Sugar is a beautiful illustration of a former luxury which has become a necessity, and it also illustrates the increasing dependence of Northern races upon the foods produced by tropical peoples. It deserves extended notice, for it is also a proof of the fact that white men must control the tropics or suffer reduction of numbers and efficiency.
Through the ordinary laws of selection all animals prefer the foods which nourish them the best. Man's remote ancestor was able to digest cellulose, like the goat or camel now, but starch was no doubt preferred, and as he was able eventually to secure enough starch from grains and fruits, his organ for digesting cellulose dwindled in time, and now is a mere vestige of its former greatness - the vermiform appendix. The lessened ability to digest starch was not degeneration, but an involution leading to survival, as there was less strength wasted in useless organs.
In time man himself, somehow, learned that heated starches tasted better, and we now know that dextrin or even sugars may thus be formed. But such cooking breaks up the starch grains and renders them more digestible, and as survival was possible on less food, natural selection preserved the men who resorted to cooking exclusively, and there was through involution a still further reduction of our powers of digestion, and we are now weaklings dependent upon cooked starches. The luxury has become a necessity.
Within the last few centuries a new and further evolution has begun and has already progressed to a considerable degree. Physiologists have shown that carbohydrate foods are presented to cells in the form of a sugar, both in plants and animals. Indeed, mammals furnish their young with a solution of sugar in the milk. Hence, starch digestion in man is merely changing it into sugar. He who eats a little sugar is at a decided advantage, for he lessens the burden of digestion and can survive with less food and weaker digestion. The craving for sugar is, then, the same phenomenon as the craving for cooked starch, or for starch in preference to cellulose, and there is a survival of those who can obtain sugar. This is a natural evolution over which we have no control whatever, and has been going on without our knowledge. It has progressed to a point that we can already safely eat four or five ounces of sugar daily, and probably could dispose of more if taken frequently in small doses highly diluted.
As all such evolutions are very slow it will of course be many thousands of years before we are dependent upon sugar, like the bees, and unable to digest starch. Indeed, there is a counteracting factor, for strong solutions of sugar are distinctly poisonous, not like strychnine, of course, but injurious to living tissues. We even use syrups as antiseptics to prevent the growth of putrefactive organisms. Nature always presents the sugar to cells in very dilute solution, and our starches are digested and absorbed very slowly. Hence, it has been only recently realized that if we eat much sugar at a meal, it is absorbed in such strong solution as to be extremely harmful. This is particularly true of glucose, the form into which cane sugar is changed before it is absorbed. It is now suspected that such irritations may even cause contracted liver. It is not true that this condition is confined to drunkards; indeed, it is probably more common in abstainers, and there is ground for the belief that sugar is now and then the fault, and abstainers take more of it than alcoholics do. The irritation of sugar in the blood may even cause death, as in diabetes, when the system has lost the power to further oxidize the sugars delivered to it from the alimentary canal.
If we are ever dependent upon sugars to the exclusion of starch, we will be compelled to take them in weak solutions and frequent small doses. Even at present such a use of sugar has become a necessity in armies, because it is absorbed quickly and at once furnishes energy to refreshen exhausted men in campaigns. Experiments have been made in both the German and French armies, which showed conclusively that extra rations of sugar to the extent of four ounces per day, caused great increase of energy, vigor and less sickness. In some cases as much as ten ounces were taken, though this seems to be beyond the present safety line.* This is why all armies are increasing the allowance of sugar, *
When soldiers are exhausted they crave sugar in the same way as underfed women. In the tropics the consumption of it is enormous, both by natives and white men, and at one time our soldiers in the Philippines used twenty tons of confectionery a month.*
* M. Joly, Arch, de Medecine et de Pharmacie Militaire, April, 1907. * See also Bulletin 93, United States Agricultural Department.
The craving for sugar, then, is perfectly normal and explains the history of that commodity. Two thousand years ago no one knew of it, though they cultivated and ate all the sugar foods they found - grapes, figs, dates, honey and maple syrup. When sugar was discovered it was a mere drug or curiosity.* Then it became a sweetmeat for feasts, but gradually became a part of the ordinary diet, and is now a necessary ingredient in many of our dishes. The consumption in the United States alone amounts to about eighty-three pounds per capita, and the importations have mounted to billions of pounds yearly, and are of more value than our exports of grain. This is economy of the highest sort, even if it costs more than starch, for we are relieving the digestion of some of its burdens. Even our Indians, who never saw sugar until recently, are dependent upon it, and it constitutes a necessary part of then ration for which they will barter anything they possess. Like all other necessaries the cost of sugar is always diminishing, and though it was as high as five dollars a pound in the fourteenth century, it is now not far from a cent and a half. Its use is constantly increasing, and we are absolutely dependent upon the tropics for it, and we use one-fourth of the sugar made in the world.* Unless we control the tropics, they will relapse, as Hayti did, and we will suffer for this necessity. Anti-imperialism is, therefore, race suicide.
* The sales and issues of sweets for the year ending June 30, 1902, were reported by the Chief Commissary in Manila to be as follows:
Sugars................................... 4,619,693 pounds
Candy and Chocolate Cakes................ 262,196 pounds
Molasses, Syrup and Honey................ 28,334 gallons
Malted Milk.............................. 30,326 pounds
Mellin's Food............................. 937 bottles
Condensed Milk........................... 1,934,639 cans
Australian Fresh Milk..................... 13,385 gallons
Preserves and Canned Fruit (1/4 to 1/3 sugar). . . . 1,042,367 pounds.
* "Cane-sugar was made by the Chinese at a very remote epoch. In the West it was known much later; Pliny, Varro, and Lucan, among the Romans, at the beginning of our era, just make mention of it, and it was then known under the names of 'Indian salt,' 'Asian honey,' and 'Arabian' or 'Indian juice.' In 1090 the Crusaders, on their arrival in Syria, found cane-sugar there for the first time, and it became part of the soldiers' ration. In the following centuries sugar-cane was introduced into the island of Cyprus, into the Nile Delta, on the north shore of Africa as far as Gibraltar, into Sicily, and into the Kingdom of Naples; then into Spain in the fifteenth century and thence into Madeira and the Canaries. In 1644 the French took it to Guadeloupe and shortly afterward to Martinique and Louisiana. The Portuguese introduced it into Brazil, and the English into Jamaica." - Cosmos.