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Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in…

Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (1985)

by Sidney Mintz

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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
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 ... ( )
  harrietbrown | Jun 24, 2017 |
Clearly a classic in the world of food studies, and in some ways, definitely worthy of that title. I struggled to get through this book at first--his rapid global history of sugar production bounced rapidly through time and was difficult to slog through to get to his arguments about the English working class. Once I did get there, his argument really came together, but before then, it was hard to see the point of where he was going. It should be noted that Mintz is really not all that interested in production but rather in the consumption of sugar among the English, and really among the English working class. It did its job, certainly, and I recognize how important it is as a work, but it didn't necessarily 'wow' me or make me rethink very much about how I saw the history of sugar. ( )
  aijmiller | Feb 1, 2017 |
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. ( )
  gypsysmom | Sep 25, 2016 |
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. ( )
  Dan.Allosso | Dec 11, 2014 |
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
  Fledgist | Mar 31, 2010 |
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I do not know if coffee and sugar are essential to the happiness of Europe, but I know well that these two products have accounted for the unhappiness of two great regions of the world: America has been depopulated so as to have land on which to plant them; Africa has been depopulated so as to have the people to cultivate them. - from Volume 1 of J. S. Bernadin deSatint Pierre's Voyage to Isle de France, Isle De Bourbon, The Cape of Good Hope...With New Observations on Nature and Mankind by an Officer of the King (1773)
[Picture] - This engraving by William Blake, Europe Supported by Africa and America, was commissioned by J. G. Stedman for the finis page of his book Narrative of a five years' expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam. (London: J. Johnson & J. Edwards, 1796.) (Photo courtesy of Richard and Sally Price)
For Jackie with love and gratitude
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In this book the author 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 its 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)

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