Tag Archives: sugar

Slave to Pleasure: How the Demand for Labor to Produce Cacao and Sugar Drove the Slave Trade

The slave trade was a brutally dehumanizing affair that ultimately resulted in the forced displacement of more than 12 million African men, women, and children. Driven by the demand for cheap labor, greedy traders – primarily from the United Kingdom, Portugal, and the Netherlands – stole people from their native lands across the continent of Africa and shipped them to the new world as involuntary labor for the colonies (The Transatlantic Slave Trade). These enslaved individuals were then forced to produce many of the cash crops (see image below) that powered the emerging industrial economies of Europe and contributed to the creation and consolidation of immense wealth for those individuals who were in positions from which they could take advantage of the free labor, namely those in the planter class and professionals who provided the initial cash in the form of collectives. Given these conditions, it is important to recognize that the slave trade was a manifestation of the extant power dynamics between Africans and Europeans. Africans, as a result of the distinct fragmentation and systems of rule in their tribes in comparison to the Europeans, were unable to design effective systems in which they would be able to resist the infiltration of the Europeans, and this, ultimately, left their people vulnerable to enslavement as a result of local war, kidnapping, ransoming, and other horrific, deceitful acts committed by the Europeans. Identifying political tensions, religious differences, economic crises, etc. as weaknesses, the Europeans chose to exploit them for their own benefit and seized the opportunity they saw to obtain free labor to produce those crops that were becoming essential to the European economy (The Transatlantic Slave Trade). The growing popularity of cash crops (sugar, cotton, cocoa, etc.) and expanding European consumption powered the enslavement of Africans and maintained the system of slavery that would quickly emerge in the colonies as a direct result of demand outpacing the capacity of free production; the plantation owners’ constant needs for labor would outweigh any moral obligation to fellow man.

An image of the cash crops most dependent on slave labor: sugar, rum, rice, cotton, tobacco, coffee, and cocoa.

The Europeans’ engagement in the commodification of human beings exhibited a callous disregard for human life. Lowell Satre’s Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business specifically analyzes the evolution of slavery in the Portuguese colonies as it related to the production of chocolate. In the opening chapter, Satre details the journey of one English journalist, Henry Nevinson, into Angola’s interior, commonly referred to as the “Hungry Country.” Nevinson’s trip uncovered the sordid details of the new version of slavery occurring in the early 1900s despite the fact that Portugal had abolished slavery in all of its colonies in the 1870s (Satre 2). This new system was occurring under the guise of “contract labor.” Under this system, “the curator general of Angola was responsible for ensuring that the contract binding a worker for five years was legal and that its provisions….were appropriate” (Satre 7).  This “contract” was renewable after five years and magistrates were required to enforce the conditions; however, this protection was only provided in the legal sense, and the serviçal (contract laborer), in reality, was not free (Satre 7). Despite the fact that Portugal had abolished slavery in the 1870s, they had done nothing to replace the “free” labor that the plantation owners had grown accustomed to, and as a result, the owners’ desperate need for workers led to the emergence of a contract labor system that was, in reality, not contractual labor. Within the Portuguese empire, as well as in other systems that were transitioning from slave labor, this system of indentured servitude without the promised repatriation and wages (workers were often forced to spend their money at plantation stores on food and clothing and other necessities), was a disguise for slavery. 

An image of Henry W. Nevinson, the man who published the first reports of the redesigned slavery occurring in the Portuguese empire.

The abolition of slavery, particularly in the crop producing colonies, was not easy, especially given the many varied interests. In the case of the chocolate companies, the first conflict arose because of reports that laborers were not free, and this posed a serious problem for many company owners, particularly the Quaker chocolate producers like Cadbury, Rowntree, and Fry. Morally, these companies all objected to the use of involuntary/slave labor and the discovery that their chocolate was produced in such a manner caused them a great deal of strife. On the one hand, if they chose to boycott the plantations, they would lose their bargaining power; on the other hand, by maintaining their business with these plantations, they were complicit in the maintenance of a new system of slavery. This tension led to their inability to take strong, assertive action to remedy the situation and put the appropriate amount of pressure on the Portuguese government. (Satre). These tensions faced by the chocolate producers illuminate just how interlinked different systems of power were with slavery. From owners of the means of production to government to people who provided the news to the citizenry, everyone was tied to the profits of slavery. The company owners who benefitted from the cheap price of cacao produced on San Tome and Principe had a lot to lose if they wanted to guarantee that labor was voluntary; it would have driven the cost of their product up and affected their gross profit. 

Another obstacle to the abolition of slavery was the relationship between various governments. As English subjects, the chocolate companies looked to the British Foreign Office to put pressure on the Portuguese, but the British were limited in just how much pressure they could apply – the Portuguese were involved with the labor they were “employing” in South Africa and would view any action they took as hypocritical. Moreover, the general ineffectiveness of the Portuguese officials prevented any real action from being taken. Nevinson wrote that, “Portuguese authority was ineffective. Portugal’s civil and military officials, and its traders as well, operated outside the law, and whatever authority officials exercised was either misused or abused” (Satre 6-7). The planters also had a huge stake in the abolition movement. If slavery was truly abolished, they would see all of their profits quickly disappear. Cash crops were already a very risky business (fluctuating prices cause a lot of people to go bankrupt), but the end of slavery would signify the total destruction of their way of life. In addition, many of them truly believed that they were not doing anything wrong. A few planters asserted that they “have a right to transfer labour from colony to colony at will without foreign interference – this is not emigration while under one government and therefore no repatriation is needful”  (Satre 96). These planters also had the support of government officials. In Catherine Higgs’ Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa, she quotes Jerónimo Paiva de Carvalho, a Portuguese government official on the island of Principe, who states, “Laborers…enjoyed working conditions superior to those of crews who served on British ships and they were also treated better than most rural workers in Europe….On the Porto Real and Esperança roças on Príncipe… great attention was paid to worker’s housing, clothing, labor assignments, salaries, and healthcare…. ‘If this is slavery, then we are completely in the dark about the problem of manual labor in the colonies’” (Higgs 139)

A map of colonized Africa, circa 1898, displaying the various possessions, protectorates, spheres of influence, and occupation of each country.

Overall, the issue of slavery was not an easy one to answer.  The interconnectedness of various systems created a cycle that reinforced itself – as more goods were produced in the system and generated more wealth, the demand only increased, which further increased the demand for labor.

Works Cited

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

Mintz, Sidney W. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power. Pp. 151-214

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

“The Transatlantic Slave Trade.” AAME, http://www.inmotionaame.org/migrations/landing.cfm?migration=1&bhcp=1.

Historical Changes in British Sugar Consumption and Potential Causes

Sugar is an enormously culturally and dietarily significant food that can be found in human cultures across the world. Certain cultures have been consuming sucrose for thousands of years. Britain became a dominant military, geopolitical, economic and cultural force in the world starting in the industrial revolution in the 1600s. Over the next several hundred years, coinciding with the rise of the British empire to worldwide hegemon, British sugar consumption also skyrocketed. Today, sugar is still heavily consumed in Britain, perhaps more (in per capita terms) than at any other point in its history. In addition, refined sugar has had a huge gastronomic, economic and cultural legacy in Britain over the hundreds of years since when it was first brought to the British Isles. Historical changes in British refined sugar consumption were due to the decreasing price of refined sugar, the increased promotion and elevation of refined sugar in popular culture, and refined sugar’s taste.

