We will examine British sugar consumption from the time sugar was first introduced to Britain in the twelfth century. There are three central periods to consider, in which sugar took on distinctly different roles for visible reasons: up to 1750, 1750 to 1850, and 1850 to the present. Over the course of time, sugar consumption has increased:
I argue that the main causes of increased consumption in Britain until 1750 was the acquisition of Barbados and Jamaica as colonies, the main causes of increase from 1750 – 1850 to 1850 were the introduction of tea to the British diet, and the main causes of increase from 1850 to the present are the growth of capitalism.
For Britain, the first cause of increased consumption was the acquisition of Barbados and Jamaica as colonies in the seventeenth century (Mintz, 37). These colonies utilized slave labor on their sugar plantations. This permitted a massively increasing amount of sugar to be imported into Britain, exposing more of the population to its taste. Below we see an illustration of the interior of a nineteenth-century sugar boiling-house by R.Bridgens, depicting the mass production of sugar to be shipped to Europe from the Carribean production facilities. These were essential in the first large increase and change in sugar consumption.
Before the supply of sugar for Britain increased, sugar was a kingly luxury. In fact, Mintz suggests it had a “symbolic force” (Mintz, 90). The extremely wealthy would use sugar as decoration. For instance, extravagant feasts would be held in which elaborate sculptures utilizing sugar of animals, buildings, and other striking things would be on display and eaten (Mintz, 89). These displays would confirm the social standing of the individual providing the meal. Those who would eat these attractions would validate the power and social position of the host (Mintz, 90). The “symbolic force” lies in the way sugar was a symbol of status and power in itself.
As sugar became more readily available due to slave plantations producing it, the symbolic force of sugar decreased and its economic importance grew. That is, as production capabilities increased, sugar became a tool for individuals to gain power through making money through sugar production. In Britain, it was no longer only the most powerful who could obtain sugar. The common people could purchase and consume it. This meant that the consumption of sugar by the powerful in itself mattered less (Mintz, 45). As Mintz puts it, “sugar was transformed from a “luxury of kings into the kingly luxury of commoners” (Mintz, 96). Even, though sugar was transformed in this essential way, it was still used in the manners it had been before, such as decoration. Below are nineteenth century illustrations of desserts by French baker Dubois, revealing the fact that sugar maintained its use as decoration, even though its symbolic force faded.
By 1750, sugar was a common luxury, and as such acquired an “everydayness.” Sugar consumption continued to increase from 1750 to 1850 due to the introduction of tea, and other similar beverages, into the British diet. Tea was first introduced into the British diet toward the end of the seventeenth century (Mintz, 108). Tea followed the same track as sugar: first being consumed by only the wealthy, and then becoming a common beverage. As it became popularized, sugar became even more common. This is because sugar was used to sweeten tea. For both goods, a “ritualization” (Mintz, 122) occurred in which the commodities gained an everyday quality. Thus over the course of the century following 1750, sugar, through the introduction of tea, became increasingly desired and consumed.
The final cause of increasing sugar consumption was the growth of capitalism. As capitalism grew, the wage labor force in Britain grew. As the working class grew, more people were seeking low cost food substitutes that provided energy (Mintz, 148). The division of labor led to more and more factories with individuals pursuing individual functions. Laborers who were working in factories now purchased sugary foods to sustain their energy and increase their productivity. Sugar increased energy and productivity and thus “figured importantly into the balancing accounts of capitalism” (Mintz, 148). Further, sugar appeared in more and more foods, such as bread and other staples of the laboring class’ diet. Thus, the intake of sugar increased due to the increased use of sugar in a variety of foods that the laboring class needed to maintain efficiency, a need caused by the driving force of capitalism. That is, sugar took up more of a caloric percentage of individuals’ diets from 1850 onward than from 1750-1850 due to capitalistic forces.
Clark Ross argues that this is the correct interpretation of what caused the sugar consumption in Britain over time (Ross, 105). He suggests sugars role was complementary to the much more powerful forces already in play. I argue, however, that the sugary diet that was at play in Great Britain permitted the laboring class to increase efficiency in a manner that would not have been possible without such a diet. Indeed, the same capitalistic forces may have driven society overtime, but the diet of sugar spurred those forces to take affect more rapidly, and in doing so, affect the sugar consumption itself.
In the modern day, the rapid increase in sugar consumption has slowed. This can be attributed to the current health risks associated with sugar intake, such as the development of diabetes and obesity. There are “junk food taxes” in place on foods that have a very high level of sugar so as to limit these risks in the population (Sampeck 2016).
Thus, the increase in sugar consumption in Britain over time was a result of the transformation of sugar from a kingly luxury to an everyday commodity. This transformation occurred first due to the acquisition of Caribbean colonies, then by the introduction of tea into the British diet, and finally by capitalistic forces.
Ross, Clark G. Ethnohistory, vol. 34, no. 1, 1987, pp. 103–105.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, N.Y: Viking, 1985.
Martin, Carla D and Sampeck, Kathryn E. The Bitter and Sweet of Chocoalte in Europe. 2016.
Until very recently, chocolate had a reputation as a health food. In pre-colonial Mesoamerica and early modern Europe, chocolate was associated with the divine and with material wealth. As chocolate became an industrially-produced and widely-available commodity in the 19th century, chocolate was seen as “healthy” because it was a calorically dense and affordable luxury — fuel for an ever-expanding working class. While Americans and Europeans largely stopped associating chocolate with health by the late 20th century, chocolate’s reputation is being rehabilitated in the 21st century. We now see chocolate — particularly dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa products — as cancer-fighting antioxidants, as components of a “balanced, natural” diet, as indulgent and curative superfoods. These shifting narratives around chocolate and health reflect broader historical narratives about what it meant to be healthy and who deserved access to healthy foods. In the age of wellness culture, perhaps we can see our newest “chocolate as superfood” narrative as a return to the centuries-old notion of chocolate as an elite luxury.
