Sociology on the Menu: An Invitation to the Study of Food and Society

By Alan Beardsworth; Teresa Keil | Go to book overview

11

SUGAR AND CONFECTIONERY

Sweetness in the human diet

James (1990) writes of the Baka of the Cameroons who, once a honey comb is located in the topmost branches of the rainforest canopy, spend time and effort in order to obtain it. ‘They will quite literally go to enormous heights and put their lives at risk to obtain the honey’ (James 1990:632). She also draws our attention to a television advertisement in our own society which portrays a man undertaking a series of dangerous and acrobatic feats to deliver a box of chocolates to the woman he admires. What have these accounts in common? They are, argues James, just two examples of the extent to which sweet foods are valued. In each culture the source of sweetness may vary, as will the kinds of food, but the preference for sweet tastes remains a constant. There are many discussions about the biological basis and physiological functions of this preference for sweetness. However, for sociologists it raises questions about the social organization of the production, distribution and consumption of such highly valued foods and about the part which sweet foods play in society.

Any superficial account of the increase in the accessibility and consumption of such foods as sweets, confectionery and chocolate gives an impression that here is yet another success story involving human ingenuity in processing natural raw materials and, in relatively recent human history, the application of sophisticated technology to produce and distribute quantities of sweet foods on a scale unknown in previous historical periods. However, it is also relevant to recognize that, whichever aspect of the story of sweetness is considered, there are also contradictions and conflicts and a more complex account to be given. There are many examples, amongst the most revealing about social processes and relationships, of the consumer’s ambivalence about a food which is, at the same time, both desirable and ‘bad’, and of the human as well as the economic price to be paid for the increase in the production of such sweet foods as sugar.


THE PHYSIOLOGICAL BASIS FOR THE PREFERENCE FOR SWEETNESS

Cultural analyses of food preference emphasize the fact that, of all the potentially edible foods available, human beings select relatively few and that these

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Sociology on the Menu: An Invitation to the Study of Food and Society
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures and Tables ix
  • Preface x
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - The Social Dimensions of the Food System 11
  • 1 - The Origins of Human Subsistence 13
  • 2 - The Making of the Modern Food System 32
  • 3 - Sociological Perspectives on Food and Eating 47
  • Part II - The Social Organization of Eating 71
  • 4 - Food, Family and Community 73
  • 5 - Eating Out 100
  • Part III - Food, Health and Well-Being 123
  • 6 - Changing Conceptions of Diet and Health 125
  • 7 - Food Risks, Anxieties and Scares 150
  • 8 - Dieting, Fat and Body Image 173
  • Part IV - Patterns of Preference and Avoidance 191
  • 9 - The Mysterious Meanings of Meat 193
  • 10 - The Vegetarian Option 218
  • 11 - Sugar and Confectionery 242
  • Epilogue 254
  • Bibliography 260
  • Author Index 271
  • Subject Index 275
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