Saturday, February 27, 2016

Revised Post: The Lives of Slaves in the Production of the Sugar Cane

            Sidney Mintz’s book, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, focused on the production of sugar in mass quantities in the early modern period in mostly colonial areas of the New World. He studied the lives of slaves and work laborers in the Caribbean area, especially Puerto Rico and Haiti. This was mostly on the every day lives of these workers and their role in the production of sugar, which ultimately became the major source of income for plantation owners and inevitably the workers themselves. Their lives revolved around the production of the sugar cane, most of which they were not allowed to consume themselves.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Final Post Miranda

The Power of Symbolism and Meaning in Sugar Consumption
In Sidney Mintz's Sweetness and Power the story of one commodity, sugar, is given its rightful place of importance in the evaluation of modern history. Throughout his book, Mintz delivers evidence and theory as to how sugar came to shape the political world as it is today and how what was once a luxury item of the rich and powerful became a staple food source for the poor of Great Britain and eventually the world. The history of sugar consumption is distributed into five historical categories based on function: as medicine, as a spice, as decorative materials, a sweetener and finally, as a preservative. In this brief paper I will focus on the part of consumption by the West, especially England as a sweetener. I will show how new meanings began to be associated with sugar through the changing class politics of sugar consumption within the British Empire.

Revised Post: The Social Construction of Taste and Sugar

The Social Construction of Taste and Sugar
Inspiration: Sweetness and Power
By Sidney w. Mintz

       Much of what we find tasteful and desirable to eat has been shaped by society over the past 800 year through a process of social construction. It is often hard to wrap your mind around the idea that taste is socially constructed. Intuitively, there is resistance to such an idea that harkens back to high school biology classes, where it seemed that taste was purely biological. Our tongue responded with sensory perceptions that told our brain how something tasted. If it was bitter or sour, we avoided it and this served to keep us from eating poisonous or rotting items that could kill us---end of a relatively simple story. However, the story isn’t over. In fact, the story has evolved dramatically, as have our tastes.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Revised Cosmologies

            In Cosmologies of Capitalism Marshall Salhins examines historical aspects of capitalism from non-western perspectives to challenge the validity of the notion that Capitalism is by the West, for the West, and of the West. By looking at European commodities exported to peripheral nations as having a sort of “magic” akin to the social value in Marxist theory or the hau as described by Marcel Mauss one can conclude that the demand for such products lies not in their utility but in how the “spirit” of these commodities is perceived in a given culture. For one European goods were not always as desirable as they are today, during the onset of merchant capitalism the Chinese emperors of the Ming dynasty scuffed at the gifts, or tributes as they referred to them, offered by the European traders. The “spirit” of these commodities was barbaric, the world to the emperors was centered around the royal Chinese lands and anything produced beyond the inner rings of the Chinese domain was foreign and inferior. The irony in this lies, for one in the ease of forks compared to chopsticks, but also in the contrast between the British superiority complex and the British demand for a good that fulfills no human necessity. The importance of the latter superseded the former. But what is the “magic” contained in tea?

The Ungodliness of the Protestant Ethic

The concept of a “calling” has played a role in many cultures across time and space. Christianity paid no special mind to the term until Martin Luther began shaping Protestantism in the sixteenth century. We now understand that Protestants (historically and presently) incorporate the idea of a vocational calling endowed by God into their broader philosophy and daily lives. This philosophy has driven modern capitalism among Protestant nations in the West in an incredible way. Weber dubbed it “the Protestant Ethic” (p. 99).

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Real Big Short

Beyond all of the economic terms that made the film The Big Short confusing, I was still able to leave with a better understanding of the big picture beyond the economic crash of 2008. While details like the CDO's never quite made sense, the concept that mortgages were being handed out left and right, making the bankers wealthier and wealthier while the middle and lower classes lived in ticking time bombs made more and more sense.

I came into this class with very little knowledge of the capitalism, and honestly even less about the economy in general, but, just as everyone else I witnessed this economic crash, I lived it and felt it's effects. I grew up my entire childhood in the same house in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, and a wealthy suburb at that. My hometown was a combination of average middle class workers, and neighborhoods filled with mansions for those elite. Popular kids were often determined by name brand clothes, technology, and the newest cars- after all it was Detroit. Along with the rest of the world economy the Automotive Industry took a huge hit, the "Big Three" General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler plummeted in revenue. Growing up nearly everyone of my peers in school had at least one parent working in the auto industry, and well I'm sure we can all figure out where this story is going. By the time 2009 and 2010 rolled around, things had very clearly started to change in my sweet little hometown, and suddenly nearly everyone of my peers in school had at least one parent unemployed from the auto industry.

Final Edited Post- Food, Sociality, and Sugar

In chapter one of Sweetness and Power, the discussion highlights themes of global diversity and the similarity of humans based off elaborations of, not only the foods that people consume, but equally, the importance of how they are consumed. We are a species that thrives on cultural structures and developments. On page 4, Sidney Mintz mentions Robertson Smith who studied the social aspect of eating, bringing up this concept of ‘breaking bread.’ I found Lorna Marshall's description of the !Kung's eating style a strong example of the social side to eating. Marshall reports that the !Kung gave away their prized meat once they successfully hunted it,  making it seemingly more important to give back to their community before themselves. I think it is interesting to compare to our own society today and see in what ways social eating has developed. Marshall mentions that "the idea of eating alone and not sharing" made the !Kung "shriek with an uneasy laughter." In this hunter-gatherer community and lifestyle "breaking of bread" was wholly important, almost the fundamental purpose of eating besides nutritional survival itself. The !Kungs’ experience of sharing meat was “a natural occasion to discover who one was, how one was related to others, and what that entailed.” To some extent in the United States we have overcome that, food becoming about pleasure, through fats and sugars, and about survival- community relationships completely left behind.  

No heroes in "The Big Short"

The Big Short impressed me in that it is a Hollywood film that delves into the extremely convoluted layer of hell that is Wall Street leading up to the bursting bubble of the housing market. It is kept interesting with attractive faces and big names. It is kept accessible by relatively elementary explanations. But all in all, it is a 120 minute film about economics (to me, a dull subject) and human nature (to me, in this case, a soul-crushing disappointment).