Monthly Archives: February 2010

The History Of Olive Oil

Olive oil has long been considered one of the greatest natural assets of the ancient world (and sometimes worth its weight in gold). It has consistently offered humanity the gifts of health and wealth, and is as complex and delicious as wine. Since antiquity, olive branches have been a symbol of peace – perhaps because olive trees were an agricultural offering bestowed to the colonies after they were subjugated in battle. Wherever disseminated, olive trees were lauded for their myriad everyday uses, from the culinary to the corporal.

Fratelli Carli, Italian Olive Oil

Fratelli Carli, Italian Olive Oil




It goes without saying, but before rampant industrialization and commercialization of food, there was only the people and their land, with the former scouring the latter in search of sustained sustenance and equanimus equilibrium. At the same time that technology is shrinking the world, cultural nostalgia and fetishization of the past imbues new interest in foods of yore, more and lesser-known items appear on the shelves of stores with increasing frequency.

Image of Yacon chip

Crisp Yacon chip.



Natural Toothpaste

Toothpaste has been a controversial product from the beginning. Prior to the 1850s, toothpaste was sold as a powder. Tooth powder dates back to Egypt as early as 5000 BC. The ancient Romans added harsh abrasives such as crushed bones, sand and oyster shells to their tooth cleaners.

Colgate advertising from the 1970s

Colgate advertising featuring a young Brooke Shields, 1975.


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Happy Dead Presidents

One Dollar Bill, U.S.A.

Happy birthday all you dead presidents!

Hope you’re enjoying the day off!

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Frozen Shrimp TV Dinner With Tangy Cocktail Sauce for Extra "Home Style" Touch

Frozen Fried Shrimp Dinner with Tangy Cocktail Sauce for Extra “Home Style” Touch

I say aluminum, you say (if you’re the rest of the world) aluminium – let’s call the whole thing off! At this point you would have to have your head buried in bauxite (aluminum in its naturally occurring form) to not be aware of the impact aluminum has had on the modern world.


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Nothing better evokes the post WWII optimism and better-living-through-chemistry ideology of America than the most genuine of fakes, Naugahyde. A PVC coated vinyl fabric unleashed into the American marketplace as a replacement for leather, it followed in a long line of heavily and effectively marketed, laboratory-launched imitations: Formica’s eclipsing of marble, Con-Tact paper’s mimicry and obfuscating of wood…

Naugahyde: The Great Impostor, 1967.

Naugahyde ad, 1967. (Read full copy at bottom of article)


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Aluminum Cup

I’m getting the feeling that for many household products, aluminum was the standard before plastic had its big breakthrough. These aluminum cups were popular in the 1940s and ’50s in the same settings where today plastic is the number one material of choice: barbecues, parties and picnics.

Bascal aluminum tumbler, 1950s.

Bascal aluminum tumbler from the 1950s.



Safety Razor

Two Gillette Blue Blades from 1962. (Image courtesy Mr. Razor)

Gillette Blue Blades, 1962. (Image courtesy Mr. Razor)

I was walking on the beach not long ago and came across a sight not entirely uncommon in Southern California – a pile of trash. Scattered amongst this little hill of debris situated along the foamy line where surf meets sand, was: A plastic lighter, an empty Dasani water bottle and a Gillette disposable razor. Further down the beach lay a Bic ballpoint pen. Now, how is it that both Gillette and Bic, who’ve won over consumers with the offering of cheap lighters, razors and pens, keep us convinced that plastic is the material of choice? When did men’s little personal effects become so cheap, so… disposable?


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First there was wine, beloved by the ancients. Then there was wine gone bad  – a mishap of leaky casks or stashes gone past their prime that mutated into one of the most versatile products in the world. “Vin aigre” (which roughly translates to “sour wine”) is a combination of acetic acid (aka ethanoic acid)  — an organic compound which is the result of the miracle of fermentation — chemical reactions activated by the slow decay of everything from grapes to beets, malts to grains.

Chemical formula of oxidative fermentation.

Chemical formula of oxidative fermentation: The making of acetic acid.



Aluminum Ice Cube Tray

1950s aluminum ice cube tray with lever.

Aluminum ice cube tray with lever, circa 1950s.

I was excited when I found this 1950s aluminum ice cube tray. I couldn’t help but imagine a wealthy Palm Springs divorcee lounging poolside, brightly colored fingernails on her sun-leathered hands, levering ice cubes for a Tom Collins. The best thing about using aluminum is that it makes ice much faster. Plastic and rubber trays are quite inadequate, as they act as insulators between the freezing cold and the water.