Brown stuff, white stuff yes


Blue stuff, pink stuff, yellow stuff. What's that?

There are many differences between American and British attitudes toward food, of course, but one that stands out to me in particular is the attitude toward sweeteners. As a diabetic, I must be constantly alert to the ingestion of refined sugars (and a whole lot of other things as well).

In American restaurants, coffee shops, and other eateries, blue stuff and pink stuff (Equal and Sweet'N Low, respectively) are ubiquitous, and even yellow stuff (Splenda) is becoming more widely available.

In British eateries, there is white stuff and brown stuff aplenty (white sugar and brown sugar). It can be found on every table, either in a small bowl or in long, narrow paper tubes. Watch any Brit sit down with a cup of tea, and they ladle spoonful after spoonful of sugar into their cup. All sing: A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down, the medicine go down, the medicine go down....

But look around for artificial sweetener and you are likely to come up empty handed. You can ask, and if you are lucky, someone will rummage about on the shelves somewhere and come up with a packet or two, each packet containing a single, small, white tablet of something. More likely, your inquiry will be met with puzzlement, as in, I know the word 'artificial', and I know the word 'sweetener', but I have no idea what you're asking about, you silly Yank.


Yesterday afternoon, for example, I stopped in a small cafe for a late lunch and ordered a ham and cheese sandwich and a pot of tea. When I asked the waitress who brought my tea about artificial sweetener — "You know, pink stuff, blue stuff, Equal, Sweet'N Low, ..." — she apologized and ran off to consult with the other waitress. The second came to hear this odd request for herself and then went off to rummage, but found nothing. "Sorry."

As I was about to surrender and spoon sugar into my cup, the first waitress hurried by, "Wait, wait, just a moment, please!" She disappeared into the rain and re-emerged a minute later with a little push-button dispenser labeled "Sweetex."

"Oh, thank you very much, indeed!" I pushed the button, and it dispensed from the bottom a tiny hard dot of white something, certainly no more than two millimeters in diameter. I have no idea what it contains. Despite the European sensitivity to ingredients (as in foodstuffs imported from America), they are remarkably lackadaisical about labeling the contents of their own foods. How ironic. But, it did have the desired effect.