Sugar! No other single product has caused so much slavery in the human race as sugar.
It's not only American Natives and blacks that fell under the curse of cane, but even the land itself. Witness the 2,000 miles of denuded hills along Brazil's sugar cane coast. Not a tree on even the highest hills or in the deepest gullies. Only bare hills subject to alternating drought and flood.
And there are we, the consumers. Addicts, all of us, from kids in the cradle to seniors at afternoon tea.
A few centuries ago our sweet tooth was catered to by the honey bee, and by fruits, vegetables and grains absorbing various degrees of sweetness from the soil. That was, and is, healthy sugar, sweetness tied to nutrition. Refined sugar, however, has lost any nutritional value, giving it carte blanche to wreak havoc on our bodies.
Even our children are becoming increasingly obese as they, along with their elders, bypass fruits and vegetables and water in favour of burgers, fries and soft drinks and thousands of sugar-laden goodies.
And so the slavery continues from the cane workers (though they are technically no longer "slaves," yet they live in conditions often worse than those of slave times) to the land, to the consumer, who now eats more sugar in the form of "take out" or "convenience" foods than from traditional sugar in a bag.
"Kids, holler till Daddy stops the car," reads the Dairy Queen ad. Mars advertises its products as "100 per cent smart energy to go." Snickers will keep you "kicking all day long."
The purveyors of refined sugar have become rich, like Croesus. And that makes them powerful. So powerful that they can keep Cuba in quarantine 45 years since the overthrow of the sugar baron protector, Batista. So powerful that they were able to team up with Brazil's military in 1964 to overthrow the Goulart regime, suspected of being serious about land reform.
But sugar cane beware -- you have rivals. The rich nations are heavily subsidizing their sugar beet production and are deriving great quantities of sugar from genetically modified United States corn. The sugar beet was Britain's most profitable crop in 2001. As the price for sugar from cane has been dropping steadily during the last two decades, many growers have either mechanized or turned to cattle raising as more lucrative. In this one generation alone, nearly a million sugar cane workers of Brazil's Northeast have been dismissed. Expelled from the land, they fill the ever-growing slums.
Meanwhile, we in the rich world open another coke, grab a Mars bar and plunk ourselves down in front of the TV, willing slaves to sweets and inactivity. Whenever one does a social justice presentation someone will ask, "What can we do about such issues?" Trouble is, we are not receptive to the answers. How far will we get saying, "get active, eat more vegetables, drink water, and lobby your government to trade fairly?"