Sunday, October 18, 2015

In the sweeet autumntime autumntime

As I am an older type youth of a certain age this tune is usually rattling around in my head whenever I think about sugar.

For some reason, so is this commercial featuring the artist never formerly known as Mrs. Bono.

So, sugar. Everyone knows it comes from Hawaiian pure cane, grown in the sun.

In the world of the professional victim (which seems to be the default setting for approximately damn-near-all first-world (I know, racist) humans) sugar is wrong-bad-evil. It's an actual living monster that forces its way into your life and your diet, making you obese and diseased.

In the real world, however, things are a little bit different. Sugar is the energy source that fuels all animal life. Aspartame is not. Whether we like it or not, carbohydrate sugar in the form of monosaccharide  glucose or dextrose is the only fuel animals burn at the cellular level. No sugar, no go. The dirt nap. The big sleep. Death.

Carbohydrates come, of course, from plants, where solar radiation powers the photosynthesis of carbon dioxide and water, yielding cellulose, sugars, and starches, all forms of complex carbohydrate. In consuming plants, herbivore animals cleverly metabolize glucose/dextrose from complex carbs. Carnivores run on sugar too, but their supply comes from the glycogen stored in the flesh and fats of their prey. In that sense, carnivores are one step removed from their energy source. Omnivores consume plants and animals, of course, metabolizing sugar from both meat and veg.

When we talk about sugar, we are usually mean white, crystallized table sugar. This is sucrose, a disaccharide made up of glucose and fructose. I could go on and on about metabolic chemistry but there's no need. Our bodies (at times with the assistance of gut bacteria) metabolize carbohydrate into glucose, whether the original form is lettuce, rutabaga, grain, apples, high fructose corn syrup or a spoonful of table sugar.

Obviously we don't need table sugar to survive. We could derive perfectly good nutrition from roadkill and wild fruits and grains. We'd all be foragers then, with no time to waste on school or jobs or propaganda or reading blogs. It's an option.

In practice, we have a rather more varied diet, where sucrose features mostly as a sweetener. We like sweet stuff, and that's okay. Sweets and sucrose are nutritious. They should be consumed, like everything else in our diet, in moderation. Sucrose is concentrated energy and extremely easy to metabolize. So concentrated and so easy, in fact, that our body usually can't immediately use all the energy made available from gobbling down a candy bar or piece of carrot cake. Waste not, want not, so the body stores the extra energy in the form of glycogen and fat. This happens whenever we take in more nutrients than we use. Fat stores come in handy during those lean times when we require more energy than we consume. The stored fat is metabolized and fat energy keeps us going until we can refuel.

It's a great system. But (I read somewhere that you should never start a sentence with but. Sosoome. Rules are for guidance of the commander.) if we have more fat times than lean times, if we constantly take in more fuel than we use, the fat builds up, and too much fat can cause a host of problems. Sugar is easy to blame, and rightly so to some extent, because it is so concentrated and easy to metabolize and easy to convert to fat for storage.

But of course sugar isn't the culprit. This is where the never Mrs. Bono and the rest of the nattering nannies get it wrong. The culprit, I'm afraid, turns out to be the oh-so-special victim who over-consumes. That's right. I am the culprit. And so are you. If not today, then at some point in your life.

So sugar is good food. It's not bad food. We're fortunate to have it and even (perhaps especially) the nattering nannies would screech and howl and curse their fates should sugar disappear.

Which brings us, finally, to what I set out to write about.

Sugar. Sweetener. Sucrose. Crystallized table sugar. Where does it come from?

As referenced above, sugar comes from Hawaii and other tropical and subtropical climes. It's pure cane sugar, grown in the sun. Well, 80 percent anyway.

But (zounds!) a fifth of the world's production of white crystalline sucrose or table sugar comes from...

The sugarbeet!
Freshly harvested sugarbeets.

And (I think "and" is zu Beginn verboten as well)  as those of us who get our propaganda narrative news from the idjit box and other forms of really impotant, victim-centric media, edumacation, and entertainment, a fifth is a hell of a lot more, and a lot more important, than 80 percent.


Sugarbeets are produced in my neck of the woods (Nebraska Panhandle) and other regions of the globe featuring a temperate climate. Sugarbeets can't really be grown in tropical areas, and sugarcane can't be grown in temperate areas, which is rather a nice coincidence all in all.

Sugarbeets are a row crop, planted in the spring and harvested in the fall, usually after the first hard freeze.
Sugarbeet seeds
The seeds havfe an irregular pericarp, which can be difficult for mechanical planters to handle.
Today most sugarbeet seeds are coated with fertilizer and antimicrobials, then encapsulated. 
A field of irrigated sugarbeets ready for harvest.
The first step of harvest is mechanical defoliation.
Defoliation reveals the beets, with tops standing proud above the soil surface.
The sugarbeet picker or lifter plucks the beets from the ground and shakes off most of the accompanying soil.
When the picker hopper is full, beets are transferred on the go to trucks.
This beet grew outside the row and was neatly sectioned by the picker.
Sugarbeets at the receiving station.
Sugarbeets awaiting processing at the sugar factory.
There's a lot of information on sugarbeets here, and it's a surprisingly good overview, though the wikigandists don't seem to agree. Which is probably a good sign.

The history of sugarbeets in particular and sugar in general is fascinating. Imagine a world where the nannies and propagandists read the actual history instead of making it up. A few tidbits which I suspect would cause them to explode:

Scientists were busy genetically modifying sugarbeets way back in the 16th century, producing plants that yielded ever more sugar.

Those 16th century scientists did not work for Monsanto and the Koch brothers.

Sugarbeets were first cultivated in the U.S. by abolitionists as a method of producing sugar without the use of slave labor.

Sugarbeets were developed from fodder (livestock feed) beets.

Frederick William III provided the wherewithal to open and operate the first sugarbeet factory in Silesia in 1801.

Napoleon Bonaparte was perhaps the key driver in sugarbeet production. He willed it and France obeyed. From France, the cultivation of sugarbeet and production of beet sugar spread, eventually, to temperate climes around the globe.

But enough of history, on with the show!

Let me just apologize in advance. I lack certain fundamental videography and video editing skills. I'm working on it.


  1. Thank you, Very interesting. Can the tops be used for cattle feed?

    1. Yes indeed. Nearly all of the beet pulp remaining after processing becomes livestock feed. Our proximity to this feed source makes our regional feedlots very competitive.

    2. Do you windrow and bale the tops?

    3. Ah, I believe I made a bit of a mistake in explaining. The foliage tops are not saved. The defoliator strips them off and essentially chops them up. Since the leaves and stems are mostly water they break down and decompose back into the soil rapidly. There really isn't enough left to do anything else with, at least not in this style of harvesting.

  2. The sugar beet fields were vast where I lived in Germany. A major crop in that area (Nordrhein-Westfalen).

    I do believe it's because the Emperor of France decreed it and the farmers liked the profit. (That area was once ruled by Napoleon's kid brother, Jerome.)

    1. Sugarbeets are a high input, high profit crop. That's usually the farmers' favorite system.

      History is filled with lessons and insights, usually completely ignored.

      Maybe the nannies should go after the Corsicans for a while.