For Valentine's Day, Celebrating A Love — Of Sugar

Feb 13, 2020


Looking back at the iconic photos of Woodstock, people seem amazed how skinny everyone was. 

Why is that? Is it today’s fast food? Portion size? Big Sugar?

I don't know the answer, I just know about all I ate growing up in the '60s was sugar, and it was great. I remember torturing the woman behind the penny-candy counter as I clutched my precious dime, painstakingly choosing how to spend it. Root Beer Barrel or Mary Jane: Which delivered the most sugar?

And when my mother and I went into Boston, we’d split a sandwich at Bailey’s, but never a sundae. For that it was each girl to her own, spooning up the gobs of hot fudge that pooled on the tray below, before attacking the sundae itself.

We never ordered just ice cream, because obviously it doesn't have enough sugar. You need chocolate sauce, marshmallow and that super-sweet cherry on top.

And next to my elementary school was a bakery that sold broken goods half price. I soon learned that if I saved my lunch money I could buy a bag for the walk home. Why eat chicken cutlets when you could have brownie bits?

I’m not saying Big Sugar hasn’t contributed to our current obesity epidemic, just that we've been eating sugar a long time. As a kid, I put sugar on sweetened cereal, sugar on cinnamon toast, on snow. I ate chocolate bars for breakfast.

My mother was from Nova Scotia, where it’s common to have a container of molasses in the cupboard. She put it on everything growing up and so did I. Sometimes I’d drink it straight from the bottle when I thought no one was looking.

In school, when I learned about the Great Molasses Flood of 1919, I first thought it was pure fantasy. To swim in sugar! Then I realized people died and Boston Harbor was polluted for months.

In school now, a student recently asked me what my favorite candy bar is. Before I could answer, another student said, "She doesn’t eat candy."

Oh, if they only knew!

Commentator Susan Johnson teaches writing at UMass Amherst's Isenberg School of Management.