The actual change in British refined sugar consumption has not been mild. Britain has had an explosion in per capita refined sugar consumption over the centuries since the start of its industrial revolution. Anthropologist Sidney Mintz notes that, in Britain, as early as 1856, sugar consumption was forty times higher than it had been only 150 years earlier (Mintz 143). Professor Carla Martin notes that sugar consumption in America rose from 2 pounds per person per year 200 years ago to 152 pounds per person per year today. A similar trend has occurred in Britain over the past two centuries as well. A 2019 article published in the Guardian argues for Britons to take political action with regard to sugar consumption and pressure the government to put a tax on certain sugary goods (Boseley)

This article states that such political action is necessary to improve the public health of Britons, who suffer adverse health consequences from high sugar consumption. An article published by the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation “finds most people in the UK are consuming three times the recommended daily sugar intake (Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation). This article corroborates the fact that sugar consumption is in fact responsible for health problems among Britons. The article elaborates that a diet high in refined sugar is linked to “obesity and related health complications, including type 2 diabetes” (Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation).

An article from the BBC about British sugar consumption makes the important distinction that the health problems from sugar consumption specifically come from Briton’s consumption of refined and added sugar (Jeavans). The BBC article notes that other forms of sugar, including fructose naturally present in fruits, do not pose major health dangers (Jeavans). This BBC article lends evidence to the idea that increases in obesity and obesity related health conditions in Britain is due to increased consumption of refined/added sugar, as opposed to increased consumption of naturally occurring sugars (Jeavans). This is important because it helps rule out other causes of obesity and obesity related health problems in Britons, and helps more strongly establish the connection between drastically increased refined sugar consumption following the industrial revolution and obesity related health problems.

It is clear that the decreased price and increased availability of refined sugar in Britain following the industrial revolution had a huge impact on sugar’s consumption. Mintz notes that, in Britain, “the price of sugar fell by 30 percent between 1840 and 1850, and by a further 25 percent in the next two decades, consumption increases reflect a decline in the price of sugar relative to other commodities” (Mintz 144). 

In addition, cultural factors were also responsible for widespread increases in sugar consumption in Britain from the 1600s to the present. Two of the most important cultural factors that pushed people to consume sugar were pressures and dynamics between members of opposite sexes, and the general desire to imitate the habits of elite, wealthy or royal people. Mintz establishes the idea that people desire to emulate the dietary habits of the wealthy and powerful when he quotes Shand as saying:  “Once tea became an established custom among the well-to-do…the lower middle classes naturally began to imitate it” (Mintz 142) . It is clear that this desire for imitation could apply with sugar also. 

It is also noted that female pressure on males can induce males to change their dietary/beverage preferences. Mintz states: “Shand’s conjecture that tea and alcohol tended to be sex-divided beverages until the salon lured men to afternoon tea may be accurate for the middle classes after the 1660s” (Mintz 142). Importantly, Smith notes that the British would put sugar in their tea (Smith 259). Thus, desire among elite British males to meet members of the opposite sex would drive them to attend salons where they would partake in tea. Smith states that the custom of putting sugar into tea “which has mistakenly been viewed as insignificant, had important historical effects” (Smith 259). Smith remarks that “Its widespread adoption in Britain and elsewhere in northern Europe in the eighteenth century greatly reinforced demand for both products” (Smith 259).

Finally, the inherent taste of refined sugar may have been one of the important factors driving sugar’s increased consumption in Britain over the past several centuries. Humans likely evolved to like the taste of sugar even over the taste of many other food ingredients because sugar is very calorically dense (Addessi et al). 

In conclusion, economics, culture and taste all factor into causing historical changes in British sugar consumption over the last 400 years. The decreased price of sugar, cultural pressure to consume sugar, and the delicious taste of sugar likely all contributed to rising consumption of sugar in Britain over a 400 year period. Today, the high consumption of refined/added sugar in Britain likely causes adverse health effects in the population.

Works Cited

Multimedia Sources:

Boseley, Sarah. “Taxing Cakes and Biscuits Is the Answer to Britain’s Sugar Problem.” The 

Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 20 Sept. 2019, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/sep/20/taxing-cakes-and-biscuits-is-the-answer-to-britains-sugar-problem.

Jeavans, Christine. “How Much Sugar Do We Eat?” BBC News, BBC, 26 June 2014, 

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-27941325.

“Report on Diet Finds Most People in the UK Are Consuming Almost 3 Times the 

Recommended Daily Sugar Intake.” Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation, 11 Apr. 2018, http://www.drwf.org.uk/news-and-events/news/report-diet-finds-most-people-uk-are-consuming-almost-3-times-recommended-daily.

Scholarly Sources:

Addessi, E., Galloway, A.T., Birch, L. and Visalberghi, E., 2004. Taste perception and food 

choices in capuchin monkeys and human children. Primatologie: revue publiee sous l’egide de la Societe francophone de primatologie, 6, p.101.

Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern

History. New York: Penguin Books.

Smith, Woodruff D. “Complications of the commonplace: Tea, sugar, and imperialism.” The 

Journal of Interdisciplinary History 23.2 (1992): 259-278.

Course Works:

Course materials, lectures, and notes.

The Biology and Morality of Chocolate and Sugar Consumption

In the words of Sidney Mintz, “…Sugar is sweet, and human beings like sweetness” (1986). But what about this liking for sugar made chocolate bars one of our most symbolic pieces of food, taking over holidays like Valentine’s Day and Easter? How do we approach the problems of fair working conditions for the farmers who cultivate the cacao and sugar cane? In this blog post I will explore the biological reasoning for why sugar made chocolate such a hot commodity in so many parts of the world. I also offer that this biological predisposition to love the taste of sweetness is, in part, what has given chocolate such a high place in the food industry and our society, despite the moral wrongs associated with chocolate production. To resolve the moral dilemma of chocolate consumption, we must fight against the behind-the-scenes production story, which threatens the basic rights of millions of farmers. 

Sugar and the Brain

Let us begin by exploring why taking a sweet bite of anything gives us so much pleasure. It is important to remember that sugars are a part of a large family of carbohydrates, which is one of the main energy sources for our bodies. So, it makes sense that sweetness on the tongue, which signals to our brains that we are consuming carbohydrates, causes a pleasurable response (Reed & McDaniel, 2006). Moreover, following this evolutionary perspective is the reasoning that poisonous foods are not usually sweet-tasting, so our bodies have more justification for why we meet sweet-tasting foods with a positive reaction (Reed & McDaniel, 2006). The short video below describes the science behind sugar consumption; in other words, how sugar affects your brain and body. 

Video 1. How sugar affects the brain, by Nicole Avna. Source: TedEd.

It is not surprising, then, that using sugar as a sweetener for chocolate made us go crazy for it. The cacao that chocolate is derived from was once “food of the gods” served as a bitter drink in Mayan civilizations. However, the sweet candy we know now became popular in the 19th and 20th centuries upon the revolutionary cocoa press, invented in 1828 by Coenraad Johannes van Houten (Klein, 2018). And now we are at the present day, where “the average American consumes 12 lbs. of chocolate each year, and more than $75 billion worldwide is spent on chocolate annually” (Klein, 2018).

The Moral Dilemma

This human quasi-addiction to sugar begins to answer the question, why do we allow the violation of human rights for millions of people just so that we can have our cacao and sugar cane grown? This question, which definitely implicates much more research and perspective, is one that I will only be able to graze the surface of. Nonetheless, I do believe that a biological perspective does hold some merit here, as we find ourselves in a moral dilemma as we enjoy pieces of sweetened chocolate which were produced through the back-breaking and inhumane labor of other human beings, including children. The farmers, not the distributors in the high-income countries, are the ones who are hit the hardest when the market prices fluctuate – For instance, farmers on the Ivory Coast see their cocoa income decrease “by as much as 30-40% from one year to the next” (Fountain & Huetz-Adams, 2018). This is on top of the fact that millions of these farmers are children, and they are making about 31% of a living wage (Fountain & Huetz-Adams, 2018). 

