[Marxism] [UCE] Book revew - Sugar: How sweet it is, and how malignant

Dennis Brasky dmozart1756 at gmail.com
Wed Jul 25 08:41:23 MDT 2018

Sweets have invaded the English language the way they have invaded our
diet, with almost universally positive connotations. Sweet love, sweet
people and sweet deals all suggest pleasant experiences, as do the sugary
confections that grace our tables and fill our stores. James Walvin
<https://www.history.ac.uk/1807commemorated/interviews/walvin.html>’s new
book, “Sugar: The World Corrupted: From Slavery to Obesity,” will
thoroughly disabuse you of such agreeable associations and may make you
reluctant to reach for something sweet. Sugar, he shows, is a blood-soaked
product that has brought havoc to millions and environmental devastation to
large parts of the planet, premature death to the poorest populations in
many parts of the world and huge health costs for societies from the United
States to India. After reading this book the mere mention of sugar should
make you think of slavery and cavities, imperialism and obesity — and
remind you to check the label on the products you consume.

Walvin, the author of several books on slavery, takes his readers on a
roller-coaster ride through 500 years of history. Sugar, he shows, was rare
for most of human history, with sweetness largely derived from fruits and
honey. Sugar was believed to have healing properties and in much of the
world it was dispensed by apothecaries; consumption of small quantities of
sugar was the prerogative of elites. Then, in the 16th century, Europeans
seized large territories in the Americas and quickly dedicated much of that
acreage to sugar cane. By killing off local inhabitants and enslaving
Africans to do the backbreaking labor of tending the sugar plant, European
settlers managed to build a huge production complex. Hungry for power and
profit, they turned the fertile soils of Brazil, Barbados, Guadeloupe,
Jamaica, St. Domingue and other places to the growing of sugar for European
markets by slave labor, producing extraordinary wealth in cities like
Bristol, Bordeaux and Boston, and unimaginable misery for millions of
enslaved workers.

Sugar, Walvin argues, was the cutting edge of global capitalism, with the
plantations among the largest business enterprises, the most significant
sources of profit and, in light of their highly regimented discipline, the
most modern work sites. As a major share of the total trade of both
18th-century France and Britain, sugar lubricated the world economy and
provided nutrition to the growing number of people who worked in cities and
industry. Sugar catalyzed some of the first waves of globalization —
notably in British North America, which entered the world economy as a
supplier of goods to the Caribbean sugar complex and a processor of its
harvest. Boston, as much as Barbados, is sugar’s offspring.


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