Tag Archives: sugar production

British sugar: How we got here

It is no secret that sugar is a major part of the modern diet. In the United States, according to the CDC, “In 2005–2010, the average percentage of total daily calories from added sugars was 13% (average intake of 335 calories) for men and 13% (average intake of 239 calories) for women aged 20 and older” (“Know”). In Britain, according to the BBC, “The latest NDNS report found that all age groups were eating more added sugar (technically known as non-milk extrinsic sugars) than the 11% level but that children were exceeding it to the greatest degree” (Jeavens). The British have been consuming sugar long before the United States even came to be, so how did it become so prevalent in British diets? One potential reason for the run up in sugar consumption is the versatility of sugar and its uses. It could be used as medicine, spice-condiment, decorative material, sweetener, and a preservative (Martin, slide 12). Another potential reason is that slavery helped to produce sugar for cheap, and sugar duties that propped up the price of sugar were lifted, making sugar more accessible and cheaper for the people of Great Britain.

From 1700-1800, British sugar consumption jumped from about 4 lbs. per person in to 18 lbs. (Mintz 97). However, it grew even more rapidly from there. As you can see from Figure 1 below, sugar consumption has skyrocketed in Britain since 1800. In the early days of sugar, it was a luxury reserved for the rich. When it first came to Europe “around 1100 A.D., sugar was grouped with spices—pepper, nutmeg, mace, ginger, cardamom, coriander, galingale (related to ginger), saffron, and the like. Most of these were rare and expensive tropical (and exotic) imports, used sparingly by those who could afford them at all” (Mintz 111). Sugar, like these other spices, was quite expensive and hard to get. But, it uses were incredibly versatile. Sugar could be used as a spice, used in jams, used in tea and coffee, and used to sculpt subtleties. “By no later than 1800, sugar had become a necessity—albeit a costly and rare one—in the diet of every English person” (Mintz 32).

The Transatlantic Slave Trade, also known as Triangular Trade, aided in the spread of sugar because it could be produced for cheap. Since sugar was so profitable, colonizing countries used the West Indies to grow tons of sugar, and forced African slaves to grow it and work the land. As you can see in Figure 3, slaves flowed into the West Indies from Africa, and sugar (along with other goods) flowed into Europe and the American colonies. Much of the major economic trade was built on the backs of slaves—trade of which they never saw any benefit themselves as they were worked to death and sold to work in the fields as “property.” On top of the cruelty of slavery driving down production costs, after the 1870s, “the abolition of the sugar duties made sugar cheap and plentiful; jam contains 50 to 65 per cent of its weight in sugar…. Most of the produce of the jam and preserves factories was for domestic consumption…. Urban working classes…consumed much of their fruit in the form of jam” (Mintz 164). Thus, with sugar becoming less expensive thanks to the repeal of sugar duties, giving more people access to sugar at a lower cost.  Thus, “the jam manufacturers, with the exception of Blackwell and Chivers who made expensive preserves as well, agreed in 1905 that their most extensive and lucrative market lay in the working class to whom jam, once a luxury, had now become a necessity, and a substitute for the more expensive butter” (Mintz 164).

The versatility of sugar was very important to its rise, as well as its ability to fuel caloric intake. Men out working in the factories needed high amounts of protein in their diet in order to fuel their labor intensive work. Unfortunately, animal protein was expensive and hard to come by for the working poor. Thus, with the introduction of sugar, it was a cheaper way for the women and children of the family to meet some of their caloric needs. As shown in Figure 2 below, sugar was used as for caloric intake as well as energy to get yourself through the day. By 1900, sugar was about one-fifth of the calories in the English diet (Mintz 32).

Sugar has become a major part of our lives, and continues to grow on the world stage. “World sugar production shows the most remarkable upward production curve of any major food on the world market over the course of several centuries, and it is continuing upward still” (Martin, slide 3). There are many potential factors that caused the rapid rise of sugar, but I believe that its versatility, use as caloric fuel, and rise in production and the drop in price were major contributors that shaped the way sugar has affected our society. Sugar consumption doesn’t seem to be slowing down, and it’s hard to see it slowing any time in the near future.

SOURCE: Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 20 February 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (slide 3).
SOURCE: Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 20 February 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (slide 20).
“The Transatlantic Slave Trade.” Crispus Attucks, Crispus Attucks on-Line Museum, 5 Nov. 2012, http://www.crispusattucksmuseum.org/the-transatlantic-slave-trade/.

Works Cited

Scholarly sources

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


-“Know Your Limit for Added Sugars | Nutrition | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-


-Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of

Food, 20 February 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation.

-Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Penguin Books, 1986, Apple Books.

Multimedia Sources

-Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of

Food, 20 February 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (slide 3).

-Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of

Food, 20 February 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (slide 20).

-“The Transatlantic Slave Trade.” Crispus Attucks, Crispus Attucks on-Line Museum, 5 Nov.

2012, http://www.crispusattucksmuseum.org/the-transatlantic-slave-trade/.

Sugar: A Sweet Transformation

In the second millennium, the introduction of sugar transformed the Western diet. Today, the extreme rate of consumption is both a major health concern and a staple of the modern diet. Only a handful of centuries ago, sugar was a rare commodity reserved only to be used sparingly by the wealthy. Within time, however, production increased and with that came an increase in the accessibility of sugar. In the 18th century alone, British sugar consumption nearly quintupled (Mintz 67). Throughout Europe, sugar consumption transformed from a delicacy to an essential ingredient used as a sweetener, a medicine, and a preservative among other things. Today, we continue to experience the outcome of this landmark growth.

The figure shows a sharp and consistent increase in sugar consumption over time.

Sugar as a Spice

Historians estimate that sugar was first introduced in Europe around the turn of the 12th century. At the time, traders grouped the product with ‘spices’ (Mintz 79). This trend was matched in the kitchen as when studying the ‘cookbooks’ of the era, one can see that sugar was considered only but a ‘spice’ or condiment as they used it only in very small quantities in their recipes. This was due in large part to the exorbitant price of the new commodity. The product was only accessibly priced to the rich and even they struggled to afford it.

New Uses for Sugar

Soon, however, drawn by the natural human liking to sugar’s sweet flavor, people found ways to increase the production of sugar. By the 16th century, sugar had become more plentiful and more affordable. In turn, the product was no longer reserved to be used in small quantities by the wealthy (Mintz 86). Therefore, there were various new uses of sugar that emerged. First, artists used the the pure, white, and durable nature of sugar to make decorations (87). These artists would combine sugar with other foods to create sculptures such as animals or palaces (89). Due to sugar’s continued luxury status, these decorations gloriously boasted one’s class and wealth (95).

People still use sugar as a decoration today when they make chocolate bunnies or wedding cakes.

