Sugar: the spice that changed history–part four

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor; I don’t even play one on TV. I am not qualified to give advice about nutrition or other medical matters. The following is historical information for educational purposes only.

For most of history, nutritional problems have been caused by deficiencies, not by excess. The number of wealthy people capable of overeating has always been far smaller than the number of people facing starvation or malnutrition.

The human body is designed to crave certain necessary foods that are rare in nature. The body needs a certain amount of salt to maintain good health–a completely salt-free diet can lead to difficulty thinking, nausea, muscular cramps or weakness, fainting, and even seizures and coma. Carbohydrates are necessary to fuel the cells of the body. Therefore, most people crave salty foods and sweet foods. In a land in which most sugars are contained in fruits and honey, overdosing on sugar is difficult to accomplish.

The food industry has changed all that. Now sweet foods and salty foods are easily obtainable for meals and for snacks. Makers of our food have no nefarious schemes to damage people’s health. They merely want to make money by giving people what we want. Since we want sweet food, many companies exist for the sole purpose of making sweet food and selling it to us. Control over what we eat belongs to each of us (and, in the case of children, to their parents). Expecting corporations (or the government) to exercise that control on our behalf is just silly.

After the middle of the twentieth century, doctors and nutritionists began recommending a decrease of the consumption of sugar. The only disease directly caused by sugar is tooth decay–even diabetes is a fault in the body making it unable to process sugar; diabetes is not caused by sugar. Yet people who regularly consume more calories than they burn are prone to a number of health problems, and reducing the use of sugar is one of the easiest ways to reduce calories in a person’s diet.

Corporate inventors created several artificial sweeteners during the twentieth century. These sweeteners have no calories, but they still make food taste sweeter. No artificial sweetener is made available to the public before it is thoroughly tested to ensure that it will not cause health problems. However, replacing sugar with a calorie-free chemical does not, by itself, mitigate all the problems that are blamed on sugar.

Recent studies demonstrate that sugar is an addictive drug. It stimulates the same portion of the brain that is stimulated by addictive behavior–gambling, for example. Sugar quickly enters the bloodstream when it is consumed, giving the brain a happy stimulation; four hours later, the brain wants another jolt. People with personalities prone to addiction find sugar far easier to acquire than controlled or banned drugs. Artificial sweeteners stimulate the brain the same way sugar does, producing the same results.

Given the power sugar has over individuals, the power it has exercised over politics and government is unsurprising. Sugar motivated explorers and investors five hundred years ago. Sugar persuaded people to buy and sell other people as slaves. Sugar remains heavily involved in the world economy today. Sweet foods and beverages are constantly advertised on every form of media. Sugary products are packaged in bright, attractive boxes and bags. What would television be like without Tony the Tiger, Cap’n Crunch, the Trix rabbit, or the Lucky Charms leprechaun? What if Santa Claus did not always wear a red suit (inspired by Coca Cola)? For that matter, who would teach the world to sing in perfect harmony?

Like it or hate it, sugar is too much with us. Late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! J.

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World Series memories, part one

Over the course of a month, the Chicago Cubs earned a championship by winning eleven games over three opponents—the San Francisco Giants, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Cleveland Indians. To achieve those eleven victories, they played seventeen games, and I was able to see parts of all seventeen on television—in most cases I saw the entire games from beginning to end. I missed the beginning of some games because of the classes that I teach, and I left one game early because the Cubs were playing poorly. For seventeen evenings I welcomed Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Joe Maddon and the rest into my home. I should spend more such quality time with my own family!

Along with the baseball players and their manager and coaches, I also brought a few more people into the house those evenings. One of them repeatedly bought a cell phone from an attractive sales clerk. When she said “Enjoy your phone” at the end of the sale, he responded, “You too,” and then enhanced his awkwardness by walking into a glass door, to her consternation. He did so Every. Single. Time.

Then there was the complacent man who drove a Mercury when he wasn’t busy gazing into his own eyes in the mirror or falling backward into a pool of water.

There was also a gentle man with a well-groomed beard who posed as a customer research specialist as he tricked groups of people (Real people! Not actors!) into saying nice things about Chevrolet vehicles.

There was an actor who was fond of reminding me that he used to do commercials for Verizon but was now representing Sprint. One of his frequently-aired spots was set in a barber shop. An elderly barber stood behind the main actor, stirring a pot of shaving cream with a brush through the entire commercial. What was that supposed to represent? Was their some subliminal message involving that barber that I kept missing?

A pair of commercials for an insurance company cleverly portrayed situations in which different people said the exact same words in different contexts. In one commercial, a girl is given a new car by her father while a man is discovering that his car has been stripped by thieves. In the other, a girl is showing off her new suede couch to her friend, and later two thieves are admiring the same couch before they carry it away.

There were repeated advertisements for Live Facebook, none of which depicted anything I would bother to watch on Facebook.

Another car commercial showed clever split screen scenes accompanied by Cat Stevens’ catchy song, “If you want to sing out.”

I also recall a talking llama, a talking gecko, and a talking hockey puck named Alexa.

All of these commercials were part of my play-off and World Series experiences this fall. Even Taco Bell almost managed to make their meals look appetizing, not to mention a monstrously unhealthy sandwich from Burger King that I saw over and over.

Had the Cubs lost at any stage of the play-offs, I would have passionately hated every one of these products and the people responsible for promoting them. Aside from the Mercury guy, I’m not hostile toward any of them, thanks to the Cubs’ victory. However, had the Cubs lost, I would have been annoyed even by the AT&T actress (who happens to be from Uzbekistan, by the way). Granted, I’m not running out to buy a new car or a cell phone, or to change insurance companies, or even to get a sandwich at Burger King. I appreciate the fact that these companies spent millions of dollars to broadcast these commercials along with the baseball game, and that those millions of dollars made the players’ salaries possible. And I’m not one of those people who starts watching a game an hour late so I can fast-forward through the commercials. The commercials are part of the pace of the game to me, and after seeing the same set of commercials dozens of times over a month, they too are almost like family. J.