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

by Sidney Mintz

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9351222,532 (3.93)8
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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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Fascinating study by an anthropologist about sugar/sucrose- its cultivation, effect on the burgeoning capitalist economic system of England, and its role in society. A few parts dragged a bit but I confess to skimming those (useful tool skimming!). Makes an interesting partner to Sugar, Fat, Salt, published more than 20 years before that book. ( )
  PattyLee | Dec 14, 2021 |
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.
  soualibra | Jan 9, 2020 |
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 |
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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)
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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.

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