It’s been two months since I last tasted sugar.
I never realized how powerful it was. How deep…It’s like a bloodstream through the land. The earth has a natural sugar system that flows in streams and tributaries and pools. The trees pull it up through their millions of roots. Any creature will know of the taste in sweet new grass and shoots, in dried berries in the fall. Water tastes sweet. There is a balance of how much will sustain the earth, and how much will flood it.
In West Africa, I saw the sugar cane fields along the Senegal River, mile upon mile of rich green crops. They are owned and operated by foreign states and governments, but the work of harvesting is done by the locals. They go in there, in the baking heat, armed with machetes, to hack away at the stalks. I’ve walked through them, row upon row, a wall of stalks reaching high above your head. The dry crumbling earth burns at your sandalled feet. The sun beats down on your back. Its a merciless place, ash and smoke blowing from the fires they light to keep away the insects. I can only imagine what it’s like, hacking away at this bristling forest, drenched in sweat, ever thirsty. People faint. They die from kidney disease. In Chinese medicine, the kidneys are considered , ‘the water gate.’. The sugar cane is a very efficient plant, but it needs heat and lots of water. So, in a way, the plant is taking water from the human to survive.
I’ve tasted sugar cane. It looks like bamboo, long woody jointed stalks. You have to peel off the hard bark with your teeth, then you chew on the fibres and an incredibly sweet, syrupy juice flows into your mouth. You get splinters in your teeth, and if you’re not careful you can cut your lips. In a cafe in the old quarter of St. Louis, Senegal, I ordered a coffee and it came with St. Louis sugar, two brown sugar cubes wrapped in paper with the picture of a lion.
For three years now I’ve been working at a little country store, and everything around me is filled with the stuff. The smell wafts up from the gleaming colourful packages, a million shapes and colours, hard candy, rubbery candy, sour-sweet, dark sweet, crystal sweet. People come and their eye catches on the muffins and brownies on the counter. “I’ll take one of those,” they say, smiling. A ‘pick-me-up’ treat, or ‘I don’t really need it’ treat. Or for pain and loss. What do you do when your spouse has cancer? Or your dog died?Or your business is failing? Or you’ve decided to pick up and leave everything you know and start over? Comfort food. They smile. I pick up the brownie with the tongs and put it in a little brown paper bag. I can smell the sugary chocolate. I remember what it tasted like. I can see how it’s an impossible situation, the more you eat, the more you want. It feeds itself in a never ending cycle. I keep waiting for it to soften the edge of the moment. What is that space? It’s this need to step back a little. Just step back and rest from the ever-present force of life. Let the sweetness take over you for a while and rest in comfort. If there was a way to stop sugar from becoming rampant. I think of honey and the bees floating flower to flower and how lovely it is to share the sweetness the bees create. But I know myself. One spoonful will lead to two.
For now I will stay in my experiment. I drink my coffee with a little cinnamon, and I can taste what coffee is. Eggs taste sweet to me, and cheese, carrots, apples, milk, and water. There is sweetness there. It becomes more apparent as I go. I find sweetness in those little moments of life, so subtle and real, but softer, lighter. When you remove sugar, that is when you start to notice everything that has been covered and coated, powdered and sprinkled, frosted and glazed over.