Long before Spain, Portugal, and France colonized Mesoamerica, the Aztecs understood cacao as a divine and invigorating food. Cacao’s caffeine energized laborers and cacao was mixed with hearty ingredients like corn to create a filling meal replacement (Coe, Chapter 2). While cacao was available to common people in limited quantities, it was most commonly consumed by priests and the nobility (Coe, Chapter 2). It was both an expensive luxury food and a key element in religious rituals and myths. For example, in this pre-Columbian Aztec document, the cacao tree is depicted as the “tree of life,” a sort of divine bridge connecting the heavens, the Earth, and the underworld (Coe, Chapter 2). These conceptions of cacao as a divine, life-giving substance and a very healthy food were inextricably linked in Aztec culture. In this way, cacao represented access to both health and wealth.
In the age of colonialism, early modern Europeans also understood cacao and chocolate through this paradigm of health, wealth, and divinity. Because it was novel, delicious, and relatively rare (especially as cacao production dropped under the encomienda system), Europeans came to see chocolate as an otherworldly and medicinal luxury. Chocolate initially challenged European ideas about religion and medicine. For example, there was much debate over whether Catholics should be allowed to consume such a rich and exotic substance during Lent, and Pope Alexander VII had to issue an edict declaring chocolate permissible in the 17th century to put this debate to rest (Ball, 2000). However, Europeans quickly came to see chocolate as a health food. Like newly-available stimulants coffee and tea, chocolate provided quick energy. European doctors prescribed chocolate to treat a variety of ailments, ranging from malnutrition to smallpox (Lippi, 2013). In this period, thinness and disease were associated with poverty, and poverty was associated with moral inferiority (Himmelfarb, 1984). Therefore, a fattening, energizing, and expensive food like chocolate easily fit into early modern Europe’s understanding of what it meant to be healthy.
In contrast, the industrial age democratized chocolate and millions of working class Europeans and Americans could enjoy chocolate’s “health benefits” for the first time. Instead of a luxurious health food, chocolate was now fuel for blue collar workers. For example, in this turn-of-the-century advertisement, chocolate is depicted as a quick snack for burly factory workers. In declaring that their chocolate “[made] strong men stronger,” Cadbury positioned chocolate as a utilitarian health food, not just a sweet treat.
Cadbury also employed images of rosy-cheeked children and glowing women to encourage consumers of every gender and socioeconomic class to use chocolate to improve their health. In this mid-twentieth century advertisement, women are advised to consume the chocolate drink Ovaltine for “restful sleep,” “vitality,” and “morning freshness.”
Chocolate’s position as a widely-available health elixir in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries represented a radical reimagining of who chocolate was for — and in many ways, a reimagining of who health was for. As western economies increasingly relied on industrial labor, the governments of these newly-industrialized countries subsidized and encouraged the consumption of “invigorating” and “healthy” foods, including chocolate (Ludlow, 2012). This reorientation of westerners’ attitude toward chocolate and health can be best understood as a shift in the means of production and the construction of value. When wealth was produced through land (e.g. agriculture and rents), aristocrats could afford to maintain their health through chocolate consumption and their health was prioritized. However, when western economies industrialized, labor created wealth more directly, and individual consumers and governments had both the means and incentive to prioritize workers’ health.
In the past few decades, chocolate lost its reputation as a healthy food. After World War II, malnutrition and contagious diseases no longer plagued wealthy western countries as they had in the early modern or industrial periods. Instead, consumers’ health anxieties centered around diet-related lifestyle diseases like heart disease. Fewer and fewer people in these wealthy countries performed manual labor, so calorie-dense, “invigorating” foods were no longer a necessity. Sugary, fatty foods like chocolate were no longer healthy. In fact, chocolate was blamed for a range of health problems, including acne and diabetes (“Global Health Risks” 2009). Chocolate has only been redeemed as part of the “whole foods” movement of the past few years. This movement can be understood as a cultural shift toward an organic, “natural” diet. In the era of cold pressed juice and quinoa, lightly sweetened and “unprocessed” chocolate products have been reframed as life-prolonging foods. Chocolate’s antioxidants, “healthy fats,” and origins as a hand-harvested and fermented crop make it an attractive choice for health-conscious consumers (Beluz, 2017). Of course, these “healthy” chocolate products don’t come cheap. As we see below, Amazon.com sells bags of raw, organic cacao nibs for over $20 per bag.
Fig. 3: Screenshot. Amazon.com, accessed Mar 21, 2018. https://tinyurl.com/ya3jdcka
These chocolate products are largely inaccessible to poor and working class people, even in wealthy western countries. This modern association of chocolate, health, and wealth more closely resembles early modern Europe’s conception of chocolate as an exotic health tonic for the wealthy, rather than the industrial era’s understanding of chocolate as humble fuel for the working class. We must consider whether our reimagining of the association between chocolate and health is symptomatic of a broader late-capitalist turn away from the interests of the working class.
I held a chocolate tasting with 8 of my friends, and my goal of this chocolate tasting was to assess my friends’ preferences regarding cacao and sugar content. I selected 6 varieties of chocolate containing cacao percentages ranging from 11% to 95%. My theory was that people would prefer chocolate that contains more sugar per serving and less cacao. I believed this to be true because of the way modern Western society thinks about sugar. The results highlighted Western society’s taste for sugar, but they also illustrated other ideas related to what we have been studying.
I tried to create a controlled experiment by removing wrappers and breaking each bar into similar sized pieces. I put the chocolate samples into bowls and had my friends begin with Sample 6, the darkest sample, because of what Professor Martin mentioned in class.
Like the process Barb Stuckey writes about when tasting food, I wanted the subjects to taste the food from “two different perspectives.” First, to “think critically about what [they] taste” and second “to consider whether [they] like it or not” (Stuckey, 134). Following this guideline, I had comment cards for each sample where my friends would write about what they tasted and on the back rank how much they liked the sample from a scale of 1 to 5.
