When someone introduced food writer Osayi Endolyn to Plantation Pineapple Rum, she says she was immediately suspicious. Plantation was not a neutral word for her because her grandparents had fled from the Jim Crow South years ago. But the rum was good enough to put those thoughts aside for a while.
Later she asked a bartender for the name of the pineapple rum in her drink. The woman seemed embarrassed to admit it was Plantation Rum.
Why would anyone be embarrassed about a brand called plantation? What would a company mean by choosing that name? Bigelow sells a Plantation Mint tea and Charleston Tea Plantation sells a variety teas. Plantation Peanuts of Wakefield sells gourmet peanuts grown in Virginia. Carolina Plantation sells rice. Many recipes have plantation in their name, such as Plantation Skillet Cake and Auntie Crae’s Plantation Chews, so surely the word connotes an idea or mood the owners wish to convey to others.
Endolyn dug into the meaning by talking to the owners of the brand and learning a bit of French and Barbadian history that supported using the word plantation over the equivalent farmland. What would you expect from those words in food brands? Are they interchangeably applicable to rice, butter, peanuts, leaf tobacco, bread flour, and beef?
For a short time, you can listen to an episode of The Sporkful in which they ask about this idea to as many brand owners as will take their questions. Bigelow, for example, wouldn’t talk about it. But some people said the words calls back to an easier way of life. When you think of it that way, you may start to ask whether life was easier and for whom.