After reading through the article, “Time, Sugar, and Sweetness” by Sidney W. Mintz, I was left wondering about the impact that sugar has made on our society today. Being an avid Buzzfeed user, I decided to find out what recent posts have been made about sugar and how it’s affected our world. Now, it’s a commonly known fact that Americans love their sugar. But after coming across the post, “Here’s What the “American Food” Section of a UK Grocery Store Looks Like,” I know exactly every other county thinks this way.


This post showcases pictures of common “American” food sections at stores in the UK, France, and Germany. As it says in the article, one word can be used to describe these pictures: sugar. Almost everyone goes to the grocery store, and if this is all Europeans know when they think of, “American Food,” it’s no wonder why the world thinks we’re obsessed. There’s three different versions of marshmallows in the UK picture, along with assorted candies, pop-tarts, and cereals. In France, the shelves mostly consist of Pepperidge Farm® cookie variety and more kinds of marshmallows. Germany’s main items are various forms of cheese, some in squirting bottles and others in cans, and all kinds of beef jerky. All this evidence points to the conclusion that the average American’s main food group is sugar. I think it’s very interesting to think about whether the European food stores implemented the USA shelves before or after the stereotype about Americans and sugar consumption became well-known. I’d also love to know if Europeans actually buy some of these “American Specialties” or it just used as a display case of the bad eating habits of the common American.


Side note, this Buzzfeed post ends with a pretty amazing gif of Ron Swanson. ‘Merica.

In “Time, Sugar, and Sweetness” Sydney W. Mintz gives an insightful history about the consumption of sugar. At first a mysterious delicacy, the fine white powder soon grew into the world’s most demanded sweetener. Sugar found it’s way into recipe books and pantries across the known world and was being transplanted and produced in every agreeable climate. The sweet taste of this new product produced a new craving and new ways to create food, sweeter food. With demand increasing exponentially over a century or so, sugar impacted more than cooking cultures. The great demand called for more production of sugar, which meant new plantations arising in the colonies and an increase in slave labor. Sugar, may have been the leading product in a revolution of the global economy as slave labor and colonial harvest for trade boomed. This dramatic rise in consumption of a single ingredient has seldom ever been seen, which makes one blogger wonder, what happened to sugar?

In today’s world the fine white sweetener is not viewed by all with as much fondness as it was three hundred years ago. There are countless online articles discouraging the consumption of sugar at all. Modern health culture is calling for less and less sugar in the “healthy” diet and returning the old sweetener like honey and maple syrup. I even had a close friend tell me he had to give his brother “the sugar talk”. This fear of the once loved granulated delicacy baffles me. While I understand that everything must be consumed in moderation the frequency of media outlets calling for a sugar free world leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I cannot imagine a Christmas party without sugar cookies, or a birthday cake without sugar. Of course there are plenty of sugar free products out there, even ice cream and chocolate that don’t contain the harmful white powder. But it just isn’t the same. Sugar is a product that changed the entire global economy, had songs written about it, changed the way we cook, and the way we eat and drink. Surely, it is not a product to be avoided, but one to be celebrated, just as it was upon it’s introduction. Yes there are healthy levels of consumption as with any other food, but consumption must go on. So let’s throwback to the 1700s and demand more of the sweet stuff.


*disclaimer* My support of a healthy level of sugar consumption refers to natural or little processed sugar. Products like High Fructose Corn Syrup and other highly processed sweeteners are very unhealthy and can cause digestion problems.

*Video contains some explicit language. It is HBO afterall.

In Sidney W. Mintz’s “Time, Sugar, and Sweetness”, he reveals the illustrious history of sugar; of its role as a medicine, as a preservative medium that replaced honey, and as a commodity reserved only for the elite before becoming a staple across all classes. The famous slogan “Cotton is King” can surely be replaced by Sugar.

Today, the advancement of technology has undoubtedly been applied to the optimization of sugar growing, processing, and productionisation. In a segment from comedic late-night talk show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Oliver covers the prevalence of the sweet commodity and the current legal conflicts it is embroiled in 11 hilarious minutes. He shows various clips from real news channels that explain sugar is integrated into various foods that many would not consider an ingredient, including crackers, salad dressings, breads, cereals, ketchup, and even Clamato juice (clam broth plus tomato juice). The influence of sugar on consumers and its market profitability is so high that ongoing “wars” of sprung that are centered around health connotations with research studies that conclude with polarizing findings depending on which research was funded by a food association and which was independent; one side revealed a strong link between sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain while the other reported that “there was insufficient evidence to draw a conclusion”. It is obvious which findings belong to which research study (watch 6:26).

Another ongoing manifestation of the sugar war is the FDA’s attempts to adjust food labeling to account for “Added Sugar” content in foods and the staggering backlash from various food associations (frozen pizza, cranberry juice, yogurt, etc) on how sugar is a key ingredient that make many of these foods tasty (watch 8:17) and forcing them to reveal how much of it is added to their products may carry “an unfair negative connotation”. And so, the Beverage Association offered an possible addendum to the food label change: to switch the measured unit to grams instead of teaspoons with a weak explanation that barely covered the true reason: that most Americans are familiar with the teaspoon measurement compared to its metric counterpart and thus, labeling added sugar in a known measurement would provide consumers a better understanding of exactly how much sugar they are eating up.

