Category Archives: Multimedia Essay 2

Mahalo: The End of Sugar in Hawaii

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Maui sugar cane fields

As I sit in Beat Brasserie, watching Maui sugar crystals disappear into my coffee, I realize that I’m consuming one of the last batches of Hawaiian sugar. The Hawaii Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) closed the last sugar plantation in Hawaii this past December and laid off nearly 700 workers(Solomon). This marks the end of the sugar industry in Hawaii, a place that Mark Twain once described as “the king of the sugar world”(Downes). Sugar wasn’t just a profitable enterprise, it became a way of life because it shaped Hawaii’s culture through land use, employment and ethnic diversity.

The sugar industry grew in Hawaii in the 1860’s because the Civil War cut off sugar supplies from the south(Flynn 302). Then, in 1876, plantations owners struck a deal with the Kingdom of Hawaii that removed tariffs on sugar exported to the U.S(Solomon). Sugar production increased exponentially and American planters couldn’t get enough. Sugar brought in immense wealth to Hawaii and powered politics on the islands. Plantation owners capitalized on this power and helped to overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893(Downes).

Plantation owners rushed to fill the demand for sugar with cheap labor. American consumption of sugar nearly doubled between 1880 and 1890 from 38 pounds of sucrose per person per year to over 70 pounds per person per year(Mintz 188). Plantation owners needed laborers and with the promise of a decent wage, workers from China, Japan, Brazil, and the Philippines immigrated in waves. These contract laborers were mostly young males who agreed to work for 5 years. At its peak in the 1930’s, 50,000 people were employed by sugar in Hawaii(Downes). Some returned home after their contracts expired, but many settled down and married into the community(“Hawaii’s First”). These immigrants shaped the unique ethnic makeup of Hawaii. This history is a source of pride for many residents of Hawaii and they carry on the legacy of their ancestors today. Teri Freitas Gorman, President of the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce stated:

“My ethnic heritage is what I call plantation pedigree. I’m almost in the order that they came: I’m Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese. And I’m Native Hawaiian as well”(Solomon).

This heritage is also important because as Dan Boylan from the University of Hawaii notes, “somehow Hawaii has realized a degree of racial harmony unknown in most parts of the world”(Kent xii). For example, interracial marriage was “unremarkable” long before Loving v. Virginia(Downes).

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Due to this heritage, jobs on sugar plantations run generations deep. Mark Lopes, the harvest manager at HC&S, remembers, “I used to ride on the tractor with [my father] and that was pretty cool. And then my son, when he was young, I used to bring him out on the weekends. My granddaughter is not going to be able to experience that”(Solomon). These concerns are echoed by many in the community. The Hawaiian Homes Commissioner, Pua Canto, grew up in the plantation camps in Pu‘unēnē(Solomon). She fondly remembers her father tinkering with the intricate tools in the mill. Jobs were highly specialized and many worry about where the 675 laid off workers will go(Wood 2). For these workers and those like Pua, Gorman, and Lopes, who consider sugar as an integral part of their identity and the only skill set they have, the new era is daunting.

The mills created skills training programs that produced welders, electricians, mechanics, and more. These workers took their skills all over the islands. A former millright stated that, “Other than Pearl Harbor, the state has no other training facility for these skills”(Wood). This is a great loss to the island because the mills invested in the residents.

The impact of the end of the industry is also felt by businesses that supplied the mill with equipment, fertilizer, and irrigation supplies. Some companies had partnerships with HC&S for over 100 years(Solomon). Maui’s small farmers have also been affected because they can no longer benefit from the bulk orders of supplies from HC&S.

The absence of sugarcane also changes the landscape and experience of the islands. Dorothy Pyle used to be able to see the thousands of acres of sugar cane from her house. Now, she states:

“It’s changing us forever because I will never see 35,000 acres of agriculture there again. And so the whole feel of the island, that flying in over these fields and driving through them. It’s never going to be again”(Solomon).

Not only will the fields be missed, but the smell of molasses and the crackling from burning cane have been lost as well.

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Dorothy Pyle looks out over the last cane harvest.

As the sugar industry becomes a part of the past, it is important to remember its sweeping impact on the Hawaiian economy, people and culture. For me, it is a reminder to think about the immense history bundled in a small packet of Maui sugar or whatever food I happen to be eating.

Works Cited:

Downes, Lawrence. “The Sun Finally Sets on Sugar Cane in Hawaii.” The New York Times [New York City], 16 Jan. 2017, Editorial Observer sec., http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/16/opinion/the-sun-finally-sets-on-sugar-cane-in-hawaii.html. Accessed 8 Mar. 2017.

“Hawaii’s First Chinese.” Hawaii History, http://www.hawaiihistory.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=ig.page&PageID=544. Accessed 4 Mar. 2017.

Kent, Noel J. Hawaii, Islands under the Influence. Honolulu, U of Hawaii P, 1993.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1986.

Siler, Julia Flynn. Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America’s First Imperial Adventure. Grove/Atlantic, 2012.

Solomon, Molly. “The Final Days Of Hawaiian Sugar.” NPR: The Salt, 17 Dec. 2016. NPR, http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/12/17/505861855/the-final-days-of-hawaiian-sugar. Accessed 5 Mar. 2017.

—. “Maui Workers, Residents Say Goodbye To Sugar.” Hawaii Public Radio [Honolulu], 18 Nov. 2016. Hawaii Public Radio, hpr2.org/post/maui-workers-residents-say-goodbye-sugar. Accessed 8 Mar. 2017.

—. “Sugar plantation closure marks end of a way of life in Hawaii.” Marketplace [Los Angeles, CA], 9 Dec. 2016, Sugar plantation closure marks end of a way of life in Hawaii. Accessed 7 Mar. 2017.

Wood, Paul. “The End of Maui Sugarcane.” Maui No Ka Oi Magazine, Jan.-Feb. 2017, mauimagazine.net/maui-sugarcane/. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

Media Cited:

Thayer, Matt. “Maui.” 16 Nov. 2105, hpr2.org/post/future-maui-sugar-plantation-unclear.

—. Former HC&S employees Teddy Espeleta (right) and Frank Nakoa greet each other before Monday’s ceremony marking the last haul of sugar cane from the fields. 13 Dec. 2106, http://www.mauinews.com/news/local-news/2016/12/end-of-an-era/.

