Friday, July 11, 2008

Brief History of Sugar

I picked up the book Sugar Blues again recently by William Dufty as I was preparing for teaching a dessert class. The points in the book were a good reminder for me to consider not only the health implications, but also the political implications of sugar. The following information below outlines some of the points I felt were very noteworthy in the history of sugar refining, marketing, and consumption. One of the overall health effects of sugar is that while it can relax you, it makes you feel weak.


Pre-sugar humans enjoyed chestnuts, almonds, pistachios, apples, figs, grapes, olives, mulberries, barley, wheat, rye, millet, cucumbers, melon, carob, mint, onion, anise (fennel), garlic, leeks, lentils, mustard, milk, honey, and a wide variety of other whole foods that were grown locally, in season, and had a natural sweetness to them.

No ancient texts mention having sugar. When it does finally show up in historical documents, it’s in the form of sugar cane. It is most likely from India rare, imported, and expensive and traditionally used as medicine.

Around 325 BC, Greek and Roman soldiers are first reported to have chewed sugar cane. Persia is the first known country to process it around 600 AD. The Persians started trading it and then Islam overran Persia. It’s thought that the Arab armies started indulging in its sedative and tranquilizing properties and that this consumption may have contributed to their downfall. Soldiers chew the sugar cane, are reported to have “soldier’s disease” and become gluttonous and less courageous. They experience bleeding gums, hemorrhagic skin spots, and swollen legs.

Arabia falls to the European Crusaders. From this time, the 7 deadly sins flourish across the 7 seas. Slavery, genocide, and organized crime are directly related to sugar processing, trade, and sales. Illnesses such as the plague, beri beri, cancer, scurvy, and other unusual diseases parallel sugar consumption. As sugar consumption goes up, fatal diseases increase.

In the 1500’s, the Dutch and other Europeans finance palaces and sugar fuels politics. The British control the islands where molasses and rum are first made. White people make fortunes in taxes and tariffs.

In 1812, Napoleon’s army takes sugar rations. The French army who had never seen sugar before defeat Napoleon.

In 1905, Japan fights Russia. The Japanese carry salted fish, dried seaweed, pickled and umeboshi plums. Russia falls to the Japanese. The Japanese adopt habits of the western world and fall prey to new diseases.

The sugar business was the model for other agribusiness conglomerates that were to follow decades later. It has a low cost, everyone can use it, it’s supported by the government, and it’s mainly marketed towards children.

The processing of sugar follows the same trail as the opium poppy. It has habit forming sensory pleasures just as heroin, opium, and alcohol.

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