WASHINGTON–Sidney Mintz, a renowned American scholar credited with creating the field of “food anthropology,” died this week at the age of 93, U.S. media reported on Thursday. Mintz, who died after sustaining serious injuries in a fall, achieved fame after the publication in 1985 of his book, “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History.” The New York Review of Books heaped praise on the groundbreaking work, saying it “shows how the intelligent analysis of the history of a single commodity can be used to pry open the history of an entire world of social relationships and human behavior.” Mintz’s research laid bare the connection between European imperialism, modern slave labor, and what he called “proletarian drug foods,” such as sugar, coffee and rum.
Mintz said in an interview that an earlier seminal study, “Worker in the Cane: A Puerto Rican Life History,” explored the plight of agricultural workers, “nearly all of them people of color, working at ghastly jobs producing basic commodities — mostly for consumers in the West.” Born in 1922 in Dover, New Jersey to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Mintz received a doctorate in anthropology from Columbia University in New York. The New York Times wrote that he played a key role in creating a black studies curriculum at Yale University in the early 1970s, before joining Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, where he helped found its anthropology department in 1975. He was named professor emeritus at Hopkins in 1997. At its heart, his research “aimed at understanding how world food habits are changing, how the causes of such change work … and what the future may hold for the food systems of human beings everywhere,” he wrote on his website. In addition to his wife, the former Jacqueline Wei, news reports said Mintz is survived by two children, Eric Mintz and Elizabeth Nickens, and two grandchildren.