Solomon, Molly. “Sugar plantation closure marks end of a way of life in Hawaii.” Marketplace [Los Angeles, CA], 9 Dec. 2016, Sugar plantation closure marks end of a way of life in Hawaii. Accessed 7 Mar. 2017.

Guilty Pleasures of Chocolate in High Definition

Guilty Pleasures of Chocolate in High Definition

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Alexis Parkin – Flickr

In her article, “Hunger as Ideology”, sociologist Susan Bordo claims that chocolate advertisements have long used the symbolism of the idealized female body because the advertisers are aware of the insecurities women have about their bodies (Bordo, 2000, p. 104). Susan Terrio claimed that ads reinforce the stereotype of the female being unable to resist chocolate and therefore surrender to temptation (Terrio, 2000, p. 253). In the advertisement below, one of the related concepts to surrender is portrayed as “Guilty Pleasure”. This image typifies the subtler brand of idealizing the female body (notice the breast shape covered in chocolate with a cherry for the nipple). Not satisfied with the impact of the imagery, the text goes on to reinforce the primal emotional reaction: witness flavors like “Love Hangover”, “Red Hot Lover” “Dangerous Liaison”, and “Afternoon Delight” (“Pleasures,” 2012, p. 1).
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Photo Credit:ParamourWayne.com

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Close up of graphic. Photo Credit: Paramourwayne.com

 

In the following modified advertisement, the aim of the graphic is to take a phrase that has long been assigned a certain meaning (guilty pleasure as a sensual and suggestive meaning) and modify the meaning by promoting the rethinking of the words “guilty” and “Pleasure”. This is being done by stating that child labor (arguably slave labor) is responsible for at least some of the production of chocolate. This concept is married to the guilty pleasure meaning to form a new and (hopefully) powerful meaning and message to the consumer of chocolate. The strength of this approach is that, because of the familiarity of the “guilty pleasure” part of the message, there is a better chance for the new meaning to be found, rather than using the part about child labor by itself.

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photo credit: via photopin (license)

 

Ultimately, this approach removes both the idealized female form, along with the connotation of feminine weakness for chocolate (if that is legitimate, this paper does not address) and replaces it with something completely different. Along with those concepts, the overt sexualization of chocolate is now missing, replaced with something much more disturbing to the eye and the senses. The subtle image of charged energy is now replaced with what seems to be an anonymous person hiding behind a basket. This image has nothing to do with the traditional forms of advertising chocolate, and therefore begin to break the stereotypes and phrases that serve as the foundation of thought structures related to chocolate. Ultimately, the combination of image and message evokes an emotion that is far removed from hunger, craving, sex, idealized physical bodies, innuendo and the privileged class. It is allowed into our mind’s eye because of the usurping of the “guilty pleasure” phrase, and therefore stands a higher chance to make an impression on the viewer.

 

References

Bordo, S. (2000). Hunger As Ideology. New York, NY: The New York Press.

Guilty Pleasures Four New Flavors. (2012). Retrieved from http://paramourwayne.com/news/guilty-pleasures-four-new-flavors/

Terrio, S. J. (2000). Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

 

 

 

From Slavery to Child Labor: chocolate companies and moral ambiguity

The surface area of the earth on which cacao is planted and harvested has expanded greatly over the last few centuries. Indeed, although the cacao plant originated in Mesoamerica, Africa (as seen in the map below) has become by far the largest cacao-producing region in the world. Nevertheless, controversy has accompanied this great growth. In the early 1900s, worries about slavery on the cacao plantations of the Portuguese colony of Sao Tome (off of Africa’s central west coast) eventually led some British chocolate companies to boycott the island’s cacao; one hundred years later, allegations of child labor led to calls for boycotts of companies that bought cacao from other West African nations (Sartre, 2005; Higgs, 2012; Off, 2008). This shift in controversy surrounding the labor used to harvest cacao (from slavery to child labor) is the result of public relations considerations by chocolate companies.

World Cocoa Production – Africa has 72% of worldwide production
Map of Gulf of Guinea – Sao Tome and Ghana are seen here

Slavery

In order to retain favor in the court of public opinion, companies eventually had to cease purchases from Sao Tome plantations that used slave labor. Some might argue that the Quaker religion of many of the chocolate company heads meant that their religious faith and concern for the needy had pushed them to reject making chocolate using the labor of slaves. However, before the extent of the slavery was made known to the public, many chocolate companies were keen on staying in Sao Tome. One of these most famous British companies was the Cadbury chocolate firm. William Cadbury (the head of the company at the time) had heard and read credible rumors of slavery on Sao Tome by 1901 (Higgs, 2012). Yet, he did not stop buying chocolate from the Portuguese colony until 8 years later, after multiple voyages, investigations, and meetings with other chocolate-makers confirmed these rumors (Higgs, 2012; Coe and Coe, 2013; Sartre 2015). Cadbury’s evident hesitation and reluctance to end his company’s purchase of cacao produced by slaves, shows that the business and image of the company was more important than any ethical considerations.

Photo credit: https://hughcrosfield.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/introducing-the-dog-that-didnt-bark-in-the-night-time-quaker-chocolate-and-the-sao-tome-cocoa-scandal-1902-9/
Shackles used on slaves in Angola

Once the Cadbury Company, and other British Quaker chocolatiers, ceased purchasing cacao from Sao Tome, they looked to the British Gold Coast colony (now called Ghana) to satisfy the chocolate demand of their customers (Higgs, 2012). The Gold Coast provided a suitable alternative to Sao Tome and Principe because it had clear antislavery laws and relied on small landholders to grow cacao (Berlan, 2013). Although both Portugal and England had outlawed slavery by the early 1900s, the laws for the Gold Coast were clearer and stronger at the time (Berlan, 2013). This signaled to both the company and consumers, that Cadbury chocolates would not be made with slave labor. Another signal came from the labor practices in the Gold Coast. The reliance on small landholders meant that slavery (especially the plantation-style slavery present in Sao Tome and Principe) was very unlikely to develop (Berlan, 2013). Instead, farmers of smaller plots of land recruited family members and sharecroppers to work for them (Berlan, 2013). This resulted in controversy related to child labor.

Child labor

On one hand, child labor was seen as extremely exploitative. It is evident that many children working on the small plots of land on the Gold Coast and neighboring Côte d’Ivoire were mistreated (Berlan 2013). Most were not paid, they often missed school, and some were made to do strenuous, dangerous work (Berlan, 2013; Off, 2008; Ryan, 2011).

