The origins of Heinz

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A memory of my first Michaelmas term last year springs to mind whenever I stroll through the canned goods aisle in a supermarket here in Oxford, whether it be Sainsbury’s or Tesco or Marks and Spencer. No matter the store, there are always cans of Heinz baked beans – the subject of one of the many intense debates about nothing my friends and I have been caught up in.

During that initial term, the friends I’d made in Oxford would continually be surprised by my knowledge – or lack thereof – of British brands. Speaking in an American tongue, one doesn’t mention McVitie’s much, or jabber on about Jaffa Cakes or Jammy Dodgers. Fondant fancies were a beautiful mystery, as were custard and bourbon creams.

Because I continually seemed ignorant of such delicacies, one of my friends, with great seriousness (though perhaps a bit of sarcasm as well) asked one afternoon whether we ate Heinz baked beans in America. Of course, I said we had Heinz, though I wasn’t sure about baked beans – after all, Heinz was an American company, wasn’t it?

Little did I realize that such an offhand statement could spark such uproar as followed. An argument quickly ensued, as I was told that in fact Heinz was a British company, how could it not be? I countered, saying that the manufacturer of fifty-seven delicious varieties was certainly located in my homeland. As Oxford students do, we consulted Wikipedia in search of the truth, for a final ruling in my favour.

Every time I see that logo now, especially when splashed across a can of beans someone will buy to make that quintessentially British dish of beans on toast, I remember that one small triumph for the American tongue. Sometimes, it’s not the disputes over politics or religion or other solemn matters that stick with you; it’s when discussing baked beans that I’m glad to have been speaking in an American tongue.

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