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
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.
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 ...