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Child working on cacao farm

On the other hand, many reports about child labor seem to have been overblown, with great exaggerations in the numbers of children working in truly hazardous conditions (Berlan, 2013). Additionally, terms like “child slavery” and “child trafficking,” while certainly serious concepts and acts, are often misapplied to situations in which children are being trained to be the next generation of cacao farmers or undertaking a rite of passage to find work (Ryan, 2011). This broad categorization of child labor as a particular evil of the cacao industry also neglects to look at broader rates of child labor in society.

This ethical grey area of child labor differentiates it from slavery and makes it a much more manageable public relations issue. The move of the large, British chocolate corporations to Ghana, and then other West African countries, placed companies in a much more morally ambiguous position, where it was often difficult to know if child workers were truly being exploited. This allowed companies to deflect criticism – something that was not possible once evidence of the plantation slavery on Sao Tome had been revealed. By shifting away from buying cacao in an area where slavery was clearly present to an area where child labor was an issue, the chocolate corporations shifted from an illegal, negatively perceived practice to one where uncertainty abounded.

 

Works Cited

Berlan, Amanda. “Social sustainability in agriculture: An anthropological perspective on child labour in cocoa production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies 49.8 (2013): 1088-1100.

Coe, Sophie Dobzhansky, and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Vol. 29. London: Thames and Hudson, 2007.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press, 2012.

Off, Carol. Bitter chocolate: Investigating the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet. Vintage Canada, 2010.

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate nations: Living and dying for cocoa in West Africa. Zed books, 2011.

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on trial: Slavery, politics, and the ethics of business. Ohio University Press, 2005.

Sugar becomes the Opiate of the Masses

 

Sugar was introduced into the British Empire as a luxury of the rich, over time and across many uses, it found its way into the homes of the average man and also became a staple in the everyday diet. How and why this change occurred is of great importance into understanding the shift in the consumption of sugar. Sugar was introduced as a spice and medicine into the British household, but came to included three other uses: as a decoration, sweetener and preservative. As sugar moved down the list of its uses, it also had social and economic impacts. The progression of sugar usage effected consumption in the British society and caused the shift from sugar as a luxurious good to an opiate of the masses.

In the early decades of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, Britain established Caribbean plantations for the sole purpose of growing sugar cane. Britain’s first attempt at doing this occurred upon the establishment of Jamestown in 1607 which was the first English colony in the New World (Mintz 36). Sugar cane was brought in 1619 as were the first African slaves to reach the English colony (Mintz 36). Unfortunately, the sugar cane would not grow. The British Empire was hard pressed to see this mission successful as there was a high demand for sugar at home.

Slaves working in a sugar cane plantation in British-West Indies
A Sugar Cane Plantation in the West Indies

The settlement of Barbados in 1627 proved to be the turning point in British attempts as production with the successful production of “clayed sugars” and “muscovado”. (Mintz 37). “The first British sugar islands was Barbados followed by St Kitts, Nevis, Antigua and Jamaica. Grenada and Trinidad were added to the bunch in the late 19th century” (clements.umich.edu). Sugar supply for Britain now came directly from her settlements in the West Indies and added drastically to the consumption of sugar at home as it was now more accessible. “As supply for sugar increased, England’s demands for sugar kept pace. So much so that productions on the islands were barely able to keep up” (Mintz 39). Britain was importing huge amounts of sugar and the condiment in question came to define the “English Character” (Mintz 39).

Sugar Mill, Standard Mill in the West Indies
Sugar Mill

 

The sugar trade was successful because it was a highly priced commodity regardless of the volatility of the sugar market, the demands for it rose as consumption did (clements.umich.edu).  Sugar production increased as a direct correlation of its consumption. As availability of sugar rose in Britain, so did the many uses of sugar. The British households found new ways to incorporate sugar into their social lives.

British sugar consumption chart
British Sugar Consumption Chart

Mintz mentions five uses of sugar: 1) as medicine, 2) spice-condiment, 3) decorative material, 4) as a sweetener, 5) as a preservative. The use of sugar in these many forms although coming into usage progressively, also happened interchangeably. Sugar was first introduced into the British household as a Spice and Medicine, in this form, it remained a luxurious good only available to the rich. “The first written mention of sugar was in the pipe scrolls, the official records of royal income and expenditures in 1154-89(Mintz 82).  The quantities of sugar at this time were relatively small and since this was an account of the expenditures of the rich, meant that only this class of people could afford to consume sugar. “By the thirteenth century, sugar was still being sold by the loaf and by the pound and although still quite pricey and only accessible to the rich, it was now available even in the remotest areas” (Mintz 82). The shift from a luxury to a commodity available to all would happen in the sixteenth and seventeenth century and with the introduction of other uses of sugar.

 

In the seventeenth century, the use of sugar as a spice declined and this time period, “saw the prices, supplies and customary uses of sugar change rapidly” (Mintz 86). Sugar featured as a decorative item after this time and was not only available to the noble and rich but now made its way downward to the middle class. As sugar progressed in the list of uses, so did the decline in its exclusiveness and the more prolific it became, the more it was consumed by all. Sugar consumption also had economic ramification as well, “the decline in sugar importance went hand in hand with its increase in economic and dietary importance” (Mintz 95). As sugar became more plentiful, it now became available to the poor.

Sugar became available to the poor in the form of a sweetener and preservative; this accessibility would be responsible for the upward swing of the consumption of sugar. The rise of chocolate, tea and coffee into the British household massively contributed to the large amount of sugar consumption. The use of sugar as a sweetener in tea propelled the “Sugar Equalization Act” which removed the import tariff and lowered the price of sugar of which the direct result was the proliferation of sugar everywhere (clements.umich.edu). The poor used sugar not only as a sweetener but also to supplement their diets as well.

As sugar become more widely used in many forms, it made its way into the household of all citizens regardless of class, this was directly responsible in the shift of sugar consumption in the British society. Sugar in the form of a sweetener and preservative became an everyday commodity, which meant that consumption would greatly rise as it permeated every single dish that was eaten by the British citizens. This standard has come to hold true across the world as sugar features in every single dietary item we consume. However, there is a marked difference in the reception of this commodity, at some point highly revered, sugar is now a social pariah, an evil that has been thrust upon society and should be eradicated.

