The rise of sugar as a regular staple in households worldwide is a fascinating example of how the world’s food has changed significantly. Sugar, once a highly coveted luxury item, is now the opposite – available in high volumes in every packaged good sold on the shelves of corner markets globally. The history of sugar demonstrates the “social, political, and economic power” (Robbins, 219) all working together to promote the increased consumption of a food, regardless of the clear negative impacts.
Robbins points out a few interesting societal contributions to the success of sugar and emphasizes that “the cultural and social constraints of time and cost created in the urban, industrial setting combined with the convenience of sugar” (219) created a perfect storm for the processed additive to thrive. It’s interesting to take a deep look at how developments in society have popularized a commodity.
This story has then repeated itself throughout the negative food history of the world, from microwave TV dinners, to fast food, to meal replacement bars. All targeted to those people and families with limited time, each was welcomed with highly-polished advertisements that created the same luxury shine that sugar formerly had: they quickly satisfy hunger but do not offer complete or lasting nutrition. This continued cultural acceptance of a quick fix is one major reason health and nutrition issues now plague most societies moving into a broader middle class.
Image source: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/01/13/hidden-added-sugar_n_14148162.html
I agree that sugar is becoming a regular staple in households today and demonstrates different types of power. I noticed this particularly when I sifted through the photos from Peter Menzel’s Hungry Planet paper. Many of the families from affluent countries had access to different types of sugar (I.e. chocolate, candies, soda, etc.). While families from developing countries did not have processed foods or food with refined sugars.
I see power from sugar demonstrated with industry giants who try to promote the consumption of sugar, as you mentioned. These industry giants are able to, at times, hide the added sugars by labeling their products with health claims, such as, “low fat”, “no carbs”, or “gluten free”. These “polished” advertisements can deceive consumers into thinking they are eating healthier without seeing the added sugars, oils, or types of fat used within products. This speaks to the power of the industry giants who can sell their products while creating an addiction for their consumers to come back for more.
For many cultures, social gatherings are a place where a dessert culture exists and which brings people together to justify the consumption of sugar, sweets, candies and desserts. Desserts are consumed with herbal teas and coffee served with a lump of sugar. This is most common in countries of North Africa , the Middle East and the Sub-continent. Sugar is added to hot drinks, it is used to prepare jams because it is a natural preservative for fruits, and when ever there are significant events such as birth or marriage, people celebrate with chocolate, cakes, cookies, ice-creams, and sweets. Sugar is a luxury and people expect to be delighted by the sweet items. Sugar can be used as an art form especially to create elaborately decorated cakes. So even though people may know that sugar does not benefit them in their diets, they still want the pleasure of eating dessert.