Figure 1. Map of the Top 10 Cocoa Producing Countries. Source: Chocolate Phayanak.

What Can We Do?

So, while we are evolutionarily inclined to enjoy this chocolate, cycles of slavery and cruel treatment to farmers all over the world would tell us not to indulge. While there is no straightforward answer here, I suggest that what we should push for is more Fairtrade schemes, which need to be more heavily supported by the governments of rich countries, since these products would be more expensive than non-Fairtrade products. As explained by Peter Singer and Jim Mason, these schemes support the farmers by generating “hundreds of millions of additional dollars for small products in developing countries” and the schemes also protect the farmers rights, including “freedom of association and protection from sexual harassment” (Singer & Mason, 2007).  

Figure 2. Nestle Kit Kat Bard with Fairtrade symbol. This symbol is visible on food items of companies with Fairtrade certification. Source: Campaign.

Additionally, the farmers from these low-income countries need to be making a living wage, and they need more subsidies to protect them from immediate income fluctuation in response to market price changes. They need to be protected from this price volatility and the disproportionate risk that they bear in this supply chain. This is only possible with major support from the governments involved as well as international actors. This also requires consumer awareness – that is, all of us being invested in the dialogue around and action against this structural oppression and poverty.

In conclusion, the harm does not come from our inherent love for all things sweet; rather from our indifference towards the means to get that sweet chocolate bar in our hands. Until we fight against the oppressive labor conditions of the farmers who make it possible for chocolate to be such a symbol in our societies, we will be faced with this very bitter moral dilemma.

References

Fountain, A., Huetz-Adams, F. (2018). Cacao Barometer 2018. N.p.

Klein, Christopher (2018). The Sweet History of Chocolate. Retrieved 25 March 2020 from <https://www.history.com/news/the-sweet-history-of-chocolate>

Mintz, S. (1986). Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.

Reed, D., McDaniel, A. (2006). The Human Sweet Tooth. BMC Oral Health 6(Suppl 1): S17.

Singer, P., Mason, J. (2007). The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. Pennsylvania: Rodale Books.

Figure 1. Chocolate Phayanak (2017). Top 10 Cocoa Producing Countries. [map]. Retrieved from <https://chocolatephayanak.com/unkategorisiert/where-is-cocoa-grown-around-the-world/>

Figure 2. Charles, Gemma (2010). Kit Kat: Nestle Brand. [photo]. Retrieved from <https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/nestle-launches-biggest-ever-cross-category-push/1015362>

Video 1. Avena, Nicole (2014). How Sugar Affects the Brain. . Retrieved from YouTube (TedEd) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=lEXBxijQREo&feature=emb_title>

The Development of Chocolate as a Mass Commodity Over Time

I will be discussing the development of chocolate as an industrialized food in the modern world. We take the existence of chocolate a mass commodity — and that is as a easy to find and massively consumed commodity — for granted. However chocolate was not always this way. Chocolate originated in the Americas that is that is where the cacao plant from which chocolate is created was initially a grown. That is where it is native and it had been used by the peoples in those areas to our knowledge for thousands of years and it had been used for various purposes. But initially well it is difficult to it is difficult to know exactly all the ways in which chocolate has been used and exactly when it have been using these ways throughout all of history due to birth inherent limitations in looking back at history but also the unfortunate reality that much of mesoamerica History has been obscured and erase do to colonialism. 

But none the less the information that we do have indicates that chocolate largely had spiritual purposes in these Mesoamerican societies and was seen as something of the elite. So in other words it was not a massively consumed food. Cacao products there were massively used for non culinary purposes for example they were used as a means of exchange, as a currency. This is the way in which cacao products and chocolate were being used and the way they were distributed throughout Mesoamerican societies when the Spanish first came to these Societies in the late 1400s and early 1500s. 

Initially the Spanish did not Produce chocolate for culinary purposes because they did not like the taste of chocolate. It was very bitter at that time and was usually consumed as a drink and this did not fit the Spanish is liking for Taste. However overall overtime they began to see more and more the potential for the use of chocolate is food and part is this coincided with their introduction of sugar into chocolate products to make it sweeter. Once they’ve found a combination of ingredients that made chocolate palpable to them they decided to mass produce it. In order to mass produce chocolate and other ingredients in chocolate products especially sugar they turn to slavery to a master juice cacao and chocolate on plantations. Initially they use the native peoples of mesoamerica for these purposes but after while when these people started to unfortunately die off due to diseases imported by Europeans and also just the harshness of slave life the Spanish began to use slaves from Africa. They would import people from Africa and use them as slaves to grow chocolate in the Americas cacao and sugar. 

Eventually other European powers such as Britain starting to do the same thing to the point where it became mass-produced and discontinued into the twentieth century even after the abolition of official slavery. What also began to happen is that cacao began to be grown in Africa and in other regions of the world that had been colonized by the European powers. Slowly the location of cattle growth shifted sister today most Cacao is grown outside of its native regions. That is Cacao a genetically we know probably began in South America but then was I move to mesoamerica and was largely use there and then from there imported to Africa in other regions. 

Cacao is now mostly grown in those after mentioned other regions. Even though in modern times cacao and sugar, which are highly linked in terms of their production, to one another are not a generally not grown using official slavery they are however still unfortunately grown using coerced labor. Brown and Black people  are paid peanuts for their work and work under very harsh conditions and actually suffer disease and early death as a result of what they do. And that has coincided of course with chocolate being massively consumed all over the world by by many different people. And even though chocolate is consumed worldwide, it is consumed more in the West in industrialized nations. So in other words the people who bear the brunt of chocolate production, the production of cacao, the production of sugar, and the refinement of those raw materials into chocolate actually consume chocolate the least whereas the people who profit most off of of the production of chocolate consume it the most. So chocolate is tasty and massively consumed but also over time has become a blood-stained commodity, and that is the unfortunate reality of our culinary world.

Works Cited

“Consequences of Violence.” Violence, 2019, pp. 161–181., doi:10.1002/9781119240716.ch9.

Schwartzkopf, Stacey, and Kathryn E. Sampeck. Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica. University of Texas Press, 2017.

Sloan, Kealy, et al. “One Size Does Not Fit All: Private-Sector Perspectives on Climate Change, Agriculture and Adaptation.” The Climate-Smart Agriculture Papers, 2018, pp. 227–233., doi:10.1007/978-3-319-92798-5_19.

Multimedia Sources

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dark_chocolate_bar.jpg.

Loo, John. “Chocolate.” Flickr, Yahoo!, 24 June 2007, http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnloo/606739059.

Wikimedia Commons, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Slaves_cutting_the_sugar_cane_-_Ten_Views_in_the_Island_of_Antigua_(1823),_plate_IV_-_BL.jpg.

Sugar in French and Haitian Cuisines

Sugar consumption had a dramatic rise tied directly to the expansion of the Triangle trade and shifting eating habits. Over time this simple substance became a cornerstone in European food. We can see just how cemented sugar is in modern cuisine by the sheer amount that we consume on a daily basis. In the U.S. the average person consumes a staggering 126.4 grams per day, followed by Germany and the Netherlands at 102.9 grams and 102.5 grams, respectively. England, who we’ll discuss again in this post, consumes a whopping 93.2 grams.

