Candyland
October 13, 2014 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Sugar: the evolution of a forbidden fruit
Sweetness was meant to be irresistible. We are born with a sweet tooth. Babies drink in sugar with their mother’s milk. Sweetness represents an instant energy boost, a fuel that kept our ancestors going in a harsher world where taste buds evolved to distinguish health-giving ripeness and freshness from the dangers of bitter, sour, toxic foods. Sugar gives us drug-like pleasures – lab rats deprived of their sugar-water fix exhibit classic signs of withdrawal. When things are going well, we blissfully say, “Life is sweet.”

Sugar - Part I
But in looking through some of my usual sources, I realized you can't possibly discuss sugar monopolies without delving into the history of this sweet substance. And, in truth, without sugar there probably would not have been a slave trade in America.
Sugar - Part II and Sugar - Part III

Blame Napoleon for Our Addiction to Sugar. Sugar and the expansion of the Early Modern World Economy, Jason W. Moore, Review (Fernand Braudel Center), Vol. 23, No. 3 (2000), pp. 409-433 [JSTOR]
At the University of Michigan, Sugar and the Atlantic World

Barbara L. Solow, Sugar [PDF]

Sugar featured heavily in the Industrial Revolution.

Sugar can be made from sorghum, sugarcane, sugar beets and maple syrup.

Sugar, previously
posted by the man of twists and turns (20 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
My (sad, pathetic) quip at the dentist is that a cocaine or heroin addiction might have been a better choice in several ways.
posted by sammyo at 12:06 PM on October 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


Certainly financially.
posted by sammyo at 12:06 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


not meth, though.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:13 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


First you get the sugar, then you get the power, then you get the women.
posted by sourwookie at 1:26 PM on October 13, 2014 [11 favorites]


without sugar there probably would not have been a slave trade in America.

Maple sugar was pushed as an alternative to cane sugar a few times in US history - once before the revolution because there were big sugar import tariffs for the stuff coming into the colonies, and then in the 1800's when abolitionists and quakers were pushing it as an alternative to sugar that didn't involve slave labor in the production.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:43 PM on October 13, 2014


According to Wikipedia, "Sugarcane is the world's largest crop by production quantity." That's one of those little pieces of information that kind of freaks me out.
posted by sneebler at 1:57 PM on October 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


sneebler: According to Wikipedia, "Sugarcane is the world's largest crop by production quantity." That's one of those little pieces of information that kind of freaks me out.
Interesting, but if you think about it: the primary nutrient "category" in food is caloric content, and the most accessible form of that is sugar. We've managed to distill the essence of food to its bare bones.

Unfortunately, bare bones are not sufficient for life. In fact, they really shouldn't even be seen in a healthy individual.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:27 PM on October 13, 2014


From our Dept Of The Bleedin' Obvious
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:03 PM on October 13, 2014


GallonOfAlan: "From our Dept Of The Bleedin' Obvious"

Well, I got bleedin' gums, so...
posted by symbioid at 4:27 PM on October 13, 2014


One of the more terrifying factoids I remember from history class was that a diaspora slave culture had trouble had trouble forming in the sugarcane industry cause they used almost exquilively men and the mortality rate was so high there was near constant turn over.
posted by The Whelk at 4:34 PM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately, bare bones are not sufficient for life. In fact, they really shouldn't even be seen in a healthy individual.

One of the advantages of a high-sugar diet is that your bones will be very well covered, I suppose.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:04 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


One of the more terrifying factoids I remember from history class was that a diaspora slave culture had trouble had trouble forming in the sugarcane industry cause they used almost exquilively men and the mortality rate was so high there was near constant turn over.

