A Surprisingly Disgusting History of Lemonade Stands

One hot afternoon in July of 1941, a young woman—name and age unreported—opened up a lemonade stand in Western Springs, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The “little girl,” as newspaper accounts later described her, plied her friends and passing strangers with refreshing glasses of lemonade in a makeshift stand just outside of her home. She sometimes sampled her own supply.

Within weeks, the county’s health department was knocking on her door. They asked questions about the chain of lemonade custody and her sanitary practices. It turned out that the budding entrepreneur had failed to rinse the glasses she gave to her customers after they had been used. As a result, she had contracted polio, and so had four of her young friends. According to the Associated Press, the outbreak of the disease was no less than the “hottest trail of the deadly disease virus in the history of epidemiology.”

Kids' lemonade stands have long been a symbol of adolescent capitalism. And though contracting a paralyzing viral infection seems a heavy price to pay for patronizing one, as it turns out, these refreshment pop-ups have a long and sordid history. For many, they've been a downright dirty business.

A refreshment stand is set up in Huntington Beach, California

Because the act of peddling lemon-flavored water in the street is not inherently newsworthy, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly how, when, and where the practice first originated. We know that people in 11th century Cairo wrote about a drink with lemon juice being sold in open markets. In 17th century France, vendors dispensed lemon water from backpacks, allowing them to follow customers around; their popularity may have been helped in part by the fact that the lemonade was often alcohol-infused. At upscale French cabarets selling fashionable, sweet drinks, proprietors took to calling themselves limonadiers, or lemonaders. Though they sold far more than just booze-fueled lemonade, the label helped distinguish their refined spaces from the seedier wine merchants of the era.

There are scant references made to lemonade stands in America throughout the 1800s. The New York Daily Herald mentioned a stand as part of a “ladies fair” in October 1839; in 1853, a woman operating a stand in Cincinnati reportedly confronted two men who had insulted her, tearing the coattails of one “rowdy” clean off; in 1873, an unnamed student at Cornell University was said to be helping pay his way through college by managing a stand in his student hall.

These were likely earnest enterprises. The same couldn’t be said of the disingenuous peddlers in 1860s New York, who perceived the docking immigrants as easy marks. Rather than invest in quality ingredients, lemonade merchants instead filled dirty wooden or tin pails with a murky substance consisting of water, molasses, and vinegar. The muck was topped with sliced lemon rinds to give it the appearance of something ingestible. For many people looking for a fresh start in America, their first taste of freedom may have literally been a fetid concoction of cheap sugar water.

By 1880, vendors were a common sight throughout New York City [PDF]. In blistering heat, soda fountains and bars often found themselves being outmatched by lemonade stands that had relatively little overhead and could charge just five cents a glass instead of the 15 cents charged by shops. “This cheap lemonade business has come very much to the front in New York within the last year or two, and it is an excellent idea,” The New York Times concluded.

While many of these vendors were adults, the barrier to entry was low enough to entice business minds of all ages. In the 1870s, a Dutch immigrant named Edward Bok—who may have seen and been repulsed by the sludge offered upon his family's entry into the country—noticed that horse carriages passing by his home and heading toward Coney Island often stopped so that the horses could have water and passengers could get a drink at a nearby cigar shop. Bok found it was curious that only the men would go inside the shop, leaving women and children to wait until they arrived at their destination to get a beverage.

Sensing an opportunity, Bok bought a clean pail and attached three hooks to it to hold three glasses. When the horse cars stopped, he jumped on and offered ice water to everyone on board for one penny a glass. Bok made 30 cents for every pail he emptied and did brisk business on weekends. But soon competitors moved in, and Bok was forced to up his game. He began squeezing lemons into water, added sugar, and sold the tastier drink for three cents a glass.

