Is sugar patriotic?

He probably could do without a serving of added sweetener. But, this June, heart-attack surviving talk-show pundit / self-styled patriot Rush Limbaugh launched Two If By Tea, a beverage sporting him as a fat Paul Revere, shouting: “The Liberals are coming!” A 16 oz bottle contains 30 grams of sugar (nearly 8 tsp). Somehow this is supposed to help our great nation.

True, in the US, we rely heavily on our agricultural ambrosia. America’s sugar farmers, processors, and refiners create 146,000 jobs and generate nearly $10 billion a year for the U.S. economy. As the American Sugar Alliance touts: “America’s sugar is produced in 18 states so we don’t have to depend on unreliable foreign countries for this vital ingredient.” God forbid we need a pipeline of dates from the Middle East.

But sweet-dependent we are. The average American consumes 156 pounds of added sugar each year per capita, according to the USDA. And the U.S. Department of Commerce tells us sugar is an “essential ingredient” used in 70% of our manufactured food.

The Hand that Feeds U.S. – an “educational resource for urban media on the importance of U.S. agriculture to the security and future of our country,” brought to you in part by the American Sugar Alliance – asks us: “What is an inexpensive source of energy, is 100% natural, good for the environment and is a fun ingredient in your favorite foods?” American sugar, of course, you sour commie rat.

In these hard times, we need a little sweetness more than ever. No matter what the cost. While most industries limped through the economic doldrums, one thrived, according to “Confectioners’ Sweet Recession,” a report released this summer at the 28th International Sweetener Symposium by the American Sugar Alliance.  Stories of job creation, facility expansion and record sales pepper the pages.

“Candy companies make money in good times and in bad,” agrees the National Confectioners Association, which posted a 3.7% sales gain this year. Hershey’s posted a 20% increase in profit during just the first quarter. So, who’s paying for it?

According to the Cato Institute, you are. They claim the U.S. government spends close to $1.68 billion a year buying and storing excess sugar to maintain artificially high domestic prices. (Note: they also advocate auctioning off Yellowstone National Park.) By some measures, U.S. sugar prices have averaged twice the world price since the 1980’s, when Ronald Reagan reinstated Sugar Act quotas that sought to create an artificial shortage of sugar and drive up U.S. prices.

Sugar certainly keeps lots of folks busy on Capital Hill. Jeanne Shaheen (D – NH) and Republican Mark Kirk (R – IL) recently presented the Stop Unfair Giveaways and Restrictions (SUGAR) Act. “The sugar support program costs consumers $4 billion a year – to disproportionally benefit a limited group of wealthy sugar producers,” Shaheen said. “The SUGAR Act protects consumers, saves American jobs, and allows U.S. confectioners, bakers, beverage companies, and food manufacturers to stay in business.” There’s a reason why Pepsi is red, white and blue.

Another day in the land of stars, stripes, yellow moons and green clovers (they’re magically delicious) – where freedom isn’t sugar-free. And Uncle Sam has diabetes.

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Day 19: Sugar-Size Me

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Is Sugar Love?

Sweetheart. Honey pie. Sugar plum. Let me nibble thee.

In Charlottesville we are blessed to have Gearhart’s chocolates: hand-dipped artisanal ganache of fine quality, crafted with Criollo Cacoa from the finest Venezuelan plantations.

It’s what you give your wife for your Anniversary (when you remember it) … and Valentine’s Day (when they’re not sold out) … and Mother’s Day … and her birthday … and, well, whenever you feel you’ve been “inattentive” lately. Roses work, too. But you can’t share them in quite the same way.

Gearhart’s don’t come in heart-shaped boxes, but the intention is the same. They intend to say, “I love you.” And the opiates and amphetamines (endorphins, serotonin and phenylethylamine) that they trigger in your brain, up your blood pressure, eliciting feelings of excitement – a bit like love … or, a bite like love.

But is it love? When a mom prepares a pie for her family, does that not demonstrate devotion? When a teacher cooks cupcakes for her class, does that not bespeak her best intentions? When a bus driver doles out tootsie rolls, is that not a cause for a round of “Here’s to the busdriver, the greatest of all?”

A doctor’s lollipop. A handful of hugs on Halloween. Sugar’s how we show we care. For others and ourselves. When the world seems an unwelcome place, nothing says “I love me” like a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. For the moment, anyway. You might hate yourself in the morning.

What happens when the honeymoon is over? And the sweetness has begun to seem saccharine? And you’ve bought your hundredth box of Gearhart’s – making the gesture, now merely mechanical, lose its meaning?

Is, in fact, sugar more like a Hallmark card? The thing you give when you don’t have the time or energy to write what you mean to say. Or perhaps you simply feel obligated. As a commodity, sugar is cheap and always in stock – unlike authentic emotions, which are in scarce supply.

If you’re short on the sugar, are you lacking in love? Is a house bereft of Oreos, a den of a deprived childhood? When there’s no dessert, does it mean the neighbors, with their ambrosia, treasure their children more? When there’s nothing in the lunchbox but soup and a sandwich, the other kids at the cafeteria table indeed seem more popular (there and at home), munching on their Mallomars.