After the test was finished, I averaged the rankings into a decimal value. I first will present the results of the experiment, and then I will analyze the results. In lieu of including every comment, I will list any words that appeared more than once, or any descriptors that stand out in the context of what we have been learning in class. Many of the comments touch upon social and historical issues regarding the history of chocolate in America and the world.
My original theory was not exactly correct – people did not like the Hershey’s chocolate the most. However, my hypothesis that milk chocolate was favored over dark chocolate remains true. The two darkest varieties of chocolate were ranked last, and the highest ranked chocolate was milk chocolate.
First and foremost, I would like to analyze the involvement of sugar and how that relates to chocolate as well as the distinguishable taste of Hershey’s chocolate.
HERSHEY’S IS DISTINCTIVE:
Hershey’s chocolate (Sample 1) was the most polarizing, with a scale from 0.5 (Although the scale started at 1, I included this piece of data anyway) to a 5. No other sample had both the lowest and highest ranking. I believe that the polarizing nature of Hershey’s comes from both the high sugar content and the unique ingredients.
In his book Hershey, Michael D’Antonio writes that “Hershey’s milk chocolate has had a distinct flavor. It is sweet… but it also carries a single, faintly sour note. This slight difference is caused by the fermentation of milk fat, an unexpected side effect of Schmalbach’s process.” (D’Antonio, 108) The comment “sour milk” reflects that flavor. Hershey’s is certainly distinctive. I want to address the two notable comments, “God, heaven, promised land” and “tastes the most like chocolate.” D’Antonio writes that Hershey’s “define[s] the taste of chocolate for Americans” (D’Antonio, 108). My tasting proved that for at least two of my friends, this idea is true.
SUGAR AND CHOCOLATE:
Robert Albritton, in “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry” writes that “Sweetness is the most desired taste to the point that many if not most people can easily be caught up in an ‘excessive appetite for it.’” Americans consume about 31 teaspoons of added sugars every day, he writes (Albritton, 343). According to Albritton, “the addictive quality of sugar can be compared to that of cigarettes.” (Albritton, 343).
My mother finds sugar incredibly addictive. She has combated sugar’s negative health effects by avoiding all added sugar all year except for her birthday. I asked her to tell me about her experience with sugar…
“In college, after a night out, we decided to get a midnight snack. For me it ended up being an entire ice cream pie. Even though I felt sick about a third of the way through, I couldn’t stop eating it until there was none left. I decided that night that I would never eat sweets again—or anything with processed sugar if I could avoid it. Then I decided I could have sugar once a year-on my birthday. To me, the idea of eating a few M&M’s and then stopping is impossible. It is FAR easier to eat no sweets, rather than sweets in moderation. The hardest day of the year to continue this is the day after my birthday. I wake up wanting M&M’s. The rest of the year it’s easy. I don’t crave sweets or feel I’m missing out. Zero is easier then some.”
For most people, cutting out sugar completely is not the answer because it is very hard to do. Added sugar is in everything. But the facts are there—Americans eat too much sugar, and diabetes and obesity are on the rise. What is one to do?
From scientific and anecdotal evidence, it is clear that sugar is addictive and unhealthy in excess. So why isn’t the government doing anything about it? This question leads us to examine the role of government as a whole. In fact, according to Albritton, the sugar industry has an enormous impact on legislation passed by congress. He mentions the 2003 instance where the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) proposed that “added sugars should not exceed 10 percent of daily calorie intake.” However, “this was too much for the US sugar industry to swallow, and they threatened to lobby congress to cut off its $400,000 annual funding of the WHO and FAO if they did not remove the offending norm from their report” (Albritton, 345). And in fact, the UN did remove the guideline. This one example highlights a larger problem – the sugar industry is massive and can control parts of the government. Since the government currently is unable to provide solutions to the “obesity pandemic,” I believe that the next best thing is to educate children about what they are eating and try and provide affordable healthy options. This idea is obviously a much more complex problem, and requires much more thought and analysis than this one blog post. However, one potential solution for excessive sugar intake is sugar substitutes.
STEVIA AS A REPLACEMENT:
As a sort of experiment within my tasting, I included a sample that was sweetened with Stevia rather than sugar. Stevia is a plant-based zero-calorie sweetener. Stevia, like other
artificial sweeteners, is between 100 and 300 times sweeter than sugar (Stevia, 2017). Sample 3, containing 55% Cacao and no sugar was ranked 3rd overall in the results. Many of the comments about Sample 3 included some variation of “simple.” After trying it myself, I must agree that the flavor is not very nuanced – once on your tongue there is no evolution. However, not one person questioned the contents of this bar or noted that it tasted fake, a common criticism of artificial sweeteners. According to the testers, this chocolate fit in with the others, and during the taste test, none of them knew it was sweetened with Stevia. While scientists and nutritionists debate the merits and side effects of artificial sweeteners, this Stevia sweetened chocolate bar appears to be an alternative for a person trying to limit sugar intake. Artificial sweeteners do not address the larger problems with the sugar industry. However, this experiment has shown that there are other options for those trying to eat less “real” sugar, and they taste pretty good too! One other caveat is the price point of this chocolate bar—At Whole Foods it cost $4.89, compared to a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar that costs $0.98 at Walmart, so these alternatives are not accessible to everyone.
WHY ELSE CHOCOLOVE WON?
After analyzing the comments, I believe that sugar and sweetness was not the only reason Chocolove was ranked the highest.
David Benton in The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving posits that chocolate cravings come from the “sensory experience associated with eating chocolate, rather than pharmacological constituents” (Benton, 214).
According to Benton, the optimal combination of sugar and fat for palatability “was found to be 7.6% sugar with cream containing 24.7% fat” (Benton, 214). Chocolate contains way more than the “optimal” amount of sugar for taste, however, more sugar is needed “to counteract the bitterness of chocolate.”
Therefore, milk chocolate has “the optimal combination of sweetness and fat.”
