What's In a Name? A Look at "American Harvest" and the Nasty Business of Nationalism

Categories: Booze

americanharvest.jpg
American harvest...of what?
I get a lot of bizarre press releases. Men's speedos packaged with cans of tuna. A recipe for an Empty Nester cocktail that blends red wine with tequila. A flyer touting a penis-shaped muffin restaurant.

The press release I received yesterday doesn't fall within that bizarre realm. It's a perfectly straightforward, well-written, informative press release that accomplishes its task. Unfortunately, that task is telling me about something called "American Harvest," which -- when I finally read what it was -- I found completely obnoxious.

It's the third time this week I've been hit over the head with this burgeoning trend of giving restaurants, bars or products a faux-Americana name in hopes that patriotism or nostalgia or both will bolster sales. Even if that's not the reason that "American Harvest" was named "American Harvest," it's still an exceptionally stupid name for the product.

Why? Because what exactly do you think American Harvest is?

This is the question I posed to my Facebook buddies yesterday. Their responses included:

Bread
CSA farmshare
Soylent Green
Something to do with wheat
Baby food
Organ thieves
Beer
Whiskey
A tractor
Pot
Corn
T-shirts
Farm equipment
Generic wheat bread that claims to be different
Flour
Cereal
Fiber supplements
Oatmeal
Crackers
Off-brand Kashi

You can see two things happening here: First, the answers are all over the board. "American Harvest" could be anything from clothing to heavy machinery to beer. Second, quite a few of the answers were of the "bread" variety (I left out the repeated guesses of "Bread?" "Bread." "BREAD." Because you get the idea.)

If your product name doesn't give people the slightest clue as to what is, you're headed in the wrong direction. This is basic marketing, folks.

What if I told you that American Harvest is a spirit? What would you think then? Since American liquors are traditionally spirits such as bourbon and whiskey, that's what I'd quickly guess American Harvest is. But I would be wrong.

American Harvest is vodka.

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It's always great to see the Pledge of Allegiance used to pimp hooch. I feel super patriotic right now.
Says the press release:

American Harvest is handcrafted in small batches from organic winter wheat grown on a family owned and sustainably managed American farm. It is distilled and bottled in Rigby, Idaho using water from aquifers deep beneath the Snake River plain. The result is a distinctly smooth and silky spirit with a crisp, clean taste. American Harvest is the creation of Sidney Frank Importing Company, Inc., a third generation family business that is 100% US owned and operated.

Vodka is perhaps the least American of all spirits. You can make arguments for rum, for example, which was an important part of early colonial and international trade in America. You can make arguments for tequila based on sheer proximity to Mexico, and also due to the fact that large swaths of America used to belong to that country. You can make arguments for brandy, obviously, or even bathtub gin.

So why are we trying to make something American that has such firmly planted Eastern European roots? What's wrong with appreciating the fact that sake is Japanese, soju is Korean and vodka is Polish or Russian or Latvian?

Vodka wasn't brought to America until after World War II, which is why it's so rare to find classic cocktail recipes featuring the spirit. Forcing an Americana bent onto this strongly European product smacks of unsubtle and unnecessary jingoism, as if a product isn't good enough unless it's thoroughly white-washed and Amurrican.

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Remember, kids: Dissent is one of the highest forms of patriotism. (Also remember that Thomas Jefferson didn't say that; historian Howard Zinn did.)
Tying the whole "harvest" notion into the vodka is rich too, as vodka can -- and is -- traditionally be made with sorghum, rice, potatoes, corn, other grains or even just sugar...not just our own amber waves of grain. If the harvest aspect is that important, I'd rather see more emphasis on the place where the wheat was actually harvested: Snake River Vodka, for example, which makes a far better name anyway and speaks volumes more about the spirit than the banal, frustratingly unspecific "American Harvest."

I'm not as concerned with the whole Americana trend so much as I am with the ideology behind it. At a time when we're living in an increasingly global society -- where our actions and attitudes have far more wide-ranging impact than any other time in human history -- why are we retreating to such a nationalistic stance, even when it comes to the way we market and promote our food and beverages?

