Consuming the Caribbean

Updated: Mar 23, 2020

The legacy of medicine, a result of colonization. For better or for worse? And who are the beneficiaries? Is the profit made from efficiency or marketing? Mimi Sheller's mobility studies in Consuming the Caribbean have much wisdom to offer.



In discovering the West indies, Sloane's documentation of Jamaican plants brought the legacy of slavery, GMO, and medicine. European bodies that ingested vegetation for native traditional practices fathered the European knowledge of medicine. After witnessing cocoa being mixed with milk and sugar to sickly children (most likely slaves), the recipe was eventually sold to the Cadbury brothers after being marketed in Britain as a digestive health regimen. Quinine was taught to Hans Sloane by the indigenous Peruvians and was eventually crucial means for survival for Europeans in the tropics (interesting how they survived, but many natives were killed by their diseases). Eventually most of Sloane's income came from slave labor in Jamaica on his many acquired properties.


From the transplanting of tea from India for the massive tea industry, this method of enslaving indigenous and capitalizing on their knowledge even spreads to Madagascar, whose periwinkle is known for the crucial amount of alkaloids studied to cure cancer.


It was at The Chelsea Psychic Garden that glasshouses were first heated in the UK to research Jamaican plants, doubled by Sloane between 1731 and 1768 with the addition of paw paws, melons, and pineapples.


From fruits to commodity native looking women were dressed in Indian apparel to distinguish class among other black women as a social contribution in obtaining GDP in a commodity based society.

So let's talk a small tad about beneficiaries. When you ask who are the beneficiaries of plant research we don't only look at the enslavement of Africans and aboriginals. World trade in this era and tourism of these geographically exotic locations, made consuming the Caribbean what it is today. Triangular trade influenced the West Indies, North America, Africa, and the UK. The list was simplistic, manufactured goods from Europe, slaves from Africa, and natural products from the west indies. Even after slavery the world of free trade was developed by commodity markets and their origins of GDP. Caribbean countries have been underdeveloped for the residents and commercialized for tourism to keep economies in submission. The fragility of the land was already beginning to be seen in Barbados as early as the 1660's from deforestation, soil erosion, landslides, and loss of fertility. Wood became imported from Tobago, and thus begins our trade politics, and the British making conservation forests in St.Kitts. With the praise of ecosystems came tourism, came the sexualiziation of Caribbean men and women for tourists to see the tropics of the West Indies. West Indian women and men were painted and later photographed as advertisements for tourism. West Indian women were ever dressed either African or East Indian to begin colorism for the sake of class separation and exotifying bodies. Today we see the world of trade in the control of world powers, but only due to the legacy of mobility did the beneficiary create the illusion that being exotic is social wealth, and that false sense of self-esteem is what you need to influence democracy to distribute the financial wealth. Arguably, the aphrodisiac you know and love today could very well be a result of the legacy of mobility in consuming the Caribbean.

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