Benton also refers to “the melting of chocolate just below body temperature with the resulting mouth-feel,” which adds to the “hedonic experience” and thus the pleasure of eating chocolate. The comments about Sample 2, the Chocolove bar are consistent with this data—this winning chocolate was mostly referenced as creamy, with a note about “melts in mouth.” In direct opposition with those comments, the highest cacao content bar (Sample 6) had notes about its texture too. Many listed it is “chalky.” To me, it is grainy. Chalky and grainy are the opposite of smooth and melty, so perhaps this texture contributed to people’s not liking it.
Overall, this tasting resulted in new ideas and affirmed old ones.
Some other details of this not-so-scientific study may be important to note. My taste testers were all in between the ages of 18 and 20 and all grew up consuming American chocolate. I expect the results might have changed with people from other countries.
If I were just focusing on cacao content, it would have been more effective to use different bars from the same brand. However, I wanted to look at other aspects of chocolate, like stevia as a sweetener and texture, which was why I used a variety of brands. In fact, subjects commented on the terroir of the chocolate without even realizing. Sample 3 and Sample 5 both had comments about flavors that were not listed in the ingredients, illustrated how flavor can be affected by many different things. In Sample 3, three people noted a “coconut” flavor that does not appear in the ingredients. For Sample 5, four people tasted fruity or citrusy notes Even those untrained in chocolate could pick up different notes in different bars of chocolates.
Finally, although some comments mentioned aftertaste, I did not instruct the testers to think about it or aroma. I should have, as they contribute to the overall experience of chocolate.
The testing and subsequent conversations with friends revealed the way chocolate and sugar fit into our lives. In today’s society, we crave sugar, and this study showed that chocolates containing more sugar were perceived as “better” than those containing very little.
The leftovers from the tasting further illustrate the preference for milk chocolate. In the tasting, most people did not finish the full piece of Sample 5 or 6. After the tasting was finished, I offered the leftover samples to everyone, and Samples 1, 2 and 3 were gone almost immediately. Even though Hershey’s chocolate ranked lower on the scale, people ate more of it. Based off of this tasting and conversations with friends and family, Chocolate is hard to resist and even harder to stop eating once we start. The results reflect America’s obsession with sugar by the less distinctive higher fat/sugar chocolate being ranked higher.
Benton argues that addiction may not be the correct word in the context of chocolate “Most people eat chocolate on a regular basis without any signs of its getting out of control, without signs of tolerance or dependence” (Benton, 215). Yet, from my personal experience and that of my friends, many of us do have a problem with chocolate eating getting out of control. I asked my sister what happens when she eats chocolate.
“If it’s in front of me, especially when I have no energy to control myself, I just eat it all. I can’t eat just some,” she said. My twin brother said the same: “For me, sugar is addictive in the very short term; once I start eating I can’t stop.”
A friend from the tasting talked about the same thing. “Usually I eat more than I planned to,” my friend Simone said. For some, dark chocolate can circumvent this overeating issue. My friend Rachel said about chocolate: “I love chocolate. But if it’s super rich. I love it for a bit and then I’m done.”
Overall, the testing showed that most people prefer milk chocolate and chocolate containing more sugar over very dark chocolate, highlighting issues with the sugar industry.
Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” Food and Culture. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2013. 342-51. Print.
Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2004. 205-19. Print.
“Comprehensive Online Resource for Articles, Recipes & News.” Stevia.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.
D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.
Stuckey, Bark. Taste What You’re Missing: the Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Food Tastes Good. New York: Free Press, 2012. Print.
Image 1: My photography
Image 2: Wikipedia. Hershey bar wrapper image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hershey_bar.
Image 3: Jet.Chocolove XOXOX Milk bar. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. jet.com/product/Chocolove-XOXO-Milk-Chocolate-Bar-32-oz/dfd113b9fd134cca9e6a2c1c4d7f187f.
Image 4: Lily’s Sweets. Lily’s Dark Chocolate Bar Wrapper. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://lilyssweets.com/dark-chocolate-bars/
Warren Buffet, among the top five richest men in the world, once said: “I’ll tell you why I like the cigarette business. It costs a penny to make. Sell it for a dollar. It’s addictive” (Albritton 344). Sugar, which is fairly cheap (wasn’t always the case), produces a craving, and is essentially addicting. Not only is sugar addicting, but it plays a role that “food choices and eating habits reveal distinctions of age, sex, status, culture, and even occupation” (Mintz). This post argues how sugar made a rigorous transformation on many different variables as a whole. I begin by describing an ambiguous term “meaning”, and give my feedback on how one pursues it. Then, I describe how capitalism was created, and give my feedback on the results and impacts that capitalism not only allowed, but created. Capitalism therefor rigged our food choices, and shaped our social, cultural, economic and political ordering in the sugar world, particularly in so far as leading to an obesity epidemic.
In imagining a meaning of life, I believe we are collecting bits of our own thoughts and experience to build a realm of our own based on our own beliefs. This realm is what I would call our ego, or consciousness. While meaning is ultimately a personal, artistic creation that is changeable, it has been defined “very broadly-encompassing many other psychological constructs, such as goals, beliefs, well-being and satisfaction and life narrative-and very deeply, referring to the core of human existence. It is also defined as a process where one increases his or her understanding in a way that allows one to regain a sense of purpose” (Park 3). Therefore, meaning can be everywhere if one’s imagination created such a realm, and unfortunately possibly be discovered in a false mortality, perceived incorrectly causing one to find significance in addiction or harmful sustenance. In this realm of consciousness, one builds a model of who they are, and thus derives what their life to be. In order for the mind to build a model, knowledge and experience must be available. But where does this knowledge come from to create meaning? It comes from our ever-changing society, foods, culture, friends, studies, and our teachers. One great change that has changed very rapidly is the impact of different meaning of sugar through its transformation from a rarity to a necessity with the invention of capitalism.
