On sweet things

P1010310Get the biscuits!

When I was in New York earlier this month, the governor put forward an initiative to tax all sugary sodas by 18%.  “Sugary” is a relative word.   If you follow the sweetened beverage industry at all, you know that sugar is kind of hard to come by in a carbonated drink:  it’s all corncorncorn in the form of HFCS.  Indeed, any pop (yes, POP, as I am a Midwesterner) that actually contains sugar has been spun as a retro beverage, a throwback to better days:  it’s even hawked in old-fashioned small bottles.

My daughter and I are big fans of Antiques Roadshow, and on a rerun recently someone questioned the original purpose of a small chest their family owned.  It was a sugar safe.  Yes, I explained to our girl, at one point in time, cane sugar was so precious that one would lock it up in a chest, using it only for special occasions!

I thought of that chest when I roasted a ham in the smoker on Saturday morning.  The glaze with which I basted the meat was a sorghum/mustard/garlic glaze.  Way back when sugar (from cane or beets) was expensive, Southern and Midwestern families tended to grow their own sweetener in the form of sweet sorghum.  Sorghum is a tall, corn-like grass (minus the cobs) whose canes are stripped of their leaves and then put through a wringer to extract the juice.  Much like maple syrup, the resulting sap needs to be boiled/evaporated to get the concentrated end product, sorghum.  And fall was traditionally the time when the stalks were harvested, the evaporators fired up.  And as things would have it, the upside-down world we live in now has my jar of Indiana sorghum about eight times more expensive than the beet-derived Michigan sugar in the same pantry.

Is taxing sodas the answer to our ills?  I am unsure, mainly because, like cigarette taxes, the tax disproportionately affects the poor, the ignorant, and the addicted.  Perhaps if we ceased to subsidize corn production at the levels we do, we wouldn’t need these kinds of taxes.  Perhaps there’s something to that sugar safe, to the idea of growing your own sweetener, that shouldn’t be discarded too:  if it’s precious, you might not guzzle it.

18 responses to “On sweet things

  1. Awesome. I’m all for not subsidising corn. Way better idea than taxing (coming from a NH native)

    As an aside, one of the Little House books – I want to say it was the Land of the Big Red Apple, but I’m not certain – had a trip to a sorghum party where the adults all had various jobs to do in the making of molasses and each family got a share, and the kids all played and the ladies out on a grand feast (kind of like a barn raising). Is your little ones into the Little House books? She might get a kick out of reading about the sorghum party.

  2. Wow my spelling is horrible today. Sorry about that – I’m not as stupid as my shoddy typing would indicate. Must ingest more coffee!

  3. Reminds me of Michael Pollan’s suggestion along these lines–something to the effect of: if sweet foods are “special” and hard to come by (if we are growing our own sweetner and/or making our own confections) we treat them as precious, and eat them more rarely and in smaller portions, whereas if there is a sugary-sweet confection available everywhere you turn, welcome to diabetes and obesity epidemics.

  4. You may have to add a set of bee hives to your farm for a tax free source of sugar:) I know that we have considered it, as honey is our sweetener of choice. I would love to try growing a few sorghum just too see how they grow.

    Quite a few years back my wife and I used to watch, and greatly enjoy, the Antiques Roadshow. But in this new age of digital television we no longer get reception for that station…actually we only have two stations that almost come in. One of the best things the government ever did was to liberate us from that useless television box.:) Anyway, I have never heard of a sugar safe before, how very interesting.

  5. I bought sorghum to plant next year, but the variety intended for broom making (not sure if there’s a difference). Any idea if it produces sap as well?

  6. This is a little off-topic from the sweetner issue, but – whoa. I just returned from a pilgramage to our new, ginormous Korean-chain-grocery store. I was browsing the grains aisle and found sorghum. I had a vague memory of sorghum molasses, but never saw the grain before. Bought some thinking I’d bring it home and figure out what to do with it. Then I see your post – two encounters with sorghum in one day?? Hmmm….

