Saturday, June 10, 2006

Saccharine Thoughts

Sugar. It used to be the essential feature of all things wonderfully sweet and magically comforting. As little girls, my sister and I would run barefoot into our garden when morning dew used to smell sweet, looking for fresh blooms of honeysuckle and yellowbells so we could suck their honey nectar. Sugar crusted custards, sugar flowers, brown sugar muffins, cold sugar cane freshly cut from the fields, banana-scented ice cold panocha drinks….these are some of the wonderful things that lived in my head.

Decades later, I find myself engulfed in a new philosophy of diet and health consciousness that has given sugar an evil face. It is now a “drug” that can adversely affect children’s behaviour or snugly blanket our depression. To avoid having to deal with the ill effects of too much sugar, man developed a solution to rescue us from overindulging and sugar highs: sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners. These sugar substitutes are nothing less than fascinating to me.

Saccharine is an organic petroleum-based compound that our bodies cannot metabolize into fuel and therefore contain no calories. Aspertame or NutraSweet is even more interesting. It is composed of two amino acids and is therefore a protein.

Aspertame has about the same number of calories contained per gram as sugar but here’s the kicker: it’s 200 times sweeter! That is why we only need a negligible amount to sweeten our lemonade. Its own intense sweetness limits its ability to be consumed. There are endless controversies that surround these and other sugar substitutes regarding their benefits as well as possible serious contraindications.

I was thinking about crème brulee when the thought first came to me. It is impossible to enjoy crème brulee without sugar! There simply is nothing that exists that can substitute for the sugar experience: the light tapping sound your spoon makes when you crack the caramel glass of sugar that crowns the custard or how the vanilla bean cream perfectly coats your tongue because of the extra fine sugar that was used to ensure its satiny texture. Man can only provide sugar substitutes lacking the properties of real sugar and are absent of any caloric benefits.

Because we fear the negative effects when sugar is not treated responsibly, we blame sugar itself and not the consumer. The same reasoning becomes universal when we assign blame to an object rather than contemplate how we use it. For example, we call television an idiot box because we fear its adverse effects when used irresponsibly. Focusing and blaming the object relieves us of responsibility. Focusing on responsible and wise choices gives us the option to find joy in our power to choose correctly.

That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment. (D&C 101:78)

We assign the face of an enemy to many things that we fear and do not understand. And more insidiously, we assign an ugly face to those things that demand too much responsibility or would require vigilant stewardship.

Sometimes we feel more secure when, like the Pharisees of old, we rely on the security of the letter of the law rather than the more exacting principle of listening to the Spirit—–a way of life that requires constant effort and reliance on the saving gift of the Atonement. There is such safety in merely being told exactly what to do. Interestingly, it would be so much easier to judge when the calibrations are exact and we need not think for ourselves! It would be easier to judge others!

Sometimes we blame our teachers, leaders or visiting teachers for not inspiring us enough or bishops for not understanding us enough, assigning the face of an enemy to others because we might find that our worst enemy is our own fear that the responsibility lies in ourselves. When we assign blame to objects, events or on others, we have in essence created substitutes that fill us with empty “calories” or worse, endanger our spirits.

I am about to finish a small cup of homemade rice pudding lightly sweetened with sugar and dusted with a dash of cinnamon on top. I shouldn’t but I am. It’s my husband’s fault. I told him to eat it and he didn’t. I just couldn’t let him waste a good cup of rice pudding. It just won’t taste the same if you wait too long. I’m sure tomorrow he’ll regret it. I know I will.

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