Although a few Europeans knew of the existence of cane sugar around 1100 CE, it was still a “rarity until the 1650’s, only a luxury in the 1750’s, and a necessity by 1850’s” (5-6, Mintz). In turn, sugar took on its social role as a produce that marked one’s socio-economic class, becoming valuable and cherished by anyone who could get a hold of it. The role as an indicator of social status that sugar took on between the 16th and 17th century was key to the change of sugar to sweetener, as the demand for sugar among individuals across socio-economic class boundaries greatly increased, creating a new market and an opportunity for businesses to seek out an economically viable supply of sugar, especially since sugar could not be cultivated in Europe. This source came to be overseas, part of the notorious supply chain known as the Transatlantic Slave trade. Thus, the alteration in British consumption of sugar as a spice to a sweetener was deeply rooted in the creation of chattel slavery. 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). “The institutionalization of slavery in the New World led directly to the 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). The slaves had “little relaxation, hard fare, and hard usage, to wear them out before they became useless, and unable to do service; and then to buy new ones, to fill their places” (Fraser-Reid 4). By the Africans selling their own people, they enriched their own realms and strengthened them too. This is not only where the dehumanization aimed at Africans begins, but where capitalism starts as Mintz states: “The English people came to view sugar as essential; supplying them with it became as much a political as an economic obligation. At the same time, the owners of the immense fortunes created by the labor of millions of slaves stolen from Africa, on millions of acres of the New World stolen from the Indians – wealth in the form of commodities like sugar, molasses, and rum to be sold to Africans, Indians, colonials, and the British working class alike – has become even more solidly attached to the centers of power in English society at large. Many individuals’ merchants, planters, and entrepreneurs lost out, but the long-term economic successes of the new commodity markets at home were never in doubt after the mid-seventeenth century. What sugar meant, from this vantage point, was what all such colonial production, trade, and metropolitan consumption came to mean: the growing strength and solidity of the empire and of the classes that dictated its policies.” ( Mintz, p. 157)
Here what Mintz is really arguing here is that capitalism, the strength of empire as defined by access to wealth, and the ability to dictate policies, to govern, developed as a result of this work to supply, and to create demand for sugar. Linking the development of our current economic system with this sweet taste of sugar that we biologically evolved to desire. (Martin lecture 6)
Focusing on an excerpt from Tasting Empire, Norton states that “Spaniards learned to like chocolate because of their continued material dependence on Indians” (Norton 677). Converging on this, the capitalist modernization model expresses a lot. As Bourdieu states that “taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed” (Norton 663). While some of the most pleasurable and enjoyable memories of a person has to do with sweets, such as on one’s birthday eating a delicious cake that mother or father made decorated with frosting and glazes, or getting a lollipop after going through getting a shot at the doctor’s office, we usually seek sweets as a reward system, or celebration. Digging into this deeper, since we were just a baby, we grow up with these classifications of sweets being used all the time for rewards, and usually classify sweets with the distinctions of a substance that is beautiful on top of advertisements being at fault for these illusions. Not only do we have a dependence on sugar, but we biologically crave it.
Being no longer unified due to capitalism, most of us don’t know what’s really going on at the supply chain of our foods, and we can only build an illusory view such as the classification one may create in the advertisement above, which we create a particularly false meaning. The ad above gives the power of the perception of how sugar can demonstrate itself through various social parameters but only extensively. The gorgeous woman is portraying her love for powdered donuts, and is displaying the power of sugar in reference to a much more highly addictive, yet dangerous substance, cocaine. This ad slightly speaks volumes to the traditions of modern western culture that invoke the greatest effect, as “adverts have perpetuated western sexist ideologies under a veneer of pleasurable consumption which have divorced foods from the conditions of production” (Robertson 10). The misguided meaning many ads portray, now aids in creating mass cultural stereotypes from building false illusions and separate us from the reality of the production of our sugar, although this ad is particularly true in sugar being addictive, many other advertisements such as ads regarding McDonald’s or other fast food chains give most of us a false message, allowing one to see the desire of the substance, and not the dangerous aftereffects when consuming sugar, and carbs at large, not in moderation. Sugar should be used in moderation, but it is not due to the capitalist society we live in today.
Not only do we build these craving memories which is a factor that leads one to the over consumption of sugar, but it is also evolutionary as Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University states, “sugar is a deep, deep ancient craving” (Spector). Refined sugars were absent in the diet of most people until very recently in human history as sugar was “rarity until the 1650’s, only a luxury in the 1750’s, and a necessity by 1850’s” (6, Mintz). Apart from honey, most of the foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate were no sweeter than a carrot and that “15 million years ago in a time of global cooling, a mutation occurred that increased the apelike creatures’ sensitivity to fructose so that even small amounts were stored as fat. This adaptation was a survival mechanism: Eat fructose and decrease the likelihood you will starve to death” (Spector). Thus, looking back at our ancestors, we have biologically trained ourselves to crave sweets.
While our prehistoric ancestors trained themselves to crave sweets biologically, the problem we face today is that humans have too much of the sweet stuff available to them, which is why over consumption of diets rich in sugars contributes together with other factors to drive the current obesity epidemic due to capitalism and sugar.
Depending on the sociologist, causes and solutions can be different. To begin with, Karl Marx views social issues as a issue due to economic inequality. In a capitalist society, he believes each individual acts selfishly and does what best suits him or her. A more appropriate society I would argue would be one in which people had equal access to different aspects of modern day culture (Cliggett 102). Thus, when looking at the rise in obesity, Marx would blame the issue on three major issues: power, poverty and education. When looking at a case, where the “UN’s World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture proposed a guideline widely supported by nutritionists, which recommended that added sugars should not exceed 10 percent of daily calorie intake, congress was threatened to cut off $400,000 annual funding if they did not remove the offending norm from their report” (Robert 345). As the UN bodies gave in, this scenario once again expresses the image above where the first two tiers “rule and fool you” as they are the ones with the power to feed poison to poor, and uneducated people. When looking at price distinctions in foods, there is a drastic difference between the cost of healthy foods and junks foods. Even if an individual can find fresh produce, cheaper usually means worse quality. Organic foods also tend to be more costly than conventional items. In the view of Marx, these price differences lead to the fact that poorer people do not have the same access to healthy food options as more affluent. In reverence to modern society and obesity, different groups have access to different levels of education and different types of food options. Varying levels of education leads to different knowledge about nutrition. One status group will understand the meaning of calorie counts and fat percentages but another group will not. The less knowledgeable group will make worse decisions when determining what to eat. The lack of understanding adds to the rise rate of obesity. Status groups may also be separated by their abilities to access food choices. A less fortunate group may only have access to unhealthy foods, such as fast food, while another group has the choice of organic meals. While the structure of the food market is rapidly changing around individuals, they will be unable to adjust their actions in order to prevent obesity.