 

Bibliography

Scholarly Sources:

Clements.umich.edu. Sugar In The Atlantic World. 1923. Document. 21 March 2016.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York: Penguin, 1985. 274. Print.

Multimedia Sources:

brave.info, land of the. Sugar Act. n.d. image. 21 March 2016.

clements.umich.edu. Sugar In The Atlantic World. 1923. image. 21 March 2016.

czarnikow.com. The Inconvenient Truth about Sugar Consumption. 1 May 2014. image. 21 March 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slave-free Sugar: exploring the economic linkages between sugar, British industrialization, and abolition

As the global commodification of sugar served to enrich European markets, laying the groundwork for an industrialized and pre-capitalist economy, the discourse around the abolition of slavery also shifted. The growing efficacy of arguments for the abolishment of slavery coincided with the emergence of technological advances and changed  labor needs. In short, as the efficiencies around sugar production increased to drastically decrease the amount of human capital required in its production, the need for slave labor diminished.

For example, the scholar Eric Williams, in what is now referred to as the “Williams Thesis”, argued that central to the development of Britain’s economy into a capitalist and industrial one was its accumulation of economic surplus through slavery and that it was the decline of the  sugar economy rather  than morality that led to Britain’s abolishment  of slavery and slave trade in the British West Indies. [1] In Capitalism and Slavery, it was “the commercial capitalism of the eighteenth century developed the wealth of Europe by means of slavery and monopoly. But in so doing it helped to create the industrial capitalism of the nineteenth century, which turned round and destroyed the power of commercial capitalism, slavery” explains Williams. [2] In Sweetness and Power, Mintz explains that during debates against and for both the slave trade and slavery, the future of Britain’s sugar production figured into such discussions. [3] (Mintz, 1985, p. 68)

Not all scholars shared Williams view, for example Solow explains how Eltis and Engerman, respected scholars, countered that Britain’s sugar industry when compared to its others was not its most dominant nor did it have strongest ties to Europe’s economic growth and development. [4] (Solow, 2014, p. 49) While the economic debate around the linkages between Atlantic trade and the industrialization of Britain are contested, scholars like Inikori have clarified that the central concern of Capitalism and Slavery was Williams exploration of the causality between “between industrial capitalism in England and the abolition of the slave trade and slavery by the British government” [5] (Inikori, 2012, p. 14) and demonstrate the overall economic basis of  British abolition. [6]  

On the other hand, economic linkage between slavery and sugar consumption in Britain was very much in the public consciousness; for abolitionists, it was a link they attempted to break through a campaign of public awareness, consumer activism through the boycott of sugar from the British West Indies. [7] (Carmichael, 2015, p. 8) In protesting the horrors of slavery, abolitionists called upon the British people to abstain from consuming and buying sugar from the British West Indies, thought to be derived from slave labor,  to undermine the economic foundations of slavery through collective action. [8] (p. 25)

Changing consumer habits based on increasing consumer awareness of how  a product was produced or not produced was central to the consumer’s economic resistance to slavery, which included buycotts. For example, a strategy adopted included other colonial sugar producers marketing their product as “free sugar” signaling to consumers that the commodity was derived from non-slave labor which may have correlated with “positive brand association (Figure 1). [9] (p. 67) This technique is not too dissimilar from today’s usage of certifications of the ethical and sustainably sourced/produced products, like coffee and chocolate for example. 

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Figure 1. East India Sugar Bowl

Finally, the development of print culture introduced new strategies for promoting the boycott campaign included literary and visual materials to shape the public discourse. [10] (p. 26) For example, in 1791 James Gillray released “Barbarities in the West Indies‟ a cartoon satirising horrors and atrocities of sugar slavery (Figure 2) , the image worked to make explicit the link between human suffering  and violence  through the institution of slavery and sugar sourced from the British West Indies.

NPG D12417; 'Barbarities in the West Indies' by James Gillray, published by  Hannah Humphrey
Figure 2. Barbarities in the West Indies, by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey, hand-coloured etching, published 23 April 1791 (NGP D12417)

All in all,  historical scholars continue to debate to what extent sugar played a role in Britain’s industrialization and the emergence of capitalism, arguing primarily the economic importance of sugar to Britain overall. However, even while this is the  subject of ongoing  historical debate, it may be reasonably inferred that for many British consumers, the economic link between sugar and their consumer behavior  and consumption habits  was well understood. This is most easily demonstrated in their resistance to slavery using economic strategies like the boycott of British West India sugar and buycott East India sugar. This would become one of the earliest examples of consumer and food activism. 

Endnotes

[1] Selwyn H. H. Carrington. (2003). Capitalism & Slavery and Caribbean Historiography: An Evaluation. The Journal of African American History, 88(3), 304–312. http://doi.org/10.2307/3559074

[2] Williams, Eric (2015-09-17). Capitalism and Slavery (Kindle Locations 5839-5843). Lulu.com. Kindle Edition.

[3] Mintz, S. W. (1985). Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin.

[4] Solow, B. L. (2014). The Economic Consequences of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

[5] Inikori, J. E. (2002). Africans and the industrial revolution in England: A study in international trade and economic development. New York: Cambridge University Press.

[6]  Ibid.

[7] Carmichael, L. (2015). Fetishism and the Moral Marketplace: How Abolitionist Sugar Boycotts in the 1790s Defined British Consumers and the West Indian” Other” (Master’s Thesis,Victoria University of Wellington). Retrieved from http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10063/4941/thesis.pdf?sequence=1.

[8]  Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

Sources

Carmichael, L. (2015). Fetishism and the Moral Marketplace: How Abolitionist Sugar Boycotts in the 1790s Defined British Consumers and the West Indian” Other” (Master’s Thesis,Victoria University of Wellington). Retrieved from http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10063/4941/thesis.pdf?sequence=1.

Inikori, J. E. (2002). Africans and the industrial revolution in England: A study in international trade and economic development. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mintz, S. W. (1985). Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin.

Selwyn H. H. Carrington. (2003). Capitalism & Slavery and Caribbean Historiography: An Evaluation. The Journal of African American History, 88(3), 304–312. http://doi.org/10.2307/3559074

Solow, B. L. (2014). The Economic Consequences of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Williams, Eric (2015-09-17). Capitalism and Slavery (Kindle Locations 5839-5843). Lulu.com. Kindle Edition.