Some things in life are easier to address than others. As a teenager in high school with a huge appetite, eating healthy always took the back seat to the the cheapest option for the most amount of food. This really hasn’t changed much in college. One can only eat so many All-Star Specials before their body will eventually start to hate them. After reading Mintz’s article on sugar and how its role in our society has evolved over time, I started to think about how that substance impacts me. I realized that I consume a lot more than I expected on a daily basis. I put sugar in my coffee each morning, every time I drink sweet tea (ALOT), each day I have cereal for breakfast, and any other time I enjoy a sweet snack to hold me over. After this realization, I started to do some googling to investigate actually how bad sugar and artificial sweetener are for your health. The results were not pleasant. In the Huffington Post this article details that sugar is not only extremely bad for your heart, but surprisingly can cause dementia and also trigger an addiction. I was always curious why people would say “I’m craving something sweet”, but now I know that the more exposure to the substance the more your body will crave it. However, it is no secret that sugar is bad for you. But why has it been in such high demand since the colonial age? I implore that the reason is much deeper than the amazing taste. Sugar is a substance like coffee, alcohol, and even tobacco that will be craved further as it is consumed. And our society is definitely not relaxing on the consumption of sugar.

In Sydney Mintz’s Time, Sugar, and Sweetness, Mintz mentions how sugar was originally a “medicine for the royalty,” then a preservative, and finally a basic commodity enjoyed by all. People consumed sugar simply because it was “so good to consume.”

Now in modern times, more people than ever are better educated about all kinds of things. First, science discovers that consuming too much calories causes weight gain. A whole new food market/culture emerged as a response and health conscious consumers are ever so careful and calculating. Again because sugar is simply too good to give up entirely, another segment of the sugary industry developed resulting in the massive artificial sweetener business.

The need for sugar is too great, and now it seems that consumers can enjoy the taste of sweet absolutely guilt free with zero consequences due to the clever invention of essentially imitation sugar. However, the world of artificial sweeteners turned upside down in the 1970’s when a study came out claiming that there is a link between consuming magical, guilt free sweets to terrifying diseases. Mentioned in the article, The Unbiased Truth About Artificial Sweeteners, the reputation of artificial sweeteners have not been the same ever since though they are still incredibly popular and are in virtually every coffee shop, restaurant, and diner across the country. As people are getting more educated about the foods that they consume, people on a diet have quite a tough choice to make. Should they forego real sugar for the fake stuff and risk the associated claims and lose weight, or should they consume the real deal and not lose any weight at all? Science may tell us a lot, but sometimes it tells us things that puts us in a corner.

After reading through Sidney W. Mintz’s “Time, Sugar, and Sweetness” I was able to find many interesting points that got me thinking further about the topic. Having the availability of sugar for most of my life never really got me thinking about the earlier times where sugar wasn’t always available. Sugar didn’t become an ordinary item in households till the mid seventeenth century and even then it was considered to be an item reserved for the wealthy. So with many of our recipes containing sugar today, it must mean that our cuisine has also developed and changed a great deal through the centuries, as the availability of sugar has increased. Mintz’s article discusses a few alternative sweeteners that were used prior to the availability of sugar, but for most of today’s recipes I feel that it would be rather difficult to use those alternatives and create a successful dish that requires sugar.   It was not until the nineteenth and twentieth century’s that sugar became common in all households being used as a condiment, preservative, sweetener, or even medicine. Today sugar can be found in almost anything from sodas, to meats, to fruits, to candies, to deserts. It is impressive that with the sugar consumption increasing so rapidly that we have been able to satisfy the increasing demand. Not only has sugar played a major importance in American culture as it pertains to food and eating but it was also an important player in the industrialization of our nation. With sugar, tea, and coffee not originating from America and the climate being the right match made it a perfect location to begin mass production.

Oppression has long been associated with the acts of white men on those less civilized, whether looking at the imperialism that dominated Africa or the scattering of Native Americans after King Phillip’s War. These white, Europeans, who were fortified servants of the Christian cause and “superior” in terms of their civility, lead countless of colored men and women to their weary graves. Mary Prince’s narration in which she was passed from “one butcher to another,” reconciled these ideas of the cruelness of settlers in a new land and begs us to question the stark contrast of the stoic, zealous faces that settled the Northeast, and the ones in the slave trade who seemed to leave their Bibles at home.

While the difference between Puritans and the merchants of the Caribbean share similarities, their treatment of others is distinct. As encountered in Lydia Marie Child’s, Hobomok, the settlers attitudes towards the Native Americans were passive in terms of their alliance, but strict in terms of their, “religious indifference.” From the Northeastern account, it is conceivable to think that such a society might accept the natives had they shared the appropriate religious views. In the case of Hobomok, his loyalty and protective manner provided him with praise whereas his “heathen” traditions could not. In terms of the masters of the profitable land to the South, African Americans were treated with little respect despite many of their shared religious beliefs. Instead, women were beat to death while pregnant, flogged for breaking a bowl, and not allowed to buy their own freedom. Mary Prince adequately summarizes this indecency stating, “Does one of the many bystanders, who were looking at us so carelessly, think of the pain that wrung our heart of the Negro woman and her young ones?”

