Sidney W. Mintz. Sweetness and Power:The Place of Sugar in Modern History. (New York: Penguin, 1985.)

Sugar: Sweetness and Power

main ideas


      1. Food, Sociality, and Sugar, "Sweetness is a taste --what Hobbes called a 'Quality'--"
      2. Production,"I... focus on the possessions that supplied the UK with sugar, molasses, & rum."
      3. Consumption, "a discussion in terms of what people did and thought...."
      4. Power, "I try to say something about ...circumstance, conjuncture, and cause."
      5. Eating and Being, "Social phenomena are by their nature historical."

      A lesson to understand


The Antillean landscape sugar cane fields in southern Cuba, Winter 2012.

Some of his main concepts are these:

    "humans make food out of just about everything."

So why did sugar become such a curiously important and ubiquitous commodity since it is so hard to refine and distribute?

    " preferences are close to the center of their self-definition: people who eat strikingly different foods in different ways are thought to be strikingly different, sometimes even less human."

    p. 3.

    "In general terms, sugar's use as a spice and a medicine declined as its use as a decoration, sweetener, and preservative increased."

    p. 121.

    "The history of sugar in the United Kingdom has been marked by many 'accidental' events, such as the introduction of bitter stimulant beverages in the mid seventeenth century. But sugar consumption's rise thereafter was not accidental; it was the direct consequence of underlying forces in British society and of the exercise of power."

    p. 150.

    In "less than two centuries, a nation most of whose citizens formerly subsisted almost exclusively on foods produced within its borders had become a prodigious consumer of imported goods."

    p. 151

    "Emancipation was a defeat for the planter classes, but a victory for those at home who believed in expanded commerce and heightened consumption."

    Throughout the British West Indies, the planters' 'sufferings' after freedom (1836) were resolved with the connivance of the Foreign Office, by the importation of contractual laborers from India, China and elsewhere, and special legislation to keep freedmen from voting and from acquiring land."

    p. 176.

    "In this perspective, sugar was the ideal substance." As it is addictive, combines easily, offers an imagined respite, and tastes so good.


    The impact or consequences where then unknown.

    "The track sugar has left in modern history is one involving masses of people and resources, thrown into productive combination by social, economic, and political forces, that were actively remaking the entire world. The technical and human energies these forces released were unequaled in world history ....these factors suggest the extent to which we have surrendered our autonomy over our food."

    p. 211.

Mintz' book

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