Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Frank Brown (A.K.A. Uncle Ben???)

Did you know that Uncle Ben was a real person? We really don't care who is fact or fiction when we want some rice to go with those red beans or peas. We just want to eat, right? Well, Uncle Ben was a African American rice farmer from Texas who won many prizes for his methods and quality in growing rice. I know that most of us think of Asia when it comes to the cultivation and quality of rice, but there was a region in West Africa that Europeans called the "Rice Coast" near Sierra Leone. That area was a strategic focus during the slave trade in the late 1760's because rice was becoming a fast growing industry in America. Uncle Ben's ancestors were most likely victims of the rice boom. Anyway, Uncle Ben's reputation grew and his rice soon became the standard in which all rice would be measured.
How di
d his face get on the box? Did he start his own company? Well, no. That's not even his face on the box. The face on the box was a man from Chicago named Frank Brown. Frank Brown was a maitre d' at a Chicago restaurant that Gordon L. Harwell frequented in the 1940's. Harwell would later go on to start the Uncle Ben's Converted Rice Company. Anyway, Harwell wanted a face that would sell rice. Black characters were very popular on food products at the turn of the 20th Century because it gave the consumer the illusion that it was straight from "Uncle" and "Aunties" kitchen (good ol' black southern cooking). So, the next time you have yourself a bowl of Uncle Ben's rice just think about that little rice farmer from around Houston that some folks called "Uncle Ben."
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