Infographic from the Washington Post

We’ve discussed this meteoric rise before in class, in particular the way sugar uses our instinctual love of sweet things to work its way into our everyday cuisine. But sugar hasn’t fully invaded all cuisines. France, even with a recent rise as processed foods enter common everyday consumption, consumes only 68.5 grams of sugar each day placing it 3rd to last among European countries for sugar consumption. Haitians consume even less, averaging about 41 grams each day or a third that of the average american (Helgilibrary). Why is this? Surely a craving for sweetness is a universal trait, but how have these cultures resisted the temptation so well? In this post, I posit that the low sugar consumption in France and Haiti can be tied directly to the cuisines in each country. As we’ll explore, there are peculiarities in each cuisine that bring about cooler relationships with sugar than that of other nations like England and the U.S. who heavily rely on processed and refined sugars.

The unusual health of the French people is a widely recognized phenomenon. In particular, their low intake of sugar is touted as the source of their lean statures. Diet blogs have published numerous articles on “How to Eat like the French,” which suggest cutting sugar and leaving high-fat foods like butter and cheese in one’s diet. We know that the French eat significantly less sugar per-capita than other European nations and the United States, but how did a country so complicit in the sugar trade through the 17th and 18th centuries keep such an indifferent relationship with the substance? The answer may lie in the French cuisine itself, a collection of fatty and savory tastes that, while leveraging sugar occasionally (primarily in baking), doesn’t have any central role for sugar to take on. In England, for example, we can see sugar taking on a central role as English tastes favored heavily sweetened tea and sugar-rich desserts both at meals and as snacks (Sweetness and Power, 189). With a heavy reliance on sugar for even everyday dishes, we can see why England consumes as much sugar as it does: it’s simply part of the cuisine now. In the case of French cuisine history, sweetened teas never supplanted wine (or coffee, for that matter), and dessert is dominated by cheeses (Sweetness and Power, 189). With both of these niches filled, sugar had little room to enter French cuisine outside of baked goods which have little influence on the everyday life of the average French person. Compare this with English daily tea practices and we can already see a source for the disparity in consumption. For these reasons, sugar hasn’t played a dominant role in French cuisine until more recent times as processed foods enter the everyday eating habits of everyone, including the French.

We’ve explored how France could avoid sugar despite owning sugar colonies, but what if you were a sugar colony? How could a place like Haiti maintain such a low reliance on sugar despite still farming and exporting sugarcane products? In some ways, fault may still lie with the French. Claimed by Spaniard Christopher Columbus in 1492, Haiti existed under sole Spanish influence until Saint-Domingue came under French control in 1625. With the treaty of Ryswick in 1697, these influences effectively split Haiti in half, setting up a century of heavy French influence until the Haitian Revolution that resulted in independence and the first Black Republic in 1804. With such a long period of influence from the French, it would naturally follow that Haitian cuisine would have strong similarities to French cuisine, but the low sugar-per-capita consumption remains an interesting quirk considering the history of sugar in the country. We know from reported statistics that Haitians consume almost a third less sugar than the French, despite whatever similarities might have been developed between their cuisines.

This could, in part, be attributed to economic pressure and poverty leading to difficult access to the sugar products that are produced in the country. However, there is also a unique and vibrant relationship to sugarcane in Haitian cooking that upon closer inspection can give us the ability to explain these statistics. It has much to do with the usage of non-processed sugarcane in dishes. For example, it is common practice to use sugarcane directly in Haitian cooking in the form of sugarcane juice to sweeten beverages or raw sugarcane as an ingredient to stewed dishes. Even rum produced on the island uses sugarcane juice as opposed to the traditional molasses, giving a unique flavor and name (Rhum) (Food by Country). What we see in Haitian cooking is a healthy relationship with sugarcane, not processed and refined sugar. By using sugar in a raw form as opposed to the concentrated and densified version in processed products, Haitians can actually consume less sugar than their European and North American counterparts.

A popular Haitian dish, Pate Kòde (Fried Haitian Patties)

Despite a growing reliance on processed, sugar-heavy foods that skew more recent statistics, France and Haiti have a rich culinary history that, in their own ways, resist an over-reliance on sugar compared to other cultures. While some of these resistances are habitual in nature, like in the case of France and their relationship with wine and cheese in place of tea and sugary desserts, others are more intriguing. I particularly found Haitian usage of sugarcane in cooking to be an interesting characteristic of their cuisine, similar to sources of sweetness in other cuisines like piloncillo in Latino and Mexican cuisine or palm sugar in Thai cuisine. In a way, there are many ways in which we incorporate sugar and sweetness into our foods, and while refined sugar is a convenient metric, it doesn’t always capture the depth of traditional dishes and sources.

Works Cited:

The Rise of Sugar: How Colonialism, Industrialization, and Price Made Sugar Central to the Western Diet

In our current day and age, we take sugar’s centrality to food as a given. Sugar permeates all aspects of the Western diet, from desserts, to drinks, to salad dressings, and it’s almost impossible to imagine a time where this wasn’t the case. However, not too long ago, global sugar consumption was minuscule compared with what it is today. Sugar experienced a massive upswing in consumption from the 1700s to the 1900s that propelled it from the halls of kings, queens and the elite, to a luxury on the table of the masses, and finally to an everyday staple. This post will focus on sugar’s rise in England specifically, as many of the developments in sugar’s story originated in or are particularly exemplified by England. 

Some questions we are faced with given the current ubiquity of sugar are: what factors propelled sugar to take on such a crucial role in the Western kitchen and diet? Was the rise of sugar inevitable? The most important drivers of sugar’s rise were the proliferation of colonialism and the resulting importation of bitter caffeinated beverages, the effect of industrialization on workers and their home lives, and the steady decline in the price of sugar. The rise of sugar in England was inevitable; however, the speed with which it came to the center of the Western diet was not inevitable and was a result of the confluence of many individual factors at the right time.  

Sugar’s rise occurred concurrently with the advent of colonialism, and this is no coincidence. Colonialism brought with it the triangle slave trade, a major portion of which was the trade of the bitter caffeinated beverages — chocolate, coffee, and tea. The raw materials for these beverages came from the tropics to Europe, where they were processed. They were then consumed with sugar that came from the same trade. In England, the most popular of these beverages was tea, largely because it could “be more successfully adulterated than either coffee or chocolate, apparently because it can be tolerated, even when very diluted, more readily than those other beverages” (Mintz 112). Tea soared in popularity among the poor, because they were able to dip their bread in it more cheaply than with milk.

Another key development that spurred sugar’s progress was the rise of industrialization in European economies. As workers moved to jobs in factories, their income began to rise. This coincided with a large decline in the price of sugar which “fell by 30 percent between 1840 and 1850, and by a further 25 percent in the next two decades, [thus] consumption increases [of sugar] reflect a decline in the price of sugar relative to other commodities, and not necessarily an improved life standard” (Mintz 144). Mintz is referring to the free-trade movement of the mid-19th century that caused a drop in sugar prices relative to the price of other imports. According to a book from the time examining the trade and price of various commodities with England, “the sugar revenue has augmented within the last few years, in consequence of lessened duty and increased importation” (Martin 69). With their increased purchasing power, English laborers had more choices available for what they could eat, yet spent their money on increasingly available and cheap sugar, thus reducing the nutritional value they received from their diets. 

Sugar, and to a certain extent tea, played a major role in the altered lifestyle of the masses. Tea was essentially a “bitter stimulant…capable of carrying large quantities of palatable sweet calories ” (Mintz 114) that when consumed gave these workers more energy to go about their jobs, filled them up with calories, and suppressed their appetites. 

Furthermore, during this time many women joined the workforce. As they were mainly responsible for preparing meals at home, they had less time to spend cooking, so the home diet skewed towards easily prepared foods such as white bread, tea, and jam — foods high in sugar. Sugar was touted as providing quick and cheap energy, which made it easy for families to switch to this type of diet, even with the more detrimental long term effects it may have had on them. The figure below illustrates sugar’s effect on blood sugar, causing an energy spike which, as soon as it subsides, leads to cravings for more sugar. 

