RAISING CANE IN THE GLADES: The Global Sugar Trade and the Transformation of Florida

By Meindl, Christopher F. | The Geographical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

RAISING CANE IN THE GLADES: The Global Sugar Trade and the Transformation of Florida


Meindl, Christopher F., The Geographical Review


RAISING CANE IN THE GLADES: The Global Sugar Trade and the Transformation of Florida. By GAIL M. HOLLANDER. xviii and 348 pp.; maps, diagrs., ills., bibliog., index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 9780226349503.

Sidney Mintz, meet Gail Hollander. Just when we thought it was going to be difficult to say anything new about the Florida Everglades, we now have a human geographer's take on environmental change in rural South Florida. In Raising Cane in the Glades, Hollander uses the domestic and international political economy of sugar to explain the transformation of several hundred thousand acres of Everglades marshland into the nation's Sugar Bowl. Her focus on sugar is reminiscent of Mintz's classic study Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (1985), in which the anthropologist memorably used sugar to outline the historic contours of capitalism in Europe and the Caribbean. Hollander, who teaches in the Department of International Relations at Florida International University in Miami, is dissatisfied with conventional explanations for the conversion of wetlands to developed land over the twentieth century. She acknowledges the fact that people of the early twentieth century failed to appreciate the many values of wetlands; but she draws on literatures from global food-systems theory, political ecology and geographical theorizations of regions and places--which she deftly weaves together with much archival material--to examine the discursive and material practices responsible for development (and now environmental "restoration") in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Unlike Mintz, who reached farther back in time, Hollander begins her story in the nineteenth century, particularly the postbellum era when roughly two-thirds of Florida remained at least periodically flooded. At that time sugar was the only significant food item for which the United States relied heavily on imports. Although sugarcane accounted for more than 95 percent of the world's sugar in 1839, sugar beets, which can be grown in much cooler climates, accounted for about two-thirds of global sugar production just fifty years later. Beginning in the later nineteenth century, however, business and political leaders in the United States called for investment in domestic sugar production in order to reduce the flow of money out of the country. (Today, similar rhetoric gushes from many Americans who demand expanded domestic oil production in order to reduce dependence on foreign imports.) Accordingly, the U.S. Congress passed the McKinley Tariff in 1890, which marked the beginning of a long history of attempts by the U.S. government to simultaneously stimulate and protect domestic sugar producers through the use of bounties and price supports for homegrown sugar as well as tariffs and quotas on foreign imports.

Despite attempts to ensure an adequate supply of sugar at a reasonably steady price, the world price of sugar fluctuated wildly during much of the twentieth century. Prices occasionally skyrocketed (prompting much public protest from consumers as well as from candy and soft-drink manufacturers) and they occasionally plummeted (prompting pleas for help from domestic sugar producers). As Hollander makes clear, changes in U.S. sugar policy have also long been tied to international politics, including disruptions associated with the two world wars and the cold war politics that began in the later 1940s. For example, she points out that shifting U.S. sugar policy severely destabilized the Cuban economy in the 1890s, prompting a revolution against Spanish control; and many contemporaries believed that cutting Cuba's sugar quota to the United States in the 1950s led to the economic turmoil in Cuba that paved the way for Fidel Castro's rise.

All the while, Hollander thoroughly documents the nearly constant lobbying of Congress, presidents, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture by a host of sugar interests: sugar-beet farmers in the central and western United States, representatives of Cuban sugar producers (often bankrolled with U. …

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