How has the consumption and consumerism of sugar changed both historically and culturally since sugar was produced by slaves in the Caribbean for the wealthy? How has it become a consumer product...

How has the consumption and consumerism of sugar changed both historically and culturally since sugar was produced by slaves in the Caribbean for the wealthy? How has it become a consumer product that is now a potential contributor to obesity?

Expert Answers
teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The British and other European powers established sugar plantations in the Caribbean in the 16th and 17th centuries. Sugar became the dominant crop on islands such as St. Kitts, Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad. By the late 19th century, sugar evolved from an elite commodity to one consumed by all classes in the United States and England. The wide consumer demand for sugar fueled the transatlantic slave trade and the increase in African slaves working in Caribbean cane fields and boiling houses. The islands produced both sugar and coffee, both of which were high-demand commodities in England.

By the 18th century, consumption of sugar had risen more than that of dairy and meat products in England. The middle classes were emulating the rich in consuming greater quantities of sugar. Where sugar was initially the food of British elites, by the 18th-19th centuries, sugar consumption and consumerism had risen to an alarming degree among the other classes. In the United States, increased manufacturing advances led to the building of the most technologically advanced sugar refinery in Williamsburg, Long Island, in 1864.

The consumption of sugar continued to evolve as we approached the 20th century and beyond. Where use of sugar was limited to an elite group of consumers in the 16th century, the 20th century saw sugar entrenched as an ingredient in many food products purchased by the average consumer. Food manufacturers began to add sugar to sodas, baked products, prepared foods, cereals, and frozen entrees. Today, 75% of prepared food products are said to contain added sugars. In the late 20th century, scientists and medical professionals blamed the rise of heart disease and diabetes on the public's increased consumption of saturated fats.

The public responded by consuming more reduced-fat food products. However, these products contained high levels of sugar. Now, in the 21st century, medical professionals are sounding the alarm that sugar (and not fat) is the culprit behind the rise in obesity, Type II diabetes, and heart disease. The FDA warns that sugar consumption has risen by 30% in three decades. Researchers also warn that "sugar crashes" can deplete energy and therefore reduce any impetus to exercise regularly. The lack of exercise then exacerbates the obesity problem among consumers who regularly purchase and consume prepared products high in sugar.

So, where sugar was initially consumed in limited quantities and by elite societies in western countries in the 16th century, it is now widely consumed among all classes in the 21st century on a global basis. For more information, please refer to the links below.