There was also a distinct difference in the amounts of sugar consumption within the family unit. Fathers were considered to be the breadwinners and hard laborers, so any protein in the kitchen was often reserved for them, leaving the mother and kids with foods high in sucrose. Women “were never offered anything like equality with men within the family economy”, which meant that dietary nutrition was often worse for women and children than for men (Barker & Chalus 14). 

These factors driving sugar’s rise influenced the development known as the ‘ritualization and extensification’ of sugar in England, meaning sugar grew to become a staple and point of ritual. Tea became a point of culture for the English. The illustration below shows tea trading routes and countries sized according to their tea consumption in the early 20th century. Although China, which had more tea consumption at the time, is cut off from the map, the image still gives an indication of the perceived importance of tea to the English, and therefore the massive demand for sugar that existed. 

Sugar came into the whole public’s knowledge in England between 1750 and 1850, and upon its price drop around 1850 became an object of mass consumption. All told, these developments resulted in the caloric contribution of sugar to jump from just 2% of the diet at the beginning of the 19th century, to 14% of the diet only a century later. The increased availability of sugar meant that it was now consumed most by the masses rather than the rich, thus changing its status from that of a luxury to one of a daily commodity and kitchen necessity.

With so many driving factors responsible for sugar’s quick rise to the center of the Western diet, it may be tempting to call it a coincidence that these factors came together and made sugar so successful. However, any of these trends — whether colonialism or industrialization or price collapse — taken individually without all the others would have still hastened the rise of sugar. There likely would not have been as quick an adoption of sugar in England without the combination of all factors, but the fact that sugar as a chemical compound provides energy and calories make it nearly inevitable that sugar would have gained a similar status in the Western diet, but just at a slower pace.  

Works Cited 

Multimedia:

Canter, Sheryl. “Real Sugar Prices and Consumption Per Capita in England, 1600-1850.” Normal Eating Blog RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.

Brickey, Beth Manos. “The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster.” Tasty Yummies, Web. 2020.

Goodman, Jack. “Atlas Obscura.” Atlas Obscura, Web. 1 Aug. 2016.

Text:

Barker, Hannah, and Elaine Chalus. Gender in Eighteenth-Century England: Roles, Representations and Responsibilities. Routledge, 2014, Google Scholar.

Martin, Robert Montgomery. The Past and Present State of the Tea Trade of England, and of the Continents of Europe and America: And a Comparison Between the Consumption, Price Of, and Revenue Derived From, Tea, Coffee, Sugar, Wine, Tobacco, Spirits, &c. Parbury, Allen, & Company, 1832, Google Scholar.

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

Consumption Patterns of Sugar Through History

           We consume sugar in our everyday lives without even thinking about it. From our morning coffees to our afternoon snacks and evening dinners, sugar is an integral part of the food we ingest, if not constituting the food itself. However, only relatively recently has sugar accessibility and consumption become so widespread. When sugar first was introduced into Europe, it was a very expensive and rare commodity. Over time, the increased availability and affordability of sugar not only drastically increased its consumption, but also shaped many changes in its social perception and usage.

Early Sugar: Spice and Medicine

            Sugar was introduced to Europe in around 1100, and at first, it was considered a spice alongside ingredients like nutmeg, pepper, and ginger. These types of spices were treated as “rare and tropical…imports, used sparingly by those who could afford them at all” (Mintz 79), and sugar was regarded in the same way. Because it was so rare and expensive, sugar was “prized among the wealthy and powerful of western Europe” as something that made diets “more digestible, varied, [and] contrastive” (Mintz 80) – due to its expensive nature, its consumption was a luxury reserved for the elite, but because it was so rare, its main uses were for practical and important needs, and in small amounts.

            The other main function of sugar from the beginning of its consumption in Europe was as a medicine, but unlike its use as a spice, its medicinal uses sustained for much longer. These two functions were actually quite related – as Fischler explains, “literally all spices were believed to have some kind of medicinal significance” (5), which makes sense given that spices were used in food partially to improve digestibility (7). Its medicinal ability was introduced to Europe through Arab pharmacology, though its utility had already long been established in the Islamic world (British Library). Throughout the 13th-18th centuries in Europe, sugar became so useful in medicine that the phrase “like an apothecary without sugar” was coined (Fischler 5).

Sloane Manuscript 1621 (written in mid-to-late 11th century) from the British Library, one of the earliest written records of sugar in England. Starting on line 6, it lists a recipe for Rosatum tertiani febris (‘A conserve of roses for tertian fever’), which includes white syrup as one of the ingredients.

           These early uses of sugar were shaped by its availability (or lack thereof) as a material in the sense that its main, most common uses were for important and essential purposes – to cure illness or to aid digestibility of food – and often in sparing amounts. As sugar trade became more widespread, however, this allowed sugar to be treated as more commonplace and take on more indulgent purposes. A religious debate sparked in the 12th century over whether it counted as a food that broke fast reflected the shifting attitude at the time toward the everyday uses and roles sugar had.

Developments in Sugar: A Symbol of Elite Status

            As time went on, sugar remained expensive but became increasingly accessible. Mintz describes that “during the thirteenth century, sugar was sold both by the loaf and by the pound, and though its price put it beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest, it could be procured even in remote towns” (82). As it grew more accessible among the rich, its uses morphed to include decoration. Sugar pastes could be used to form sculptures which were not only aesthetic, but also self-preserving and of course, edible. These pastes were often made from combining sugar with oil, crushed nuts, and vegetable gums, which resulted in a clay-like substance that could be molded (Mintz 88). Once formed, the sculptures were baked and hardened.

Jacquy Pfeiffer of the French Pastry School demonstrates how to use sugar to make sculptures.

           These sugar sculptures were often displayed at celebratory events or feasts, such as royal French feasts starting in the 13th century (Mintz 88). Though they were appreciated and eaten, they did not serve the role of the main food entrées, but rather as transitions between banquet courses (Mintz 88). The displays, called “subtleties,” often represented animals, objects, or buildings and later evolved to take on political symbolism (Mintz 89), establishing them as an art form that could be used to express ideas. At this point, sugar was able to be used not for essential needs, but as an accessory and an artistic medium.

A modern recreation of a sugar sculpture that might have been the centerpiece of an 18th century French wedding table. Part of “The Edible Monument: The Art of Food for Festivals,” a 2015 exhibition at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

           In its role as a decoration and art form, sugar also took on socioeconomic meaning. Because the ingredient was precious and used in large quantities, its decorative use was at first limited to kings (Mintz 90). The material was so rare that no others could even afford quantities substantial enough to create sculptures out of. Thus, it was viewed as a display of “wealth, power, and status” for a host to be able to procure such valuable food for guests, and guests eating these symbols validated that status (Mintz 90).

           Sugar importation stabilized in the 14th century, and this practice had trickled down to merchants and nobility by the 16th century (Mintz 90). By the late 16th century, it had permeated families who were not considered noble or particularly wealthy, even if they were still in England’s higher socioeconomic levels (Mintz 91). Recipes for sugar pastes began to appear in cookbooks and became increasingly widespread (Mintz 92), indicating their use among more common households. As sugar sculptures continued to trickle downward, they inevitably became less grand, compared to what kings might have displayed previously. This was also in part because as recipes became more common, they adapted to the more commonplace needs and resources of consumers. For example, one adaptation in Mrs. Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery described “jumballs” and “hedgehogs,” which were little dough confections cut into pretty figures that were meant to be admired and eaten (Mintz 93). The focus became less on the ability to spin art and decoration out of sugar, and more on providing quantities of sugar to guests.