I’m not being bitter. Or sour. Taste has little to do with true feelings. Sugar simply does not equal love. (And Equal does not equal sugar, or love.) We confuse confections with affections. And fondness for fondant. Dove sounds like love, but you can’t nestle with Nestlé. So, next time, give me a squeeze when I ask you for “some sugar.”

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Like taking candy from a baby.

Who takes candy from a baby? And isn’t the point that it’s easy?

Well, yesterday I had the illustrious honor of attending a SHAB meeting. SHAB is Charlottesville’s School Health Advisory Board. And they were tackling my favorite topic: sugar. Actually, the honor was short-lived, as the school’s head dietician requested me out of my seat because she didn’t want to be filmed.

But I wasn’t the only busy-body present. The school administration appointed another board member, my friend the dietician joined the board and so did the head of the Obesity Task Force – and the Vice Superintendant of City Schools sat in, as well. Yessiree, your tax dollars at work.

Tonight’s controversy: can you limit sugars to 30%? I know, it sounds impossible. The Administration promised to limit school food (well 80% of school food) to 30% sugar by calories. Now, you may say that 1/3 of your diet being sugar is kinda crazy anyway. But I like crazy. Hell, I’m Koo-Koo for Cocoa Puffs.

Answer: no. Maybe next year. After they make a “database.” Heck, they have an entire snack bar to tabulate. To be fair, it’s a weird standard because carrots are about half sugar, calorically-speaking. And plain, old skim milk is nearly 60% sugar by the same metric (remember that the less fat in milk, the more sugar it has).

And chocolate milk … don’t even go there. Really. Because the kids will “revolt.” That was a big concern voiced by some at the table. Les Miserables meets Swiss Miss. To the barricades! I have to wonder, who’s the adult here? Or, more importantly, who’s the parent? Hey kids, summer vacation is over.

But that’s too tough love. The school’s opinion is that you should educate kids (and their parents) first, before you take away their Yoohoo. So, you teach them that chocolate milk is bad for them … while feeding them chocolate milk. Yep, Koo-Koo for Cocoa Puffs.

Like taking candy from a baby? Not even close. They won’t discuss it again until November. And then it goes back to the School Board. If we were in Candy Land, this issue would be stuck in Molasses Swamp. And you-know-who would be Queen Frostine. Well, I’d rather be playing Uncle Wiggly anyway.

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Day 11

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Clip 1 “White Poison”

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Is sugar evil?

Well, is Hitler evil? Or Obama? All depends if you’re on the winning team. So, who’s on sugar’s team? Amalgamated Sugar. Sugar Bear. And Bill Cosby. Remember Jell-O Pudding Pops commercials. I love Bill Cosby. I like Jell-O Pudding Pops. So maybe I’m on sugar’s team. I’ve been a lifelong fan. Does that make me evil?

Sugar doesn’t have horns and a pointy tail, or a wiry mustache. It doesn’t tie women to train tracks and go “Hooo-haaa-haaa-haaa-haaa” when it laughs. Yet it can be a villain.

Everybody knows sugar rots teeth. Well that’s an oversimplification. Sucrose bonds to teeth. Strep bacteria eat it and poop out lactic acid, which dissolves tooth enamel. Thus, sugar rots teeth. Teeth are good. So, sugar must be evil. But nobody’s going to start a war on tooth decay. How about diabetes?

People lose their legs and go blind because of diabetes. That’s pretty evil. The number of adults with diabetes worldwide has more than doubled since 1980 to 347 million. More than half of all Americans may develop diabetes or prediabetes by 2020. Sugar is largely to blame.

Sugar is also clinically linked to heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis, gall stones, kidney stones, osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, appendicitis, hemorrhoids, eczema, emphysema, varicose veins, polio and cancers of the breast, ovaries, prostate, rectum, pancreas, lung, gallbladder and stomach. Oh, and obesity. That’s pretty evil. Like cigarette evil. But there’s no such thing as second-hand sugar. So you’re only hurting yourself, right?

Well, the slave trade revolved around sugar. It was the trade Triangle: Slaves … Sugar … Goods. For 300 years, millions of Africans were shipped to sugar plantations in the Carribean, South America and the Southern United States (then colonies). That’s evil. But we can’t blame the sugar. Let’s blame our forefathers. Speaking of which…

Darth Vader is pure evil. We can all agree on that. The mask. The voice. That black outfit. Although the storm troopers are in white. Is sugar like an army of storm troopers? And Darth Vader was once was good. Was sugar ever good? Anakin Sugarwalker. Sounds like someone from a box of breakfast cereal.

And what about those folks. The sugar peddlers. Are they evil? Here’s a fun fact. The American Dietetic Association dictates most dietary dogma in this country. Who pays their bills? Coke, Pepsi, Mars, Nestlé, Hersheys, Kellogs and General Mills. The ADA relies on such austere organizations as The Hershey Center for Health & Nutrition, established in 2005 to promote the health benefits of chocolate. Or, Coca-Cola’s Beverage Institute, which researches “the science of beverages and their role in living well.” Mars has a website, marshealthyliving.com, hosted by Dr. Dean Ornish. So, health equals Twix, Snickers, Skittles, Milky Way and M&Ms? Is that evil or just twisted?

I guess it comes down to a simple question: Can you kill someone with a candy bar? Maybe. But you can choke on broccoli, too. And who would blame the broccoli.

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