In conclusion sugar is the driver behind two of the worst tragedies we face today, slavery and obesity, by allowing a greedy rigged system that shapes our social, cultural, economic and political ordering that some of us have little to no control over. In the video below, one can see how the government is in power with the obesity epidemic we now face, as sugar is all around us and money is a very powerful tool.
Cumo, Christopher. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1750–1900.” World History Encyclopedia. Alfred J. Andrea. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Credo Reference. Web.
Cliggett, Lisa, and Richard R. Wilk. Economies and Cultures: Foundations of Economic Anthropology. Boulder: Westview, Array. Anthropology Online. Web. 12 May 2016.
Fraser-Reid, Bertram O. From Sugar to Splenda: A personal and Scientific Journey of a Carbohydrate Chemist and Expert Witness. Heidelberg: Springer, 2012. Print.
International: Breaking the chains; slavery. (2007, Feb 24). The Economist, 382, 64-73. Web.
Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 5: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.
An intense and complex bond has made the supply and demand of sugar through the 17th-21st centuries grow to what was once unimaginable proportions. From the wealth of empires built upon commodities grown in ‘Colonial Crown Jewel’ territories, to the growth of industrialized cities, the infiltration of sugar and it’s industry has been there to support and serve as catalyst for the vast changes that have given way to our modern capitalistic societies.
Although sugar cane and its derivatives had been introduced to Europe around 1100 CE, it wasn’t until the 18th and 19th Century that massive changes in British consumptive patterns of sugar could be linked to the momentous alterations in British politics, economy and society. Sidney W. Mintz explains in Sweetness and Power, “what turns out to be most interesting about the British picture is how little it differed from eating habits and nutrition elsewhere in the world” (Mintz, p. 13). That Britain, like 85% of the world’s population in 1650, would have been struggling to meet their caloric needs mainly through starchy grains, sets the stage for demand – demand for cheap calories to meet growing population needs (Mintz, pp. 13-14). However physiological caloric needs were only one part of the equation that led to sugar’s popularization. Here Mintz explains:
“The history of sucrose in the United Kingdom reveals two basic changes, the first marking the popularization of sweetened tea and treacle, from about 1750 onward; and the second, the opening up of mass consumption, from about 1850 onward. During the period 1750-1850 every English person, no matter how isolated or how poor, and without regard to age or sex, learned about sugar. Most learned to like it enough to want it more than they could afford. After 1850, as the price of sugar dropped sharply, that preference became realized in consumption. A rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, sugar had been transformed to a virtual necessity by 1850.” (Mintz, pp. 147-148)
Sugar Cane Cutter 1830.
What underlies these changes in sugar’s consumption in Britain and other colonials powers during 1650-1850 that Mintz recounts, was the rise of slave labor to power the production of sugar and other luxury crops like coffee, cocoa and tobacco. The proliferation of wealth on the backs of slave labor by European nations and The Southern United States alike produced a demand for commodity crops which proved fundamental to the development of capitalism.
“The English people came to view sugar as essential; supplying them with it became as much political as an economic obligation. At the same time, the owners of immense fortunes created by the labour of millions of slaves stolen from Africa, on millions of the New World stolen from the Indians – wealth in the form of commodities like sugar, molasses, and rum to be sold to Africans, Indians, colonials, and the British working class alike – had become even more solidly attached to the centers of power in the English society at large. What sugar meant from this vantage point, was that all such colonial production, trade and metropolitan consumption came to mean: the growing strength and solidity of the empire and of the classes that dictated its policies.” (Mintz, p. 157)
To properly describe the inclusion of sugar into the diets of the common English man it is therefore imperative to look at the political and corporate powers that were instrumental in changing their diets based on psychology tactics marketed to consumers by corporate entities and their ties into opportunistic economic and legislative power plays. Mintz comments,
“tobacco, sugar and tea were the first objects within capitalism that conveyed with their use the complex idea that one could become different by consuming differently. This idea has little to do with nutrition or primates or sweet tooths, and less than it appears to have with symbols. But it is closely connected to England’s fundamental transformation from a hierarchical, status-based, medieval society to a social-democratic, capitalist, and industrial society…. But the ever rising consumption of sugar was an artifact of interclass struggles for profit – struggles that eventuated in a world-market solution for drug foods, as industrial capitalism cut its protectionist losses and expanded a mass market to satisfy proletarian consumers once regarded as sinful and indolent.” (Mintz, pp 185-186)
As a consequence, “Britain’s annual per capita consumption of sugar was 4lbs in 1704, 18lbs in 1800, 90lbs in 1901 – a 22-fold increase to the point where Britons had the highest sugar intake in Europe.” (Britain is built on Sugar, 2007) These statistics bridge the incredible economic and social shift that occurred within a few centuries, whereby sugar’s demand grew due to it’s perceived value as a luxury, industrialization further pushing for need of cheap calories and most disturbing, the slave trade’s colonial heritage that ushered in modern Capitalism.
As Eric Williams opens with in Capitalism & Slavery, “Every age rewrites history, but particularly ours, which has been forced by events to re-evaluate our conceptions of history and economic and political development.” (Williams, vii) Within his book Williams illuminates further the “contribution of slavery to the development of British capitalism,” (Williams, viii) and just how much this history has been swept under the proverbial rug so that the benefits of industrialization and capitalism become synonymous with progress and betterment for all in the tomes of history.
