Their solution was celery.

Celery for the Upper Class

It was during the 1800s when celery was first cultivated in Britain, particularly in East Anglia wetlands. The production of celery was considered labor extensive because trenches must be built first to grow it. Not only that, but the trenches must be dug up regularly to preserve the whiteness of the stalk. The entire procedure and the cost in cultivation made the celery an expensive and rare vegetable in Victorian Britain and, just like how the rich once hesitated to consume pineapples, they treated celery the same way. Celery vases were then manufactured to help accentuate the vegetable in the dining table. Still-lifes of the vegetables were also produced. In the 20th century, British hotels and restaurants presented the vegetable in their menus and considered it as their main ingredient. Later, the vegetable was no longer a luxury because cultivation methods in Britain improved.

It was during the 1800s when celery was first cultivated in Britain, particularly in East Anglia wetlands. The production of celery was considered labor extensive because trenches must be built first to grow it / Photo by: Lombroso via Wikimedia Commons

 

Richest 1% Holds Almost Half of the World’s Global Assets

Income inequality continues to exist today not only in the UK but around the globe. Financial services company Credit Suisse Group published in its global wealth report 2018 that less than 1% of the world’s population holds more than 47% of the global wealth. To be precise, 0.8% of adults hold 44.8% of global wealth, 8.7% holds 39.3% global wealth, 26.6% population holds 13.9% global wealth, and 63.9% population holds 1.9% of the global wealth.

In the UK, its share of top 1% in net personal wealth is detailed as follows: year 1900 (0.71), 1920 (0.57), 1940 (0.51), 1960 (.035), 1980 (0.19), 2000 (0.18), 2005 (0.19), 2009 (0.21), and 2012 (0.20). Data was based on Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems.

Just as how pineapple and celery lost their prestige in the past, solutions to reduce global economic inequality are also being introduced today. Investing in education, making a progressive tax code, building assets for the working families, and increasing the minimum wage are some of the policies to address inequality. These solutions don’t have to be carried to extremes but must be carefully implemented to support greater economic mobility.