by Zoe Pollock

Eileen Reynolds interviews Carolyn de la Peña, the author of "Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda:

How will a backlash against high-fructose corn syrup figure into the ongoing battle between different artificial sweeteners and table sugar?

It’s interesting that while sugar industry research was showing that artificial sweeteners were bad (and vice versa), and artificial-sweetener brands were suing one another over which one was more natural, and the government was publicizing the carcinogenic risks of vast amounts of sweetener ingestion, corn syrup silently entered most facets of the American food supply. Today, corn syrup adds back the calories that we remove through our zero-calorie sodas and “diet” desserts.

Now, of course, most of us know about the problem with corn syrup and its ubiquitous sweet calories. There’s enough of a backlash, in fact, that corn syrup has had to produce its own pro-industry advertisements. At the same time, recent polls show that most Americans consider artificial sweetener unhealthful. Local school districts are banning bake sales to try to cut down on sugar consumption. It’s tempting to say that we have finally reached a point where we cannot just vilify one sweetener or another, or wait for the next magic bullet to come. Maybe now that we seem to have no “safe” sweetener we will have to examine the larger problemour fixation on sweetness in the American diet and an accompanying industry that has made soda cheaper than water.

But this is unlikely. “Artificial sweeteners” may become less “artificial,” but it’s not likely we will soon get rid of low-calorie foods and beverages. It is not possible to dispose of all the food we produce and market as a society without forms of “dietary credit” like artificial sweeteners. To produce and desire less of that food would take a major revolution in our food system.

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