Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Elizabeth Abbott's SUGAR: A BITTERSWEET HISTORY in the News

Elizabeth Abbott, author of Sugar: A Bittersweet History, appeared on Leonard Lopate's "Please Explain" radio show, broadcast nationally and available online. Abbott describes how the cultivation of sugar is linked with slavery, the Industrial Revolution, and the fast-food industry.
Listen to the entire program on the WYNC website.

Sugar is also reviewed in THE WEEK magazine: "Elizabeth Abbott's 'sprawling, often fascinating, sometimes annoying history of the world's favorite sweetener" should do wonders for the honey industry, said Fergus Bordewich in The Wall Street Journal. Sugar has been adored by humans since "the noble cane" was first domesticated a few millennia ago, but Abbott stresses its many evils. After slowly spreading westward from India to the Middle East, sugar helped spawn the trans-Atlantic slave trade and continues to lure millions of people into unhealthful diets.

Though it touches on countless topics, Abbott's energetic book "is largely a history of sugary slavery," said Fergus Mulligan in the Dublin Irish Times. Among European empires, "Portugal led the way," when it shipped 2,000 Jewish children to Caribbean sugar plantations in 1493— only to watch two-thirds die within a year. As the taste for sweetened tea and coffee spread through Europe, slave traders seized an eventual 13 million Africans to force them into sugar farming. Field slaves survived an average of only seven years, and Abbott spares no detail in describing how they were beaten, raped, and worked to death. Sugar, she argues, is to blame for the racist thinking that justified such treatment and still haunts the West.

Abbott gives due credit to the workingclass tea-sippers who joined sugar boycotts to help end the African slave trade, said Andrea Stuart in the Belfast, U.K., Telegraph. But sugar magnates soon enough filled their fields with indentured servants from India and China. Even today, worker mistreatment remains a common industry embarrassment. Most of us, of course, are merely addicted to the stuff, which explains the ever-rising incidence of sugar-induced diabetes. One doctor quoted by Abbott claims that 50 years from now, the Western workforce is going to look "fat, one-legged, and blind."

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