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Sweet! Sugar expert to get granular with a free presentation Feb. 27

Julia Harrison is an anthropologist and 'sweets expert'


February 27, 2020

Julia Harrison

When King Henry VIII wanted three pounds of sugar for his guests at an important banquet, he had a tough time getting it. Now the average American eats that much sugar in a single week.

That's just one of the sweet tidbits to be presented Thursday, Feb. 27, during a presentation sponsored by Sno-King School Retirees and Humanities Washington.

Julia Harrison, an anthropologist and "sweets expert," is a member of the 2019-2020 Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau and will speak on our love affair with all things sweet and the place of sweets in our contemporary culture.

"I have always had a sweet tooth, but as I got older I started to understand that much of what I know about other places and cultures came via their sweets," said Harrison.

"My presentation looks at the reasons that sweet flavors have such a powerful hold over us and at how our hunger for more and more sweetness has shaped the world we know today."

What have previous attendees taken away from Harrison's talk?

"Probably the most common response I hear following my presentations," Harrison said, "is that people who came expecting health suggestions or bakery recommendations are surprised the story of our relationship with sugar is much more complex."

Once a rare, exotic ingredient, sugar has become a dietary staple, leaving its sticky fingerprints all over the globe. Harrison said she will take participants on a journey from ancient sugar cane plantations to modern candy factories, uncovering sugar's economic and social significance.

From slavery and mass migration to environmental changes and nutrition, the consequences of sugar's rise are global and, according to Harrison, not always sweet.

Harrison, who lives in Seattle, is an avid traveler for whom all roads lead to sweets.

Her projects include a multimedia online map of bakeries, desserts, and candy-makers around Puget Sound. She received a master's in applied anthropology from Macquarie University and spent two years studying material culture theory and methodology at University College London.

Humanities Washington is a statewide nonprofit whose stated mission is to "spark conversation and critical thinking using story as a catalyst, nurturing thoughtful and engaged communities across our state."

In communities throughout Washington, Speakers Bureau presenters give free public presentations on history, politics, music, philosophy, spiritual traditions, and everything in between.

Humanities Washington's roster of 35 Speakers Bureau presenters is made up of professors, artists, activists, historians, performers, journalists, and others – all chosen not only for their expertise but also for their ability to inspire discussion with people of all ages and backgrounds. Hundreds of Speakers Bureau events take place each year.

Each talk lasts about an hour.


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