In 1752, the London-based Gentleman’s Magazine published a review of an essay on sugar. The essay contained reports drawn from the Transactions of the Royal Society, and proved, concluded the reviewer, that sugar is “the most pleasant, salubrious, and useful vegetable to mankind.”
He went on:
A Dr Slare … relates that his Grandfather, who was a great eater of sugar, had all his teeth in his mouth at 80, strong and firm; never had any pains or soreness in his gums or teeth, which in 3 years came out, and he had a new set; and his hair grew darker, and he continued in health and strength till 100. The Great Duke of Beaufort, who died in 1702 aged 80, used to eat a pound of sugar daily. Being opened his viscera were as sound as a person of 20; never troubled with coughs, and had his teeth firm; his housekeeper gave this as a reason:
‘That which preserves apples and plums
will also preserve life and lungs.'”
Ah, the olden days. How sweet and innocent they were back then! But just before you sidle to the Christmas tree to sneak another candy on the strength of the Duke of Beaufort’s example, spare a thought for, say, the over 71,000 slaves who were forcibly taken to Jamaica between 1752 and 1762 to work on sugar plantations.
Commerce and health make uneasy partners. We should never stop asking who is paying for the science, who is paying for its publication and who is paying with their lives.
Sue Wootton is co-editor of Corpus.