Big Sugar explores the dark history and modern power of the world's reigning sugar cartels. Using dramatic reenactments, it reveals how sugar was at the heart of slavery in the West Indies in the 18th century, while showing how present-day consumers are slaves to a sugar-based diet. A lost chapter of Canadian history is discovered, illustrating how 18th century sugar lobbyists in England used blackmail and bribes to determine the fate of Canada.
Toronto writer Lisa Codrington visits Barbados to investigate her family's connection to the Codrington plantation, where the ruthless slave master was also a sexual predator. Meanwhile, writer Carl Hiaasen tackles present-day slave masters. He describes how American sugar magnates in Florida, like the Fanjul family, wield enormous political influence through donations reaching $450,000 to both the Republican Party and the Democrats.
A shantytown on the Central Romano plantation in the Dominican Republic.
Going undercover, Big Sugar witnesses the appalling working conditions on plantations in the Dominican Republic, where Haitian cane cutters live like slaves. Workers who live on Central Romano, a Fanjul-owned plantation, go hungry while working 12-hour days to earn $2 (US). In a dramatic confrontation, Jose Pepe Fanjul is taken to task about his company’s unethical labour practices in the Dominican Republic.
The earliest protests against the sugar planters were spearheaded in 1785 by Thomas Clarkson, a Cambridge University student who mobilized the Quakers to end slavery in the British Empire. Clarkson and his pioneering human rights activists invented lobbying techniques that are commonplace today: political posters, logos, petitions and boycotts.
Big Sugar includes dramatizations to illustrate slavery in the 18th century.
Juxtaposed against this historical backdrop is a tale of today’s battle against the obesity crisis and that crisis’ key suspect—sugar. Interviewing top nutritionists and food industry watchdogs, Big Sugar discovers the dangers of fructose and sugar-laden soft drinks. Vested interests collided at the 2004 Geneva Summit on obesity.
A panel of the world’s top nutritionists was asked to determine a safe level of sugar in the human diet. Their report, "9-16", called for a diet restricted to 10% sugar. Angry sugar lobbyists and delegates from the Bush administration sprung to action in an astonishing power play.
Despite this setback, activists still challenge big sugar. The spirit of Thomas Clarkson lives on in heroes like Nicholas Dodds, a Grade 8 student who successfully campaigned to ban soft drinks from vending machines in Ontario elementary schools. Big Sugar captures the resolve of a generation unwilling to become modern-day slaves to a harmful diet full of sugar.