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“Gathering the Cane” Harper’s New monthly Magasine (1853), vol. 9, p. 760 (Special Collections Department, Univ. of Virginia Library); as shown on www.slaveryimages.org

Cane sugar is bitter. Countries have had their inhabitants entirely replaced for the cultivation of it. “It was for the sake of sugar that islands like Barbados were deforested and their native flora and fauna almost entirely lost. Most importantly, it was for the sake of sugar that millions of people were kidnapped and enslaved, a practice that continues in some places even today.”(1) The slavery of our past and the “forced labor” of today will continue to haunt us. We’ve made considerable strides worth celebrating but these days triangular trade (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangular_trade) merely takes on different shapes. In the article “Blood Sugar”, author Aaron Their’s research shows that, “Today, the U.S. Department of Labor lists five countries where at least some quantity of sugarcane is believed to be produced with forced labor. The lists includes Brazil, the world’s largest producer, and Pakistan, the fifth largest.” But maybe that’s not close enough to home?
Countries we share borders with and islands we subsidize still use machete-wielding children to work in smoldering cane fields. In 2016, AlJazeera published a report withstatistics showing that 2.5 million children (870,000 below the age of 13) are working (www.aljazeera.com/blogs/americas/2016/01/mexico-child-labour-perils-lost-education-160127055528295.html) to produce food commodities in Mexico. We’ve come a long way, sure, but in this global community no hands are clean.

Sugar is so deeply woven into our culinary fabric that it’s difficult to imagine how to move forward without it. While a lot of us have scorned the perversion of high fructose corn syrup in almost every American-processed food it’s important to know what we’re reaching for instead. Coffee and chocolate have found some safety in an artisanal movement (although highly priced and unattainable for most); perhaps there’s a future there for sugar as well? I have a bag of Florida Crystals Cane Sugar (www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/10/03/sugar-workers-human-labor-rights/2919687/) sitting in my pantry right now. The next time I look at it I’ll try to recall the history of slave labor that built this country and the struggle in overcoming it; then I’ll probably reach for the jar of local honey instead.
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(1) Aaron Thier, “Blood Sugar,” Lucky Peach, Summer, 2015, No.15.

::Good Clean Fair Food For All (Los Angeles)::

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