Second, many used the sweet stimulant, ironically, as a medicine. Today, experts agree that, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, sugary products can cause obesity (Coe 31). When sugar was first introduced to Europe, however, scholars pointed to the the medicinal lore of sugar referenced in classical Islamic texts (Mintz 96). Many went so far as to argue that sugar was a type of panacea. Soon, the stimulant was a staple of apothecaries across Europe (101).

Additionally, sugar was used as a preservative. Sucrose, the chemical compound found in sugar, has a capacity to draw out moisture. This prevents microorganisms from developing a breeding environment (Mintz 123). Thus, sugar can be used as a seal for edible materials against destructive bacteria. Recognizing this, people used sugar to protect an array of edible goods ranging from fruits to cheeses. This revolutionized the shelf life of nearly every food, thus impacting the common diet of Europeans.

Human’s fundamentally and innately enjoy the sweet taste of sugar. Watch this baby’s first taste of sugar! The natural appeal made sugar a useful sweetener.

Perhaps the most important usage of sugar, however, was as a sweetener. This effect was highlighted in juxtaposition to the introduction of exotic products such as coffee, tea, and chocolate (Mintz 108). In the 13th century, a Marco Polo led expedition connected the Western world to the Silk Road, a trade route that traversed Asia. Two centuries later, Christopher Columbus sailed the Santa Maria to the New World. These new discoveries introduced Europe to a myriad of new foods and flavors. These culinary discoveries famously include modern staples such as tea, coffee, and chocolate. All three of these products were introduced to Europe with luxurious undertones; the exotic nature of these products naturally made them delicacies that were associated with the wealthy and thus heavily sought after. Each has a bitter taste, however, that can be repulsive at first. People needed a second flavor to sell their taste buds on these products (109). Their solution was sugar: a flavor so sweet and naturally appealing to the human tongue that it can save any bitter flavor. This preference shined in arguably the most pivotal centuries of culinary history. With newfound globalization, new foods and beverages were being introduced and incorporated into daily life at a staggering pace (120). With these new food and beverages came new tastes and new urges to enjoy different tastes. At that moment, sugar shined as the great sweetener that it is. It no longer was the rare spice of the 12th century but an ingredient of foundational importance in everybody’s diet.

Concluding Thoughts

Sugar consumption in Europe rose brilliantly in the 2nd millennium in Britain and the rest of Europe with wonders such as candy decorations and delicious chocolate. The joyful increase in consumption emerged hand-in-hand with a darker rise of production. With a big, untapped market for sugar, people needed to find ways to produce the crop more plentifully in the middle of the millennium. The dark solution to this problem was slavery. Europeans stole people from Africa to be used as slaves in the Caribbean to produce enough sugar to match the demand at home. The two ends of the Gulf Stream showed two very different realities of sugar. While Europeans enjoyed the sweet taste of sugar at home, African slaves were victims of the cruel business of sugar production in the Caribbean. Each sweet grain of the final product was sadly built on the shoulders of men who dare dream of nothing sweeter than freedom. The legacy of this tragedy today is a continued, heavy sugar trade imbalance where poor countries like India tend to produce most of the sugar and rich countries like the U.S. consume more than their share (USDA). The ubiquitous sugar universe we live in today is all thanks to centuries of injustice, and the health issues that arise from the modern rate of consumption are perhaps a late piece of karma that is pounding down the foothold of the sugar industry.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 1996.

Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power.. Penguin Books, 1985.

United States Department of Agriculture. Sugar: World Markets and Trade. November 2018.

A Complicated History of Chocolate and Sugar in the Caribbean (and Abroad)

My Childhood Experience: 

I love chocolate and I love sugar even more. I have loved both since I was a child and will continue to love them well into my old age. The first time I tasted a Snickers chocolate bar on a small Caribbean island where almost all chocolate is imported, I was hooked- no other candy bar could compare. The Snickers bar became my cradle to grave candy bar and even today when I have one decades later, I tend to flash back to the nostalgic time when getting that chocolate (or any chocolate really) for me was a rare and expensive sugar-rush to be savored. In Barbados, the nation’s relationship with chocolate in general and sugar more specifically tends to be complicated by its history of slave labor production and British colonization (Beckles, 2017). Even in present day, conversations around the health of locals and sugar consumption are often linked back to the repercussions of this history.

Planting the sugar cane

Growing up in the Caribbean, there was no Halloween, no teachers that would give out candy to their students as rewards for good work in the classroom, no goodie bags filled with a delightful assortment at parties for me. Chocolate was a coveted treat and one that I was taught to respect as a child as something of value for having done good or been good in order to “deserve” it. While other kids would spend their lunch money on snacks, sweets, and chocolate during break, I was under strict rules not to spend money on such frivolities. Back then I was raised with the idea that chocolate and other sugary food was not money well spent and that the over consumption of sugar was a result of a still colonized mind. Although chocolate was not at the time as much of a staple as it is now, especially compared to the developed West, sugar was everywhere and in almost everything, like America and the UK. Bajans consumed large amounts of sugar regularly and have been since the mid 1600s when Britain relied on the colony for crops and began manufacturing sugar cane for their own consumption (Martin, 2018, slides 2-9).

Moreover, my mother- a professional cook and very health conscious- believed there were more potential health risks to eating chocolate and sugary treats and thought the health benefits were minimal. My grandfather had many theories on sugar’s use for the demise of the black population by the British crown.


He would say that the sugar industry used invasive propaganda and historically colonized slave mentality to keep locals pacified in order to maintain control of the island and keep its people unhealthy- like a drug. I had no idea what he meant by that back then, I was barely 7-8 years old when we would have these talks about the aftermath of sugar plantations in Barbados. Not until I was older did I reflect on these conversations and revisit them again in a class on chocolate culture.

My grandfather’s words resurfaced again when I read Sweetness and Power by Sidney Mintz. He wrote, “the upward climb of both production and consumption within the British Empire must be seen as part of an even larger general movement…We know that sugar consumption in the old sugar colonies…was part always very substantial- indeed, that slaves were given sugar, molasses, and even rum during slavery period as part of their rations” (Mintz, 1985, p. 72). When my grandfather would lecture on the perils of sugar- the cause of painful and expensive cavities, my diabetic relatives (one of which had the bottom part of her leg amputated from too my sugar in her diet), or the root of making people sluggish and less intelligent- did I start to develop a profound fear and wonder about the power of confectionaries. How could something so delicious be so dangerous? It took me many years to realize it was not just chocolate that was the primary concern for him. It was the production of sugar in Barbados by the enslavement of black people under British colonization and the exploitation of the island. The impact in which continues to have adverse risks to its citizens still.

Sugar cane harvest post card

There is a long tradition in Barbados to produce sugar in addition to an impulse to consume large amounts as well, which started with Britain’s obsession with the commodity. In fact, the turning point of British sugar production was the settlement of Barbados and thus both nations were transformed. One nation with the need to consume, the other forced to produce for consumption. Mintz aptly writes:

“England fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fasted 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 numbers of its users, and the range of its uses exceeded the others; and it remained the principal product for centuries” (Mintz p. 38).

