Sugar holds a special place in both public policy and scientific debate, each of which frequently attributes to it a unique, intrinsic power. A rather deterministic view of sugar is asserted in a range of scholarly fields, including findings of parallels between the brain's response to sugar and opiates, widespread suggestions of a hardwired human attraction to sweetness, and public health claims that increased access to affordable sugar inevitably leads to epidemic increases in rates of obesity around the globe. Japan poses an important counterpoint to such approaches because—despite high wealth levels and affordable access to sugary foods—it is a striking outlier to global obesity trends. Yet, surprisingly, while Japan's per capita consumption of sugar is much lower than other wealthy nations, the intensity of interest and cultural elaboration around sweet foods is arguably far greater than in the United States and Europe. Through an examination of attitudes, experiences, and patterns of use concerning sweet foods in Japan, this paper considers the conundrum of how and why Japanese tend to love sweet foods more but consume them less, furthering our understanding of the interplay of materiality and meaning in food and eating, while also addressing key questions regarding sugar and sweetness that have implications for issues of public health and nutrition.
To Love Sugar One Does Not Have to Eat It
Jon Holtzman is a cultural anthropologist specializing in the anthropology of food and other topics. Alongside his long-term work with Samburu in Kenya, he has since 2010 begun research in Japan. Among his publications are the books Nuer Journeys, Nuer Lives (Allyn and Bacon, 2000), Uncertain Tastes (University of California Press, 2009) and Killing Your Neighbors (forthcoming, University of California Press). He is Professor of Anthropology at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and a frequent visiting scholar at Kyoto University.
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Jon Holtzman; To Love Sugar One Does Not Have to Eat It. Gastronomica 1 August 2016; 16 (3): 44–55. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2016.16.3.44
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