  7. I remember jars and jars of sorghum sold at roadside stands in TN. . . and I treasure and carefully use our honey. It’s nice to have it homegrown.

  8. wow, thats the first I have heard of a taxing of soda, thats an interesting idea. I do know you can buy soda with food stamps and I think that is ridiculous. I think there are ethical considerations with telling people who buy food with tax dollars *what* food to buy, but there are clearly foods that have no nutritional value, soda pop being one of them and I think its crazy that our tax dollars pay for it.

    p.s. peep! frost tonight, frost tonight!

  9. Very well said. We’re hoping to get into honey production the year after next (next year is chickens and I prefer one new ‘dependent’ per year!) We try to keep our sweet things on the precious side of the spectrum (chocolate being the current downfall).

  10. I don’t agree with taxing sodas. I don’t think it’s going to stop anyone, I know it wouldn’t stop me, if I wanted one.

    We are getting hives in the spring. Beehives that is…lol.

    I don’t know what the answer is. I’m a baking fanatic. I use an awful lot of sugar. I find the day isn’t complete without something sweet. I suppose it’s just a bad habit.

  11. I’m gonna sound all high-horsey here, but why do we sweeten foods so much? I like a drop of honey in my tea, but the rest of the sugar is grown in my backyard: fruit and vegetables, too. Super, sun-kissed sweet. I could live without sugar and HFCS entirely.
    Oh. I will confess to the occasional gummi bear inhalation.

  12. “Indeed, any pop (yes, POP, as I am a Midwesterner) that actually contains sugar has been spun as a retro beverage, a throwback to better days: it’s even hawked in old-fashioned small bottles.”

    Not quite. All of the soda in the aisle at my regular Whole Foods is HFCS-free and none of it is spun as a retro beverage. Its also a lot more expensive. It’s not exactly Wal Mart but its not the corner health food store these days either.

    It is also becoming a lot more routine to find Mexican Coke these days in stores. Or….if you wait until Passover you can find kosher Coke as well and its not spun in any way. The only way you know it on the shelf is the different color cap if its a 2-liter or by the CRC label if its in cans.

    Maybe one day the nation will return to sanity and start having regular sugar in pop again (oh…and glass bottles). Until that happens I hoarded Pepsi Throwback and Passover Coke 😉

  13. #1 AMEN!!

    #2 Yes! You said Pop!

    #3 I just bought a pint of Middlebury Indiana sorghum syrup last week for $5.50.

  14. We too prefer honey to sugar for sweetening, but sugar to HFCS and artificial sweetners by all means. Luckily — as I have a terrible fear of bees — my Uncle has taken to beekeeping and we can purchase all the honey we need from him. Local and supporting family, you can’t beat that!

    As for the taxing of soda (I’m midwestern too, but spent a youthful summer in Texas and have carried a select few words with me ever since!) as much as I want everyone to make better choices for the greater good, I don’t feel comfortable with the government trying to *force* those choices — not that I think it will work, but it is a matter of principle; the principle that they’re always trying to stick their paws where they don’t belong.

  15. Ah, we’re going to the Honey Bee Festival this Saturday! That will be fun fun fun!

  16. Well,lots of folks still produce sorghum in this part of MO. Our neighbors Harry and Esther make it every year…in their 80’s, mind you. A qt. is usally around 5 bucks. We trade honey from our 10 beehives for this as we like it in baked beans. We like to see how long we can take to use up a bag of sugar…note, 4 lb. bag as 5 lb. ones are a thing of the past! HFCS is something we avoid like the plague. There is corn that is actually inedible to humans which is just grown to sweeten folks’ pop……DEE

  17. When it comes to sweeteners, my choice for the past several years has been maple syrup. I have a couple of local farmers who devote their springtimes to boiling maple sap and turn out a delightful syrup. In baking, of course, I use sugar.

    I wouldn’t waste time worrying about the proposed sugar tax. While some of the foodies have been talking it up, that’s one idea that will bomb with a legislature: if they seriously considered it, I think the public would vote them out of office.

