“The links between First World “taste” and Third World suffering are understood by the producing nations and it has become evident that increasingly their destiny has become, in effect, a secondary effect of shifts in First World consumption patterns” (Daniel Miller 1995:3).
“Oh ye who at your ease sip the blood-sweetn’d beverage”(Southey, 1797)
Integral to the slave sugar boycott were changing ideas about food consumption. The blood-sugar topos (the ‘guilt trope’ and idea that sweetened drinks of tea, coffee and chocolate could suddenly become nauseating as they were linked to the blood of slaves) is considered by Timothy Morton to have been part of a wider culture of radical food. The guilt and horror of eating human flesh by association was supplemented by an increasing sympathy for bodies in pain. According to Thomas Laquer (1990) an intensified public sympathy for bodies in pain percolated society through scientific discourse. Biological evidence of maladies and suffering derived from rigorous attempts at objective autopsy reports and in the ‘realistic’ documentation and depiction of the body and its organs.
In this second post on anti-saccharite cultures I situate the sugar boycott at the juncture between economic necessity and individual and collective forms of religious sacrifice and purging.
Moral capital and hegemonic cycles of capital
Questions surrounding the sense of personal responsibility and morality felt by the anti-saccharites have been raised by several historians. Christopher Brown argues that a variety of political actors felt that they could accrue moral capital from framing “anti-slavery initiatives as an emblem of national character” (2006:27), as a way of sustaining the reputation of an empire perceived to be declining. Drawing from Arrighi and Braudel’s work on the longue durée and hegemonic cycles of capital accumulation, and with a historian’s keen eye for hindsight, Brown suggests that creating moral capital by vindicating British liberty was a seductive way of extending the British hegemony of capitalist relations before the transition to the American cycle of dominance.
Arrighi’s cycles of capitalist accumulation based on the temporal development of Money-Capital-Money phases (1994). Diagram B outlines M-M phases that mark the transition from one global hegemon to another. Brown argues that the abolition of the slave trade was one of the means to ‘civilize’ power and lengthen the British dominated long nineteenth century.