            Though today, sugar does not carry the same signal of status, these ornamental practices still persist to some degree. We still often use sugar as a decoration on treats, albeit on a much smaller scale and solely for the purpose of aesthetics. And on special holidays or occasions, we still seem to turn to sugar to symbolize our feelings.

Sugar Today: Food Staple

           As sugar’s symbolic importance to the elite declined, its importance in the general population increased, contributing to how we consume it today. Today, sugar is no longer expensive as it once was, and it is very easily acquirable. Though it has lost its original meaning as a status symbol, the increased accessibility has allowed it to rise up as a household staple. It is an integral part of many food recipes, and in many cases, sugar is the main food itself – whether we are consuming it as dessert, as a sweet snack, or as a candy treat. Often, we consume sugar without even thinking about it or even realizing that we are. In fact, in many countries, sugar is consumed on the order of many tens of kilograms per person per year, on average. Thus, as sugar has shed its previous defining limitations of expensiveness and scarcity, it has become fully integrated with everyday life, spanning consumption purposes which vary from the medicinal to the decorative to the nourishing.

Works Cited

A spoonful of sugar. British Library, 2018, https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2018/11/aspoonful-of-sugar.html. Accessed 23 March 2020.

Fischler, Claude. Attitudes Towards Sugar and Sweetness in Historical and Social Perspective. In Sweetness. J. Dobbing, ed. pp. 83-98. Berlin, Springer-Verlag, 1987.

“How was it made? Sugar Sculpture.” Youtube, uploaded by Victoria and Albert Museum, 9 September 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqpz7hN-Bkg.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York, Penguin Books, 1986.

Swanson, Abbie F. Let them eat sugar sculpture! The Getty celebrates edible table art. KPCC, 2015, https://www.scpr.org/news/2015/11/20/55779/let-them-eat-sugar-sculpture-thegetty-celebrates/. Accessed 23 March 2020.

Sugar, Cocoa, and Slavery in Portuguese Colonial Africa

Slave labor fueled the sugar industry ‒ and, later, the cocoa industry ‒ in Portugal’s island colonies in the Atlantic for centuries. Though slavery was officially abolished in Portugal’s colonies in the 1870s, it was quickly replaced with forced labor that left indentured São Toméans toiling on sugar plantations for little or no pay up until the early twentieth century. Slavery and forced labor played huge roles in the history of the chocolate industry, and their historical ties to Portuguese sugar cane and cocoa exports cannot be ignored.

Early Sugar Production in the Atlantic Colonies

A map of Portugal and its colonies, in red, alongside principal Portuguese trade routes, in green, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.1

Sugar consumption in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was starkly different than it is today. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, sugar was still largely only accessible to the wealthy, and was most commonly used as a spice or medicine.2

While sugar was still nowhere near being the commodity it is today, its production proved to be strategic for other reasons. The Portuguese realized that securing colonial territories in the Atlantic could be useful to the end of monopolizing essential trade routes, and so soon began establishing sugar cane plantations along their Atlantic island territories in order to safeguard these trade routes.3 Sugar plantations, or roças, were established on the islands of the Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe, and later in the continental African colonies of Angola and Mozambique.

[Portugal’s island colonies in the Atlantic] were situated in strategic locations with respect to wind systems and ocean currents. Portugal’s control of the sea lanes in the Atlantic ‒ and later to Asia ‒ were to depend on her ability to secure the islands as bases.

Sidney M. Greenfield4

In Angola and Mozambique, these sugar cane plantations were powered by the unpaid labor of enslaved natives. Portugal’s  island colonies in the Atlantic had no native populations, however, and so the Portuguese imported enslaved people from its colonies on the African continent to toil on the island plantations in place of Portuguese settlers.5

The value of sugar skyrocketed over the next several hundred years, surpassing that of even tobacco.6 By 1900, sugar represented approximately “one-sixth of per-capita caloric intake” among Europeans.7 Sugar plantations became a vital part of the world economy as the global demand for sugar increased, and the Portuguese were willing to go to great lengths to protect the incredible wealth they had created in the Atlantic on the backs of slaves.

Cocoa Plantations and Forced Labor in São Tomé and Príncipe

Portugal abolished slavery in 1761, but ruled that this abolition should not be extended to its colonies abroad. The decision to end slavery in the colonies did not come until 1869, and was not actually implemented until the mid-1870s.9 The economies of the Portuguese colonies had been built entirely upon the unpaid labor of abducted African people; as such, the Portuguese government soon began looking for ways to lessen the economic blow that abolishing slavery in its colonies would undoubtedly cause. Eventually a new labor system was implemented in the colonies wherein former slaves could “sign contracts committing themselves to five years of labor at a set wage.”10

In reality, these so-called contracts were either coerced, forged, or simply never existed in the first place. These serviçais, as they were called ‒ the Portuguese word for servants ‒ were slaves whose lives, labor, and freedom were being stolen for the profit of the Portuguese empire.

An undated São Toméan postcard featuring a photograph of serviçais working at Roça Boa Entrada, one of the largest cocoa plantations in São Tomé and Príncipe.8

As the global demand for chocolate began to increase around the mid-1800s alongside the global demand for sugar, some of Portugal’s Atlantic colonies began producing cocoa on plantations nearly identical to the sugar cane roças. The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe soon became hubs of cheap, large-scale cocoa production powered by the new serviçal labor system.

The Cadbury and Fry chocolate companies, both located in England, were two of several buyers of cocoa from the roças of São Tomé and Príncipe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. English journalist Henry Nevinson published an exposé of the abhorrent labor conditions of serviçais in Portuguese colonial Africa in his 1906 novel A Modern Slavery, but neither Cadbury nor Fry made an effort to source their cocoa elsewhere once these revelations came to light. Instead, unconvinced ‒ or perhaps willfully ignorant ‒ William Cadbury sent Joseph Burtt to investigate labor conditions in São Tomé and Príncipe for himself in 1907.11

When Burtt’s report confirmed Nevinson’s findings, it was not well received. The British secretary of state urged Burtt to edit his report to be less damning of the Portuguese government, essentially watering down the atrocity of what was actually happening overseas in the name of diplomacy while simultaneously delaying the publication of the report.12 Nevinson saw Burtt’s report as a weak summary of his own work, and published articles in several newspapers advocating for the boycott of Cadbury and Fry chocolate companies until their cocoa was no longer associated with São Toméan slave labor.13 While said boycott never actually took place, the scandal was enough to push Cadbury and Fry to officially stop buying São Toméan cocoa in March of 1909.14

Modern Cocoa Production in Post-Colonial Africa

Following the Cadbury slave labor scandal, cocoa production in São Tomé and Príncipe began to dwindle. The chocolate companies that had once been loyal customers of São Toméan cocoa began sourcing their cocoa from countries like Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire instead. By the time São Tomé became independent in 1975, the cocoa industry there had fallen “into neglect,”15 and nearly one-quarter of all cocoa farmers in São Tomé were living below the poverty line.16

It wasn’t until 2009, when the United Nations’ International Fund for Agriculture began “working with farmers on the island to produce Fair Trade cocoa beans using a co-operative model,”17 that prospects for the cocoa industry in São Tomé and Príncipe slowly began to improve. Fair trade farmer’s co-operatives ensure that São Toméan cocoa farmers are finally appropriately compensated for their labor after centuries of being forced to provide this labor for free.