I've read about some of the early high mortality slave places (which varied enormously by location -- it wasn't a universal feature of slavery) and even ignoring the morality it still makes very little sense to me -- slaves were expensive, and crops like sugarcane can easily be produced using hand labor without high mortality rates. High mortality is a deliberate choice by producers and requires that the people be such cheap inputs to the labor process that they can be effectively thrown away through overwork, inadequate feeding, and high disease rates, and my (obviously incomplete) understanding of slavery in the New World is that slaves were not cheap.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:11 PM on October 13, 2014


No discussion of the role of sugar in the socioeconomic development of the modern world would be complete without mention of anthropologist Sydney Mintz's (still alive and kicking at 92! still occasionally giving academic talks!) Sweetness and Power, a fascinating book from the mid 1980s that stands witness to a juncture in academia when "the new social history" was becoming increasingly interested in looking at historical processes through the microscope of the local at the same time that anthropologists--those experts on the local--were becoming increasingly interested in understanding both non-Western and Western cultures through a more macroscopic and historicized lens of political economy. Almost 30 years on, I think it's still a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the culture history of global capitalism.
posted by drlith at 5:52 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


My mother had read Sugar Blues when I was young. Subsequently she refrained from having sugar in the house or giving me any candy products. I remember my first candy-bar; my aunt bought it for me when she was taking me shopping, knowing it was forbidden.

It wasn't the most effective strategy however, the moment I had access to any amount of money and a lack of adult supervision I would spend it all on candy. By my late teens I was pretty much an addict. I'm better now, but I still think its useful to think of sugar as a drug.
posted by el io at 7:02 PM on October 13, 2014


Skull-Shaped Tea Spoons Encourage You To Use Less Sugar

Skull-shaped teaspoons WITH GREAT BIG HOLES IN THEM encourage you to use less sugar, but whatever.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:51 PM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


We've managed to distill the essence of food to its bare bones.

See, that's the kind of thing I'm talking about. I don't think of sugar as food, just as energy. Food is never that simple. And neither are the zillion acres of rainforest we've cut down to grow a monoculture crop to feed the sugar industry. Simple needs have simple solutions, and the commodification of a once-scarce product has created vast wealth, and corresponding social and environmental problems.
posted by sneebler at 8:58 PM on October 13, 2014


Skull-Shaped Tea Spoons Encourage You To Use Less Sugar

I don't even like sugar in my coffee/tea, but I would add some if I had a sweet (heh) skull teaspoon to stir it with.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:30 PM on October 13, 2014


I've read about some of the early high mortality slave places (which varied enormously by location -- it wasn't a universal feature of slavery) and even ignoring the morality it still makes very little sense to me -- slaves were expensive, and crops like sugarcane can easily be produced using hand labor without high mortality rates. High mortality is a deliberate choice by producers and requires that the people be such cheap inputs to the labor process that they can be effectively thrown away through overwork, inadequate feeding, and high disease rates, and my (obviously incomplete) understanding of slavery in the New World is that slaves were not cheap.

Interestingly, one reason for the high mortality was that the original sugar plantations were staffed (slaved?) by Irish slaves (and actual slaves, not indentured servants) who don't do well in a tropical climate (sunburn, malaria, etc). Someone discovered that slaves from sub-Sahara Africa did much better and lasted longer on tropical sugar plantations. Early in the sugar plantation establishment period Irish slaves were significantly cheaper than African slaves and much more expendable. There was even an ongoing breeding program by several slave owners to produce a hybrid of the two ethnic groups that eventually was outlawed.

(BTW-my ancestors were shipped over to the carolina's as 'indentured servants' as part of the highland land clearances and the Irish slave trade at about the same time)

and my interest in this began with reading in Charles Mann's 1491 book.
posted by bartonlong at 9:13 AM on October 14, 2014


Dip Flash: High mortality is a deliberate choice by producers and requires that the people be such cheap inputs to the labor process that they can be effectively thrown away through overwork, inadequate feeding, and high disease rates, and my (obviously incomplete) understanding of slavery in the New World is that slaves were not cheap.
The ones that made it to the US may have been, but if they arrived sickly (which wasn't unlikely), I'd assume they'd be sent to the plantations immediately. IOW: the "damaged goods" were used on the sugar plantations, reducing "waste" - but increasing plantation mortality.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:22 PM on October 14, 2014


There are actually scholarly publications on this, so we don't need to suppose. There were people who specialised in buying sick slaves cheaply and reselling them for a profit, but Barbados' economy was so overwhelmingly based on slavery that there wasn't much for an unskilled slave to do besides work on plantations.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:48 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


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