Sweetness And Power 2 Essay, Research Paper
Sweetness and Power is a historical study of sugar and its affect on society and economy since it was first discovered. Sugar has had a large impact on society and the economy that is not noticeable unless thoroughly studied. The following is an analysis of the work done by Sidney W. Mintz in his attempt to enlighten the educated layperson .
Mintz uses a very basic system for organizing the tremendous amount of data found within in the book. The book is divided into 5 chapters: Food, Sociality, and Sugar , Production , Consumption , Power , and Eating and Being . Each of these chapters discusses different issues dealing with the main idea while moving in a more or less chronological order. For example, the chapter entitled Production begins by discussing the means by which sugar was produced in its earliest existence, and then ends by discussing more modern forms of production. Within the chapter, Mintz branches off and discusses various effects sugar has had on the economy and society. However, to fully understand the structure of the book, each chapter must be looked at individually to see how each is organized.
Chapter one begins by describing the connection between different groups of society and the food that each of them eats. Mintz argues that food is a factor in which one can identify and categorize a society and/or those who belong to that society, which is shown on page 3 with the line Food choices and eating habits reveal distinctions of age, sex, status, culture, and even occupation. Later in the book, Mintz will continue this contention by describing sugar as a symbol of power and nobility. Another important idea revealed to the reader in chapter one is the source of focus for the book, which is shown in this statement on page 5:
Specifically, I am concerned with a single substance called sucrose, a kind of sugar extracted primarily from the sugar can, and with what became of it. The story can be summed up in a few sentences. In 1000 A.D., few Europeans knew of the existence of sucrose, or can sugar. But soon afterward they learned about it; by 1650, in England the nobility and the wealthy had become inveterate sugar eaters, and sugar figured in their medicine, literary imagery, and displays of rank. By no later than 1800, sugar had become a necessity albeit a costly and rare one in the diet of every English person; by 1900, it was supplying nearly one-fifth of the calories in the English diet.
These few lines will be extensively discussed and analyzed in the remainder of the book as the topics for chapters two through five.
Another important idea proposed by Mintz is that sweetness is naturally desired by humans. He supports this by reporting on the work of researchers studying infants in the United States and how they are drawn to sweetness without having prior experience with it. He also states on page 15 that Alaskan Eskimos consume sucrose despite the discomforts associated with the offending items.
Chapter two, as the name implies, discusses the steps taken in the production of sugar, and how those steps evolved and spread throughout the world. Mintz begins on page 19 by giving the reader the basic definition of sucrose, an organic chemical of the carbohydrate family. He continues by describing the history of sugar cane and the history of production. He then goes on to describe the economics of sugar production and how it directly affected world economics. A very important fact discussed in this chapter relates sugar to the evolution of capitalism. Mintz contends that as sugar becomes less of a symbol of power and more of a common item for the common person, that mercantilism begins to die out. As this happens, capitalism begins to play more heavily on the economy. Mintz quotes Fernando Ortiz s phrase describing sugar as the favored child of capitalism, and furthermore arguing his point as shown in this statement found on page 46:
Mercantilism was finally dealt its quietus in the mid-nineteenth century, and the sugar market and its potential played a part. By then, sugar and consumer items like it had become too important to permit an archaic protectionism to jeopardize future metropolitan supplies. Sugar surrendered its place as luxury and rarity and became the first mass-produced exotic necessity of a proletarian working class.
Chapter three, the most lengthy chapter entitled Consumption , finishes the discussion, first introduced in chapter two, of how sugar became less of a symbol of power and more of a necessity for the common person. In chapter two, however, Mintz described this change by relating it to the economy. In the third chapter, Mintz describes the change in a manner relating it to societal values. Sugar s various purposes are described in great length, among which included preservation, decoration, medicinal use, as well as a spice. Sugar as a sweetener was given much of the credit for the shift of its use amongst various groups of people. Mintz writes on page 108:
Sugar as a sweetener came to the fore in connection with these other exotic imports tea, coffee, and chocolate of which one, tea, became and has since remained the most important nonalcoholic beverages in the United Kingdom.
Mintz contends that as sugar began to infiltrate the British diet, its popularity and demand began to increase. As the demand went up, so did the supply, causing the proletariat to be able to incorporate sugar into their everyday diet. As time went on, sugar became more and more integrated into the diet of the common person until about the mid-1800 s where, as Mintz puts it on page 143,
A century later, the place of tea and sugar in the working-class diet, together with treacle, tobacco, and many other imported foods, was completely secure. These were the new necessities. The figures for tea and sugar consumption after the 1850 s mount steadily in the case of sugar, to just below ninety pounds per person per year by the 1890 s.
