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The sleights of hand that conflate consumption with virtue are a central theme in $\text{A}$ Thirst for Empire, a sweeping and richly detailed history of tea by the historian Erika Rappaport. How did tea evolve from an obscure ‘Chine drink’ to a universal beverage imbued with civilising properties? The answer, in brief, revolves around this conflation, not only by profit-motivated marketers but by a wide variety of interest groups. While abundant historical records have allowed the study of how tea itself moved from east to west, Rappaport is focused on the movement of the idea of tea to suit particular purposes.

Beginning in the $1700 \text{s},$ the temperance movement advocated for tea as a pleasure that cheered but did not inebriate, and industrialists soon borrowed this moral argument in advancing their case for free trade in tea (and hence more open markets for their textiles). Factory owners joined in, compelled by the cause of a sober workforce, while Christian missionaries discovered that tea “would soothe any colonial encounter”. During the Second World War, tea service was presented as a social and patriotic activity that uplifted soldiers and calmed refugees.

But it was tea’s consumer-directed marketing by importers and retailers – and later by brands – that most closely portends current trade debates. An early version of the “farm to table” movement was sparked by anti-Chinese sentiment and concerns over trade deficits, as well as by the reality and threat of adulterated tea containing dirt and hedge clippings. Lipton was soon advertising “from the Garden to Tea Cup” supply chains originating in British India and supervised by “educated Englishmen”. While tea marketing always presented direct consumer benefits (health, energy, relaxation), tea drinkers were also assured that they were participating in a larger noble project that advanced the causes of family, nation and civilization $\dots$

Rappaport’s treatment of her subject is refreshingly apolitical. Indeed, it is a virtue that readers will be unable to guess her political orientation: both the miracle of markets and capitalism’s dark underbelly are evident in tea’s complex story, as are the complicated effects of British colonialism $\dots$ Commodity histories are now themselves commodities: recent works investigate cotton, salt, cod, sugar, chocolate, paper and milk. And morality marketing is now a commodity as well, applied to food, “fair trade” apparel and eco-tourism. Yet tea is, Rappaport makes clear, a world apart – an astonishing success story in which tea marketers arguably did advance the cause of civilisation and community.

I have been offered tea at a British garden party, a Bedouin campfire, a Turkish carpet shop and a Japanese chashitsu, to name a few settings. In each case the offering was more an idea – friendship, community, respect – than a drink, and in each case the idea then created a reality. It is not a stretch to say that tea marketers have advanced the particularly noble cause of human dialogue and friendship.

According to this book review, A Thirst for Empire says that, in addition to “profit-motivated marketers”, tea drinking was promoted in Britain by all of the following $\text{EXCEPT}:$

  1. tea drinkers lobbying for product diversity
  2. factories to instill sobriety in their labour
  3. the anti-alcohol lobby as a substitute for the consumption of liquor
  4. manufacturers who were pressing for duty-free imports
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