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...
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