Sugar was once a prized rarity. Our species, like others, seems to be hardwired to seek its easy calories. It’s hard to come by in Nature, and almost impossible to overindulge in if you’re a hunter-gatherer.
Later we learned techniques to extract sugar from the world around us. This technology not only gave us the sweetness we craved, but as a commodity, sugar was an efficient instrument of trade and a useful preservative. See how long the abundant fruits of summer fare with out sugar to turn them into shelf stable jams and jellies. (These pair perfectly with summer grains turned into shelf stable flour and subsequently bread, but that’s a different article.)
Eventually our sugar technologies became so advanced that sugar became ubiquitous. The easy calories became a disease. Describing a food as “full of sugar” is understood to mean that it is cheap and bad for you.
That’s where we are today. As part of our sugarbeet project this winter and next spring, we will be providing sugarbeets to some friends and food adventurers who will turn back the clocks (at least for demonstration purposes) to a time when sugar was still our friend. (And a real friend at that! Not an “it’s complicated” friend. A friend worth the effort that we would put into the relationship.)
Sugar is a part of our human history, but it is also a part of our local history. We’ll be sharing more about the project as it progresses, but I’m very grateful for the interest from Editor Sarene Wallace of Edible Ojai and Ventura County. When the story is written, it will be written there.