There are signs at grocery stores in Bolivia now proclaiming “No Hay Azucar!” (No Sugar Here!). Evo Morales would like to blame the sugar shortage on the North, but this time he only has Pacha Mama to blame. The rain has been really low this year in Bolivia and the sugar cane crop has suffered. There are rumors that the shortage may be artificial, but the fact that there is no sugar of any kind on the shelves of stores is very real.
My wife was gearing up yesterday for making some sweet cinnamon bread today for a Christmas treat. Of course there was no sugar, powdered or otherwise, in the store. The bread will still be made, but the search for sweetness made me reflect on the sugar shortage. Imagine if this happened in North America. Sugar cane requires a tropical climate. So, in the United States it can only be produced in Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Hawaii. We are the tenth largest producing country in the world. So, we still produce a lot of sugar, but Bolivia’s neighbor, Brazil, is the worlds top producer of sugar. Still, there is no sugar in Bolivia.
To North Americans it seems almost impossible that store shelves would ever be empty of sugar. Yet we are much further from the source of this product than Bolivia. I can only imagine the reaction of North Americans to shelves with no sugar, especially during the holidays. Indignation. Outrage. It is as if we believe that sugar is somehow a right that we cannot be denied.
In Bolivia, though, the reaction of people we know has been non-existent. People are used to being more subject to the ups and downs of production based on weather. They don’t assume that any particular product will always be available to them, especially agricultural products. It also doesn’t seem to affect Christmas much (perhaps because people hoarded sugar when they heard about the shortage).
Fruit, though abundant here, is very seasonal, and people don’t expect to have peaches in June. In many ways our eating disorder stems from misplaced expectations and a distorted understanding of our relationship to food and the earth. I guess, this is appropriate for the season of expectation and waiting. Perhaps some good questions for Advent are: What are our expectations? What are we waiting for? What are the things we take for granted? What are the things we don’t have to wait for that maybe we should? How do you respond when there is no sugar?
Photo from fmbolivia.com