Image

Figure 1. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:East_India_Sugar_not_made_by_Slaves_Glass_sugar_bowl_BM.jpg

Figure 2. http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portraitLarge/mw61443/Barbarities-in-the-West-Indias-Indies

Cacao Production

While theobroma cacao quite literally derives to mean “food of the gods,” cacao has always been created by the labor of the people. Thus, the spread and continued production of cacao from its Mesoamerican origins is somewhat surprising and perhaps very telling. Mintz, when examining the closely related food sugar, remarked that examining these products demonstrate “how the world changes from what it was to what it may become, and how it manages at the same time to stay in certain regards very much the same” (Mintz, 1985; xxix). This is remarkably true when looking at the production of cacao. Comparing the difference and similarities of cacao in the Pre-Columbia era, era of colonization and industrialization reveals much about chocolate’s importance as a foodstuff.

First, examine the differences between the eras, as the differences reflect how production changed to reflect societies’ preferences and roles for cacao. Perhaps the most obvious difference between Pre-Columbian and the later eras of cacao production is the scale and location of the farms. Early cacao was grown in modest garden-style farms, planted near forests or streams (Coe & Coe, 1996). It is likely that while cacao beans were used as money, natives during this era were more focused on sustenance farming. And it was natives doing the farming – importantly – for their own family or city, not on any grand scale.

At first, it might be tempting to argue that they simply lacked the farming knowledge of the later eras, but Pre-Columbian peoples had the knowledge and ability to breed the cacao trees to produce bigger, higher yielding pods (Presilla, 2009; 23). Thus, one must consider that natives were limited by some other factor. One possibility may be that the geographic region for cacao was rather small (see map) and cacao required extensive labor to expand; thus, efforts were expended in areas outside of cacao.

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Mesoamerican Growing Region

The early encounters of the Old World with chocolate did not initially push the production of chocolate. The Spanish claimed it was “a bitter drink for pigs” (Fiegl, 2008; Smithsonian) and as such, it was eaten sparingly in the 1500-1600s. After the addition of sugar made chocolate more palatable, however, the demand for chocolate exploded. Chocolate became more than a foods stuff (Mintz, 1985; 108-111); it became a status symbol that rich across Europe would use to demonstrate their wealth and importance. This lead to the creation of large, neatly manicures plantation style farms for cacao (Coe & Coe, 1996). This timeline corresponds with the decline of Mesoamerican farming and, as such, the farming was pushed towards South America (Presilla, 2009; 28), which was in control of the Spanish and Portuguese.

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Plantation – neat rows of cacao trees at fruit bearing age (4 years old)

Unfortunately, not only was there a decline in Mesoamerican farming, but there was a decline in native people as well. During early colonization, natives died out in massive quantities due to Old World diseases – at the same time demand for chocolate skyrocketed in Europe (Presilla, 2009; 33). This, as well as the desire for sugar, created the demand for massive numbers of slaves from Africa. They were imported by the millions as a “false commodity” and did the both back breaking and highly skilled labor required by these plantations. This, as well as the location of the cacao, is a departure from the Pre-Columbian era. Whereas natives would have tended to their own trees and paid taxes in their products, now slaves from Africa were producing the bulk of the world’s cacao. Chocolate, once a Mesoamerican product, had become an expensive European desire.

This dynamic between chocolate and slavery, perhaps surprisingly, continues will into the 1900s. Even after slavery was abolished in much of the New World between 1834-1888, it was left to thrive in other regions of the world. During the era of industrialization, chocolate gained a new world capital – Africa. As production costs rose in South America, cacao production was transferred to the cheaper Africa as a means of keeping up with demands in Europe. Lest anyone think otherwise, slave owning “was common” on cacao plantations and even owners of chocolate companies were aware of its existence (Satre, 2005; 4). Men and women were beaten and flogged, set upon by dogs, and likely to work until they died on the plantations (Satre, 2005; 7-11). In this way, the location of the plantations changed from the previous era, but not the people who worked them and produced the cacao.

However, it is important to note that people were outraged when they discovered the chocolate had been produced illegally. In Britain, people protested due to the slow action taken by the chocolate companies (Satre, 2005; 14). Higgs (2012) notes that there was great backlash against slave chocolate. This reflects a second change in society with regards to chocolate. It no longer was the food of the rich and powerful and social mistreatment and injustice to get it were not ok; chocolate was a food of the people. Tracing this history of cacao location mimics something Mintz said about sugar quite strongly, and indeed applies here: at first chocolate (and sugar) was a rarity from afar, then it was an expensive commodity from overseas, and finally became an inexpensive everyday commodity bought and sold in a world-wide free market (Mintz, 1985, 196-197).

There is one glaring similarity in this narrative of cacao from the Pre-Columbian to Industrial era – cacao has always been produced in much the same exact way. Modern technology has allowed for minor changes, like a continual harvest, but the plant remains as temperamental as it ever was (Coe & Coe, 1996). No matter the new technology, however, the steps for harvest have always been the same: fermentation, drying, roasting, and winnowing (Coe & Coe, 1996). It even looks the same – it is largely done by hand with many of the same tools. So cacao is a relatively stable product that has changed location and type of labor over time. In this way, it is uniquely able to highlight parts of society while remaining a constant itself.

Sources:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2007[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. pp. 1-105

Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate. pp. 1-160

Mintz, Sidney W. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power. pp. xv-200

Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. pp. 1- 32, 73-99

Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. pp. 133- 165

Goody, Jack. 2013[1982]. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” pp. 72-88

Fiegel. (2008, March 1). A Brief History of Chocolate. Retrieved March 18, 2016, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-21860917/?no-ist

The True Cost of Happiness: The Human Price of Attainable Luxury

In Eric Weiner’s 2008 book, The Geography of Bliss, he states, “ingredients that we consider essential to the hearty sew of happiness:  money, pleasure, spirituality, family, and chocolate” (2).

His modern, North American viewpoint may be shared by many, however, as we look back to the origins of one of his “essential” happiness ingredients: chocolate – and more specifically, the sugar that is used to sweeten it – we find that a very high human price has been paid to acquire it.

