SWEETNESS AND POWER: The Place of Sugar in Modern World History by Sidney W. Mintz

SWEETNESS AND POWER: The Place of Sugar in Modern World History

Email this review


For anthropologist Mintz (Johns Hopkins), sugar--a subject to which he was drawn during conventional Caribbean fieldwork--has been the stimulus toward a radical realignment of his anthropological horizons. Here it is the focus for several sorts of analysis. Of greatest interest to general readers will be a couple of long chapters tracing the development of modern sugar production and consumption--with special emphasis on 1) the British plantation system as a slave-based precursor of capitalist production forms and 2) the remarkable transformation of sugar from rare spice or token of wealth and power to one of the chief caloric props (in conjunction with such other ""drug foods"" as chocolate, coffee, and especially tea) of the British working-class diet. These sections, cogently pulling together material from important studies in the history of labor, diet, and technology as well as histories of the sugar industry itself, are good enough to make one wish that Mintz had simply essayed a general introduction to sugar through recent ages. As it is, he goes on to wrestle with more directly ethnological implications--the social meanings that this addictive source of instant calories gradually acquired in the ""food rituals"" of consumers from progressively lower social strata, the ongoing 20th-century rearrangement or derangement of ""the structures of meals and the calendar of daily diet"" by what one observer calls ""gastro-anomie."" Here too there is plenty of challenging insight, but also a curiously labored progression of thought with repetitive formulations of the same ideas, suggesting something unsolved in this particular attempt to bridge the gap between anthropology and social history. Interesting if only partly successful.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1985
Publisher: Viking