Valentine’s Day is among the sweetest holidays celebrated in the United States, both figuratively and literally. On February 14, 2015, according to diet data supplied by MyFitnessPal, Americans were 37 percent more likely to indulge in chocolates than on any other day of the year. (Chocolate-covered items, however, were up 323 percent and “conversation heart” candies increased a staggering but hardly surprising 3,777 percent.)
On the first weekday after an indulgent occasion like Valentine’s Day, you might notice colleagues pouring packets of Sweet’n Low in their coffee or sipping a Diet Coke instead of the regular, sugared variety. You might even do it yourself. Personally, I became doubly interested in the history of artificial sweeteners as a user of sugar-free products but also from my academic preoccupation with consumption. I’ll return to this point soon, but first I’d like to share some fascinating parallels between the substances some of us study and artificial sweeteners I found in historian Carolyn De La Peña’s Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda.