The Politics of Sugar

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

The politics of sugar reflect the fact that every industry has a political dimension, and the larger the industry, the more complex and dynamic its politics. Thus only some of the most interesting examples of sugar politics can be discussed here.

Because sugar remained a rare luxury for centuries after its introduction into Europe in the twelfth century, its politics reflected its modest economic status until trade accelerated in the mid-seventeenth century. By then, England, France, Holland, and Denmark had joined Portugal and Spain in establishing sugarcane operations in the Caribbean and along the Atlantic coast of South America, notably in Brazil. See sugarcane and sugarcane agriculture. By the eighteenth century, sugar had already seduced the middle class. The proliferating working class of the nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution demanded it for factory tea breaks and family suppers known as high tea, transforming sugar into an essential food. The soaring sugar trade dominated Britain’s economy, and the politics of sugar dominated the national economic agenda. To supply sugar in huge quantities at affordable prices, the industry relied on enslaved Africans and their descendants to work the sugarcane plantations. See plantations, sugar and slavery.