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Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda [Hardcover]

Carolyn de la Peña
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 27, 2010 0807834092 978-0807834091 1
Sugar substitutes have been a part of American life since saccharin was introduced at the 1893 World's Fair. In Empty Pleasures, the first history of artificial sweeteners in the United States, Carolyn de la Pena blends popular culture with business and women's history, examining the invention, production, marketing, regulation, and consumption of sugar substitutes such as saccharin, Sucaryl, NutraSweet, and Splenda. She describes how saccharin, an accidental laboratory by-product, was transformed from a perceived adulterant into a healthy ingredient. As food producers and pharmaceutical companies worked together to create diet products, savvy women's magazine writers and editors promoted artificially sweetened foods as ideal, modern weight-loss aids, and early diet-plan entrepreneurs built menus and fortunes around pleasurable dieting made possible by artificial sweeteners.

NutraSweet, Splenda, and their predecessors have enjoyed enormous success by promising that Americans, especially women, can "have their cake and eat it too," but Empty Pleasures argues that these "sweet cheats" have fostered troubling and unsustainable eating habits and that the promises of artificial sweeteners are ultimately too good to be true.

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A well-cited, thought-provoking, and fascinating analysis of the sociological, psychological, political, and financial underpinnings of the promotion and use of artificial sweeteners in the U.S. . . . Highly Recommended"--Choice


"Empty Pleasures is full of insights about artificial sweeteners."--Gastronomica


"Charmingly written and exhaustively researched, de la Pena's exploration provides a fascinating look into a seemingly commonplace food additive."--ForeWord Magazine


"In its most intriguing chapter, the book details the "saccharin rebellion" . . . [which] reveals much about ordinary Americans' perceptions of pleasure in a risk-filled world."--A Nota Bene selection of The Chronicle of Higher Education


"This book does an excellent job of exploring the contested history of artificial sweeteners and their use in packaged food and drink. In de la Pena's hands these substances become windows onto important aspects of the American experience."--American Historical Review


"An insightful, multidisciplinary work particularly attractive to students of American studies.''--Journal of American History


"A welcome and an enlightening examination of consumption and its consequences."--PopMatters


"[De la Pena] is diligent, mostly even-handed and non-polemical."--National Review


"De la Pena's substantial skills as a social and cultural historian are on fine display. . . . Illuminating discussion. . . . Offers a too rare glimpse of how the business of chemistry actually works."--Chemical & Engineering News


"Powerfully engaging . . . [a] highly readable narrative. . . . Strongly recommended for general readers who are interested in changes in the American diet and in their own food choices and for collections that focus on the history of industrial food."--Story Circle Book Reviews


"Absolutely fascinating. . . . This is not a book that scolds you for your gum habit or insists that drinking diet soda will cause you to put on pounds in the long term. Rather, it is a well-written guide to the history and development of a product that permanently changed our meal preparation, our manufacturing system, and our self-perception."--SeriousEats.com


"In this cultural history, de la Pena shows how everyone from scientists to food conglomerates to ad agencies to women's magazines have conspired to make Americans believe we can have our sweets and eat them too."--BarnesandNobleReview.com


"Carolyn de la Pena conducts a thorough review of artificial sweeteners and how their role and perception have changed over the years."--Wilmington Star-News


"Fascinating."--The New Yorker "Book Bench" blog

Book Description

"Empty Pleasures provides a fascinating window into the complex history of artificial sweeteners in the United States, blending business history with discussions about how these products actually worked within the lives of consumers. An in-depth, nuanced study."--Amy Farrell, author of Yours in Sisterhood: Ms. Magazine and the Promise of Popular Feminism

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1 edition (September 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807834092
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807834091
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #515,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Empty Foods, False Promises October 7, 2010
Format:Hardcover
Like many, I'm a long-time a consumer of artificial sweeteners. Except for baking, I've pretty much given up sugar. I habitually reach for the "pink stuff" to sweeten my coffee and tea, I sprinkle Splenda on my morning cereal, and I choose diet sodas that are sweetened with NutraSweet. Now, after reading Empty Pleasures, I understand more about the why and how of these food habits--and not just mine, but those of most American consumers. Carolyn De La Peña has given me something to think about.

Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda explores an important and completely overlooked chapter in America's food history: how and why and in less than three decades, consumers changed from craving sugar to rejecting it in favor of the seductive pleasures of artificial sweeteners. The book is a powerfully engaging and (for the most part) highly readable narrative that tells the story of Americans' growing acceptance of sweet-tasting food products and outlines the development of artificial sweeteners, their impacts on the food industry, and the cultural implications of our changing food preferences.

During the early twentieth century, sugar was promoted as a healthful food that contributed calories and energy in often nutritive-poor diets. As a result, consumers refused to accept such commercial products as soft drinks in which the cheaper new chemical, saccharin, was substituted (without their knowledge) for the more expensive sugar. What--it wasn't really sugar? Consumers felt cheated, and manufacturers were forced to return to their customers' preferred sweetener.

But in the postwar 40s and 50s, consumers' preferences began to change, spurred by women's growing interest in becoming slim and sexy.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book focuses on the promoters and promotees of artificial sweeteners for the greater part of the Twentieth Century. From the period in which the first commercial sweetener saccharin was considered adulterants (secretly substituted to some degree for more expensive sugar) in an era when sugar was wholesome and nutritious, Ms. de la Peña takes the narrative full circle, especially focusing on the fight to salvage saccharin (led by weight-conscious people -- primarily women -- and the industry-supported Calorie Control Council) when it was almost removed from the market after cancer developed in rats fed huge amounts of the substance. (The Delaney Clause -- the 1958 amendment to the Food, Drugs, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 -- forbade the FDA approval of a substance shown to cause cancer in man or other animals.) She offers many new insights into the woman's role in food selection for the family, a process in which the homemaker exercised considerable control in the period well before "women's lib." While some in the food industry were early champions of artificial sweeteners (saccharin and cyclamates) in the 1950s and 1960s, it's refreshing to know that others were concerned about safety despite their commercial success. She also analyzed the triumphant NutraSweet and how its marketing -- from both the producer's perspective and that of the food industry -- reaching the conclusion that creativity and, to use my word, manipulation, were both instrumental.
However, some chapters grew excessively long, almost repetitive in some cases. Moreover, there were several factual errors and omissions. For example, the author notes that Love Canal was in New Jersey. She stated that Monsanto bought the NutraSweet Company; in actuality, Monsanto purchased G.D.
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