Saturday, August 3, 2013

reshaping the world

If you are looking for another good non-fiction read, try Sugar Changed the World : A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos. It was on the summer reading list of a middle school I admire and I can imagine the wonderful reflection and questioning that this book is prompting as students get ready to head back to school.

The book explores the impact sugar has had upon colonialism, global trade, migration, slavery, revolutions, culinary arts, production and refinement, religious practice, and more.
"It is the story of the movement of millions of people, of fortunes made and lost, of brutality and delight - all because of tiny crystals stirred into our coffee, twirled on top of cake. Sugar, we began to see, changed the world."

Ironically, while sugar was the direct cause of the expansion of slavery, the global connections that sugar brought about also fostered the most powerful ideas of human freedom.

Sugar plantations were farms, but they were run like factories - with human beings as the tireless machines. Cruelty and misery abounded as endless labor or was demanded from the slaves of the plantations.

In reference to the masters and overseers of the plantations, the English historian Lord Acton famously said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

In 1785 at Cambridge University, an essay contest asked the question "Is it lawful to make slaves of others against their will?" Thomas Clarkson won the essay prize, but in doing so convinced himself and many of the English public to abolish the terrible practice of slavery. When the English looked at the sugar they used everyday in their tea, they could see the blood of the slaves who had created it. (Imagine the power of a single essay the next time you sit down to write.)

Have you ever stopped using a product once you were forced to look at how it was made?

Have you ever considered the debate between human rights and property rights? Is cheaper worth the cost to workers and the environment?

Have you ever given any thought to indentured labor? Gandhi thought it was a form of slavery. Does indentured labor relate in any way to modern day undocumented laborers in the United States?

What do you think of Satyagraha as a revolutionary tool? How have you seen it play out in our modern day news?

Be sure to read the authors note on page 126 at the end of the book. I particularly like the part:
"... young people are smart, and therefore the more opportunity we give them to think about big questions in creative ways, the better."

Two cool aside videos you might want to check out after reading this book are on Crash Course U.S. History with John Green: Taxes and Smuggling AND Slavery.

Also, the author Marc Aronson has an awesome blog over on SLJ. Be sure to check out his answer to "Why should we care about history anyway?"

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