Fair trade chocolate practices ensure that African cocoa farmers are appropriately compensated for their labor.18

Works Cited

  1. Image from Biblioteca Escolar, https://docplayer.com.br/74086840-Portugal-sec-xv-e-xvi.html.
  2. Mintz, Sidney W.  Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1985, p. 30.
  3. Ibid, p. 30.
  4. Greenfield, Sidney M. “Plantations, Sugar Cane, and Slavery.” Historical Reflections,  vol. 6, no. 1 (1979), pp. 85119. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/41330419, p. 87.
  5. Ibid, p. 103.
  6. Mintz, p. 36. [n 1]
  7. Ibid, p. 149.
  8. Image from Ansichtskartenpool historical postcards, https://www.akpool.co.uk/postcards/28291659-postcard-so-tom-und-prncipe-roca-boa-entrada-chegada-do-cacao.
  9. Satre, Lowell J. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005, p. 3.
  10. Ibid, p. 3.
  11. Ibid, p. 13.
  12. Higgs, Catherine. “Cadbury, Burtt, and Portuguese Africa.” Chapter in Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2012, pp. 133154, p. 133.
  13. Ibid, p. 137.
  14. Ibid, p. 148.
  15. Constable, Harriet. “Cocoa industry returns to São Tomé.” Geographical. 30 August 2018, https://geographical.co.uk/people/development/item/2889-sao-tome, p. 5.
  16. Plaut, Martin. “Chocolate boost for São Tomé farmers.” BCC News. 7 March 2011, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-12261276, p. 11.
  17. Constable, p. 5. [n 15]
  18. Video from Equal Exchange, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnpsFRcsnE0.

Exploring the Explosion of British Sugar Production: A Supply and Demand Analysis

By the beginning of the 1900s, sugar had become a complete staple of British diets. So much so, that it composed twenty (20%) percent of the average caloric intake (Mintz 6). Since sugar remains such a dominant source of energy in our diets today, this may not seem surprising. However, before 1000 AD, few Europeans even knew of sugar’s existence. This dramatic shift in historical sugar consumption can be explained, in part, by a supply and demand analysis. Demand was fueled by humans’ neurologically wired love for sugar and supply was entirely supported by the slave trade, making it both financially possible and profitable for the British to produce vast quantities of sugar.

Why sugar? What makes sugar so much more popular than other crops? Humans are neurologically programmed to crave sugar. We are wired in such a way that sugar presses the “pleasure” button in our brains more than most other foods. Moreover, as the video below details, unlike with other healthier foods, we have an almost insatiable neurological desire for sugar, that does not diminish with sugar intake. This makes sugar highly addictive, acting almost like modern addictive drugs.

Consequently, from the moment Europeans were introduced to sugar in 1100 CE, sugar was bound to reach high levels of demand. However, satisfying this universal infatuation would not be easy. Sugar can only grow in tropical climates and is quite labor intensive. Therefore, producers would need substantial land in warm climates and a tremendous amount of cheap labor to meet future demand. Enter, the British.

In 1625, Portugal was supplying nearly all of Europe with Brazilian sugar. The British, who learned sugar production methods from the Dutch, subsequently dominated the industry after their humble beginnings in the 1640s on the island of Barbados. The British quickly engulfed the entire island and even expanded into Jamaica.

Mintz argues, “England fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves (to her own colonies and, in absolute numbers, in her own bottoms), and went furthest and fastest in creating a plantation system. The most important product of that system was sugar. Coffee, chocolate (cacao), nutmeg, and coconut were among the other products; but the amount of sugar produced, the number of its users, and the range of its uses exceeded the others; it remained the principal product for centuries” (Mintz 38). 

However, sugar production was not a risk-free endeavor.  Dunn remarks, “sugar making was a highly volatile business; with the right combination of skill, drive, and luck, a planter could make a quick fortune, but careless management, a tropical storm, an epidemic disease, a slave revolt, or a French invasion could ruin the most flourishing plantation overnight” (Dunn 189). Planters depended on (1) English merchants’ loans for slave and equipment acquisition and (2) the government to provide military and naval protection. These factors were key for Britain’s success in the sugar business. With these high risks came high financial rewards for those who were able to successfully navigate these challenges.

Despite the risks, the British facilitated astounding sugar production growth, fueled by the exploitation of Africans sold in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Sugar production accounted for a greater influx of slaves than any other crop. They enslaved 263,000 individuals alone, with half of their slaves going to the island of Barbados. Slave importation grew exponentially; in all of the English West Indies, the black population grew from forty-two (42%) percent of the total population in 1660, to eighty-one (81%) percent by 1700. The video below explains how Europeans were able to purchase so many slaves from Africa over the decades, and the long-lasting effects of this trade on Africa’s tumultuous political climate.

Agricultural practices on Caribbean sugar plantations differed from English and North American farms. The work force on sugar plantations primarily comprised unskilled forced field workers – nearly one laborer per acre of cane on an average seventeenth-century Barbados plantation. Here, laborers did the work traditionally performed by animals. Such tasks as planting and cultivating, performed on English or North American farms by horse-driven plows and harrows, were carried out in the Indies entirely by hand (Dunn 198). Dunn argues this work was purposely completely inefficiently in the Indies to keep slaves busy year-round, as Cane cultivation is very seasonal and this would have prevented slave rebellions during the offseason. These practices helped the British avoid slave rebellions and ensure steady production growth.

Before the turn of the eighteenth century, the English succeeded in establishing a monopoly on the production of sugar, partially attributable to a rigorous policy of the English Navigation Acts that drove out the Dutch from the sugar trade. With England being at the center of the world’s sugar production, consumption followed suit. Despite fluctuating conditions of supply and demand over the years, English sugar consumption consistently trended upward. Ellis writes, “the price of sugar was falling, and its consumption was spreading rapidly among the English people. By the end of the period sugar had passed well out from among the luxuries and was regarded by increasingly greater numbers as necessary to comfort and happiness” (Ellis 86).

As is clear from the figure above, English sugar consumption per capita grew substantially from the early beginnings in the 1640s on Barbados through the eighteenth century. Sugar went from something only the wealthy could enjoy to a household item. Were it not for the slave trade, producing mass quantities of the good — at such a low cost — would not have been possible. Moreover, we it not for the universal love of sugar, there would not have been the demand to support the high consumption. Therefore, these factors both played a key role in ensuring the explosion of British sugar production.

Works Cited

Dunn, Richard S., and Institute of Early American History Culture. Sugar and Slaves; the Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713. Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture at Williamsburg, Va., by the University of North Carolina Press, 1972.

Ellis, Ellen Deborah. An Introduction to the History of Sugar as a Commodity. J. C. Winston Co., 1905.

Mintz, S. W. (1986). Sweetness and Power : The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books. 

Right Place at the Right Time

Imagine walking into a grocery store with a sugar craving. You walk directly to the section with sweets and chocolates only to be visually bombarded by the large variety of options. Maybe you want a simple Mars bar- or if you are in a nutty mood, a Snickers. Alternatively, you could be looking for a smaller, more “snacky” option, such as an M&M or one of the varieties of Skittles. Perhaps you don’t want candy at all, so you stop at the gum aisle and pick up a Juicy Fruit or Orbit pack of gum. On the way to the register, a Dove and Twix bar catch your eye, and you make your purchase. Walking out of the store, you deem your trip a success and are happy that you were able to narrow your options from the variety presented above. Little did you know, however, that every confection mentioned previously is owned by one massive conglomerate: Mars Inc.

According to Zion Market Research (2018), the global Total Addressable Market (TAM) for chocolate is a staggering $103.38 billion and is expected to grow with a compound annual growth rate of 7% for the next 7 years ($161.56 billion by 2024). This TAM is higher than the GDP of 130 nations and is composed mainly of five large corporations: Mars, Mondelez, Nestle, Ferrero, and Hershey’s.

