Sweetness and Power by Mintz

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Sweetness and Power by Mintz

Essay about Global History and Sugar

Why would anyone feel comfortable with writing a whole book on such a mundane topic such as sugar?, this is extremely mysterious of Prof Mintz. The popularity and importance of sugar rose together with colonial slavery, tea, and the machine era. In his book Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in the Modern World (1985), Prof Mintz presents his mysterious study of sugar and its effects on the economy and society since its discovery. He traces the history of sugar production, consumption, and transportation patterns. Further, the author examines the relationship of sugar production and consumption with slavery, industrialization, class ambitions, and explains the impacts of sugar on modern diet and eating habits. Mintz explains how sugar has changed eating habits, modern diet, and work patterns between different social groups and the food that is consumed by each group of society. Eating habits and food choices reveal distinctions of culture, sex, occupation, age, and even status. However, Mintz is concerned with sugar and describes it as a symbol of power and nobility. The experiences of Europeans, Americans, Caribbean slaves and wealthy commoners illustrate different sides of the process of sugar production, consumption, and transportation that took place over the 16th and 17th centuries.


In Sweetness and Power, Mintz was sensitive on the poor and oppressed people during the colonial era. Prof Mintz had an experience of living with sugar cane workers where he formed fascination with sugar and the lives of slaves. During the 16th century, most works in sugar plantation were done by humans without machines and this involved planting, seed cutting, cultivating, planting, ditching, spreading fertilizer, and irrigating. After harvest, the Caribbean supplied the sugar. Mintz mystery was not only on the technical transformation alone regardless of how impressive it was, but also the mystery of unknown people to one another that were linked together by time and space other than economics and simple politics. Mintz explains that unknown people were being linked along a certain chain of connection that was maintained by their production (Mintz 1985 xxiv). The author remained uncertain whether the social history of the utilization of sugar in Western countries could establish a puzzle, contradiction, or a resolution to the producers and consumers. The anthropologist studied food systems from simpler societies such as the Trobriand Islanders and Malinowski’s and discovers they had self-contained economic systems that functioned in favor of sugar.

Also, Mintz literary work sought to transition away from simple binary relationships; metropolis and colonies, peripheries and centers, producers and consumers, hubs and rims and to avoid provincial standpoints while stressing the importance of sugar in the intimate and intricate meshwork that bound Great Britain to her Caribbean slaves. Prof Mintz further examined how production and consumption practices were being developed to this group of people. He considered the increase of Caribbean sugar plantations in the 17th century as spearheaded by slaves and the navies, “there was no conspiracy at work to wreck the nutrition of British working class, to turn them into addicts and ruin their teeth.” His strong stance that human being preferred consuming sweet foods leaves him too mysterious. According to Mintz, the roots of sweet eating are luxury perceptions, historical imperialism, sugar related commodities popularities such as coffee, and cheap calories. Modern slavery where poor children are sold by parents to brokers to work in cocoa plantations depicts puts the modern society to slavery. Producer’s labor together with their exploitation in the transportation of the harvested sugarcane is bounded to primitivism.


Further, Prof Mintz determines the relationship between the colonies and metropolis in an attempt to explain Britain’s desire for sweet diet.  In his exploration, Mintz focused on sugar as a commodity for export and studied the ways in which political and economic powers were provoked through Britain’s interactions with the West Indies colonies during the 17th and 19th centuries. It is mysterious how the Caribbean sugar production is plotted to have reinforced the British factory system by the author. Mintz explained that “cheaper sugar came during the time when its advanced consumption was assured not by the sugar habits itself, but by machine rhythms and the factory world which formed the background of sugar use.” Today, the advanced industrial sugar economies are attributed to the increased access to cheap sugar calories. Further, the control of over foods consumed by employees’ at large corporations is associated with this proliferation of sweetness. As a result, this has changed not only the diet of the British working class but also the nation’s taste by separating the source of food production from its consumption loci. The long-term consequences of sugar consumption are toothaches and diabetes.

In conclusion, Sweetness and Power by Mintz explains how Americans and Europeans transformed sugar from a simple foreign luxury to a common modern life necessity, and how sugar transformed the capitalism history and the industrial sector. He explored sugar production and consumption and reveals how nearly interrelated are sugar’s origins as a “slave” grown crop in Europe’s Caribbean colonies for use by the extravagant aristocracy and then a staple food for the industrial proletariats. Further, Mintz focused his literary work on how forced labor and slavery in the New World is different from the ancient slavery given their different relationships with the modern economic system of global capitalism.

Work Cited

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


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