Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History
by Sidney Wilfred Mintz
The commodity sugar today is not seen as an exotic commodity, which it once was, but as a commodity that is essential to everyday life. Sugar is seen as a mundane commodity, for everyone can have it, and much of our food today is comprised of sugar. How did sugar become a common commodity, and what did the transformation of sugar mean for modern society? In Sweetness and Power written by anthropologist, Sidney W. Mintz examines sugar, in particular sucrose, a product produced from sugar cane throughout history in order to answer these questions, and he concentrates on the Britain’s transformation of voracious sugar consumers. He argues that the transformation of sugar, a luxury commodity to a common commodity is due to not one particular attribute, but due to economical, political, and social interconnections, which becomes apparent when history is analyzed.
Mintz supports his argument through dividing the world’s history of sugar into production, consumption, and power. The bulk of Sweetness and Power is dedicated to two chapters, which are Production and Consumption. Majority of the book is written as a historical account of sugar’s history. Even though Mintz is an anthropologist, the book does not contain his fieldwork. However, he does provide some ethnographic material to introduce the significance of food pertaining to human consumption. Nevertheless, the majority of the evidence is secondary sources provided by historians. The primary sources that are present are from correspondent letters, and uniquely enough cookbooks.
Mintz’s book Sweetness and Power consists of an abundant amount of information about the history of sugar that is fascinating. He establishes that British ardent consumption of sugar is related to numerous factors, and he does not boringly list these factors but lets it develop through the context of the book. On the other hand, the books structure was difficult to digest, brusquely it was disorganized. Many parts of his book were redundant; he states the same historical facts in different chapters and within the same chapter. Despite that the book well informs the reader of the journey of sugar throughout history, and if you enjoy reading about the formation of capitalism, Sweetness and Power contains a sweet surprise. It explores capitalism, primitive accumulation, agro-industry, globalization and Marx influence is apparent throughout the book.