Thus, my relationship with chocolate in my formative years was neither abundant nor overindulgent and my view of sugar was entwined with stories of the colonized bodies of my ancestors. Still I was a child and I had a sweet tooth- like many others from the island-, which made my mother wearier of permitting me to have it out of fear I would become gluttonous, overweight, and doltish. With diabetes prevalent on both sides of the family there were lectures on the perils of sugar and my ultimate demise if I consumed too often. This was ingrained into my childhood. However, kids will be kids and I found ways to get chocolate whenever I could and hide it craftily. My morning tea was mostly sugar. This complicated relationship with chocolate and sugar during my childhood in the Caribbean continued into adulthood abroad.

Barbados is not like other islands in Caribbean for many reasons. First, it is a very small island, one of the smallest. Second, it is the most outside of the Caribbean strip of islands and more isolated with a population of less than 300,000 people. What it does have in common with places such as St. Lucia, Tobago, Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent, and Jamaica is that they were also ensnared in European and British colonization of their bodies and land for crop production. Now while many of these islands have transformed this into strong chocolate tourism foundation that has begun to flourish in the recent decades along with traditional crops of the past, Barbados struggles to join this cash crop sector. On other islands everything from haute and terroir chocolate to cheap chocolate are being produced. They were able to embrace the agricultural aftermath of slavery to make cacao and sugar into a moneymaking industry that appeals strongly to Western conception of sophistication and acceptability. In contrast, Barbados in the aftermath as a sugar producing island, chose to set up shop as a strong island tourism base and minimize the sugar industry production along with the dark history that came with it. In addition, the island is simply too small to produce many of its own crops, cacao being one of them. This caused many confectionery and snack factories in Barbados to be purchased and moved to Trinidad and Tobago as demand grew.

Looking back, it seems ironic that I thought cheap chocolate was more of an iconic delicacy than it really was. For instance, a $1 Snickers bar in America cost ~$4 USD in Barbados so its value felt more significant. Hence, it is understandable to me now why such chocolate was considered a special treat, especially in a family that thought it a wasteful. Growing up in Barbados, I had literally never eaten chocolate made on the island or any of the surrounding islands. Some factories used our sugar but that was about it, so it seemed like chocolate was a foreign substance from far off lands.

The only exposure to “fine” chocolate I had in the Caribbean was Cadbury Chocolate, a British multinational confectionery company that dominates the island almost single-handedly. Among locals, it is either loved or hated and can oftentimes be highly political because of its connection to the UK. Many believe that Britain as a nation continues to claw its way into the island’s industry via companies such as Cadbury, thus control by the British crown continues invisibility and from afar. Cadbury Chocolate in an island once dominated by a hugely profitable sugar industry that exploited African slaves is a contentious past still being unpacked.

Cadbury can be found everywhere on the island. Although the price is significantly higher than other candy bars, locals love it and consider it more “high end”. Although in the past 5-10 years more variety and quality chocolate is coming into the island and locals are getting a real taste of what good chocolate can be. It can be more than milk chocolate and chocolate covered candy. It has been a slow process because in Barbados dark chocolate is uncommon and unpopular. That is why one of the calls to action by local Bajans (and already promoted by other surrounding islands) is taking advantage of the blooming interest by tourists to try locally made chocolate and and for locals to reclaim untold histories.

In that respect, the island is now revisiting the history of cacao and sugar and getting more involved with the booming industry. In 2010, Agapey Chocolate was founded in Barbados conveniently located at the capital of Bridgetown. It is the only chocolate company on the island and is the only bean to bar chocolate company in Barbados.


Although the company was not very well known at first, it has grown in popularity among tourist and locals are now also taking advantage of their delicacies. The company has won multiple international awards and went through the process of Fair Trade certification (Agapey 2018). They offer in-depth tours of the factory that explain how their chocolate is made and also the history of chocolate and the role of cacao and sugar in the Caribbean. It is a good example of changing attitudes towards dark chocolate and progress in using local ingredients like rum and coconut to stimulate the economy.


An International Cultural Exploration of Chocolate and Sugar

When I journeyed across the North Atlantic Ocean and set up a new home in Somerville, Ma. I soon learned about the abundance of chocolate and its widespread availability for any and every occasion, or no occasion at all. My mind was blown. Now in this wondrous place, chocolate could be found in almost every store, market, gas station, etc. It is not rare or expensive. It can be very expensive with places like L.A Burdick’s or it can be cheap like a Snickers from CVS. With my mother back in Barbados, I had no restrictions on my chocolate or sugar intake and I swiftly sought to make up for lost time, eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. It was liberating; this was America. I ate so much candy my first months of arrival, I could not get enough. Sugar consumption was even more rampant and readily available in almost everything people consumed.

Retrospectively, Somerville turned out to be one of the best places in the U.S to get a real taste of a multicultural experience, including its cuisine, which made for a great exploration of the candied goods of other lands. There has been a long tradition of community building at the foundation of local revitalization and urban development in Somerville that took a great amount of pride in exposing neighbors to “food from back home”. For many longtime residents, organizing community-building initiatives at the neighborhood and local government level has been a strategic way to promote the city’s rich cultural diversity and mixed-income environment. It also created bridges to parts of the population that might otherwise face isolation from resources aimed to empower them to take agency in improving their own socio-economic condition, particularly immigrants and people of color. Food was used to bridge the divide.

One of the first events I attended to increase exposure to different cultures was an annual international food fair held at Somerville High School where all the food was made by students, staff, or donated by local businesses. My recollection of walking through the school’s gymnasium and sampling different foods from over 100+ countries and cultures represented was a lasting experience. My Brazilian friend took me over to a table where I had my first bon-bon, a chocolate covered wafer with more chocolate inside that is widely popular in Brazil and now internationally. Another friend showed me her homemade milky coconut cardamon treats of India. There was table after table with food that I had never tried before, a whole candy world outside of Snickers and Cadbury.

For my first Halloween, my friends who had been trained in this occasion advised me to ditch the Halloween bucket and grab an old pillowcase. A pillowcase I thought, how much candy could we possibly get? The answer to that was a lot, a pillowcase half way full equating to more than four of the buckets I was going to bring. Every holiday and special occasion involved candy and chocolate. In addition, because of Somerville’s immense international population, there was not just the typical American candy, but treats coming from all over the world. I became seasoned quickly on how, where, and when to get candy and what chocolate came from which country. Chocolate became a constant and a source of comfort as I adjusted to life in America. Chocolate was for sharing between friends, indulging with cousins, and for no occasion at all.