Sweetness

Focusing on England, where sugar was first introduced in small quantities around 1100 AD, but not commonly acknowledged as a costly medicine and/or spice until the 1500s, it became increasingly more available over the following 500 years.  Between 1650 and 1800, consumption rates rose by some 2,500 percent.  Known as a rarity by 1650 and a luxury by 1750, sugar was seen as a necessity by 1850 and quickly became “the first mass-produced exotic” basic product. (Mintz)

In order to fuel this change in demand, England “fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fastest in creating a plantation system”  (Martin “Slavery”).  Satisfying the sweet happiness England (and Europe) craved was made possible through the exploitation of Africa and America.  As quoted in Volume 1 of J.H. Bernadine de Saint Pierre’s Voyage to Isle de France, Isle de Bourbon, The Cape of Good Hope…With New Observation on Nature and Mankind by an Officer of the King (1773):

I do not know if coffee and sugar are essential to the happiness of Europe, but I know well that these two products have accounted for the unhappiness of two great regions of the world:  America has been depopulated so as to have land on which to plant them; Africa has been depopulated so as to have the people to cultivate them.  (Mintz, Frontispiece)

Europe Supported by Africa and America_painted2

Servitude

Supported by America

The original workforce was supported by the encomienda system.  This was a grant implemented by the Spanish crown which allowed colonists to demand tribute from indigenous inhabitants in exchange for care, protection, and Christian education. (Martin “Slavery”). However, due to illness, maltreatment, and excessive overwork, the indigenous population declined from “25.2 million in 1519 to 16.8 million in 1532 and 0.75 million in 1622” (Goucher, 491). As the native populations of entire villages disappeared, Europeans turned to other available sources of labor to toil on their newly claimed lands.

Encomienda.pdf

Supported by Africa

To meet the seemingly insatiable demand for sweetness (up to 20,000 tons of sugar produced for English consumers each year), an estimated labor force of 50,000 African slaves was required (Martin “Slavery”).  However, the slaves who toiled on English plantations comprised only a portion of the approximately 10 to 15 million enslaved Africans who survived forced transport across the Atlantic from 1500-1900 (for every 100 enslaved Africans who reached the New World, another 40 died in Africa or during the Middle Passage) (Martin “Slavery”).

The Transatlantic Slave Trade_1450s-1867

For those who survived the Middle Passage life was, in the words of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, “nasty, brutish and short.”  Working conditions were “so extreme that the slave population never achieved a significant growth rate and depended entirely on African importation to sustain production” (Martin “Slavery”).

Beyond Forced Support

Through revolts and legal emancipation, slaves were eventually released from bondage and given back their freedom:

1804:  Haiti declared independence and abolished slavery

1807:  The slave trade was closed

1834:  British Slavery Abolition Act abolished slavery throughout most of the British Empire

1848:  Slavery was abolished in all French and Danish colonies

1865:  Slavery was abolished in the United States by the 13th Amendment

1886:  Slavery was abolished in Cuba

1888:  Slavery was abolished in Brazil by Golden Law

(Martin “Slavery”)

However, indigenous populations were never given back their lands, slaves (or their descendants) were rarely repatriated and racism and economic inequality still persist today.

In the pursuit of happiness, it is possible that one cannot have or desire too much chocolate or the sugar that sweetens it, but it is important to know and respect their true cost as it is impossible to reverse history or give back life.

 

Works Cited

Goucher, Candice, Charles LeGuin, and Linda Walton. Commerce and Change: The Creation of a Global Economy and the Expansion of Europe. In the Balance: Themes in Global History. Boston: McGraw-Hill. 1998.

Europe Supported By Africa & America.  BEAUTIFUL, ALSO, ARE THE SOULS OF MY BLACK SISTERS. https://kathmanduk2.wordpress.com/2007/08/14/europe-supported-by-africa-and-america/.  N.p. N.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

Martin, Carla D. “Popular sweet tooths and scandal.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 24 Feb. 2016. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, abolition, and forced labor.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 20 Feb. 2016. Class Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.

The African-American Migration Experience. In Motion. http://www.inmotionaame.org/. N.p. N.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

Weiner, Eric. The Geography of Bliss.  New York : Twelve, 2008.

The Slave Trade and Challenges to Abolition in Cacao and Sugar Growing Regions from Colonization into the 21st century.

The Slave Trade and Challenges to Abolition in Cacao and Sugar Growing Regions from Colonization into the 21st Century. Cacao and sugar, as globalized commodities, were brought to the global market on the backs of, and through the sweat of, African slaves in the New World. After European colonization of the New World, cacao, and related commodities became the drivers of the New World slave trade. Ever since then, slavery has been ingrained in the cacao industry. Starting with the Natives oppressed under the Spanish Encomienda System stretching all the way to the African child laborers of the 20th and 21st centuries.
After the Spanish had successfully completed their conquests in the New World, the Spanish Crown had to choose a method of subjugation for the native people living in Spain’s newly acquired lands. They decided on a method of forced labor, called the Encomienda. This system consisted of the Spanish Crown granting a Spaniard property rights over Native labor under which the Spaniard could extract tribute from the Natives such as gold, silver and cacao and in exchange for these goods, these Spaniards, who were called Encomenderos would be responsible for the Native’s indoctrination of the Catholic faith, protection and they would pay the necessary taxes to the Spanish Crown. There were restrictions that the Encomenderos had to keep in mind; first of all, they did not own the Natives they required tribute from and they could not be sold. Secondly, these Enconenderos could not pass their grants to their children, after death it would revert back to the Crown so that it could be granted to another Spaniard. Third and lastly, the Natives could not be moved from their respective geographic locations. Part of this tribute that was paid to the Spaniards was cacao. (Yeager 843) It would seem that cacao production was a byproduct of the Spanish need for control and a lust for over their newly acquired regions as it was not the primary concern of the Spanish.

 

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Encomienda System

 

Enconenderos could not pass their grants to their children, after death it would revert back to the Crown so that it could be granted to another Spaniard. Third and lastly, the Natives could not be moved from their respective geographic locations. Part of this tribute that was paid to the Spaniards was cacao. (Yeager 843) It would seem that cacao production was a byproduct of the Spanish need for control and a lust for over their newly acquired regions as it was not the primary concern of the Spanish.

