Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda
Sugar substitutes have been a part of American life since saccharin was introduced at the 1893 World's Fair. In Empty Pleasures, the first history of artificial sweeteners in America, Carolyn de la Pena blends popular culture with business and women's history, examining the invention, production, marketing, regulation, and consumption of sugar substitutes such as saccharin, Sucaryl, NutraSweet, and Splenda. She describes how saccharin, an accidental laboratory by-product, was transformed from a perceived adulterant into a healthy ingredient. As food producers and pharmaceutical companies worked together to create diet products, savvy women's magazine writers and editors promoted artificially sweetened foods as ideal, modern weight-loss aids, and early diet-plan entrepreneurs built menus and fortunes around pleasurable dieting made possible by artificial sweeteners.
NutraSweet, Splenda, and their predecessors have enjoyed enormous success by promising that Americans, especially women, can "have their cake and eat it too," but Empty Pleasures argues that these "sweet cheats" have fostered troubling and unsustainable eating habits and that the promises of artificial sweeteners are ultimately too good to be true.
Empty Foods, False Promises
By Story Circle Book Reviews - October 7, 2010
Like many, I'm a long-time a consumer of artificial sweeteners. Except for baking, I've pretty much given up sugar. I habitually reach for the "pink stuff" to sweeten my coffee and tea, I sprinkle Splenda on my morning cereal, and I choose diet sodas that are sweetened with NutraSweet. Now, after reading Empty Pleasures, I understand more about the why and how of these food habits--and not just mine, but those of most American consumers. Carolyn De La Peña has given me something to think about.
Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda explores an important and completely overlooked chapter in America's food history: how and why and in less than three decades, consumers changed from craving sugar to rejecting it in favor of the seductive pleasures of artificial sweeteners. The book is a powerfully engaging and (for the most part) highly readable narrative that tells the story of Americans' growing acceptance of sweet-tasting food... read more
Artificial sweeteners from a sociological perspective
By William Young - August 2, 2011
This book focuses on the promoters and promotees of artificial sweeteners for the greater part of the Twentieth Century. From the period in which the first commercial sweetener saccharin was considered adulterants (secretly substituted to some degree for more expensive sugar) in an era when sugar was wholesome and nutritious, Ms. de la Peña takes the narrative full circle, especially focusing on the fight to salvage saccharin (led by weight-conscious people -- primarily women -- and the industry-supported Calorie Control Council) when it was almost removed from the market after cancer developed in rats fed huge amounts of the substance. (The Delaney Clause -- the 1958 amendment to the Food, Drugs, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 -- forbade the FDA approval of a substance shown to cause cancer in man or other animals.) She offers many new insights into the woman's role in food selection for the family, a process in which the homemaker exercised considerable control in the period... read more