Martina Kaller | Chewing Gum and War

Thursday, February 22, 2024
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
(Pacific)

Encina Hall 2nd floor, William J. Perry Conference Room

Martina Kaller

Chewing gum is neither food nor medicine, but it was administered to American troops as a drug substitute during the two world wars of the 20th century. Journalists and marketing strategists at the time referred to chewing gum as "fuel for fighters,” and the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps classified it as "ammunition" on the supply list. Moreover, Army officials found that providing drinking water, especially on the front lines, was costly and time-consuming, and so chewing gum became a cheap and an effective thirst quencher -- and an indispensable item in the American soldier’s kit.

Without the Caste War (1847-1915) in southeastern Mexico, chewing gum would not have become a wartime supply or a mass-market product: The Maya of the Yucatan rainforest (or Cruzobs, as they were called) resisted the feudal laws of indentured servitude and retreated into the Yucatan rainforest to defy Hispanic landowners. There they extracted chicel from wild trees and smuggled this raw material for chewing gum across the border into Belize in exchange for ammunition. This allowed them to defend themselves for nearly 50 years.

Chicle was eventually mass-produced in the United States via Central America. Then, as American troops fanned out from Europe to Asia after World War I and World War II, they distributed chewing gum to civilian populations as a gesture of friendship, paving the way for Wrigley, today's global leader in chewing gum.

This research offers an innovative window into the complex global connections between chewing gum and war, linking fragmented local and national histories to a global picture.

Co-sponsored by the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) and partially funded by Stanford Global Studies’ Oceanic Imaginaries


Martina Kaller is a professor of global history with a background in Latin American studies and is currently a Visiting Scholar at FSI. She has researched in Mexico, Guatemala, the United States, and several European countries. As a guest professor, Kaller has taught at Stanford University (Austrian chair), Sorbonne, and Science Po, Paris. She served for two decades on the board of and later as head of an EU-funded international Master’s program in Global Studies and five years as the president of the permanent committee of the International Congress of Americanists (ICA). Her primary research focuses are on global food history and the History of Latin America 19/20th century. She has worked extensively on the history of international development with particular attention to Mexico and Central America (two books and 27 journal and book contributions). 

Kaller (Dr. Habil) is an Associate Professor of Modern History at the Department of of History at the University of Vienna. She has various ongoing research projects on global food history and the long-term impact of political and economic autonomy of indigenous people, comparing cases in Latin America, Europe, and Canada. Her books and book chapters have been published or are forthcoming at Palgrave McMillan, Routledge, Global South Press, Bloomsbury, et al.

*If you need any disability-related accommodation, please contact Shannon Johnson at sj1874@stanford.edu. Requests should be made by February 15, 2024.