Thesis ID: CBB409231812

Sweet Deception: A History of the Health Politics of Saccharin in the United States (2023)


Saccharin, the oldest artificial sweetener still commonly used today, has been at the center of controversy for most of its commercial life. Since the late nineteenth century, there has been a protracted debate over whether it represents a marvel of modern science or the epitome of its dangers. Is it a damaging and deceptive substitute for sugar or a beneficial replacement that can help enhance health? Efforts to resolve the saccharin debate reveal the complex web of negotiations around its identity between various forms of scientific expertise, political authority, industry interests, and consumers. This dissertation argues a central issue at the core of these debates was whether to categorize saccharin as a food or drug, a previously overlooked tension in its identity. Using a combination of scientific journals, popular magazines and newspapers, advertisements, medical and dietary advice manuals, government documents, and industry- related archival sources, this dissertation shows how efforts to resolve the saccharin debate repeatedly resulted in compromise and ambiguity. The saccharin controversy spans several important episodes in the creation of the federal regulatory system for consumer protection. The first two chapters trace saccharin’s arc from the Progressive era efforts to address the problem of food and drug adulteration through the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906 to the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The third and fourth chapters focus on saccharin in the second half of the twentieth century when its popularity exploded as a dieting product. The climactic moment in saccharin’s history was the FDA’s deeply controversial attempt to ban it in 1977, which was ultimately blocked by Congress after an unprecedented storm of consumer protest. Together these episodes show that debates about saccharin were never just about saccharin, but much broader, fundamental concerns for danger and deception in the marketplace for food and drugs, including the contentious issue of the appropriate role of government and experts in serving as gatekeepers to that market.

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Authors & Contributors
Neswald, Elizabeth
Atkins, Peter J.
Clark, Claire D.
Cohen, Benjamin R.
Gentilcore, David
Gratzer, Walter B.
Central European History
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Journal of Interdisciplinary History
Medicina nei Secoli - Arte e Scienza
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Columbia University
Australian Association for Byzantine Studies
New York University Press
Oxford University Press
Palgrave Macmillan
University of California Press
Public health
Food and foods
Food science; food technology
Food industry and trade
Battle Creek Sanitarium (Michigan)
Benedict, Francis Gano
Evelyn, John
King, William
Lister, Martin
Rubner, Max
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
18th century
20th century, late
United States

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