The tragic history of sugar in the United States
Sugar, which Americans abuse daily in their diet, is the product of a barbaric story. Without slavery, Louisiana’s sugar industry would never have grown to the size it has today. Even today, this past shapes the state’s economy, its institutions and its social life.
The Chalmette refinery of Domino Sugar, in Arabi (Louisiana), stands on the banks of the majestic Mississippi, about 1 km from the Lower Ninth Ward, that district of New Orleans where Hurricane Katrina broke the dikes and swept away the lives of so many black residents. It is the largest sugar refinery in North America. During the operating period, yellow 2-kilogram packages marked with the brand logo, which are found throughout the United States, are sold there at a rate of 120 per minute, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. & nbsp; 7.
The United States manufactures approximately 8.16 million tonnes of sugar annually, making it the sixth largest producer in the world. The US sugar industry receives $ 4 billion in annual subsidies. The Louisiana cane sugar sector alone is worth $ 3 billion and accounts for 16,400 jobs. Most of this sugar remains in the country, and between 1.81 and 2.72 million tonnes are added each year. On average, every American consumes no less than 35 pounds of sugar and other sweeteners a year, according to figures from the Department of Agriculture. This is almost twice the maximum recommended threshold.
Excessive sugar consumption is associated with diabetes, obesity, and cancer. Sugar kills us all, but it kills black people even faster. Over the past thirty years, the number of obese or overweight Americans has increased from 27% among adults, from 56% to 71%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [which form the main federal agency for the protection of public health], knowing that blacks are overrepresented in these statistics. During the same period, rates of diabetes almost tripled. In black women, these rates are almost twice as high as in white women, and they are 1.5 times higher in black men than in white men.
The extraordinary mass commodification of sugar, its economic impact, its disproportionate repercussions on the eating habits of Americans and their health: none of this was in germ, a priori, when Christopher Columbus made his second crossing the Atlantic in 1493, carrying sugar cane from the Canaries.
At the time, growing sugarcane was cumbersome and complex. You had to cut the canes by hand and grind them immediately to get the juice, otherwise his sugar level would deteriorate in a day or two. Even before the harvest season, a lot of wood had to be cut down to be used as fuel to boil the liquid and reduce it to crystals and molasses. There are the first traces of the exploitation of sugar cane in New Guinea ten thousand years ago. Then this culture progressed from territory to territory until being adopted in India around 350 & nbsp; before J. - C. Sugar was consumed locally and required an important manpower. There was little more than an exotic spice, a medicinal ointment or a treat for the elite [especially in & nbsp; Europe]
The introduction of sugar slavery into the New World changed the game. & Nbsp; “The sugar age has truly begun - and it has changed the world more than any leader, empire or war had ever had. done before ”, & nbsp; write Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos in their book & nbsp; Sugar Changed the World & nbsp; [“ Sugar has changed the world ”, unpublished in French]. During the four centuries that followed the landing of Christopher Columbus, in Mexico as well as in Guyana, Brazil and the Sugar Antilles, countless natives died in the sugar harvest, and almost 11 million 'Africans were enslaved - not counting those who had not survived the crossing.
“White gold” stimulated trade and made the wealth of European countries, notably allowing the British to finance their North American colonies. & Nbsp; “There was direct trade between the colonies, as well as between the colonies and Europe, but much of the Atlantic trade was triangular: slaves from Africa; sugar from the West Indies and Brazil; money and manufactured goods from Europe ”, writes Harvard historian Walter Johnson in his book Soul by Soul. Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market & nbsp; [“Soul after soul. Life in the New Orleans slave market on the eve of the American Civil War ”, & nbsp; traduction].
Before French Jesuits planted their first sugar cane in 1751 near Baronne Street in New Orleans, sugar was already a very lucrative business in British New York. In the 1720s, one in two ships in the port either arrived from the West Indies, importing sugar and slaves, or left there, exporting flour, meat and equipment for shipbuilding. A business so profitable that the two most imposing buildings of
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