Not until college did I learn the meaning behind fair trade, direct trade, or bean to bar- thus my ignorance of chocolate started to unfold. As Maricel Presilla writes, “to know chocolate, you must know that the candy in the box or the chef’s creation on the plate begins with the bean, the complex genetic profile of different cacao strains” (Presilla, 2009, p. 4). So began my segway into learning about chocolate production and saying goodbye to Snickers for a bit. I wanted to know about chocolate beyond what popular culture had taught me and beyond what my childhood experiences had ingrained.

I became engrossed with learning about the history of chocolate. I went to Madrid, Spain where I drank chocolate for the first time. Discovered theobroma cacao comes from Greek and means “food of the gods”.  I learned that Spanish invaders took the word cacao and their first real knowledge of cacao came from the Maya people of the Yucatan Peninsula. They used the word chokola’j, or ‘to drink together’. (Presilla, 2009, p. 10-12) and chocolate is amount one of the bastardized words created because it was easier for Europeans to pronounce. There I saw that even from the naming of cacao that history of chocolate was written and known mostly from a western-centric point of view and that influence continues today. I needed a different more authentic understanding of chocolate and kept traveling. I visited Tlaxcala, a sovereign state in Mexico with a strong connection to its complex history with cacao. There I used a molinillo for the first time- a whisking device to make cacao frothy- and drank a cup of chocolate that I helped prepare using traditional Mexican tools like the metate.

The story of how cacao developed from a sacred drink to the industrialized food that it is today is a complex history that dates back thousands of years. The story of how sugar production exploded in the Caribbean is also connected to the history of cacao. The bodies of black and brown people were used for European gain as was the land. Today, this history can be very complicated for the generations that followed. My relationship with chocolate and sugar has evolved overtime from a child in Barbados to a teen in America, to a traveler of the world. As my own understanding of these topics continues to expand, I will continue to enjoy these goods the best I can and keep educating myself on the topic.

Work Cited:

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

Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, abolition, and forced labor’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 28 Feb. 2018. Class Lecture.

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

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 2009. Print.

“On Barbados, the First Black Slave Society” via AAIHS. Here is the website link: https://www.aaihs.org/on-barbados-the-first-black-slave-society/.



Images (in order):

“Planting the sugar-cane” (Credit: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library).

“Slaves Wanted” Advertisement for the Island of Barbados (Credit: Lascelles Slavery Archive)

“Sugar Plantation Barbados, Carting Sugar Canes To The Mill”  W. L. Johnson & Co. Ltd., Barbados. No. 15

Agapey Chocolate Factory Website Photos (Credit: agapey.com)

Sugar, the gateway good to slavery, racism, and wealth.

When Americans think “slavery” they most likely picture the one below, a middle school taught history of blacks on southern plantations underneath the blazing sun picking cotton for hours a day with little pay or none. 

The symbolic image of a whip for lashings might also come to mind, or the political divisiveness caused by the institution necessitating a Civil War that still lingers in the air today. Maybe they remember a bit more than average and can recall tobacco as the first American “cash crop”, or can picture the simplistic, triangular slave trade as the united states imported bodies from Africa and exported goods to Europe. All these thoughts and perceptions however, stem from the misconception of slavery being uniquely held to North America with some involvement from the British, and negates the truth of slavery preceding colonization into the new world of the Americas with the United States’ component having only a minimal impact. This is important as one must first understand slavery and the slave trade in the new world at it’s conception to fully grasp the context of slavery in the United States. To do this, one must see sugar as the crop that financed the origins of the slave trade, and not the cotton or tobacco crops of North America. Once you do this, you realize that the simple triangular slave trade, is not so simple, and looks more like the one seen below.

To examine why and how sugar came to be the crop that altered afro-american relationships forever, one must look no further than the West Indies and South America. At one point or another, small island countries such as Haiti, Cuba, and Jamaica were major financial supporters of their European owners. Just as an example, in the late 1700s, Haitian sugar provided nearly half the value of french trade, and exported about half of the world’s sugar production.. In their paper, Sweet Diversity: Colonial Goods and the Rise of European Living Standards after 1492, Hersh and Voth explain the demand:

“As the price of sugar declined, consumption spread to the lower classes. It was frequently used as a substitute for a protein source, consumed in the absence of meat when and where meat was too expensive. Though the simple carbohydrates from sugar do not have all the nutritional qualities of a protein source, its consumption offered calories at a time where energy availability may have severely constrained labor input (Fogel 1994). In addition, sugar was used to add sweetness and calories to food and drink, especially to tea or coffee, or added in liquid or powdered form to a whole range of foods … Sugar was also used in medicines. Combining caffeinated drinks with sugar was a European innovation, as was the adding of milk (Goodman 1995). Sweetened tea became popular amongst all classes in England. Tea and sugar (or coffee and sugar) were therefore complementary goods. For the poor, a cup of sugary tea could reduce feelings of hunger, and give energy for a short time. Tea could serve as a substitute for a hot meal, especially where heating fuel was in scarce supply (Mintz 1985).”

By this point sugar production was the result of nearly 200 years of entrepreneurial advancements to take advantage of the high demand in Europe (I use the term “advancement” loosely and only related to the increase in sugar production, regardless of the morals surrounding them). Some of the advancements made were notable, a steam engine to better crush and separate the sucrose from the sugar cane, seen below, or a locomotive to move sugar cane from far out fields on the plantation.

Other “advancements” were more logistical, such as methodical record keeping and note taking. Perhaps the most important, although, had to be the development of the coordinating to transport free labor across the atlantic and putting them to work on sugar plantations.

Over the years, the usage of black slaves necessitated the desensitizing of their owners surrounding their quality of life. As told by slavery museum in Liverpool:

“Inside the plantation works, the conditions were often worse, especially the heat of the boiling house. Additionally, the hours were long, especially at harvest time. The death rate on the plantations was high, a result of overwork, poor nutrition and work conditions, brutality and disease. Many plantation owners preferred to import new slaves rather than providing the means and conditions for the survival of their existing slaves.”

This desensitivity lead way to racism, which only further perpetuated the horrible treatment of slaves in the Americas. As explained by Dr. William Hardy of the Open University, “The long-term economic exploitation of millions of black slaves was to have a profound effect on the New World’s history. Most fundamentally, it produced deep social divides between the rich white and poor black communities, the consequences of which still haunt American societies now, many years after emancipation.”  

It’s hard to argue that sugar production would become as lucrative as it was, when it was, without the use of free labor, so it’s easy to see how the exploitation of Africans directly led to wealth growth in European nations who participated. However, not only did Europeans exploit the use of labor from Africa, they exploited the use of land from much of the Americas. By exporting virtually everything those colonies created back to the mother-country, the countries who were producing the most lucrative crops on the planet never saw a share of the wealth created. This relative economic stagnation could explain why many countries which were once occupied by European ones, today remain rather poor and play catch up to the rest of the world.

Works Cited:

Hardy, William. “Riches & Misery: The Consequences Of The Atlantic Slave        Trade.”OpenLearn, The Open University, 25 Feb. 2014, http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/riches-misery-the-consequences-the-atlantic-slave-trade#.