  18. Tameson, I have read her some “junior” Little House books; she’ll probably need to be a little bigger before she understands the historical and cultural specialness that those books hold. As it is now, she thinks she LIVES in the Little House series with what-all we do around here; she kind of has no clue that not everyone grows their own food etc. (One day!) And hey: one needs a lot of coffee before one can expect perfect spelling in the a.m. don’t you think?

    Milkweedy, exactly, can you really blame us for going to an instant-gratification culture if it’s so cheap and readily available? (Ok, I can, but I am just saying.) Just think about it if it were as rare as it used to be. Not a bad thing.

    Mike, count yourself lucky you don’t get reception! I really don’t think you’re missing anything. The only station I watch is PBS, frankly; the rest can go in the garbage. But yes, we have toyed back and forth with the idea of having bees. It’s the upfront investment that kills me every time. However, we’re seriously considering doing a top-bar hive just because we can make everything here.

    Cheryl, I think the broom-making variety is just for brooms, but I could be wrong. That sounds like a fun project for you guys! Keep that fence up though 😉

    Karen, that is wacky! I am sure the Germans have a name for something like that. I encounter this *all the time* when I am reading, especially since I hop between books a lot. A ginormous Korean market though? Sign me up. I love huge ethnically-particular markets, and often come home with bags of things like your sorghum, thinking This is the day I make something totally strange! My pantry ends up getting quite full.

    Stef, and homegrown you do. Gallons of it! Woooww. I am a huge honey-on-my-yogurt person, so I am motivated to DIY too.

    Shawna, nothing like frost to kind of speed up your plans, right? It hit us, but not super hard. I didn’t know you could get sodas on foodstamps; probably can get chips too. Poor things. Psst: I have a book to send you.

    Andrea, well I could rationalize chocolate because it’s NOT sweet in its natural state! Oh and I commend you on the one-new-dependent-per-year thing. So much less overwhelming that way. Chickens! Yay.

    Jayme, yeah, I have wondered about the baking thing myself. I didn’t grow up in a dessert household, as they were a real treat only around holidays and birthdays. But: I like to bake, and I like to bake sweet things. So indeed it’s tough as honey and maple syrup and sorghum and molasses don’t work the same way in cakes, etc. So yeah, I don’t think it’s a “bad” habit such as it’s a habit, you know? Good luck with your hives next year too!

    CC, you’re not that high-horsey. I am kind of amazed how sweet things are too when I go out and eat them, and I am doubly amazed how salty things are. Like, grab the water! What is WITH people that their tongues are so dull you need twice the sugar and thrice the salt? Oh yeah: soda pop, salty chips. Kind of a high low standard.

    Jason, it sounds like you’re a follower of the bev industry! There is something kind of nice about opening a bottle of fizz, something special to it…not a 4x a day occasion but one doled out in irregular doses. People want CHEAP pop and Whole Foods is never going to be Everyman’s grocery store, so that’s why Walmart sells it in big plastic bottles. It’s too bad, frankly.

    Selina, I envy you your easy access to Middlebury and environs. Not that the Amish have all the answers, as they’re prone to shortcuts too, but they, at least, have a common tradition and a food culture. Have fun with the sorghum!

    Diana, I agree. But try to limit corn subsidies for the greater good and you’ll hear screams coming out of our Midwestern congressfolks. But: do we really need this much corn? I don’t think so, but barring the more painful choice of ending unnecessary subsidies they’ll instead tax its cheapest, bad-for-you product. Talk about short-sighted.

    Jules, I hope it was lots of fun for you! Yum.

    Dee, you’re quite clued in. On a chilly day like today, I can SMELL your baked beans from here…yum! And yeah, it’s madness, all this corn.

    Dennis, I know sugar taxes won’t pass, nor will the end of subsidies for corn, for Everglades-grown sugar cane, for soybeans, for cotton. It just won’t happen. And we’ll pay the price of the subsidies in different ways, mostly environmental, but with our health too. Dumb lack of foresight. And: I *adore* maple syrup.

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