With that, sugar had become part of the common person s diet, and was no longer a symbol of power and luxury, but as a prime source for calories for all people.
Chapter four consists mainly of a repetition and summary of that which has already been discussed. Mintz uses this chapter as an opportunity to explain the connection between ideas discussed in the previous two chapters and how one leads to the other. Sugar, having many uses, became very popular among the upper class. Mintz shows that inevitably, sugar would spread to the lower classes due to this popularity. The final paragraph in the chapter illustrates the purpose of the chapter by showing the connection between the uses of sugar and how it spread to the lower classes:
It served to make a busy life seem less so; in the pause that refreshes, it eases, or seemed to ease, the changes back and forth from work to rest; it provided swifter sensations of fullness of satisfaction than complex carbohydrates did; it combined easily with many other foods, in some of which it was also used (tea and biscuit, coffee and bun, chocolate and jam-smeared bread). And as we have seen, it was symbolically powerful, for its use could be endowed with many subsidiary meanings. No wonder the rich and powerful liked it so much, and no wonder the poor learned to love it.
This line illustrates to the reader how sugar became more and more desired by the rich and powerful due to it many uses, as well as how this increases in sugar popularity also lead to its spread to the lower classes, and finally, its common presence in the English diet.
In chapter five, entitled Eating and Being , Mintz draws the book to a conclusion. In this chapter, Mintz strays from the effects of sugar in the past and present, and ventures as far as to make some educated opinions about the future of sucrose. On page 206, Mintz makes the statement:
Yet in spite of these many virtues, the fate of sucrose is by no means entirely assured. In the last decade, et another sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, has been making inroads into the sugar market, particularly among prepared-food manufacturers. The most crushing blow came when Coca-Cola partly replaced sucrose with HFCS; it seems probable that other defeats will follow. At any rate, corn syrups are cutting into the consumption of other sugars and will probably do so more and more.
Mintz uses the data and makes an educated guess of what he believes lies in store for sucrose. Another important item contained within this chapter is Mintz s own acceptance of the decreasing quality of anthropology. He states on page 213 that anthropology is dangerously close to losing its sense of purpose , and that anthropologists are blinded by their own romanticism . With this acceptance, Mintz explains to the reader the purpose for writing the book. He points out two things. One, he illustrates the loss of quality in Anthropology, and most importantly, he asks the reader to fully understand and consider the effects that sugar has had on modern society and economics by arguing in the last paragraph of the book found on page 214:
We must struggle to understand fully the consequences of that and kindred events, for upon them we erected an entirely different conception of the relationship between producers and consumers, of the meaning of work, and the definition of self, of the nature of things. What commodities mean, would thereafter be forever different. And for that same reason, what persons are, and what being a person means, changed accordingly. In understanding the relationship between commodity and person, we unearth anew the history of ourselves.
With this, Sweetness and Power has effectively told the story of sugar, and its affect upon society and the economy in the modern world. For the most part, the book is a social history. Mintz is constantly describing the impact of sugar upon societal groups (i.e. upper class, middle class, etc.). However, chapter two strays from this and goes into some economic history by describing the growth and promotion of capitalism.
The book contains massive amounts of data, which leads to a very in depth and thought provoking book. As stated before, the book is directed towards an audience known as the educated layperson . That is, someone who is assumed to have some background with historical knowledge as well as a interest in the topic of sugar, in a historical sense.
Mintz uses many sources to back up the data and conclusions presented in the book. He does a good job of supporting all of his arguments with the proper source, however, he does not explain these sources to the fullest extent. The assumption is made that the reader clearly knows how the sources relates to the argument at hand, but sometimes the passages that Mintz cites are unclear. Also, Mintz understands that a field such as anthropology requires fieldwork to be strong. However, in that same line on page 213, Mintz states, Those strengths continue to lie in fieldwork (there is little in this book I confess). By this, Mintz himself has identified another one of the few flaws present in his book.
Sweetness and Power is a strong study relating the evolution of sugar to societal growth as well as to economic change. Despite the flaws contained within the structure of the book and the lack of fieldwork, the book is an excellent collection of data regarding sugar, a topic that most people do not think of as being a major factor in the lives they live today. Mintz forces the educated layperson to look around the world today, and really think about what it would be like without the luxury of sugar.