Culinary Contraband: Policing Foreign Foods at U.S. Airports

Elizabeth Zanoni, Old Dominion University

This paper explores efforts by the U.S. government to prevent the entry of foreign foods at U.S. airports. Starting in the 1950s, but especially in the 1970s, the prices of airline tickets dropped, making air travel to and from the U.S. available to more people. At the same time, U.S. immigration policy liberalized, permitting greater numbers of people from new sending regions to gain access to the U.S. As increasing numbers of tourists, business travelers, and immigrants entered the country to visit or live, the U.S. Customs Service and the Department of Agriculture took a more active role in controlling the food products that passengers brought with them. This paper uses archival materials from the Pan American Airways collection as well as U.S. Customs Service documents to explore government attempts to count, categorize, and prohibit certain foods from entering the country. It shows that U.S. Customs agents were constantly frustrated by passengers’ endeavors to transport “illegal” foods and were uncertain of their ability to control the country’s culinary borders. Furthermore, when studied against the backdrop of changing U.S. immigration policy, the paper also demonstrates how the policing of foreign foods, and classifying them as unsafe, unsanitary, and against the national interest, echoed larger national anxieties over migrants, particularly those from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 117. Dubious Data: The Politics and Myth of Border and Migrant Policing