 
Why did the Spanish not just enslave the natives outright? Yeager claims that apart from it being unfashionable and looked down upon by Spaniards of all classes at the time, it was a political move to keep the region stable, in that the risk of a revolt was significantly reduced by granting the Natives some protections. That political move came at a cost. (844 – 845) When one looks at this with no moral filter, one can see how brilliant this system was: the Spanish received goods and labor while telling the Natives that they were still “free” thus inoculating themselves from revolution and revolt.
This system the Spanish used in the New World is in stark contrast to France’s exploitation of slaves in Haiti, for example, which would afford no protections for their slaves and in most cases they would literally be worked to death on the sugar plantations. 1 France’s economy would soon rely heavily on the sugar plantations in Haiti, worked exclusively by imported African slaves. In fact, Haiti was producing 40 percent of the sugar for France and Britain and accounted for 40 percent of France’s foreign trade at a time when France was the dominant economy of Europe. Through the 18th century, the French Colony grew and flourished on the backs of over five hundred thousand African slaves, predominantly from the west-central African region of Dahomey. This system of African slavery continued until the Haitian Revolution of 1791. (San Jose State University, A political history of Haiti)

 

Triangular Trade System
Triangular Trade Route

 

These slaves were brought to the New World via the Transatlantic Slave Trade, best known as the Triangular Trading System.
Merchants and Slavers would make the voyage from Europe towards Africa’s west coast and they would then take the Africans they bought or kidnapped3 across the Atlantic. The arduous passage took from six to eight weeks to complete and those slaves who survived the journey would be sold as soon as they landed and they would be put to work. The ships would then return to Europe with a variety of new world goods like sugar and cacao. The cycle would be repeated until the eventual end of the New World slave trade. (Liverpool Museum)
On March 3, 1807, a bill was ratified by Congress to prohibit the importation of slaves into the United States. Not long after, on the 25th, the British House of Lords passed a similar act. But sadly, in neither country did these new legislations suggest the instantaneous end of the international slave trade. It is only on January 1, 1808, that the American act went into effect and neither in the U.S.A. nor in Great Britain did the new laws mean suppression. Africans continued to be deported to the United States until 1860, and British ships and manufactures were extremely involved in the trade throughout the 19th century and it was only in the beginning of the 21st century, in 2001, did the international community recognized the slave trade as a crime against humanity.

 

Child Labor
Child Laborer On an African Cacao Farm

Although our society has done much to counter slavery around the world, cacao is still, to this day, a commodity that is embroiled in scandals of child slavery and forced labor. In fact, according to the Food Empowerment Project, child labor is not uncommon in Africa, especially in the Ivory Coast. “On average, cocoa farmers earn less than $2 per day, an income below the poverty line. As a result, they often resort to the use of child labor to keep their prices competitive,” they said in an article they released called “Child Labor And Slavery In The Chocolate Industry”. According to the Voice Of America, funds from cacao have been used to finance arm purchases by both sides in Cote d’Ivoire’s civil war which creates a greater call for child trafficking in West Africa, where UTZ CERTIFIED Program Manager Daan de Vries estimates that as many as 12,000 children are being forced to work on cocoa farms.

 
In conclusion, the histories of cacao, sugar and like commodities are steeped in an injustice that continues today around the world. To this day chocolate and sugar production starts with slavery, even to this day.

 
1. There were other plantations, such as coffee and other commodities, but to maintain continuity of this blog post, I will only be discussing sugar and cacao and how slavery was driven by both.

2. The reason I chose to incorporate sugar and cacao is because today they are almost synonymous with one another to those who do not know the history of chocolate. When people hear the word chocolate they think “Sweet” and that if because sugar and cacao have become intertwined and are almost inseparable in today’s marketplace.
Encomienda Pyramid. N.d. Quizzlet. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.
Henshaw, Drew, “Governments Look to End Child Labor in West African Cocoa Farming”, Voice Of America, 6 Oct. 2010. 13 Mar. 2016

The Schonberg Center For Research in Black Culture, “The Abolition Of the Slave Trade”, New York Public Library 2012, 13 Mar. 2016

Triangular Trade, Image. N.d. International Slavery Museum. International Slavery Museum. Web. 13 Mar. 2016

Triangular Trade, Article. N.d. International Slavery Museum. International Slavery Museum. Web. 13 Mar. 2016

Rosenthal, Daniel. Child Laborer On an African Cacao Farm. N.d. The Daily Beast. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

Watkins, Thayer, “Political and Economic History of Haiti”, San Jose State University 13. Mar. 2016

Yeager, Timothy J., “Encomienda or Slavery? The Spanish Crown’s Choice of Labor Organization in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America”, 13 Mar. 2016.

Economics + Transatlantic Slave Trade = Racism

In today’s world, racism unfortunately still exists, but to acknowledge why racism is still existent, one needs to pinpoint the relationship between African Americans and slavery, and ask, why Africans in particular were enslaved. Eric Williams, historian & former Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago answers this question stating, “The reason was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the laborer, but the cheapness of the labor.” What he is arguing here is that Africans were not enslaved because they were naturally set to be enslaved, they weren’t enslaved because they were known to be better workers. They were first enslaved because they were the cheapest and easiest population to get at and to quickly and efficiently move to the new world to begin producing these goods (Martin).  Racism was a byproduct of the transatlantic slave trade and not the reason for it because it was primarily driven by economic considerations/justifications as illustrated by the encomienda system which was very much structured like the European feudal structures.

enclomendia picpyrud meowmadisonlong_1385062049

(Source: https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/infogram-particles-700/madisonlong_1385062049.jpg)

The conquerors used Native Americans to farm the land and work the mines to produce wealth, the system of force labor is called the Encomienda System. These activities provided food for the population and products for the trade with Europe and the east. The Encomienda System was similar to The Manor System in Medieval Europe or the Feudal System. Instead of having nobles as lords who controlled the peasants, in this case the Spanish were the lords, and the Native Americans were like the peasants. The Spanish claimed that the Encomienda system would benefit both settlers and Indians. The idea is that they would come with their superior intellect and military might to protect and care for the indigenous people, and thereby save their souls by baptizing them or by making them Christian. In return, the indigenous people would work a portion of their time for Spanish settlers, and give them a tribute of their crops, such as a form of cacao, often 10’s of thousands of cacao beans per year (Martin). The reality played out differently.

