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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: sugar: a bittersweet history, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. 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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2. Elizabeth Abbott's SUGAR: A BITTERSWEET HISTORY in The Wall Street Journal

"Fascinating... epic in ambition... there is much to savor in Sugar. . .generally excellent," says Fergus Bordewich in The Wall Street Journal review of Elizabeth Abbott's Sugar: A Bittersweet History.

Already an international success and one of only three books shortlisted for the Charles Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction, Elizabeth Abbott’s Sugar: A Bittersweet History tells the extraordinary story of sugar from its very origins to the present day. Exhaustive research took Abbott across the globe, retracing the route of slaves across three continents. She illuminates how the cultivation of sugar put a series of events into effect that created a new form of slavery, fueled the Industrial Revolution, kick-started the fast food industry and the current obesity crisis.

Library Journal also weighs in on Sugar: "In this study, Abbott reveals the sordid past of a seemingly innocuous kitchen staple. Because she is a descendant of Antiguan sugar farmers and a former resident of Haiti, Abbott's sugar obsession runs deep and, not surprisingly, focuses primarily on the Caribbean. She recounts the origins and development of the sugar industry as a history of the people who suffered for its profitability. Paying considerable attention to the eradication of indigenous peoples and the inhuman treatment of African and Creole slaves, she is seemingly intent on exposing the immorality of sugar by pairing descriptions of its enslaved and indentured harvesters with startling vignettes of excess sugar consumption in Europe and the carefree lives of largely absent plantation owners. Although Sugar lingers a bit too long on the dark side of sugar production and can at times feel more like a tome on Caribbean slavery, Abbott has still produced a scholarly yet quite readable work. Her closing chapters on "sugar diasporas" and the modern sugar industry ultimately succeed in drawing readers back out of the cruel intricacies of sugar plantation slavery."

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3. Elizabeth Abbott, author of SUGAR: A BITTERSWEET HISTORY, Interviewed in Library Journal

Elizabeth Abbott's forthcoming Sugar: A Bittersweet History has been selected a Spring 2010 "Editor's Pick" by Library Journal: "Little girls may be a mixture of “sugar and spice and everything nice” (I'll leave that debate for another piece!), but when it comes to global cause and effect, sugar leaves all other ingredients behind—and it's hard to find anything “nice” about it. In her latest book, Canadian scholar Elizabeth Abbott (research associate, Trinity Coll., Univ. of Toronto) traces the sugar that runs in history's veins.


A descendant of Antigua sugar producers, Abbott tells LJ that this “was the book of my heart,” recalling that it took “years to figure out what sort of book it would be.” When I suggest what it is, she accepts that it's “a sweeping narrative that links and contextualizes the stories of individuals, systems, and movements, while grounded in solid scholarship.”

Abbott ranges across oceans, following sugar from its native South Asia through Arab trade routes to Mediterranean countries and from thence to the colonized Caribbean, where such was the sweet tooth and hunger for profit of the Dutch and the French that they sacrificed temperate colonies (think New Amsterdam and Canada) to maintain claim to sugar-producing islands in the tropics. A few score years later, and Abbott is leading us through the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904, showing us such popular introductions as ice cream parlors, soda pop, Jell-O treats, and penny candy, not to mention the wonders of sugar combined with cocoa or the ongoing commodification of special occasions and holidays into candy fests.

Abbott's book is personal, owing both to her own expressions of response to what sugar has done and to her character sketches of men and women caught up in sugar's web. “I wanted…to bring my characters alive on the page,” she says, “and convey the complexities and nuances of the world they inhabit.” Her readers will witness sugar's crucial contribution first to the fatal geometry of the slave trade and thereafter to environmental damage greater than from any other single crop on Earth.

And what of Haiti, where Abbott lived for some years? As a slave colony spun out of sugar, Haiti satisfied half of the world demand, but its early 19th-century independence brought that to an end. I ask Abbott her thoughts about the country after the earthquake. “Haiti is in such a state of devastation, with so little left to repair,” she says, “that the reconstruction process can be really imaginative and wide-ranging. This may be—should be!—the time to consider reestablishing the sugarcane culture that was once centered in Léogane, the epicenter of the earthquake. Sugarcane grown for refinement into ethanol to replace or supplement costly imported oil would employ thousands of Haitians and help the nation toward self-sufficiency in fueling itself.”

Abbott quotes food historian Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, who noted, “So many tears were shed for sugar that by rights it ought to have lost its sweetness.” Sugar and Sugar both will give readers a lift, and, ultimately, both offer hope."Margaret Heilbrun

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