Monday, May 10, 2010

The Bitter History of Sugar
From The Daily Beast.

Bee Wilson writes about Elizabeth Abbott's Sugar: A bittersweet history, noting the well known horrors of cane-cutting-and-boiling by Caribbean slaves and wondering whether the worst aspects were necessary or not.

Could the world sugar trade have grown in the spectacular way it did from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries without plantation slavery? If so, how? Scholarly opinion differs, she says, as to whether the Arab sugar trade of medieval times was free of slavery, but it certainly didn’t create the same monstrous factory-fields as British-ruled Barbados. “But then, the Mediterranean view of sugar was more that of a condiment, to be used sparingly, than the working-class staple it would later become. India—where delicious jaggery is melted into rich rice puddings—provides an alternative model of sugar production, since it has never been plantation-based.” The sweet-toothed, among whom Wilson counts herself, would like to hear whether a life spent in those high lonely grasses of the cane fields has ever been bearable; whether our cravings for muscovado and demerara can ever be justified; or whether we should all switch to maple syrup, tapped by happy Canadians.
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