Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda
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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 the United States, 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.
have been particularly motivated to minimize their weight. The column recommended saccharin as a viable substitute for “stout people who are trying to reduce and those who wish to avoid accumulating more slacker ﬂesh.”6 Brady appears to have grown only more enthusiastic about saccharin over the next few years. By 1946, after several years of sugar rationing, his column o∏ered a more robust endorsement. There was, he explained, “ample scientiﬁc evidence” to suggest that anyone could use up to ﬁve
professional women had to promote such products. Nothing, however, has yet been written about the impetus men had to create these things. In fact, as The Abbott Tree and popular illustrations Origins of Artiﬁcially Sweetened Products 83 in pamphlets by food technologists (see ﬁg. 3.2) show, men were often celebrated in period iconography as the creators of modern innovations, including food. In Food Additives: What They Are and How They Are Used, a popular pamphlet distributed by the
inquiries” about Tasti-Diet.18 By February 1953, Tasti-Diet was advertised nationally. That same month, the Vanderbilt hotel on Manhattan’s Park Avenue introduced a dietetic menu made up entirely “of Tillie Lewis Tasti-Diet foods,” and within eight months the low-calorie food line was in national distribution.19 According to the industry journal Good Packaging, the introduction of Tasti-Diet was “one of the biggest events in the food business in ﬁfty years.”20 There were practical reasons for the
the “most important fact Diet Entrepreneurs 117 about modern weight control” was that . . . “dieting can be pleasant.”25 By drawing on nutritional knowledge that calories caused weight gain and sugar was a main source of calories, Lewis made it acceptable to desire food and to admit that one was unable to control those desires. All that was required was the good sense to fulﬁll that desire with the right kind of foods. Tillie communicated this message by juxtaposing nonsaccharin-eating fat
promise never to forget what life was like at one’s highest weight, even years after the pounds were shed. Meeting leaders, always successful members on “maintenance” for reaching their goal weights, would often stand up in front of a group with a large “before” photo next to them in full view, to remind everyone that they were not always thin. Schwartz refers to this technique of motivation as “anamnesis,” or a “calling to mind,” and demThe Right to Risky Pleasure in 1977 165 onstrates that