This pie chart details the breakdown of market share in U.S. confectionery markets. The diagram stresses how a few firms dominate an entire multibillion dollar industry (U.S. Confectionary Market Share, 2016).

Even into the late 19th Century, processing cacao beans was still a manual task that took a significant amount of labor on a large scale (The History of Chocolate, 2007). So how then, in 150 years, have we arrived at a point where chocolate is so all expansive and profitable? The mass production and distribution of sugar, tools resulting from the Industrial Revolution, and innovative entrepreneurial solutions transformed the nature of chocolate from a rare, bitter, localized delicacy, to the massive, mass-produced, money-making machine it is today.

Cane sugar is the ingredient that unlocked the real marketability of chocolate, allowing it to be widely consumed and enjoyed. Sugar, in addition to chocolate, has a complicated history that begins with it as a specialty item, reserved for royalty and special occasions and slowly trickling down to the masses through plantation slavery as its production mechanism. In Sidney Mintz’s “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History” (1985), she claims that “no later than 1800, sugar had become a necessity… in the diet of every English person; by 1900, it was supplying nearly one-fifth of the calories in the English diet” (p. 94). This rapid acceleration in the late years was due to the end of experimentation with sugar and its many uses. Not only did it have medicinal uses for chest and throat pain, but sugar was also found to slow the spread of bacteria, making it a useful preservative. In addition, pure, white, cane sugar was a common decorative addition that became synonymous with nobility. It was only through brutal exploitation of slaves that sugar was able to be prepared en masse, allowing for it to shift from a spice- a mere addition in some recipes- to the star of a given food or diet. Mintz (1985) corroborates this analysis when she claims that “As the spread of sugar downward and outward meant that it lost some of its power to distinguish those who consumed it, it became a new substance” (p. 95).  Another contributing factor to the proliferation of sugar was the rise of coffee, tea, and chocolate as these goods reinforced each other in a cycle that led to the mass adoption of all of them as household staples. Once sugar’s role as a sweetener had been solidified, it was only a matter of time until this sweet addition seeped into the chocolate industry.

This graph details the change in consumption of sugar over time. While growth is fairly linear between the 1600s-1800s, there is a steep boom at the start of the 19th century due to the formalization of slave labor in plantations (Sugar Consumption Over Time).

In addition to the availability of raw resources, the entrepreneurs and innovations of the Industrial Revolution propelled the industry forward in ways that set up the mass production of chocolate to succeed. As mentioned earlier, it was not until late into the 19th century that the manual removal of cacao was replaced by more mechanized solutions. Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten is attributed with inventing the Cocoa press in 1828. This machine was able to separate the cacao butter from chocolate liquor (The Sweet Lure of Chocolate, 2020). This mechanization lowered costs and sped up the chocolate-making process. In 1879, Rodolphe Lindt, the Swiss chocolatier, invented the conching machine, which allowed for the production of standardized, mass-produced, smoother, and superior tasting products (The Sweet History of Chocolate, 2014). In his piece “Industrial Food,” Jack Goody (2013) also argues that the transition from a mixed marketplace in cities, such as London, to the privatized individual storefronts and grocery stores allowed for the chocolate to be more accessible as prices fell. In addition, the ability to preserve milk in the condensed form (in cans) allowed for even greater mass production (p. 81-83).

This video gives insight to the Conching process which aims to spread cacao butter within chocolate. It also also develops the flavor of the chocolate through application of frictional heat (The Chocolate Conche, 2018).

The Industrial Revolution resulted in technology that could mass-produce confection; however, smart and savvy entrepreneurial minds were still necessary to capture the business and stomach of chocolate hungry consumers. The stories of Milton S. Hershey and Forrest Mars shed a great deal of insight into how small local confectionaries grew into global powerhouses. In the case of Hershey, due to his lack of experience in the chocolate industry, he teamed up with John Schmalbach, whose proprietary method allowed for the team to produce on a grander scale than in Europe. This was due precisely to the massive availability of condensed milk and sugar (D’Antonio 2006, p. 107-108). Hershey was able to gain market power, cutting costs, and therefore pushing out the smaller competition, forcing labor to come to them. The Hershey factory became central to the town (later renamed Hershey), and unlike Standard Oil and other large-scale monopolists, Hershey’s operations were not viewed in an evil light (D’Antonio 2006, p. 115).  

Mars had a slightly less linear growth story that began with Forrest finding his estranged father, reviving his business with the original Mars bar, being cut out of his own family operation, and exploring European chocolate making facilities to perfect his craft. Upon arrival back to the states, Forrest dismantled the relations his father Frank had built with the Hershey company and began to source his own chocolate. Not only did this decision allow for greater manufacturing independence, but Mars had previously been Hershey’s most significant revenue stream. Cutting business ties crippled Hershey’s operations in the short run, allowing Forrest and his new line of products to dominate the market (Brenner 2000, p. 182). While both Mars and Hershey’s dominate the chocolate space, as of 2018, Mars had net sales of $18 billion (the most of any confectionary), while Hershey had less than half the net sales ($7.7 billion). Clearly, the first is not always the most successful (International Cocoa Organization, 2019).

The story of the mass production of chocolate is one of timing, exploitation, and ingenuity. Without the mass production of sugar using slave labor, particular inventions that made chocolate-making processes easier and cheaper, and smart minds such as Mars and Hershey to put all the pieces together, the chocolate industry would look very different today. The issue of labor source is one that needs to be explored and illuminated further as although these corporations don’t rely on slave labor, there are still large swaths of labor exploitation in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Having already secured incredible profits, behemoths such as the Big Five should look to invest more greatly in fair-trade sources for their chocolate as farmers are subject to abject working conditions with little compensation for their labor.

Works Cited

Brenner Joël Glenn. “To the Milky Way and Beyond and Breaking the Mold.” In The Emperors of Chocolate: inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. New York, NY: Broadway Books, 2000.

DAntonio, Michael. Hershey: Miltons S. Hersheys Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperback, 2006.

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” In Food and Culture: a Reader, edited by Caroline Counihan and Penny Can Esterik , 72–90. Routledge, 2013.

“International Cocoa Organization.” The Chocolate Industry. Accessed March 23, 2020. https://www.icco.org/about-cocoa/chocolate-industry.html.

Klein, Christopher. “The Sweet History of Chocolate.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, February 14, 2014. https://www.history.com/news/the-sweet-history-of-chocolate.

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

Research, Zion Market. “Global Chocolate Market Set For Rapid Growth, To Reach USD 161.56 Billion By 2024.” Global Chocolate Market Worth Over USD 161.56 Billion By 2024. Accessed March 23, 2020. https://www.zionmarketresearch.com/news/chocolate-market.

“The History Of Chocolate.” Chocolate – All About Chocolate – History of Chocolate. Accessed March 23, 2020. http://archive.fieldmuseum.org/chocolate/history.html.

“The Sweet Lure of Chocolate.” Chocolate: Facts, History, and Factory Tour | Exploratorium Magazine. Accessed March 23, 2020. https://www.exploratorium.edu/exploring/exploring_chocolate/.

Multimedia Cited

Sugar Consumption Over Time. Photograph. Historical Consumption of Sugar. Accessed March 23, 2020. http://www.sugar-and-sweetener-guide.com/consumption-of-sugar.html.

The Chocolate Conch – Episode 12 – Craft Chocolate TV, Youtube, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGkJGDWn0J8 (accessed March 23, 2020).

U.S. Confectionary Market Share. September 9, 2016. Photograph. FoodBusinessNews. https://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/8592-competition-challenging-confectionery-market.