This article traces a transnational history of turtle soup through the flow of species, tastes, culinary techniques, and food technology across three continents over more than three centuries. It shows how the species, nested in the Caribbean, turned from a source of flesh for transatlantic seamen in the seventeenth century to a status dish for upper-class Europeans in the eighteenth century. The pleasure of eating turtle soup was underpinned by exotic references to “the West India Way” and national labels such as “the English fashion.” Such notions circulated via printed media across a variety of genres, constructing tastes that only a minority could afford; the less privileged consumed “mock turtle soup,” made with calf's head at best. Around the same time, turtle soup in “the English fashion” was reproduced in Asia along with the trading activities and colonial endeavors of the British Empire. Into the second half of the nineteenth century, with the invention of canned food, the once upper-class dish became widely popularized in the United States. The disastrous result was that the sea turtle hunt evolved from occasional seizure to outright massacre, which did not come to a halt until the 1970s, when the practices were outlawed.
The Flow of Turtle Soup from the Caribbean via Europe to Canton, and Its Modern American Fate
May-bo Ching is Professor of History in the Department of Chinese and History, City University of Hong Kong, and a research fellow at the Center for Historical Anthropology, Sun Yat-sen University, China. Her major research area is the social and cultural history of modern China, focusing in particular on South China and its connection with other parts of the world.
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May-bo Ching; The Flow of Turtle Soup from the Caribbean via Europe to Canton, and Its Modern American Fate. Gastronomica 1 February 2016; 16 (1): 79–89. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2016.16.1.79
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