Studying a single food or commodity such as sugar may seem like an incongruous project for an modernity an introduction to modern societies pdf who claims to work mostly with living people. Still, it is a rich subject for someone interested in the history and character of the modern world, for its importance and popularity rose together with tea, colonial slavery, and the machine era. Had it not been for the immense importance of sugar in the world history of food, and in the daily lives of so many, I would have left it alone. We humans can’t make sugar.
The best we can do is to extract it, and change its form. We have been doing so zealously, for more than 2,000 years. Sugarcane was domesticated about ten millennia before that, and is the most important plant from which sucrose is extracted. Western history because it was an old commodity, basic to the emergence of a global market. The first time I was in the field I’d been surrounded by it, as I did my fieldwork. That led me to try to trace it backward in time, to learn about its becoming domesticated, and how it spread and gained importance in the growing Western industrial world. I became awed by the power of a single taste, and the concentration of brains, energy, wealth and — most of all, power — that had led to its being supplied to so many, in such stunningly large quantities, and at so terrible a cost in life and suffering.
I want to know what will happen with sweetness next: how its desirability confronts the costs it poses to health, physical appearance, the environment, and the world order. How do we get from one child’s sweet tooth to the history of slavery, of war, and of corporate lobbying in the Congress? And how do we retrace our steps backward, this time to the significance of that child’s sweet tooth? These are the kinds of questions that have arisen in recent years. Alongside them are the shacks of the cane cutters, scattered in so many of the earth’s tropical corners, which deserve at least equal attention from anthropologists. O poder amargo do Açúcar. Chicago: Aldine Press, xxi, 355 pp.