While Bok was far from the only lemonade hustler in the country, he might have been the most influential. When he was profiled in an authorized biography in 1921, The Americanization of Edward Bok, the story of his childhood lemonade business struck a chord. Bok was already a celebrity thanks to his editorial duties with the Ladies Home Journal, and his book won a Pulitzer Prize. If a lemonade stand was good enough for Bok, it was good enough for any kid.

Throughout the 20th century, the stands grew to become allegorical lessons in free enterprise. If a child wanted a bicycle, a simple investment and a work ethic could potentially produce enough income to purchase one. Baked into the business model were lessons in accounting, inventory, and customer testimony—a busy stand invited more onlookers to come and sample the wares.

Kids offer lemonade to kids at a lemonade stand

More recently, some states have cracked down on stands, citing health and safety concerns and forcing a business model involving permits and an understanding of zoning laws. Country Time, which makes lemonade mixes, pledged $60,000 in grants this summer to help kids pay fines related to their stands.

As for the polio-ridden lemonade stand in Western Springs: While unsanitary practices led to five illnesses, researchers also discovered an additional seven people were carriers but showed no symptoms. The outbreak provided valuable information on how easily the virus could be transmitted and how long a carrier could harbor the infection. By 1954, Jonas Salk’s vaccine was about to become widely available, and the March of Dimes—which publicized efforts to eradicate the disease—was endorsing fundraisers [PDF] to purchase vaccine doses and cover treatment costs of those afflicted. In the emergency drive to direct money toward those efforts, teens went door-to-door, hosted bake sales, and sold lemonade.

Ground Beef Targeted by Massive Recall Might Still Be in Your Freezer

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iStock

More than 132,000 pounds of ground beef produced by Cargill Meat Solutions were recalled on September 19 due to a risk of E. coli O26, according to a news release from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. The affected beef was produced and packaged on June 21, so you may want to check your freezer for any burger patties or homemade bolognese sauce you stored away over the summer.

“FSIS is concerned that some product may be frozen and in consumers’ freezers,” the agency said in a statement. “Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.”

Cargill Meat Solutions is based in Colorado, but these products have been shipped across the country. One death and 17 illnesses have been linked to the outbreak so far, with the dates of illness ranging from July 5 to July 25. According to the FSIS, people usually become ill within three to four days of exposure to E. coli O26. Symptoms include diarrhea (often bloody) and vomiting.

The recalled products have the establishment number “EST. 86R” inside the USDA inspection mark on the package. To see the 12 varieties of ground beef that were affected, click the following link [PDF].

How Maggots Could Lead to More Sustainable Agriculture

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iStock

A decade ago, two brothers started recycling food waste into feed for animals by letting the food chain run its natural course. In other words—they got into the maggot business. Now their South Africa-based company, AgriProtein, is planning to expand its fly farms into an international network, CNN Money reports.

Jason and David Drew founded their company in 2008 with the goal of cultivating fly larvae (a.k.a. maggots) as an eco-friendly protein source. Today, many farmed animals, such as fish and chicken, are fed fish meal: a type of feed made from dried and ground-up fish. Fish are a cheap protein source, but the high demand for animal feed has led to them being harvested at an unsustainable rate.

AgriProtein's solution to the feed industry's sustainability problem involves tapping into a resource that can be found wherever there's food waste. To create its products, the company's two fly factories in Cape Town and Durban each take in 276 tons of food waste every day. The flies lay 340 million eggs on the waste daily, and those eggs hatch into the maggots used to make the feed.

Theoretically, the process could have wide-reaching effects at every stage of the agriculture industry: Human-generated food waste that would otherwise rot in a landfill is used to nourish the protein, which is then used to feed livestock, which ends up as food for humans.

The Drew brothers' "nutrient recycling" concept attracted research funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and today AgriProtein is valued at more than $200 million. The fly farms are limited to South Africa for now, but the company plans to open 100 factories in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the United States. If their efforts are successful, the brothers could inspire other insect farmers to embrace the maggot revolution.

[h/t CNN Money]

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