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Chapter 1-30

FST 50 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1-30: Maple Sugar, White Bread, Seebohm Rowntree


Food Science & Technology
Course Code
FST 50

of 17
Mintz, S.W. (1986). Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. New York:
Penguin Books.
Sweetness & Power
(p. 15) Most of my professional life was spent studying the history of the Caribbean
region and of those tropical products, mainly agricultural, that were associated with its
development since the European conquest.
(p. 22) A product that the poor eat, both because they are accustomed to it and because
they have no choice, will be praised by the rich, who will hardly ever eat it.
(p. 25) Since sugar seems to satisfy a particular desire (it also seems, in so doing, to
awaken that desire yet anew), one needs to understand just what makes demand work:
how and why it increases under what conditions. One cannot simply assume that
everyone has an infinite desire for sweetness, any more than one can assume the same
about a desire for comfort or wealth or power. In order to examine these questions in a
specific historical context, I will look at the history of sugar consumption in Great
Britain especially between 1650, when sugar began to be fairly common, and 1900, by
which time it had entered firmly into the diet of every working family.
(p. 26) Because anthropology is concerned with how people stubbornly maintain past
practices, even when under strong negative pressures, but repudiate other behaviors
quite readily in order to act differently, these materials throw light upon the historical
circumstances from a perspective rather different from the historian's, though I cannot
answer many questions that historians might bring to these data, I shall suggest that
anthropologists ask (and try to answer) certain other questions.
(p. 28) My contention is that the social history of the use of new foods in a western
nation can contribute to an anthropology of modern life.
Ch. 1 Food, Socialty, and Sugar
(Intro, p. 28) In Ch. 1, author opens the subject of the anthropology of food and eating
as part of an anthropology of modern life, leading to a discussion of sweetness (not
sweet substances). Sweetness defined Sweetness is a taste (what Hobbes called a
“quality” – substances that excite the sensation of sweetness. Fruit and honey were
major sources of sweetness for the English before 1650.
Like languages and all other socially acquired group habits, food systems dramatically
demonstrate the infraspecific variability of humankind. People’s food preferences are
close to the center of their self-definition: people who eat strikingly different foods or
similar foods in different ways are thought to be strikingly different, sometimes even
less human. Food choices and eating habits reveal distinctions of age, sex, status,
culture, and even occupation. These distinctions are immensely important adornments
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on an inescapable necessity. "Nutrition as a biological process," wrote Audrey Richards,
one of anthropology's best students of food and ingestion, "is more fundamental than
sex. In the life of the individual organism it is the more primary and recurrent want,
while in the wider sphere of [p. 4] human society it determines, more largely than any
other physiological function, the nature of social groupings, and the form their activities
Hunger epitomizes the relation between its dependence and the social universe of which
it must become a part. Eating and nurturance arc closely linked in infancy and
childhood, no matter how their connection may be altered later. Food preferences that
emerge early in life do so within the bounds laid down by those who do the nurturing,
and therefore within the rules of their society and culture. Ingestion and tastes hence
carry an enormous affective load. What we like, what we cat, how we eat it, and how we
feel about it are phenomenalogically interrelated matters; together, they speak
eloquently to the question of how we perceive ourselves in relation to others.
Commensals - describe the relation between gods and human beings.
"Those who sit at meat together are united for all social effects; those who do not eat
together are aliens to one another, without fellowship in religion and without reciprocal
social duties." But Robertson Smith also argued that "the essence of the thing lies in the
physical act of eating together"a bond, created simply by partaking of food, linking
human beings with one another.
Sugar has been associated during its history with slavery, in the colonies; with meat, in
flavoring or concealing taste; [p. 8] with fruit, in preserving; with honey, as a substitute
and rival.
And sugar was associated with tea, coffee, and chocolate; much of its history in the late
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries springs from that particular association. Sugar was
also first associated with the rich and the noble classes, and it remained out of the reach
of the less privileged for centuries. The relationship between the production of sugar and
its consumption changed over time and, as it did, the uses to which sugar was put and
the meanings to which it gave rise also changed. By keeping sugar itself as the focus, we
can actually see more clearly how its relationship to other foods, those with which it was
combined and those which it eventually supplanted, was altered.
Most great (and many minor) sedentary civilizations have been built on the cultivation
of a particular complex carbohydrate, such as maize or potatoes or rice or millet or
wheat. In these starch-based societies, usually but not always horticultural or
agricultural, people are nourished by their bodily conversion of the complex
carbohydrates, either grains or tubers, into body sugars. Other plant foods, oils, flesh,
fish, fowl, fruits, nuts, and seasoningsmany of the ingredients of which are nutritively
essentialwill also be consumed, but the users themselves usually view them as
secondary, even if necessary, additions to the major starch. This fitting together of core
complex carbohydrate and flavor-fringe supplement is a fundamental feature of the
human dietnot of all human diets, but certainly of enough of them in our history to
serve as the basis for important generalizations.
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Transformations of diet entail quite profound alterations in people's images of
themselves, their notions of the contrasting virtues of tradition and change, the fabric of
their daily social life.
It can be argued that the widely variant sugar-eating habits of contemporary populations
show that no ancestral predisposition within the species can adequately explain what are
in fact culturally conventionalized norms, not biological imperatives. That there are
links between fruit eating, the sensation of sweetness, and the evolution of the primates
is persuasive. That they "explain" the heavy consumption [p. 16] of refined sugar by
some peoples in the modern world is not.
One scholar, seeking to push the link between human preferences and sweetness just a
little further back, has even argued that the fetus experiences sweetness when
nourished in utero. [DeSnoo 1937: 88]
My Note: Correct name is Professor Klaas de Snoo [Dutch gynecologist]
Correct Cite: de Snoo, K. (1937). Das trinkende kind im uterus. Mschr. Geburt.
Gynak. 105:88. [nope, I have no idea what that says; I don’t speak o dee Dutch]
For chemists, "sugar" is a generic term for a large, varied class of organic compounds of
which sucrose is but one.
I concentrate in this book on sucrose, though there will be occasion to refer to other
sugars, and this focus is dictated by the history of sucrose's consumption in recent
centuries, which completely outstripped honey (its principal European competitor before
the seventeenth century), and made largely irrelevant such other products as maple sugar
and palm sugar. The very idea of sweetness came to be associated with sugar.
The widely different ways that sweetness is perceived and employed support my
argument that the importance of sweetness in English taste preferences grew over time,
and was not characteristic before the eighteenth century. Though in the West sweetness
now generally is considered by the culture (and perhaps by most scientists) a quality
counterposed to bitterness, sourness, and saltiness, which make up the taste
"tetrahedron," or is contrasted to the piquancy or hotness with which it is sometimes
associated in Chinese, Mexican, and West African cuisines, I suspect that this
counterpositionin which sweetness becomes the "opposite" of everythingis quite
recent. Sweet could only be a countertaste to salt/bitter/sour when there was a plentiful
enough source of sweetness to make this possible.
Yet the contrast did not always occur when sugar became plentiful; Britain, Germany,
and the Low Countries reacted differently, for instance, from France, Spain, and Italy.
That some built-in predisposition to sweetness is part of the human equipment seems
inarguable. But it cannot possibly explain differing food systems, degrees of
preference, and taxonomies of tasteany more than the anatomy of the so-called organs
of speech can "explain" any particular language. It is the borderline between our human
liking for sweetness and the supposed English "sweet tooth" that I hope to illuminate in
what follows.
Ch. 2 Production [free trade]
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