Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History

by Sidney W. Mintz

Paperback, 1986

Status

Available

Call number

394.12

Collection

Library's review

In this eye-opening study, Sidney Mintz shows how Europeans and Americans transformed sugar from a rare foreign luxury to a commonplace necessity of modern life, and how it changed the history of capitalism and industry. He discusses the production and consumption of sugar, and reveals how closely interwoven are sugar's origins as a "slave" crop grown in Europe's tropical colonies with is use first as an extravagant luxury for the aristocracy, then as a staple of the diet of the new industrial proletariat. Finally, he considers how sugar has altered work patterns, eating habits, and our diet in modern times.… (more)

Publication

Penguin Books (1986), Edition: Reprint, 274 pages

Description

A fascinating persuasive history of how sugar has shaped the world, from European colonies to our modern diets In this eye-opening study, Sidney Mintz shows how Europeans and Americans transformed sugar from a rare foreign luxury to a commonplace necessity of modern life, and how it changed the history of capitalism and industry. He discusses the production and consumption of sugar, and reveals how closely interwoven are sugar's origins as a "slave" crop grown in Europe's tropical colonies with is use first as an extravagant luxury for the aristocracy, then as a staple of the diet of the new industrial proletariat. Finally, he considers how sugar has altered work patterns, eating habits, and our diet in modern times. "Like sugar, Mintz is persuasive, and his detailed history is a real treat." -San Francisco Chronicle… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Fledgist
An exploration of the role played by the cultivation and production sugar in shaping the modern world. The tall, sweet grass is a thing of power, whether as a crop, a product, or an item of consumption
LibraryThing member AlexTheHunn
Mintz provides a fascinating history of sugar, placing it in context within the transatlantic world. Sugar acquired ever increasing importance as the means for its production improved, its availability spread and its price decreased. Underpinning the success of sugar was the tragedy of slavery. Not only did slaves serve the sugar plantations and mills, but Mintz makes a compelling case for sugar's being the single key force behind the firm establishment of black slavery in the western hemisphere.… (more)
LibraryThing member Dan.Allosso
Put down without finishing. It's not that it's a bad book. I'm apparently just not in the mood for academic history right now.
LibraryThing member gypsysmom
This is a classic in anthropology and food studies apparently. When Sidney Mintz died in December 2015 Marion Nestle dedicated that day's blog to him and this book. She said "When we polled academics working on food issues about what should be included in a Food Studies “canon”—a list of books that every student ought to master. Only one book appeared on everyone’s list: Sweetness and Power." Although I didn't formally study food science I did consider myself a food scientist during my career as a chemist with the Grain Research Lab. So I thought I should read this book. It certainly has some interesting ideas and Mintz obviously research the role sugar played in history and in modern life. However, I thought he repeated those same points far too many times.

Mintz shows how the consumption of sugar grew through the Middle Ages from something akin to a spice to a conspicuous display of wealth for the well-to-do. When Britain obtained colonies in the Caribbean the supply of sugar increased in Britain and consequently the cost decreased. Ordinary people could afford it and they particularly liked to add it to that other import, tea. Industrialization extended the use of sugar because a hot cup of highly sweetened tea was a quick stimulant that enabled the factory worker to put in more hours. Soon sugar was used as a supply of calories for children in the form of jam or treacle on a slice of bread. This was an economical and quick meal to prepare by the woman of the household who was probably also working in a factory (and perhaps so were the children). Sugar added to other foods made them more palatable (such as sugar in peanut butter which I personally detest but I am not the norm). This book was published in 1985 so it doesn't delve deeply into the place of sweetened soft drinks in the modern diet but the prevalence of them does seem to be inevitable when you follow the history.

So, I did get something out of reading this but I wouldn't really recommend it.
… (more)
LibraryThing member harrietbrown
This book was amazing! It took me nearly two years to read it, because, despite its small size, it packed a lot of information. Plus, I took a long break in between the "Power" chapter, and the final chapter, "Eating and Being." The whole book was very intense (hence the break) and made me think about food, specifically sugar, of course (that being the topic of the book), but also how our food and eating customs and traditions are formed and influenced by commerce. This includes supply-and-demand, the labor involved in producing the products, and the publicity and advertising that manufacturers of the products use to convince us we "need" this product.

Mintz traces the beginnings of sugar as an expensive product only available to the aristocracy, to the dominant position is holds in society and culture now, not only as a household staple, but as an ingredient in most pre-packaged and prepared foods. Back in the early 80's (the book was published in 1985), pretty much any processed food was guaranteed to have some form of sweetener in it, and that has probably increased since then. Sugar and sweeteners are remarkably versatile, and can add that "special something" to foods where you wouldn't expect it to appear, like fried foods. In addition, humans have a natural tendency to prefer sweetness over all other flavors, so it was only a matter of time before sugar became such a dominant force in the marketplace.

Anyway ... you should read this book if you are curious about food, because sugar or sweeteners, whether artificial or natural, are in practically everything.

This book made me wonder how much "choice" we really have, not only when it comes to selecting what we eat for snacks or meals or dessert, or what beverages we drink, but also how much of our lives are determined by forces outside our control? How can we really be sure that the choice we're making hasn't been influenced by some outside force that eludes our awareness, and therefore, our control?

Yeah. Scary. I'm going to be awake all night now ...
… (more)

Language

Original language

English

Original publication date

1985

Physical description

274 p.; 5 inches

ISBN

0140092331 / 9780140092332
Page: 0.1987 seconds