The Food Memoir: Sugar

sugar bowl filled with brown sugar
The indian summer before I was born was bittersweet. My arrival into the world was greatly anticipated and this was the “sweet” part of the equation. The “bitter” part was more literal, since just a little over a month before I was born, sugar was rationed. What that meant was that you could not simply walk into a supermarket and buy sugar. You had to present a “sugar card” to a sales person and they would give you your monthly ration.
Neither my mom nor I had a big sweet tooth, and we liked drinking our tea or coffee without sugar. And now when sugar is easily available, I don’t use sugar at all these days, just keep some for guests, but often forget to put it out when they don’t remind me. Still, this was the sad turn of events for most people.
Sugar is one of basic commodities and to restrict people from buying it must have meant more than just the inability to satisfy the sweet cravings. It signaled, in a tacit and yet explicit way, the power of the government over its citizens. It stated, in no uncertain terms, that it could meddle in the minutia of their daily lives.
Added to that was the simpler truth: life was hard without the rations, and people often gathered with friends and cheered themselves up by having a good chat, tea/coffee and something sweet, like cookies or homemade pastries. Sharing one’s joys and sorrows over an empty pastry plate was out of the question.
For many, the love for sugar was prompted not only by their taste buds, but also the popular culture. In 1931 a Polish writer came up with a slogan for the company that sold sugar to the Polish consumers. The rough translation would be “sugar energizes.” The author of the slogan, Melchior Wankowicz, received almost twice as much money for these words as the president of Poland earned per month. The story and the slogan entered the national consciousness and were especially celebrated by the sweet-toothed majority.
Just as I was getting ready to enter the world, the government attempted to discourage people from buying sugar–the government could export the unsold sugar to other countries and earn a seizable income. Not only did they come up with the sugar rations, but also with a slogan meant to discourage the use of sugar. The slogan read, “sugar is the white death.”
One might rightly assume that I came into the world when the echoes of white death reverberated in stores and in the media. Perhaps this is the reason why, to this day, I do not crave sugar.


Karo Caran, the Rainbow Poetess, is a poet and a non/fiction writer. Her novel, "Breaking the silence: A story in paintings" focuses on the censorship of art and gay relationships in the postwar, communist Poland. Her poetry-based memoir, "Life in a Footnotes" will be published this summer.
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12 thoughts on “The Food Memoir: Sugar

  1. What a novel way to reflect on sugar! I think this country would be better off today if that slogan “the white death” had taken hold. But to realize that foods have their own stories involving context and culture makes everything more interesting. The future story of sugar is taking shape now, I think, with the research accruing that shows how addictive sugar and sugar-related products are. The next chapters!

    • You are right, Judy, the slogan would be very useful in the US and around the world. But the industry has already released lots of unhealthy “alternatives,” so really, one could write a 19th-century-type novel in volumes. 🙂

  2. You are very fortunate about not craving sugar. I never heard the slogan Sugar is the white death! That may be the only time the government told us the truth. Now they allow companies to promote it and substitutes are far more deadly than sugar itself. Interesting look back at this time period.
    Julieanne Case
    Always from the heart!

    Reconnecting you to your Original Blueprint, Your Essence, Your Joy| Healing you from the Inside Out |Reconnective Healing | The Reconnection| Reconnective Art |

    • Hi Julieanne,
      The slogans were invented in Poland, where I’m from, so you probably would not have heard them. But believe me, they did not scare people, especially the second one. I think people wanted to defy the government in many little ways, and finding sugar and home baking were definitely common practices.
      Thanks so much for your post!
      – Karo

  3. You’ve got a great flow in your writing Karo, I really enjoyed reading this. My sister gave up sugar two years ago and couldn’t believe the difference in her moods (or lack of). Enjoyed some of your other articles too … interesting writer, I can hear your ‘voice’ coming through! J

    • Hi Julie,

      Wow! Loved your comment, because I did publish a novel a couple of years ago, so it’s a great encouragement for me. Not sure if I can post the link to it or not, but pls let me know if you want more info. In any case, thank you again for taking the time to write!

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