“Indulge,” urges the inside of my Dove chocolate wrapper, assuring me that I did the right thing, eating that chocolate. The idea of “indulgence” is key for how our American culture thinks about food, especially dessert, and it works on levels beyond the bag of dark chocolates I picked up at CVS. Dessert is an excess, by nature a luxury. So I thought, why not go for the best, why not go for real “indulgence”? What’s the fanciest dessert, the most chocolate pleasure that money can buy (on a student budget)? I decided to analyze some of the most “indulgent” desserts that I could find within walking distance of my dorm in Cambridge, MA: vs When I signed the bill at the end of these meals, what did I pay for? I paid for the experience, not just the food. Yes, a crucial part of the entire experience was consuming a delicious dessert, but I also paid for the service, the comfy chair, the music, the low lighting and the conversation floating around me from the other tables. Chocolate and other dessert foods hold a precarious position between sustenance and luxury. Chocolate is more universal, more sustaining and more widely available than real luxury consumables like wine and even coffee, and it does not share their psychological effects, despite common misconception (Benton, 213- 214). However, chocolate is more luxurious and extravagant than staple products like bread, meat, or rice. Chocolate tends to be sold as either luxury or staple, when in fact it occupies a space between the two that does not fit well in capitalist consumption practices. This essay will focus on chocolate dessert as a luxury by looking at the American fine dining experience, in order to show that the most elite consumers experience chocolate differently than the rest of society, because of how the experience becomes a commodity.
My first trip took me to Finale, a specialty dessert shop with three Boston locations. Finale strives to separate itself from mass produced chocolate and give the fine dining experience at a lower cost. Their sit-down restaurant features red table clothes, a prominent wine list, low lighting and soft jazz music. When I went in late on a Monday night, the restaurant housed me and three young couples that appeared to be on dates. The waiter couldn’t tell me the source of the chocolate in the “molten cake,” but he did tell me that in his three days working at Finale, he had learned that there were more different kinds of pastries than he had previously imagined.
“Just look how much of our menu is dessert!” he told me. Finale capitalizes on the desire to indulge in dessert. By offering a wide array, it allows consumers the luxury of choice, and while someone of middle-class means might not want to buy a fancy dinner, they might be persuaded to splurge on an indulgent dessert. Scholar Marcy Norton describes the “cultural-functionalist” model, proposed by historians such as Mintz and Bourdieu, as one theory for the popularity of chocolate in Western society. The theory states that those in power influence aesthetic and subjective decisions, or choices of taste. Under this theory, the upper classes are the tastemakers, and other consumers follow their lead. Norton does not believe that the theory is enough to explain the dessert’s popularity, but it does explain restaurants such as Finale, which sell the upper class experience at a lower price (Norton, 633). Finale’s menu describes the cake I ordered as “Our famous baked to order molten filled with a salted honey caramel sauce. Served with chocolate covered almonds and dulce de leche gelato,” and then lists a suggested wine pairing (Finale, Restaurant Menu). By pairing each dessert on the menu with wine, the restaurant again ties its products to other luxury goods, and sells a greater experience: not just the dessert, but the wine and cake together. I ordered (just the cake) and was quickly rewarded with the elegant presentation in the picture above. Typically, I would wolf down a dessert like this, loving the sweetness without focusing on the flavor, but for the first time in my dessert-eating career, I sat down to really evaluate the flavors and sensations of eating.
“Tasting,” in an evaluative way requires time, money, and knowledge. One must be taught to discern flavors and focus on all the senses while eating. Barbara Stuckey, a food tasting professional, published “Taste What You’re Missing,” a guide to tasting and understanding food like the experts. To those people with fewer taste buds who are less able to discern different flavors, she adds, “You can’t change the anatomy of your tongue, just as you can’t change your genetic makeup or height. But a height limitation doesn’t mean that you can’t teach yourself to be an excellent basketball player. And everyone-including you-can teach himself to be an excellent taster” (Stuckey, 27). Stuckey seems to say that anyone can learn to taste the way that she can, regardless of biological limits, but she doesn’t mention other limits, like time, energy, or lack of resources. Her book describes eating at some of the fanciest restaurants in the US, appreciating food like salmon, steak, and “soft, cherry-chocolate red zinfandel” (Stuckey, 15). Clearly, Stuckey has the resources to get the best food to taste recreationally, and also as a professional taster has spent years being paid to hone her tasting skills. Her book targets those given choices of what kind of food they eat, rather than needing to get the most sustenance per dollar.
This “tasting wheel” for chocolate describes the flavors that a trained, discerning taster might be able to pick up in a bar of the stuff. These are the elements of a luxury chocolate bar, not mass produced chocolate from big companies like Hershey’s or Nestle. Mass produced chocolate is sold to everyone, and there’s much less focus on flavor profiling or ingredients beyond “tastes good.”
The cake I tasted at finale seems to fall somewhere in the middle of the taste- satiation spectrum. Based on its presentation and the restaurant’s atmosphere, Finale seems to focus on the upper class experience of eating. I did find out online that the chocolate they use in the cake is from Valrhona, a French luxury chocolate maker. You can see from Valrhona’s website that the company focuses on many of the elements of luxury dining that Stuckey emphasizes. The company even includes a “how to taste” section, focusing on incorporating all of one’s senses into the “art of tasting”. “Chocolate is enjoyed.” Reads the page, “Grand Chocolat is experienced” (“Experience Our Expertise”). However, the dishes at Finale were engineered for an audience where fancy desserts are the exception, not the norm. While the cake I ate was sweet and delicious, the textures were somewhat muddy and indiscernible, and the flavors advertised, chocolate, sea salt, and caramel, were not very strong or balanced. The main tastes of the dish were sugar and fat, and the wafer on top was burnt. Perhaps my favorite part of the cake was the slice of pure Valrhona dark chocolate sticking out on top. The focus of this dessert on quantity of sweetness over quality of flavor, on filling the stomach over exciting the palate, seems to suggest catering towards mass marketed tastes.
