White Sugar’s Burden

Craig Santos Perez
February 15, 2013
Comments 2

For almost two years now, I’ve been on the “Reverse-Racism Diet” (it’s all the rage these days), which means I stay away from white flour, white rice, and white sugar. I have felt so much healthier, anti-American, and energetic. I’ve even lost some colonial poundage.


Refined sugar consumption is on the rise globally, and especially in USAmerica. Sugar subsidies inflate prices and enrich sugar corporations; in turn, sugar corporations enrich politicians and influence elections. Big Sugar has big power.


While a third of American refined sugar comes from cane sugar, half comes from sugar beets, nearly all of which are GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Sodas and candies are major vehicles for sugar, as are the cargo condiments ketchup and mayonnaise, highly revered in the Americanized Pacific.


While the Pacific has a long history of being exploited for its extractive natural and human resources, the Pacific also has a long history of being a dumping ground for empire.


Cue Valentine’s Day music. Cue another American holiday sugar dump.


Cue our historical memory: Guam became part of the US empire after the 1898 war between Spain and the US. That war was partly about sugar trade and profits. Sugar prices were at a peak. US sugar corporations, along with the banks, changed the fates of the sugar plantation regions of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic—as well as Hawai’i.

“The White Man’s Burden,” Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, was published in 1899.

Japan entered the sugar trade after World War I, establishing sugar plantations in the Western Pacific. The control of the Pacific sugar trade, World War II.

The burden involves capitalism, militarism, and colonialism.

The war over sugar has not ended. Now, Pacific Islanders suffer from some the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the world. Refined, GMO sugar is one of the major causes of this epidemic.


My Pacific body is an American sugar dump.


Growing up on Guam, I was raised on sugary American drinks. Red Hawaiian Punch. I remember the talking pitcher of ice and sweet blood punch. Caprisun. I remember angling and poking those pointy straws into the foil. I remember taking Caprisun bottles to the beach and putting them in the sand to see them sparkle. Sunny Delight. I remember that commercial. My sister and I would repeat the lines every time we opened the fridge: “Ok, we got OJ, purple stuff, some soda, and Sunny Delight. What’s in that stuff?” And, my all time favorite: Coca-Cola. Every time I opened a can it felt like I was drinking the sweet promise of America itself. These pure products of America always made me feel so patriotic.


My Pacific body can consume more than twenty teaspoons of American sugar per each average day America begins.


After the war of 1898, Coca-Cola began bottling operations in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. A former US Navy sailor, Chester Carl Butler, opened one of the first Coca-Cola franchises outside of the continental US: Guam, 1923. From then on my people were hooked.

“Coca-Colonialism”: look at these primitive natives drinking their primitive coconuts and their primitive unbottled water. How unsanitary and ungodly and undisciplined. As Kipling once wrote, it is the white man’s burden to civilize the natives.

To civilize a native: feed him/her nine spoonfuls of sugar in every can of soda. And we were hooked like “new-caught” fish.


Before 1898, it took five days for Americans to consume the amount of sugar in one can of Coke. Now, I can consume that amount during halftime of the Super Bowl.


I became more addicted to sodas and chocolates after my family moved to the incorporated state of California. At my new American high school, clubs raised money by selling American chocolate candies on campus. Snickers, Twix, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups became meal replacements. I bought and drank Coca-Cola’s every day so that I would blend in with the real American teenagers. I didn’t want to look “new-caught”.


My three years at an American high school felt like one long sugar high. This high continued through college.


Since I’ve been on the “reverse-racism diet,” every day has been a struggle. Although it’s still tough to not each chocolate (I indulge in healthier chocolates occasionally), I have not drunk a soda in two years.


My Pacific body has been an American sugar dump for long enough. American sugar has destroyed enough Pacific lives, through war and diabetes, through plantations and obesity, through annexations and overthrows.


The global burden of disease is pushing our Pacific bodies, and the bodies of those we love, into the grave. We are more than half devil and half sugar.





2 thoughts on “White Sugar’s Burden

  1. Sugar is an addiction that capitalism and the medical industrial complex have thrived on. True healthcare means resisting the preservative/chemical-laden foods/products of the middle grocery aisles for fresh food in the outer aisles, local farmers markets, growing your own, and revaluing the time, skills and joy of creating the wholesome food our (great)grandparents used to make.

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