Because of these innate subtleties, uncertainty arises. Are the settlers of the South depicted as cruel because their purpose for settling is much different than their Puritan brethren to the North? Is this cruelty driven by greed? How do these men and women of Christ find it acceptable to torment their servants who believe in the same God? Was this lack of religious action by the part of the Southern colonists an instance of assimilation into the religion of the areas in which they inhabited?

In “Time, Sugar, and Sweetness”, Sidney W. Mintz reiterates a point that anthropology has leaned its interest toward the unusual aspects of cultures, as opposed to the their more obvious and rather mundane qualities that typically would not bat an eye.

“Food and eating were studies for the most part in their more unusual aspects,” Mintz writes. He mentions how only taboo and articles that stand out spark the most interest, but in reality, the subtleties of everyday food and cooking could tell a greater story than the out of the ordinary in a culture’s food. While taboos and unfamiliar foods may contribute to research and spark further curiosities about the culture, they also are more likely to have been less relevant to the cultures who ate them compared to something as simple as sugar. Mintz explains just how the production and consumption of a staple in the human diet today has grown to become one of the most valuable crops by as early as the 17th century. It served multiple purposes such as acting as a preservative, providing fast spikes of energy, and sweetening the bitter. As anthropology took steps toward looking at the symbolic value of foods, it revitalized the field and added new depths of studies that were attractive to scholars.

The patterns in food and consumption of cultures has proven to be vital for history, yet related anthropological studies are few in number due to how anthropologists tend to look solely at what is deemed primitive to focus their studies. Food consumption is a rather mundane area disguised in a manner that repelled the interests of the anthropologists, yet proves to be extraordinarily important to cultural development seen in the modern day. Anthropology was an artistic/intellectual movement of the Romantic era, and those who studied it continued to be prideful in keeping true to what is only artistically fitting of the area of study, which led Mintz to believe that this Romanticism has hindered the knowledge that could be gained about the historical significance of the mundane. Mintz closes off his passage suggesting that there must be something as equally mundane to the modern world as sugar, that could in turn prove to be just as significant anthropology.

After reading Time, Sugar, and Sweetness, I began to develop many questions; such as how did sugar develop and who discovered it and its many uses today. In the article, Mintz began talking about sugar and its many purposes and uses in the seventeenth century. During this period of time sugar was only consumed by the rich because it was so costly. Soon by the 1800 and 1900 all of world; despite economic status found it to be necessary to have.  Sugar then began to become a part of our medicines, it is used as a sweetener, and as we all know it is in our food in the form of molasses. I found it very interesting that sugar is used as a preservative as well. With sugar being a preservative, it is high in caloric content in the food that it preserves. Mintz also stated that in the 1800 and 1900 sugar had begun to be used as a source of quick energy. Then soon after came the development of high energy foods, in which a lot of society consumes on a daily basis; whether it is chocolate, energy drinks, energy bars, or energy pills. Most of the things we consume are high in sugar. As to answer my questions of who founded sugar and its many uses; the passage did not answer my questions. I took it upon myself to go further than the readings to answer my questions.  As I began to search for answers, I was not able to stumble upon who founded sugar. What I can tell you is that Christopher Columbus was the first to put it to many uses in America, in which we still use it for many of the same things today and more. Did you know sugar had this much of a effect on our society?


Sugar Cane Plantation In The 1800s

In Lydia Maria Child’s introductory chapter of her Frugal Housewife Cookbook, she expresses the importance of spending within one’s means in order to have extra funds for a rainy day. She stresses her cookbook is not to teach her readers how to spend one’s money, but how to save one’s money. Child thinks saving money will allow people to participate in the economy more in the long run. She guides her reader’s in their money spending habits. Child believes “if you have half a dollar a day, be satisfied to spend forty cents.”

Financial planners commonly suggest spending 80% of income while saving 20%.

Lydia Child recognizes the Pareto Principle before it was even published. Common financial planning advice, stemming from the Pareto Principle, recommends spending 80% of one’s income and saving the other 20%. The 80/20 rule allows for a balance between saving and spending, with the extra savings permitting consumers to maintain spending power even during financial crisis. When people learn to budget their finances early, they are able to spend their income more freely when they become financially stable.

Child’s guidance maintains value because it is identical to modern financial advice. She believes families should “begin humbly.” She stresses not spending money for temporary pleasure, because if one spends all of their money, they will have no power to purchase things they want in the future. And, similar to what the 80/20 principle suggests, Child believes as “riches increase, it is easy and pleasant to increase in hospitality and splendor.” Lydia Child explains if a reader already has everything they need, do not just spend the money because one can; save one’s money for a time when it will have more value.