Hersh, Jonathan, and Hans-Joachim Voth. “Sweet Diversity: Colonial Goods and the Rise of European Living Standards after 1492.” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2009, p. 9., doi:10.2139/ssrn.1402322.

“Slavery in the Caribbean.” National Museums Liverpool, http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/slavery/archaeology/caribbean/.



Tied to Sugar Production: The Haitian Revolution

The Haitian Revolution that took place in the late 1700s often serves as a source of pride for many Haitians today. Through that revolution, Haiti was able to become the “first independent Black republic in the world” (Girard 61). Haiti was a big exporter of sugar and thus deeply entrenched within the clutches of the powerful French empire. The fact that the Haitian slaves were able to rally together, and defeat Napoleon and his French army have oftentimes been viewed as a miraculous feat. While this revolution was a great victory in terms of winning the pride and freedom of the slaves, it ultimately crippled the country due to its deep-rooted identity as a sugar-producing slave colony.

The history leading up to the Haitian Revolution shows how Haiti’s identity was structured around it being a slave colony—a colony fully devoted to using slaves for the benefit of a mother country. Haiti was originally known as Saint-Domingue, the French colony on the island of Hispaniola (Girard 18).

782px-map_of_hispaniolaA map of Hispaniola. The western third would go on to be known as the French colony of Saint – Domingue.

The slaves on Haiti were packed into large plantations for the main purposes of growing and exporting goods such as sugar. In fact, Haiti was Europe’s “largest supplier” of sugar (Ross 240). The sugar market’s reliance on Haiti as a producer was so evident that after the Haitian Revolution sugar prices spiked (Ross 240). Haiti was seen as a prized colony because of how much it was needed to supply sugar on a global scale. What further contributed to Haiti’s identity was the fact that a large part of the population within Saint-Domingue were slaves evidenced by the fact that by 1790 the “slave population topped 500,000” (Girard 24). Therefore, Haiti was not only externally identified by the slave-produced sugar, but it was also internally identified by its number of slaves. This identity combined with the seeds of dissent among the slaves by their inhumane treatment ultimately led to a revolt that sought to strip the country of its identity that was over one century in the making.

Leading up to the revolution, slaves and freedmen of color alike had many reasons to be angry with the white colonists. People of color were often “victims of scorn and fear, and often of violent attacks” (Geggus 13). What’s more is that there were external pressures from France.


A copy of the “Black Code”

The picture depicts the “code noir” which translates to “black code.” This was a code for dealing with “Negres dans les Colonies Françoifes” which means “Blacks in the French colonies.” The code was actually an “enlightened piece of legislation for its time” as it sought to pave ways to give respect to the slaves (Girard 25). Unfortunately, the colonists of Haiti did not care about this code and “simply ignored it” (Girard 25). Ultimately, much like in the Americas, blacks were treated as subhuman in Haiti, regardless of whether or not they were slaves. This, combined with Haiti’s large slave population stirred a pot that was ready to explode. By 1791, the revolution was underway and in 1804, impendence within Haiti was announced to the world (Geggus 179).

With the revolution won, Haitian leadership took the next steps to rid themselves of their identity as a slave colony, opting to do so in the most brutal ways possible. Under the rule of Jean Jacques Dessalines, Haitians committed what was close to a genocide as they purged the country of whites in hopes of separating themselves from a history and identity as slaves (Girard 60).


As can be seen in the image, not even women and children were spared. This massacre was obviously not looked upon well by the other countries. The narrative that was painted was that Haiti’s first diplomatic act as an independent black country was to murder all foreigners (Girard 62). This would undoubtedly be the first blow to Haiti’s “economic development” (Girard 62). Haiti would continue to grapple with how it could decouple itself from its history. Many plantations were burned down during the revolution and in its aftermath (Girard 65). Ultimately, many leaders rose up within Haiti which resulted in a fractured and divided country. In fact, after a particular series of civil wars, Haiti was divided between the north and the south where the north was sympathetic to the plantation system while the south did away with it, opting for sustenance farming instead (Girard 66). Sugar plantations continued to take massive hits until sugar exports completely ceased after Haiti was reunited (Girard 67). Haitians chose happiness while being poor over continuing to be big sugar producers (Girard 67). Of course, there are arguments that if Haiti would have stuck to sugar production they would have still gone down a bad path (Girard 68). However, the point in all this is that Haiti was focused on ridding themselves of a dark past and this ultimately proved to be problematic to their economic stability as it hindered them from looking forward to the future.

Today, Haiti is still a proud and loved country, but it has its issues. A lot of poor people in Haiti continue to eat a traditional type of sugar, showing that Haiti hasn’t caught up with increased standards of sugar production (Ross xx). When we look back to the Haitian Revolution we see a great victory for the Haitian people and a momentous occasion in our world’s history. However, in retrospect, we realize that Haiti’s deep ties to an identity of forced labor and sugar production resulted in a brutal reaction that sought to rip all ties to that identity. Instead of looking to see how they could put their country in a position to dominate the future, Haitian leaders felt it necessary to look back at their history, and we can hardly blame them for doing so.


Works Cited

Code Noir. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.

Geggus, David Patrick. The Haitian Revolution: a Documentary History. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2014.

Girard, Philippe R. Haiti: the Tumultuous History–from Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Haitian Revolution – Blacks murdering white civilians. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.

Map of Hispaniola. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.

Ross, Clark G., and Sidney W. Mintz. “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History.” Ethnohistory, vol. 34, no. 1, 1987, p. 103., doi:10.2307/482268.

The (R)evolution of Chocolate from Elite to an Everyday Comfort Food

luxury vintage adCacao was seen as an exotic, luxurious product, often being associated with the “luxury-loving” people of the hot lands of the Gulf Coast and the Maya lowlands from where it originated. The drinking of chocolate was limited to the Aztec elite, which consisted of lords, long-distance merchants, and warriors. The folks who led austere lives, such as priests, were not privy to chocolate beverages. The chocolate beverage was either drunk at the close of a meal or intermittently by the ruling class (Coe, 95). The association of drinking chocolate went hand-in-hand with high social standing (Presilla, 25). The Aztec royalty celebrated music, dance, and chocolate, and expressed it through poems. Chocolate was extremely important to them and so revered, that it was an essential part of their expression.

A couple of months ago, National Geographic released a rare Aztec map, known as the Codex Quetzalecatzin from 1500’s Mexico, which was acquired by the Library of Congress. It provides wonderful insight as to the relationship between the Mexican indigenous people and the arrival of the Spanish. It was during the Baroque age that cacao found its way in Baroque palaces and mansions of the wealthy and powerful. Though it had been an elite drink among the Mesoamericans, it continued with the overdressed royalty of Europe (Coe, 125). This included Baroque Spain. In fact, it was the Spanish who first married chocolate and sugar (Presilla, 25). It is no surprise since Spain was extremely wealthy and the production of sugar in the transatlantic slave trade made them even wealthier. This is how the story of cacao and chocolate went from a valuable commodity and an elite drink, respectively, to a relatively cheap product that is consumed by the large masses. Industrialization and the transatlantic slave trade played a pivotal role in chocolate’s evolution.

