Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sugar Love: A Not So Sweet Tale

The August issue of National Geographic Magazine has a fascinating article titled, Sugar Love: A Not So Sweet Tale.  It's a fascinating article.
In the beginning, on the island of New Guinea, where sugarcane was domesticated some 10,000 years ago, people picked cane and ate it raw, chewing a stem until the taste hit their tongue like a starburst. A kind of elixir, a cure for every ailment, an answer for every mood, sugar featured prominently in ancient New Guinean myths. In one the first man makes love to a stalk of cane, yielding the human race. At religious ceremonies priests sipped sugar water from coconut shells, a beverage since replaced in sacred ceremonies with cans of Coke.
Our love of sugar is traced back through the centuries, chronicling its rise from a "luxury spice" to a "staple, first for the middle class and then for the poor."  The need for sugar has fueled colonialism, slavery, and widespread environmental devastation.  Yet we always seem to want more.
The more you tasted, the more you wanted. In 1700 the average Englishman consumed 4 pounds a year. In 1800 the common man ate 18 pounds of sugar. In 1870 that same sweet-toothed bloke was eating 47 pounds annually. Was he satisfied? Of course not! By 1900 he was up to 100 pounds a year. In that span of 30 years, world production of cane and beet sugar exploded from 2.8 million tons a year to 13 million plus. Today the average American consumes 77 pounds of added sugar annually, or more than 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day.
The impact of sugar on modern western society is debated, with some expressing concern about "empty calories" and others taking it further.
Americans . . . eat too much and exercise too little because they’re addicted to sugar, which not only makes them fatter but, after the initial sugar rush, also saps their energy, beaching them on the couch. 
As can be expected from National Geographic, the photographs are breathtaking. For anyone interested in food, health, and human motivation, this is great read.


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