Love Lane Lives

The history of sugar in Liverpool and the effects of the closure of the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery, Love Lane

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Big Sugar loves this night, especially when Halloween falls on a FRIDAY!

Written by Ron Noon at 09:11 on Friday, October 31st 2014

“Halloween confectionery sales are forecast to reach $2.5bn, up 1.8% on last year” according to the NCA and it’s Vice President of communications, Susan Whiteside. The figures are hot off the press of Confectionery news.com which as an avid Sugar Buster I’m an insatiable devourer of. Who do we thank for Friday? “That often means people attend more celebrations overall: Trick or treating Friday night, a community party on Saturday and an adult oriented party on Saturday night” is a great boost to profits from this simple too much taken for granted everyday commodity. Taken for granted? Well not for everyone these days because quite clearly there is now a much greater interest in the public health dimension to the overconsumption of a commodity which has the wonderful powers for food manufacturers of helping to overcome the finite limits of the stomach. Fancy anything sweet?

The term Big Sugar was not used by many people ten years ago in the UK when I was in the throws of writing up some of my research on the American white stuff, but today the “sizeist adjective” is prone to be placed pretty much in front of every profitable industry so in danger of debasing the value of the concept which for me has a specificity in relation to the industry in America in particular where it has a disproportionate POLITICAL clout. Big Food, Big Sugar, Big Tobacco, Big Oil, the adjective clearly has transferable uses. “But on a night when it is a bit of a headache for parents so much sugar around, it’s a marketing dream for the Sugar industry.” Big Sugar wants to ensure even when Halloween does not fall on a Friday that the sugar fest continues indefinitely as gullible people trick or treat ourselves into a bitter/sweet future.

We are addicted to it and if there is going to be an effective ACTION ON SUGAR campaign here, there and everywhere, this pimp product enters insidiously into the diet with its deleterious health consequences in terms of obesity, diabetes and other spectacularly increasing “non-communicable diseases of affluence” then hopefully this weekend will be the start for many more. Nearly 20 years of researching the white stuff and largely from the point of view of the sugar refinery workers and their “productionist” priorities has finally taken its toll. I love my boys and girls from the whitestuff, and will always savour the great delight that conversations and talks with extraordinary ordinary lives from down the Lane have brought me. Albert E Sloane and John Maclean are my two main sweet fightin’ men and sadly John has passed away. That said I remember him telling me that “there’s nothing wrong with the stuff Ron, it’s delicious and what everyone loves”. When you are trying to save your job and defend your community, naughty definitely meant nice. Of course people have to get access to the means of material life and secure jobs and employment and my predominant focus on this site is justifiably on those Love Lane Lives and ensuring that their stories and tales and above all those memories of working down the Lane live on!

That is the rationale for the studied play on words in the title of this site. Love Lane Lives or Love Lane Lives!? In one supremely ironic sense that battle to SAVE OUR SUGAR and save the Lane from closing (1500 people plus their families and dependents were junked in April 1981 when Henry Tate’s mother plant was closed down by Tate & Lyle) was at a time when one of the first sugar busters on the block the scientist and nutritionist from London University, Professor John Yudkin author of “Pure, White and Deadly”, was the target of opprobrium and many derogatory criticisms for posing FINANCIAL HEALTH warnings to the industry.

The public health dimension then was nothing like it is today when the scientific evidence for its deleterious impact on our health is “objectively overwhelming” and when Robert Lustig the American endocrinologist is the newest and most effective sugar buster on the block. He’s the lightning rod for far more than scientific debate about the toxicity of this hitherto far too much taken for granted everyday “foodstuff”. (There’s nothing NATURAL about the white stuff and it does not grow on plant leaves or husks of corn! The bible was a land of milk and honey not sugar and spice and our sweet tooth was assuaged by other sweeteners, albeit very difficult to come by.)

Lustig’s scientific method and doctoral zeal as an endocrinologist who has for many years now seen at first hand the disastrous consequences of overconsumption of sugar on the children he treats for diabetes and various related “non-communicable diseases”, has provoked and illuminated a much needed public health debate.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM

His campaigning has led directly onto other more collectivised campaigning groups like Action on Sugar which was set up in this country in January of this year. This is Action on Sugar’s first BIG HALLOWEEN encounter and I’m sure there will be many more but they’ve at least for this first year of operation succeeded with me.

Belatedly I now deliberately and purposefully cut out as much of the added sugars in my diet as is practically possible. I’m not a food facist, a kill joy, a proselytiser of dieting! I don’t DO that kind of diet and I do eat a lot especially now my “appetite control mechanism” has been rehabilitated. That said as an enthusiastic supporter of AoS I don’t want this opportunity for really effective public education on health and quality of life to be missed.

Hopefully as it’s proponents argue we are on the cusp of a new ZEITGIEST when Big Sugar faces up to a BIG TOBACCO moment! But to push that advantage home and remind ourselves that food is the biggest business in the world and nutrition arguably more of a driver and shaper of individual and group needs than sex, the social story of sugar, how it came from nowhere to be everywhere, has to be told too. A wider and more holistic debate around the history of sucrose and its role in human history would be an invaluable way of plugging the past into the present. Why not extend “sucrose history” into the schools to harness the formidable pester power of our kids. Why not make a start by watching this? 

Big Sugar: Sweet, White and Deadly. Written & Directed by: Brian McKenna. Produced by Galafilm in 2005.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hcAjyOFX1M

Big Sugar contains some fine reconstructions of 18th century slavery when sugar cane was not only the quintessential slave crop but the “white gold” that instigated fierce economic and military rivalries amongst European powers that were all too readily prepared to engage in wars over it!

How many people seriously interested in history in Britain and Canada know that at the end of the Seven Years War, 1756-1763, “Big Sugar” in Britain did not want the French sugar islands of Guadelope and Martinique to challenge their ascendancy and how they used blackmail and bribes to ensure that not only was the fate of Canada determined by their “preferred” Peace Treaty for Britain but that effectively in not incorporating the French sugar islands and taking Canada instead,  “sugar was traded for snow”!

As McKenna declared after reading Jame’s A Mitchener’s novel Caribbean, Canada’s fate was decided not on the Plains of Abraham but by the sugar lobby in London”. Novelists don’t have to genuflect to objectivity as an end in itself as do historians but Mitchener had a footnote in his book which outlined a new scenario of Canada’s past. Both Mitchener and later Professor Denis Vaugeios immersed themselves in the archives in London and highlighted this hitherto lack of scholarship and research on the subject. Sugar is a funny old world and action on Sugar requires knowing much more about it’s spooky history.

P.S. Trick or Treat?