Chocolate on its own was not palatable but sugar changed that. The increased production of sugar is what fueled the transatlantic slave trade. In the West Indies, sugar was being produced at such a large scale, by the influx of slaves brought to work rigorously on sugar plantations in the Caribbean and Central America, even to the detriment of their health. For many of the colonizers, the well-being of the slaves were the least of their concerns since they could just bring in more slaves. The demand for sugar by the Europeans and the money to be made was just too great to care about any human rights since in their eyes, slaves were less than human, they were property. An example of a mill that was used in the production of sugar by the colonizers is still standing to this day in Aguada, Puerto Rico. I visited it in person last year and it is quite a scary site, not just because of its run-down condition but moreover because one can almost feel the horrific conditions that the workers underwent in the mill.


Abandoned Sugar Mill, “Central Coloso”                     Aguada, Puerto Rico


It is not a coincidence that the rise of sugar production and consumption gave rise to the production of cacao and chocolate consumption. Hence, the success of chocolate was the success of sugar (Mintz, 114). The uses of sugar as a sweetener grew, not just for chocolate beverages, but for chocolate food products, such as bars and brownies. New foods and beverages were incorporated into daily life unusually fast, and sugar played an important role (Mintz, 120). Many companies can be attributed to incorporating chocolate into our daily lives as a “must-have” pantry staple. To their credit, they created powerful messages via advertising mediums, which made sure the message they conveyed was loud and clear, even if the ads were not necessarily truthful. Hershey’s had an impeccable way of creating the image of chocolate as a healthy food item that could be used as a meal in itself.  NotHershey meal ad pic (2) only as a meal, but as a health supplement that would lead to great health according to the ad’s claims, by shhershey-s-syrup ad picowing a mom and her two kids using chocolate to keep the family healthy and as stepping stones to even greater health. The ad does not have many words but the artwork itself depicts everything you need to know about chocolate and particularly, Hershey’s chocolate. Simply put, if you wanted better health then you must have Hershey’s chocolate. Part of what moved chocolate into the mainstream, beyond technology and the advancement of sugar production, is smart advertising like the ones shown here.

But we can’t blame Hershey’s for taking the health approach to sell more chocolate. Even today, it is being marketed and branded as a health food. In fact, it is being taken a step further by incorporating “healthy” ingredients. But let’s be clear, it’s still candy. Here is a recent NY Times article celebrating new “healthy” chocolate products on the market currently.

Chocolate–a product that evolved from an elite status to an everyday food–can be attributed to the way technology had helped rev up the manufacturing of it and thus making it more widely available and accessible. Interestingly enough, as with most food products these days, the old way of making chocolate is making a comeback, as more people are craving quality and traceability. So the everyday-comfort-food has been getting a makeover in fine cacao production. Here’s a look at the ancient art of chocolate-making in Guatemala.



On the other side of that equation is the mass-produced version at Cadbury. To portray the image of quality, their chocolate-makers wear white lab coats, which make them appear as expert chocolatiers. Granted Cadbury has years of experience making chocolate but it’s quite a contrast from the above video in ancient chocolate-making.



It’s hard to imagine a world where chocolate was limited to the few especially since it so ubiquitous in our lives now. Whether you visit a coffee shop or a local food mart, you will be hard-pressed not to find chocolate in some form. Though it is easily accessible by the general population and not just by the elite, when it comes to quality, it seems that it is still the wealthy elite that will be able to afford to purchase the best stuff. Yes, society has changed and technology has advanced but human nature still covets the category of limited edition. It seems, some things never change.


Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate (Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, 2013)

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (Penguin Random House LLC, New York, 1985)

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes (Crown Publishing Group, New York, 2009)

Works Consulted

Miller, Greg. “Rare Aztec Map Reveals a Glimpse of Life in 1500s Mexico.” National Geographic, (Dec. 2017) Online Edition.

Molvar, Kari. “The New Healthier Chocolate.” The New York Times, (Feb. 2018) Online Edition.

Image and Video Credits

Cioccolato Appassionato image: http://www.vintageadbrowser.com/clothes-ads-misc-years/6

Hershey’s images: https://storify.com/AAAS119x308/the-history-of-hershey-advertising

Sugar Mill Aguada, PR image: personal, 2016.

Central Coloso Sugar Mill video. Directed by Julio Pascual, 2016.

“The Ancient Art of Chocolate Making.” National Geographic video, September 11, 2017.

“Chocolate Making at Cadbury World.” YouTube video, June 5, 2017.







The Cost of Consumption

In a developed world such as ours, the enjoyment of luxury living often comes with a price – both figuratively and literally. The literal monetary price of certain common items is based on the cost of production – lower the overhead cost; more the consumer can save on spending. The figurative moral cost of these goods is based on the extreme conditions and measures taken to cut production cost. Often in developed worlds, there is ignorance – willful or genuine – between the products we buy and the production process the items had undergone. The products range from electronics such as smartphones to food stuff like chocolate. As different as these products are, they share the same production measures used in order to become marketable to consumers in the developed worlds. The main focus of the cost-cutting in production supply chain is the cut to labor cost; specifically the lowest wage one can pay one’s employees for the production of goods in order to flood the market with the products. This practice of labor cost-cutting is not new at the local level, but globally, the origin and impact of this practice can be traced back to the Atlantic Slave Trade that started in the 15th century in the New World of the Americas. In the following assessment, I’ll talk about the past history of slave trade and globalization of trades and the modern slave trade and its impact.

Globalization and Historical Slavery

Long before “Made in China” became a hot contested topic during U.S. Presidential campaigns, the need for cheap labor to maximize corporate profit was in the minds of settlers and first-generation corporations – joint-stocks – such as the West India Company and the Dutch East India Company and the British East India Company respectively for trades in the Americas and Southeast Asia. The plantation system setup by the mass production of sugar, also known as Brown Gold, in the Caribbean sets the stage for the use of a massive slave labor force. The two main reasons for this were the decline in European indentured workers due to the tough sugar labor practices and the plantation owners’ thought that Africans were better suited for the tropical climate (Higman p. 120-125.) According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, there were a total of over 12.5 million slaves traded from West Africa (see Figure 1 below.) The more profitable practice of using free African slave labor instead of indentured European workers continued until the former’s abolition and upon which saw a massive inflow of indentured workers from India who continued on and saved the sugar and cocoa industry (see Figure 2 below) in the 19th century (Higman p. 218-220.) As religious as most Europeans were in the past, certain groups had stood up and fought against the immoral and unethical practice of slavery. A curious case in history: in 1596, a captured Portuguese ship turned up in the Netherlands (Middleburg, Zeeland province) with 130 African slaves, and when the townspeople rejected the practice of slave trade, the slaves were set free. During that time, the Spanish and the Portuguese (Catholics) were enemies of the Dutch Protestant Republic of the Seven United Provinces. However, after the Dutch established sugar product in Brazil, a large workforce was needed so went the moral high ground (Emmer p. 13-14.)