My second dessert experience, however, was true fine dining. Harvest restaurant is staffed by award-winning chefs (including their pastry chef, Brian Mercury). Its price range is much higher than Finale. Compare $15.99 Short Ribs, the most expensive thing on the Finale Menu, with $40 Painted Hills Farm New York Striploin au Poivre at Harvest. The restaurant is tucked away behind other clothing stores, and despite sitting less than five minutes from my dorm, I never saw it until I went looking for it. Unlike Finale, the feel of Harvest is much more elite, and this is also reflected in the clientele. When I was there, the patrons were all much older than those at Finale, and seemed to be engaged in business meetings. Part of the experience of fine dining is the feeling of exclusivity, the experience of sharing space with those also in this elite group. Notably, the dessert that I ordered at Harvest, which was comparable in size and ingredients, actually cost me a dollar less than the cake at Finale. The price difference here shows that Harvest focuses more on dinner than dessert. That does not mean that the focus on sustenance at Harvest, and luxury at Finale. In fact, both restaurants sell luxury and indulgence, but Finale does so through luxury products and a luxurious atmosphere, while Harvest uses the principles of flavor and taste to turn any food into an extravagance. For example, at Finale, all the dishes are named in English, directed to a larger American public, instead of the complicated French terms that Harvest assumes its exclusive customers can understand.
Furthermore, the taste of chocolate, caramel and salt in the Crèmeux were very different than in the molten cake. Their online menu describes the dish as “house made sea salt, salted caramel brown sugar granola, milk chocolate malt sauce, vanilla mascarpone” (Harvest, Dessert Menu). The flavors in Harvest’s Crèmeux were much more intense, especially the bite of the salt, which balanced out the sweetness of the chocolaty mousse. The textures in the Harvest dessert were also more complex and provided a contrast to each other: the crunch of the granola, the almost fudgy Crèmeux, and the chewy caramel. The textural changes helped draw my attention again to the flavors, to really savor and think about what I was eating. I think it took me longer to eat that Crèmeux than any dessert I’ve had before. Intense flavors are often a sign of fancier or upper class food options, instead of the more “bland” food of the masses. Stuckey makes fun of her partner for his limited palate and preference for mild flavors. “How can you call yourself a foodie” she asks, “when all you eat is meat and potatoes?” (16). Although she learns to appreciate the subtlties of his palate, it remains a common conception that someone more sophisticated, elite or worldly would prefer bold flavors to analyze.
The Harvest Crèmeux follows the “local food” trend prevalent in high-class establishments. Local food and fair trade are relatively recent developments in the food world that highlight and attempt to close the gap between producers and consumers. Brian Mercury locally sources his on ingredients, even takes trips out to the seashore to collect his own salt, effectively controlling every step in the production of the food (Gelsomin).
The chocolate in the Crèmeux comes from Taza chocolate, a company that produces stone ground chocolate from direct trade beans in South America. Just as much of a luxury as Valrhona, Taza produces chocolate on a smaller scale with even more attention given to the experience of consuming the chocolate both in terms of taste (the texture of stone ground chocolate is very distinctive) and ethical purchasing (local and direct trade options make consumers feel better about their purchase). However, this means that it’s difficult to get large amounts of these ingredients, further contributing to the exclusive nature of Harvest and its food.
These movements grow out of the history of the commodities that make up the distinct flavors in the desserts: chocolate, sugar, and salt. Historians Sophie and Michael Coe wrote The True History of Chocolate, describing how it served as a luxury, sustenance, or medicine throughout the Americas and Europe. Anthropologist Sidney Mintz analyzes the history of sugar as a commodity in Sweetness and Power, and the crop’s ties to forced labor and colonialism. A group of Italian scientists wrote a “History of Salt” that ties the spice’s medical properties to its long history through cultures and conflicts. Each ingredient provides its own enticing properties as a food historically consumed in great amounts, for reasons as diverse as biology or cultural-functionalism. Food can never be a simple commodity because of its essential nature; we all need sustenance through food. These three ingredients have long, elaborate but mostly unknown histories that shape how Americans today view them as commodities.
All of this leaves us with food as a divisor in society, even though it is one thing that all people have in common. Food scholar Charles Z. Levkoe discusses the “commodification of human relationships” in regards to selling food, explaining how all people can be reduced to consumers under capitalism (Levkoe, 587). His ideas relate to the commodification of the chocolate experience: everything can be sold, not just objects. Economist Robert Albritton goes further and describes the history of food entwined with the history of capitalism, which today “promotes both hunger and obesity while at the same time undermining the earth’s capacity to support us,” (Albritton 350). When one tastes food, they are experiencing it in a fundamentally different way than someone who simply eats food. Additionally, food as commodity to be tasted, experienced, enjoyed, is a primarily reserved for the upper class.
Consumers are sold the act of indulging in these chocolate and fancy desserts. Americans are trained by advertising and by other members in society to want these experiences. If you’re mouth isn’t watering at the end of this essay, then I haven’t done a good enough job with either pictures or description of how delicious those desserts were. It’s because of the social and mental experience of eating it, not inherent properties of the food itself, that chocolate is associated with craving, guilt, and other psychological effects (Benton, 213-214). Due to its long history as an elite product, chocolate is a food on the edge, with some inherently luxurious properties. Because of this, it can be an “indulgence” even as a mass-produced product. However, the luxury of taste, the full sensual experience of fine dining is reserved for the upper class, and this extends to chocolate as well. Capitalism creates divides in society even in regards to food, and chocolate, which seem to be boundary crossers, by commodifying the seemingly intangible. When we walk into a restaurant, we’re sold more than just a dessert.
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Charles Z. “Learning Democracy Through Food Justice Movements.” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 342-52. Pdf. Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.
Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 660-91. Pdf. Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. New York: Free, 2012. Pdf.
Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. New York: Free, 2012. Pdf.