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(Source: http://cdn.dipity.com/uploads/events/0d8054001025d85654853dd5f81d502e_1M.png)

The Spanish settlers forced long labor on different crops. They didn’t pay indigenous workers. They failed to protect them, and they also seized their lands as time went on. So indigenous people were unable to pay tribute the Spaniards would claim their lands as theirs. And as a result, indigenous people died from a variety of different diseases in which they didn’t have immunity and experienced harsh living, and working conditions. The Encomienda system really went on until it was clear that demographic collapse was imminent that the clergy protested. So the Spanish clergy in this area of the world protested and the indigenous people themselves revolted against it. However abuses continued (Martin). After the indigenous slave labor proved to be insufficient, Chattel slavery is what the Europeans turned to next.

slave20trade20map1(Source: http://macquirelatory.com/Slave%20Trade/slave%20trade%20map.jpg)

Chattel Slavery, slavery in which people are treated as the chattel (personal property) of an owner, and are bought and sold as commodities had the greatest result from sugar (Martin). As sugar was a rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, and a necessity by 1850, the enslavement of Africans was disseminated by Europeans who prosecuted and profited from the slave trade for three centuries (Mintz 148).  “The institutionalization of slavery in the New World led directly to the Transatlantic slave trade due to the fact that demand for slaves outpaced the growth in supply by natural increase nearly everywhere in the Americas”(Cumo). As there was massive demand for labor, the Europeans looked to Africa. The African’s themselves sold African slaves as a commodity in return for goods such as rum, guns, textiles and other goods to exchange for slaves, and then transported them across the Atlantic to sell to plantation-owners, and then returned with sugar and coffee, also fueled the first great wave of economic globalization (The Economist). By the Africans selling their own people, they enriched their own realms and strengthened them too. This is where the dehumanization aimed at Africans begins.

It was, after all, in the interest of slave traders and slave owners to propagate the myth that Africans were not human beings, or at least not fully human, a species different from the rest of humanity most likely due to the pro-slavery lobby that lived on. Thus, it is the idea of racial hierarchy, developed, refined and disseminated by Europeans over such a spectrum of time where racism really initiated against African Americans. It is not clear why Europeans fixated on the skin color of Africans. Imaginably, they did so simply because the physical appearance of blacks was as markedly different from their own and, regarding themselves as superior beings, most Europeans associated a series of negative characteristics with blacks (Olusoga). Also, it was thought that Africans were said to “be able to need less food, and be able to withstand the elements better than whites”, this here is social and psychological violence falsely generated to dehumanize Africans (Asante). The false claims of blacks that was intentionally imagined preceded slavery and helped to justify it.

In conclusion, without European slave traders, slave buyers, slave insurers, slave sailors, slave auctioneers, and slave owners, there would have been no transport of Africans across the sea for enslavement, and therefore no racism developed. Further exploration on this topic would be to watch the multimedia source below, and see the further developed myth of racism that stemmed from economics and the byproduct of the transatlantic slave trade to this day. Although racism is a myth derived, developed, and changed from generation to generation, the impact of racism is very real to this day.

Works Cited:

Asante, Molefi Kete. The Ideology of Racial Hierarchy and the Construction of the European Slave Trade. Vol. 3. 2001. Web. 01 Mar. 2016.

Cumo, Christopher. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1750–1900.” World History Encyclopedia. Alfred J. Andrea. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Credo Reference. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

International: Breaking the chains; slavery. (2007, Feb 24). The Economist, 382, 64-73. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 5: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 6: Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

Olusoga, David. “The Roots of European Racism Lie in the Slave Trade, Colonialism – and Edward Long | David Olusoga.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

Sugar: The Division and Union of a Society

The frigid 4AM walk to work through a New England winter will inspire one to reflect. In that space I consider the regulars who wait outside the café before open and impatiently pace while I brew the coffee and set out the pastries. I think of my boss, who has taken the last 24 years to perfect the quality of the food, tea, and espresso we serve. My thoughts linger mostly on the little, eclectic, community that swarms and sustains itself off of the common connection of Darwin’s LTD: gourmet coffee and sandwiches. The clientele vary from near impoverished college students and the homeless of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to world-renowned celebrities and Ivy League professors. In the middle of long shifts I have often marveled at the impossibility of such a place existing, yet every day our shop is flooded with customers from every walk of life seeking the same commodities and the same community.

 

It is a very modern development that such a place could thrive. The history of coffee and chocolate shops is riddled with exclusivity according to class and gender. It was largely sugar that paved the way for these indicators of wealth and prowess to become accessible to the masses thus creating a culture around chocolate especially which today is a business grossing $100 billion dollars annually. (Martin)

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The elite of England from the crusades onward considered sugar to be a spice, thus making it a prized, high-class commodity. However it was the rising popularity of tea, coffee, and chocolate among the rich that introduced sugar as a sweetener. (Mints 80, 108) As this exclusive trend spread throughout the upper class of England, chocolate shops and coffee houses began to spring up in various cities in Europe. These were hotbeds of for gambling and networking among wealthy men. These shops were not merely a place for entertainment but also existed as a space where political endeavors as well as social ties were made and solidified. (Green 1)

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However by the late 17th century and into the 18th century sugar was becoming more and more accessible to the public. The economic ramifications of this meant that sugar was no longer an indicator of wealth or status, yet by increasing the demand the industry soon became extremely profitable for the elite. (Mintz 95)

With full access to large amounts of sugar, items like chocolate also become more accessible and took a big role in shaping the lower and middle classes of Europe and America in the 19th and early 20th century. As women began to join the work force time and availability to cook for their families was limited. Sugar was used to supplement dinners for mothers and children, viewing it as a source of alternative protein. As this trend continued sugar and sweet foods became gendered and more associated with the feminine than with the masculine. (Martin)

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For almost 2800 years access to chocolate was limited to an select few yet the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution played major roles in transforming chocolate from an expensive beverage into a low-cost food. (Coe&Coe 232) We see this same trend in sugar. Today the culture surrounding these commodities has evolved into cafés like Darwin’s. Wealthy and poor, men and women of all ages connect and mingle over their desire for comfort foods and drinks. What was once something that staunchly split society into two groups, isolated from one another in several directions, has now become a societal unifier and common ground connecting every walk of life through food. It stands as an indicator of social progress, moving closer and closer to equality between genders and the chance to pursue a successful future despite economic disparities. These are the truths and hopes which make the 4AM walks worth it.

 

 

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Green, Matthew. “The Surprising History of London’s Lost Chocolate Houses.” The Telegraph.

Martin, Carla. “Introduction to Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food”. Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension, Cambridge. 9, Mar, 2016. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal”. Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension, Cambridge. 24, Feb, 2016. Class Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. Print.