The inhabitants of the United States consume almost twice as much sugar as the French. 1 Such a fact is usually a concern of economics and politics. But this is by no means all. One needs only to take the step from sugar as merchandise, an abstract item in accounts, to sugar as food, a concrete item that is “eaten” rather than “consumed,” to get an inkling of the (probably unexplored) depth of the phenomenon. For the Americans must do something with all that sugar. And as a matter of fact, anyone who has spent time in the United States knows that sugar permeates a considerable part of American cooking; that it saturates ordinarily sweet foods, such as pastries; makes for a great variety of sweets served, such as ice creams, jellies, syrups; and is used in many dishes that French people do not sweeten, such as meats, ﬁ sh, salads, and relishes. This is something that would be of interest to scholars in ﬁ elds other than economics, to the psychosociologist, for example, who will have something to say about the presumably invariable relation between standard of living and sugar consumption. (But is this relation really invariable today? And if so, why?) 2 It could be of interest to the historian also, who might ﬁ nd it worthwhile to study the ways in which the use of sugar evolved as part of American culture (the inﬂ uence of Dutch and German immigrants who were used to “sweet-salty” cooking?). Nor is this all. Sugar is not just a foodstuff, even when it is used in conjunction with other foods; it is, if you will, an “attitude,” bound to certain usages, certain “protocols,” that have to do with more than food. Serving a sweet relish or drinking a Coca-Cola with a meal are things that are conﬁ ned to eating habits proper; but to go regularly to a dairy bar, where the absence of alcohol coincides with a great abundance of sweet beverages, means more than to consume sugar; through the sugar, it also means to experience the day, periods of rest, traveling, and leisure in a speciﬁ c fashion that is certain to have its impact on the American. For who would claim that in France wine is only wine? Sugar or wine, these two superabundant substances are also institutions. And these institutions necessarily imply a set of images, dreams, tastes, choices, and values. I remember an American hit song: Sugar Time . Sugar is a time, a category of the world. 3
I have started out with the example of the American use of sugar because it permits us to get outside of what we, as Frenchmen, consider “obvious.” For we do not see our own food or, worse, we assume that it is insigniﬁ cant. Even-or perhaps
*Originally published 1961
especially-to the scholar, the subject of food connotes triviality or guilt. 4 This may explain in part why the psychosociology of French eating habits is still approached only indirectly and in passing when more weighty subjects, such as life-styles, budgets, and advertising, are under discussion. But at least the sociologists, the historians of the present-since we are talking only about contemporary eating habits hereand the economists are already aware that there is such a thing.