Some may argue that politics and food don't overlap, but I don't believe that: Food is one of Maslow's basic necessities on the hierarchy of needs that we all live by. Food is foundation. Drink is too. Government subsidies of corn, for example, drive American political decisions as much as our continuing search for oil. Futures contracts on commodities such as frozen orange juice don't just serve as a plot line for the best Dan Aykroyd movie of the 1980s, Trading Places.

American Harvest very well could be the best damn vodka I've ever put in my mouth. It could make me change the way I feel about the entire odorless, tasteless genre as a whole. It could usher in a new era of small-batch, American-made vodkas and I could very well be eating my hat in 10 years.

But for now, its name is lazy and clueless at best, insulting at worst. Don't try and use my patriotism to sell me booze. Don't sell me on this pablum about vodka made with wheat harvested in America. Sell me on vodka that mixes great with 7-Up or goes down smoothly after a hearty Na zdrowie! -- and leave the poor Pledge of Allegiance out of it.



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43 comments
tavisallen
tavisallen

I suppose Prairie Vodka could fit nicely into this discussion, although 'vodka' is part of the brand, which eliminates some confusion. It is an organic corn-based product based out of Minnesota. Tasty, too IMHO.

cmarka36
cmarka36

good god.  globalism is good.  globalism is bad.  local is good.  local is bad.  supporting products that are produced here is good.  supporting products produced here is bad.  


or the stupidity of being offended by stupid shit.  really?  of all that is going on in the world, IN THIS CITY, this is what offended you today? 

insomnia
insomnia

Based on the authors Facebook page, which shows her "liking" Savvy Vodka, the word "savvy" apparently resonated with all her friends as an obvious choice for a distilled spirit.

StephenMaturin
StephenMaturin

Is buying local a good thing or a bad thing?  You can't have it both ways EOW!

insomnia
insomnia

Interestingly enough, product names like Absolut, Grey Goose, Belvedere, Chopin, Skyy, Blue Ice, Danzka, Finlandia, Clique, Van Gogh (and many other vodkas) do not hint what they are but did just fine.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

And this is why politics do NOT belong in the FOOD section.  And, FWIW, it is widely agreed that calling anything "green" brings in just as many sheep from the other side. 

eudemonist
eudemonist

Is nationalism so much different than locavorism?

Noelle A. Perry
Noelle A. Perry

so is the pledge of allegiance actually on the bottle? i bet it is.

JohnSeabornGray
JohnSeabornGray

Well said, Katherine. I'm very weary of products who think we can't smell their base and obvious attempts at manipulation.

BehindTheStick
BehindTheStick

Sidney Frank Importing got crazy rich when they built the Grey Goose vodka brand and then sold it to Bacardi for $2 billion in 2004. He's also behind the success of Jagermeister, so be prepared American Harvest to be beat into our heads and shoved down our throats via their marketing branch. Yay. More vodka!

MadMac
MadMac

Warning, "American Harvest very well could be the best damn vodka I've ever put in my mouth." will probably be posted as a blurb on the website by EOB today. Thanks for spotlighting an icky trend, Ms. S; thought I was the only one who got itchy from the "True Heritage American Patriotic Bald Eagle Crying a Single Tear Over the WTC Bar and Grill," trend.

Anse
Anse

For the record, vodka is not odorless, and will not keep you out of trouble with the spouse if you should decide to imbibe it on an evening when you promised to be a good boy.

Any accusations that I recently made this discovery will be neither confirmed nor denied.

"Patriotic vodka" is stupid, btw.

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

I'm afraid of Americans.

jovanotti
jovanotti

Highly ironic that these shallow appeals to patriotism appear when our republic is more politically dysfunctional and divided than ever. Latest example, Ted Cruz questioning the patriotism of cabinet nominee Chuck Hagel. Not sure if this type of marketing reflects Republican fear mongering and isolationism, or a more hopeful (nostalgic?) wish that we could come together toward a common sensible direction.

WestSideBob
WestSideBob topcommenter

I wonder if Tito is worried 'bout this development ?

jovanotti
jovanotti

@cmarka36 

I think the piece was about excessive nationalism in thrall to turning a quick buck. Lot of it happening lately. Even round here. 

So it's Not about local v global. And, yeah, I'd rank it up there along with important local news pieces about who got mugged where and the weekend weather.

