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Dietary Changes Through Boycott

The colonists were quite dependent on their "parent" England for imports of food and other basic products. When taxes and British Parliamentary tariffs on products used by the American colonists increased, the colonists were forced into paying the taxes if they were to continue importing English and West Indian goods.

Benjamin Franklin promoted growing Vitis labrusca grapes for wine production in protest of the taxation of Madeira imports.As a result, a number of colonists began to boycott imported goods in favor of domestic goods. The boycott was not initially widespread, especially as it could not be officially enforced, and so lacked luster in a number of regions. Increasing support for this boycott, however, helped generate the revolution against England.

As England imposed its series of acts upon the colonists, changes in the American colonistís purchases and trades eventually altered the American diet. Starting with the Molasses Act of 1733, followed by the Sugar Act of 1760, a shift in alcohol consumption occurred. This was more than a protest against taxation of molasses, the main ingredient in rum production. Whiskey became the spirit of choice for many American colonists who wished to snub their nose at England.

 In the northern colonies, whiskey was made with rye, while the southern colonies preferred corn. Rye was seen as a more civilized grain, while corn whiskey was presented as a more patriotic version as it was produced from an indigenous American crop.

The production of whiskey was certainly not a norm in the colonies in the early years. The upper echelon of colonial society looked down upon American whiskey up until the time of the American Revolution. Some even saw the harsh spirit as a bastion of debauchery in the American colonies. Whatever the sentiment, the Scottish, Irish, and Germans brought a taste for hard spirits from their homelands to the American colonies in the 1730s. These groups continued to produce hard spirits in imported stills, or stills based on Old World designs, in retaliation against the English economic controls.

The Revenue Act of 1764 that heavily taxed Madeira and other wines led to yet another boycott, this time against imported wines. This promoted another indigenous agricultural item of the American Colonies, the Vitis labrusca grapes. In 1765, Benjamin Franklin decided to use Poor Richard's Almanack to promote the growing of American grapes in order to encourage the production of domestic wines.

One of Franklin's friends, Benjamin Gale, stated one evening at one of their gatherings "We must drink wine of our own making or none at all;" this opinion seemed to be a prevailing sentiment in the colonies from 1764 until the Revolution. Many who supported temperance in the colonies also supported the production of American wine at this time since the colonial form of temperance at the time was to drink only wine or beer instead of hard spirits.

The Quartering Act of 1765, probably more than anything else, stripped the colonists of funds and thus the ability to purchase imported luxuries. The Stamp Act of 1765 resulted in a boycott on imported goods by many merchants, which was further strengthened by the passage of the Townshend Act of 1767.

These boycotts, however, were short lived, to the dismay of more radical colonists who hoped to take control of superficial goods imported by the English and imports from the West Indies.  Once the Townshend Act was repealed, colonists flocked back to markets to purchase non-essentials.

The enforcement of the Tea Act of 1773 became a heated issue with the colonists, with the well-known demonstration at the Boston harbor, the Boston Tea Party, a direct reaction to the act. However, a much more important shift occurred in the colonists' drink of choice. In 1773, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife stating, "Tea must be universally renounced and I must be weaned, and the sooner the better."

Thus began the American shift from tea to coffee.  In a concentrated boycott, the housewives of Falmouth, Massachusetts publicly united, vowing to serve only coffee in their homes. This inspired other households throughout the colonies, both in the north and south, to do the same.

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