This month, after painstaking and careful deliberation, I’ve decided to address the topic of sugar. Modern day research tells us that there’s practically nothing good about the substance, so I suggest that if you’re going to swallow another article about the evils of sugar, you should do so with a spoonful of, um, molasses.
My doctor brought the topic to mind after my most recent physical, in which, after doing various uncomfortable things to me – hoorah for middle age – his assistant called and cheerfully announced that I’d had a surge in my cholesterol. I needed to make dietary changes, she said. In the old days, I suppose this would mean cutting out unnecessary fats and eggs. But today, we have holistic health. Its proponents believe that what happens to one part of our bodies may affect the other parts. So I’m off sugar to lower my cholesterol. The brain part of me isn’t happy.
As a resident of Florida, the land of eternal summer, swimming pools, and freeze-pops, it’s a little difficult to avoid. When standing in line at a theme park, what am I to do if not slam my face into glorious sugar clouds of cotton candy, chew out my frustrations with Twizzlers, or soothe my bruised and swelling emotions with ice cream? And how am I to stay awake through the soul sapping half-hour of 3-3:30 p.m.? Sugar makes life better, and now, I’m just supposed to stop!?
I realize that I shouldn’t blame my environment for my sugar addiction. But my environment is entirely responsible. At age two, my family lived in a tiny German dairy village. The boast of this village was not in its number of shops but in the quality of its few storefronts, one of which my foggy memory recalls. I can still see huge slabs of white chocolate behind glass. And my dear mother reverently slipping decadent chunks from a paper bag into my chubby little hand, my mind debating whether to melt with my tongue or simply devour.
We moved to England, leaving German chocolate behind. My mom relaxed, believing we’d exited the land of sugar for good. Steak and kidney pie, cucumber sandwiches, and tea is the fare of the Brits, she assumed. She didn’t factor in the overwhelming flood of Cadburys, Allsorts, and Bounty Bars. She didn’t think of Maltesers, Cadbury Flakes, Jaffa Cakes, or Hobnobs. To top off the sugar rush, we soon discovered that afternoon “tea” was just an excuse to not make dinner. For after stuffing our faces with biscuits and other sweets and puddings (which translates to anything made of sugar), we didn’t need to eat again until breakfast.
My mother’s fight against sugar was doomed from the start. At school, every accomplishment was celebrated with sweets. One particular celebration that’s locked in my six-year-old brain are school birthdays. Never did horror and joy pair so tightly as they did in the school assembly birthday celebration. There, the principal presided; she called the birthday student to the stage as she glided over to a chair and sat down beside a little table with a tin resting upon it. Next, she’d motion to the student, who would look down, face beet red, and shuffle over. The student would then lay down on her lap, his rump facing the student body, and she’d give him a “spank” for each year. We, like typical children, cheered with great fervor at the humiliation.
Finally, the principal allowed the student to rise. Then, she gracefully nodded to the tin on her table. As we watched, our minds burst with what sweet delights the tin could possibly contain. The student was then allowed to choose one jelly from the sacred tin. Public humiliation completely forgotten, many students froze in deliberation until the principal began a loud countdown.
Eventually, each student had their turn. I suspect not many of us ever had a problem with public speaking after the experience of celebrating our birthdays at school. Perhaps this explains why, after any public engagement, I wander around searching for a sweet-filled tin.
So now that I’m banned from sugar, not a day goes by without a vague feeling of loss. How am I to enjoy life without sweetness on my tongue?
I’m sure many of you have your own sugar glory stories. While living in Florida, I’ve delighted in freshly harvested sugar cane, sipped chilled aguapanela, and devoured all sorts of unique candy bars whose names I can’t even pronounce. I’ve even stumbled upon my very favorite jelly candy in Publix – Jelly Babies. Eating babies never tasted so good. Alas, I suppose part of growing up for me means less sugar, right after I finish one more Cadbury Creme Egg. After all, it only has 26 grams of sugar, two-thirds of my daily intake … which means there’s still room for a few gummy bears.