J.A.Justice
J.A.Justice

@insomnia I follow Brittany Spears on twitter.  It has no bearing on or correlation with my musical tastes, I simply enjoy watching train wrecks.  Your straw man has dog piss on it. 

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

@StephenMaturin I love this question and it's one that everyone should ask: Do you support a local product purely because it's "local"? Of course not. You support something because of its inherent quality. Any time I find a high-quality, affordable product that's locally made, I'll choose to support my local community, friends and neighbors over a product made elsewhere - even one that's equally good. But supporting local just to pay lip service to an ideal makes no sense.

tafeldienst
tafeldienst

@FattyFatBastard  Was the piece on the Bruce Molzan protest ok? Or did it involve politics, and therefore be off limits?

tafeldienst
tafeldienst

@FattyFatBastard  Brings just as many from the other side? Because 'green' resonates amongst a group as large as those who dig 'American'? Your math might be off some there. Don't tell me your in finance, or the numbers field.

etee56
etee56

@MadMac"American Harvest very well could be the best damn vodka I've ever put in my mouth." :-)

bradg
bradg

@jovanotti Why does it always have to be bullshit "fearmongering"???  The divisiveness of the current President is stunning....yet, it's Conservtives fault.  And, I'm ashamed of you for defending him/her/whatever, Katharine.

Newton
Newton

I think I agree with you, there is something essentially political about many aspects of eating, drinking, restaurants and bars. I would miss pieces about things like the parking ordinance, the smoking ban, and the origins of peasant food now being served at premium prices among the 'high-end' restaurants. 

While it's a nice goal to keep divisive politics out of food and drink coverage, I think it's naive to simply say "politics do NOT belong in the FOOD section".

Even in a review, no one wants a writer gazing down at a plate of food and critiquing every bite as if it's a science project; we want human context and observation. And a blog piece is a much looser format than that, I would argue.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

@tafeldienst It is "you're" and yes, I not only work in finance but that is what my degree is.  Yours?

Anse
Anse

It is shameful that some shameless people would try to shame a person for having a bloody opinion. Speaking of bloody, can I assume that a righteous patriotic flag-waving American vodka will make my bloody marys taste like the spilled blood of America-hating evildoing Islamofascists? Because if it won't, I must question its credentials.

jovanotti
jovanotti

@bradg @jovanotti 

Bush pere stoked our fears of Willie Horton types.

Bush/Cheney played to our fears of Bin Laden types. 

Deficit scolds tap irrational fears of becoming like Greece if we don't cut entitlements. While fearing that job-creators won't create job if tax rates are raised slightly.

Wayne LaPierre just presented his view of reality: threats from the unwashed urban zombies after a disaster, invading hordes of latin drug dealers and Islamist militants. 

Nothing bullshit about those. Fear is politically effective as Republicans have repeatedly proven. Cheers to them, down that American Harvest!


kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

@bradg I didn't defend anyone or anything. I merely said that I hope "this type of marketing reflects" "a more hopeful wish that we could come together toward a common sensible direction" -- the latter part of @jovanotti's statement.

figgy23
figgy23

@FattyFatBastard @Newton  

Oh what happiness that you are not in journalism (are you?), for what dullness would await us were you determining what we read. No coverage of Molzan. Or local v. global. Or food trucks v City Council. Or parking ordinances that might kill nascent restaurants/bars. And of course you yourself would be hard-pressed deciding what's off-limits as 'political'.

I'd rather we have some politics and see the merits debated, than attempting to make the blog a sterile, germ-free brick of blase. After all, the comments that fascinate me aren't typically the ones about a lion-fish being way overpriced due to the price per pound someone has calculated, and then extrapolating it to the table of an event.

C'mon, even libertarians like to engage in politics. Stop biting your tongue and working the calculator so much. Speak up

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

@Newton As someone who is pretty much a libertarian, I find myself biting my tongue all of the time reading the Press.  If politics are in any agenda, it should be placed in the appropriate area.  The Eating Our Words blog is not the right place for it.

tafeldienst
tafeldienst

@jovanotti @bradg  

I wish, on the other hand, that we could instill fear to reap a Harvest of solutions to real problems instead of the boogieman ones you mention. Global warming, crappy US infrastructure, continued high unemployment, falling education performance vs other nations.

When it comes to these things that we ought to rightly fear, there's no urgency or strong concerted rhetoric.

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