Vaquero_Breaking Cocoa_West Indies_1914
Figure 2[i]: Vaquero: “Breaking Cocoa” on Balthazar Estate
Globalization and Modern Slavery

According to a New York Times’ reporting, in 2012, then-President of the U.S. Obama had a meeting with leaders of the IT Industry where he asked Apple’s Steve Jobs about the possibility or probability of making the popular iPhone in the U.S., to which according to an attendee Jobs answered improbable. The NYT’s report continued to state that in 2011, Apple earned more than Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil, or Google, at over $400,000 per employee. Such profit margin is made possible by a large, cheap Chinese labor force. For cocoa production, a similar practice can be found. According to an analysis done by the non-profit organization, Food Empowerment Project (FEP), child slavery for cocoa production in West African states is a big issue, specifically Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. According to the FEP research, the main cause of child slavery and trafficking in the West African countries was extreme poverty. In the U.S. State Department’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, the trafficking expanded to include children from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, and Togo, who were found in Cote d’Ivoire (DoS p. 142-144.)  The question one might ask, then, does the $1 USD candy bar worth the pain and suffering of children in another continent? In an interesting 2006 conscientious consumption study done by a group of scholars, a choice between ethical and unethical products was given to a group of people in Detroit area of around 40,000 people. The subjects were given a choice between common cheap socks and “ethically” produced – sweatshop free – socks but with a premium added to its final price. The initial response from the subjects was not exactly in tune with their final decisions, where only some would pay the higher premium. However, the study did highlight the need for consumers’ education in identifying and knowing the origin of the product that they purchase.


Comparing the moral high ground taken by the Dutch in the late 1500s and their eventual caved-in to the production demand to the conscientious consumer study of 2006, I discovered that organizations, or simply a group of people, will hold a moral high ground as long as it’s convenient to do so. However, I also noticed the impact of demand and its effect on the production practices. Growing up in Hong Kong and Macau in the 1980s, I often find myself hanging around my mum at her place of work – a clothing factory. Like most poor families at the time, I was presented with an opportunity to work off-the-books doing tasks such as trimming the loose string from the sewed labels on t-shirts, jeans, etc. Like many children living in poverty, I never thought of it as child labor at the time. Is it truly possible for a consumer society to demand corporations to be more responsible, especially when the consumers, directly (stocks) or indirectly (pensions or mutual funds), are investors in those companies? Before I end my assessment, I’d like to leave the readers with an artwork done by Benjamin Harris in 2016 titled “You Are Eating My Flesh.”


References Cited:

Harris, B. You Are Eating My Flesh. 20 August 2016. Walsall Old Square, U.K. http://benjaminharrismusings.blogspot.com/2016/08/you-are-eating-my-flesh-2016-chocolate.html Accessed 09 March 2017.

Duhigg, C. & Bradsher, K. “How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work.” The New York Times, 21 January 2012, Business Day-The IEconomy. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/business/apple-america-and-a-squeezed-middle-class.html

Food Empowerment Project. Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry. 2017. Accessed 09 March 2017. Retrieved from http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/

U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report June 2016. U.S. Government. June 2016. Accessed 09 March 2017. Retrieved from https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/258876.pdf

Prasad, M., Kimeldorf, H., Meyer, R., & Robinson, I. (2006). Consumers With A Conscience: Will They Pay More? Contexts, 5, 24-29. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/documents/2013/may/consumer_conscience_study_ME_20130501.pdf

Vaquero. Life and Adventure in the West Indies: A Sequel to Adventures in Search of a Living in Spanish-America. London: John Bale, Sons & Danielson, 1914.

Higman, B.W. A Concise History of the Caribbean. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Emmer, P.C. The Dutch Slave Trade: 1500-1850. New York: Berghahn, 2006.

Estimates Database. 2009. Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. http://www.slavevoyages.org/estimates/qwQasWCo accessed 8 March 2017.

Mahalo: The End of Sugar in Hawaii


Maui sugar cane fields

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorothy Pyle looks out over the last cane harvest.

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

Works Cited:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media Cited:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 1. East India Sugar Bowl

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

[6]  Ibid.

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

[8]  Ibid.

[9] Ibid.


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Les Îles Chocolat: Past & Present Impact of Cacao on São Tomé and Príncipe

It would almost appear too simplistic to suggest that the tiny cacao bean could have significantly shaped and impacted a nation’s history. However, in large part, that is exactly what cacao did in São Tomé and Príncipe (São Tomé or STP).[1] Although these tiny islands sometimes bear the sobriquet Les Îles Chocolat––the Chocolate Islands, its dark past is far from tasteful. Today, however, São Tomé is once again part of the chocolate world, but this time as both a grower of cacao and an exporter of fine chocolate.

São Tomé and Príncipe’s location played a vital role in the Portuguese supply chain of sugar, cacao, and coffee as well as Portuguese empire-building stratagem as it was part of the chain of ports that skirted Africa on their way to the East Indies.(source: www.ontheworldmap.com).

Though initially it was the demand for sugar that intrinsically linked São Tomé to the “European centers of commercial and technical power,”[2] it was cacao that ultimately transformed its politics, topography and demographic. São Tomé was a part of a chain of Portuguese ports skirting west Africa, allowing the Europeans to maintain and secure their highly profitable ties to the spice market of the East Indies.[3] However, the ever-increasing demand for sugar in Europe during the early 1400s precipitated European expansion of sugar production to Atlantic islands, which included São Tomé.[4] By 1485, even before the discovery of the Americas, Portugal forced indentured Jews to both settle and grow sugar cane on the islands.[5] It would not be until 1822, however, that José Ferreira Gomes introduced cacao from Brazil.[6] Twenty years later, approximately 1.5 metric tons of cacao beans were exported, subsequently replacing sugar cane as the primary crop.[7] This led the way for São Tomé to become Africa’s first and largest cacao grower by the early 1900s, significantly increasing its export yield to 36,000 metric tons by 1910, and securing trading contracts with international chocolate giants, including Hershey’s and Cadbury.[8]

As a result of the ever-increasing global demand for cacao, a massive labor force was required to sustain such high levels of production, ultimately transforming São Tomé. Given that these islands were uninhabited prior to European arrival, the Portuguese were heavily reliant on an imported labor force, which was readily supplied by slaves from their west African colonies of Benin, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, and Angola.[9]

By the early 1900s, the journalistic reporting of Henry Nevinson and others began to influence public opinion in Europe regarding the use of slavery in African cacao growing.[10] Nevinson’s contribution vastly impacted both the general reader and other journalists:

Perhaps the most wonderful achievement of this great-hearted man was his exposure of the Portuguese slave trade in Angola and the Cocoa Islands [São Tomé and Príncipe]… He made a lonely journey through the dense forests of Central Africa following the dolorous way by which the slaves were taken to captivity as horrible as any recorded in human history.[11]

Nevinson’s works were collected and published in his book, A Modern Slavery (1906), “which aroused the conscience of this [UK] and other countries and brought him the only reward he sought––the abolition of the system within a few years”.[12] Cadbury’s procurement of STP cacao was exposed, sparking public outcry, forcing Cadbury and the other major European companies to divest from São Tomé.[13] Shockingly, Hershey’s, however, not only continued its procurement of São Tomé cacao without any demands for change, they furthermore took over all of Cadburby’s prior accounts, thus consolidating their cacao supply in the islands.[14] Though it has been suggest by Sydney Mintz that the demand for sugar was the main force driving the need of slavery during the colonial era,[15] it was the demand for cacao, however, that was the primary cause that prolonged slavery well into the 1960s, over 100 years after the British Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.[16]

This photo depicts an Angolan slave awaiting transport to São Tomé. They were often left for days before being collected by plantation owners (source: www.chocoalateclass.wordpress.com).

Today, São Tomé is home to one of the world’s finest producers of chocolate. After STP’s independence in 1975, cacao plantations were virtually abandoned. And the 1997 discovery of oil was made cacao growing even less relevant to its economy. However, as result of the civil wars in Zaire––present day Democratic Republic of the Congo, an Italian agronomist by the name of Claudio Corallo relocates to São Tomé in the 1990s, initially to grow coffee.[17] Yet, it was cacao that captured his imagination, sparking his dream to restore São Tomé’s cacao growing heritage.[18] After two decades, and the restoration of two plantations, São Tomé is now not only once again growing cacao, but it is furthermore producing some of the world’s finest chocolate, allowing São Tomé to proudly don one of its more endearing names––the Chocolate Islands. (The below video from the BBCTWO’s Full on Food features Claudio Corallo’s cacao growing and fine chocolate making in São Tomé).

Today São Tomé cacao growers are now part of the finished product. This photo captures how the local work force is now part of the fine chocolate-making (source: www.stpauls.it).

The significance of the cacao as a high demand food drug played a large part in shaping the history, economy and politics of many former European colonies, arguably São Tomé’s most of all. Human settlement was initiated on the islands for the production of another food drug, sugar, then perpetuated by the establishment of cacao plantations to further satiate the global consumption of stimulant foods. It is a bitter truth that unfree labor persists today in cacao growing nations, and thus a closer examination must be given to the social issues surrounding the labor rights and treatment of cacao growers, not only in African nations such as São Tomé, but the world over. We must learn from the good practices of conscientious chocolate makers such as Claudio Corallo who have brought a massive turnaround to the Chocolate Islands’ cacao and chocolate heritage if we  wish to support a truly fair and sweet tasting industry.

[1] The official name is the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe; its official UN ISO3 abbreviation is STP, see “Country Codes/Names,” United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, (2016), http://www.fao.org/countryprofiles/iso3list/en/#.
[2] Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 31.
[3] Bamber Gascoigne, “HISTORY OF SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA,” History World, accessed March 11, 2016, http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?gtrack=pthc&ParagraphID=gprb#gprb.
[4] Mintz, Sweetness and Power, 31.
[5] Leonard John Schwarz, Cocoa in São Tomé and Príncipe, Trade Promotion Series 138 (US Government Printing Office, 1932), 1.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[10] Carla D Martin, “Lecture 6: Slavery Abolition and Forced Labor” (Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, Harvard University, March 9, 2016).
[11] Howard J Whitehouse, “Henry Nevinson,” The Contemporary Review 161, no. 44 (January 1, 1942): 2, http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/1294586004?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo.
[12] Ibid., 1.
[13] Martin, “Lecture 6: Slavery Abolition and Forced Labor.”
[14] Ibid.
[15] Mintz, Sweetness and Power.
[16] Martin, “Lecture 6: Slavery Abolition and Forced Labor.”
[17] “About Us,” Claudio Corallo Cacao & Coffee, accessed March 12, 2016, http://www.claudiocorallo.com/index.php?lang=en&Itemid=831.
[18] Ibid.

Work Cited

“About Us.” Claudio Corallo Cacao & Coffee. Accessed March 12, 2016. http://www.claudiocorallo.com/index.php?lang=en&Itemid=831.
“African Slaves Sail for São Tomé.” Blog. Chocolate Class. Accessed March 12, 2016. https://chocolateclass.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/screen-shot-2015-03-12-at-7-11-13-pm.png.
Batista de Sousa, Izequiel. Sao Tomé et Principe de 1485 à 1755, Une Société Coloniale: du Blanc au Noir. Mondes Lusophones. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2008.
BBC TWO. Claudio Corallo Chocolate. Full on Food. BBC TWO, 2004. https://youtu.be
Butcher, Tim. “Cocoa Passion on Oil-Rich Island.” News. BBC News, July 24, 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/3920167.stm.
Chern, C. J., and E. Beutler. “Biochemical and Electrophoretic Studies of Erythrocyte Pyridoxine Kinase in White and Black Americans.” American Journal of Human Genetics 28, no. 1 (January 1976): 9–17.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third edition. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.
“Country Codes/Names.” United Nations. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2016. http://www.fao.org/countryprofiles/iso3list/en/#.
Gascoigne, Bamber. “HISTORY OF SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA.” History World. Accessed March 11, 2016. http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?gtrack=pthc&ParagraphID=gprb#gprb.
Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 6: Slavery Abolition and Forced Labor.” presented at the Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, Harvard University, March 9, 2016.
Melik, James. “Slave Island Ignites Chocolate Passion.” BBC News. Accessed March 11, 2016. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/3935769.stm.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.
Ponting, Clive. World History: A New Perspective. Pimlico 486. London: Pimlico, 2001.
“Sao Tome and Principe | Chocolate Class.” Accessed March 11, 2016. https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/tag/sao-tome-and-principe/.
“Sao Tome and Principe Location on the Africa Map.” Maps. On The World Map. Accessed March 11, 2016. http://ontheworldmap.com/sao-tome-and-principe/sao-tome-and-principe-location-on-the-africa-map.jpg.
Schwarz, Leonard John. Cocoa in São Tomé and Príncipe. Trade Promotion Series 138. US Government Printing Office, 1932.

“The Influence of Public Scrutiny on Cadbury Business Ethics.” Accessed March 11, 2016. https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/the-influence-of-public-scrutiny-on-cadbury-business-ethics/.

Whitehouse, Howard J. “Henry Nevinson.” The Contemporary Review 161, no. 44 (January 1, 1942): 4. http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/1294586004?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo.