The Sugar Isn’t Always Sweet

By Jae S.

The Sugar Factory, an international restaurant chain promoting exuberant food via celebrity endorsement, has taken the world by storm. The Sugar Factory “experience” is fun and colorful, with food that is both for visual and physical consumption. There is a noticeable disparity between those who can afford restaurants such as this one, with bubbling drinks around $45, and those who cannot. Food has come to define where someone falls on the social hierarchy, with some able to indulge in restaurants such as the Sugar Factory.

Boasian Anthropology focuses on how a person’s actions must be understood in the context of their own culture. For Americans, habits of unhealthy eating and overspending are common. Most cultures may look at the Sugar Factory and see it as an utter waste of money, given the food isn’t great and the dishes aren’t truly worth that much, but by using Cultural Relativism, Americans understand the meal goes beyond just nutrition and taste. For the Sugar Factory, it’s about the experience, and the pictures. Being able to “flex” your meal on Instagram or Snapchat is a product in itself for an American consumer. Showing their crazy food escapade on Social Media helps further divide American social classes, and also creates a link between certain kinds of dining experiences and tastes to class.

Practice Theory is noticing the relationship between the social structures in existence, and the way humans actually act within them; it acknowledges how existing hierarchies are reproduced through normal behaviors every day. It can show what we say we do, and what we actually do in practice. Americans consistently say they’re committed to economic equality, as shown through different governmental policies such as tax brackets, and continue to say there isn’t economic disparity. In practice, through seemingly ordinary things like eating food, Americans produce class differences when some choose frivolous choices, such as the Sugar Factory. Conspicuous consumption is the idea of buying something for the point of publicizing your purchase itself. It is a performative way to indicate class, and the non-nutritional, overpriced food at the Sugar Factory only contributes to this. Hegemony is the idea of lived dominance and subordination of classes within a culture or the system of “normals” that people subconsciously agree to. In this case, eating is the subconscious everyday practice, and it is now helping to hold up the hierarchy, without our direct acknowledgment.

Seeing the crazy, creative combinations made at the Sugar Factory, including a cheeseburger milkshake and rainbow patties, it’s easy to see why Americans are drawn in. For Boasian Anthropology, the idea of the Sugar Factory is for the experience and the photograph, past the food itself, which is all culturally relative. As Practice Theory would explain, Americans present the idea of economic equality, but through restaurants such as the Sugar Factory, one can see in practice Americans still perpetuate the hierarchy through unnecessary purchases. In a society so overrun by capitalism, can one blame anyone for falling for the Sugar Factory’s allure?

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38 Responses to The Sugar Isn’t Always Sweet

  1. Ian Cook says:

    I had always found it confusing why even well-off people would spend as much on one meal as I do on a month of groceries, but this analysis helps me understand this a bit more. The fact that one can display a purchase as a status symbol to the entire internet explains a lot. It makes sense that this is a method by which hegemony is perpetuated, though I do wonder, when hitting the button to share a picture of their expensive Sugar Factory shake on Instagram, whether people ever think about what the point is behind what they are doing. I wonder how much of a role the approval-addiction often generated by social media plays in this practice. Perhaps if one shares a class-indicating purchase that suggests one is upper class, it makes them feel better than others and thus better about themselves?

  2. Lauren Smith says:

    I think that it is really interesting that you related Boasnian anthropology and practice theory back to the Sugar Factory. Living in Las Vegas, I remember my friends always posting pics of the insane drinks from the Sugar Factory on their Instagram. I even had my sixteenth birthday at the restaurant! Looking back on it now, I definitely had my birthday party there so that I could get “insta-worth” pics. I think that we live in a society that is very concerned with how we appear to others and dining at the Sugar Factory is a prime example of how we perform class.

  3. Natalie Baldin says:

    I think this essay brings up a great point about not only American capitalism but the American desire to be “showing off.” This is an interesting point because we all do it in our own ways. If you have an instagram account (which we all do) its basically just a digital shrine of ourselves created by us, for others to view/desire to be/be jealous of/whatever! We all have fallen into the trap of buying something just for the picture or just to say that we did. It’s really eye opening to look at this piece of our culture in such a new light with Anthropology. I do however think that the new fad going around is to be more “down to earth” and go more “natural” with our lifestyle choices. Do you think we are moving away from these “sugar factory” ideals and getting back “to nature” or our roots? Or are people just saying that so they can post and share that they are?

  4. Sofija Andrew says:

    Companies are appealing to our desire for “aesthetic” and “popular” and “showing off,” especially in restaurants. There are so many places, like DO in New York where people line up for hours to get cookie dough scoops. The idea is genius and sounds so good, but also very time consuming and expensive too. It’s interesting, but also sometimes doing extravagant or experiential things aren’t all that bad I would argue. Maybe if you eat at the Sugar Factory multiple times then yes, that is falling into America’s consumerism. But likewise, people save up money to go on trips or go to amusement parks. You could say those are experiences, but for some eating is an experience that they can share with others and make memories from.

  5. Jill Wetzel says:

    I had never heard of the Sugar Factory before reading this and I personally don’t get the appeal, but your essay made a valid argument for why it is a part of our cultural landscape. I especially loved your connection to practice theory – it seems nearly everything we do is designed to make an unconscious stance about some facet of our lives (in this case class, despite Americans wanting to diminish that divide) and I’m sure most people are unaware of the ways they participate since the things we do seem so normal. I’ve never liked the divide that social media creates and posting pics for no reason, and I think bringing awareness to why we’re doing certain actions (like posting pics from the Sugar Factory) can hopefully lead to cultural introspection and possibly change.

  6. Lucille Weld says:

    Wow, what a interesting perspective on the idea of conspicuous consumption. With the advent of social media we see performativity as an increasingly relevant way to relate to one another. It is so normalized that when an individual opts out of social media it can be strange. Because we live in a capitalist society, conspicuous consumption is encouraged because it propels this socioeconomic system. I like that you tie in the concept of hegemony because it is striking to think that our food practices uphold a hegemonic hierarchy.

  7. Mikayla Seaman says:

    I believe your essay really exemplifies how American corporations attempt to appeal to the desire for aesthetically pleasing or specifically branded food. The desire to be able to show off what you can spend and as you said “flex” drives a part of the economy and thus consumption. I enjoy how you analyzed it using practice theory to show how although Americans might say they want equality for all economically. Those who say that still participate in the consumer economy and thus add into the bubble and aesthetic built around these businesses.

  8. Paige Riley says:

    I think that you could also argue from a symbolic and interpretive anthropologist’s perspective as well as practice theory that wealthy people use these extravagant meals as a symbol of their wealth. It would be interesting to compare the Sugar Factory to historically extravagant shows of power, such as Louis XIV, and analyze what these shows of wealth represent at the age and those in power. Really great analysis!

  9. Dante Dupont says:

    I wasnt aware of the Sugar Factory before, but I must admit, its something that interests me, and for which I understand the appeal. Social media doesn’t really do anything for me, and I don’t think I’ll ever take or post a photo of my food or a restuarant, but the allure of a unique experience always attracts me. While after reading the post I do think for a resturant like this the primary driving force to get customers is the appearance for social media, I do wonder what more can be said about customers who go there solely for the experience. I think Sofija’s comment also provides some more context as to how a division can be made between eating there being a prepetuation of consumerism, or it being a place you can go once to create memories with loved ones.

  10. Maxime Brandt says:

    I have never heard of the Sugar Factory specifically, but I feel that this is a trend that we see in many aspects of our culture in not only what we eat, but what we wear, where we live, where we shop, etc. There is often a show of unnecessary gluttony. I think you did an excellent job defining and describing this phenomenon using Boasian Anthropology and Practice Theory. While I think social media plays a large part in places like the Sugar Factory, I do feel that conspicuous consumption existed long before social media did.

  11. Will Deselms says:

    This is a super relevant topic in society today because of the power of social media. It’s funny because I haven’t heard of this place, but I have seen pictures on social media of crazy decked out sugary drinks, so now I know where they came from. I think you did a great job discussing this in the Boasian perspective because it can be one of the harder ones to grasp. Overall, I think you did a great job!

  12. Adam Benavram says:

    Your discussion of spending excessive amounts on “luxury” foods through the lens of Practice Theory was really interesting. As you touched upon in your essay, eating is basically a subconscious behavior for me. Before reading your analysis, I never thought that eating could actually be contributing to a hegemony where lower class individuals are subordinated. However, now I understand that the types of food that we eat can actually reinforce the social hierarchy that exists in society. You also bring up a good point about the kind of hypocrisy that exists in American society. Many people often claim that they would fight for equality of wealth, yet these same people would go and buy a bottle of $1000 champagne just to show off.

  13. Megan Goldin says:

    I think your essay was very well written and brought attention to a problematic current trend that is becoming more common through all the various social media platforms. I personally had not heard of the Sugar Factory before reading this essay, however from your description and the hype that surrounds it, I am very interested in it and feel the need to look it up. Even my urge to find out what this craze is about supports your explanation of this trend. By this restaurant getting all this publicity and endorsement from celebrities, for apparently really no reason, people, like me, find it intriguing and perpetuate the popularity of its overpriced product and thus also the hegemonic hierarchy created through food as you explained to well.

  14. Nicholas Abate says:

    I had no idea what the Sugar Factory was before this essay, and upon googling the name I completely agree with your analysis. To add to it, not only do people “flex” their meals as you say in your essay, the also compete on the social status with celebrities by showing their followers that they went to this restaurant. A majority of the photos of the Sugar Factory found online include A-list celebrities, and so an ordinary person attempting to show off their wealth and their status would use the Sugar Factory as a bridge to cross the gap between ordinary and notable. Very good essay!

  15. Isaac Zakin says:

    I think your essay is very relevant to the time. Your connections are strong and the arguements make alot of sense. The Boasian section intrigued me due to your comparison of other cultures. The focus on america is good but maybe more international stuff as well. The idea that its more about the spectacle than the food is cool to and valid point, people want crazy stuff to eat even if it is terrible for you.

  16. Lynzie McKee says:

    I have never heard of the Sugar Factory before, and this essay was a good introduction to it. In particular, I like the analysis of this essay through the Boasian perspective. The idea that the Sugar Factory is a culturally produced phenomenon is a great explanation. I agree that the United States heavily emphasizes unhealthy eating and overeating so, through this theory, it makes sense that the Sugar Factory would be popular. To take this a step further one could examine this idea in relation to historical anthropology. The U.S has a history of overconsumption (during the Industrial Revolution) and unhealthy eating (which stems from the influence of fast food restaurants). I also agree with the point that other cultures would not be into this phenomenon as much. Many other cultures emphasize quality over quantity so the Sugar Factory would be culturally insignificant to them. Overall, I think the essay is well written and engaging.

  17. Makaira Holdren says:

    This was very interesting essay. I have never spent much time thinking about American’s way of classifying your social structure in what you eat and can pay for. I usually try to stay out of the mainstream culture of where and what you eat represents your place in society. Although I had never heard of the Sugar Factory before this, I have definitely seen other restaurants that get way too much hype for their low quality, bland, or expensive food. It was interesting to read how you connected that to Boasian Anthropology and Cultural Relativism.

  18. Ezra Smith says:

    This essay was very interesting. I feel like you showed what Boasian and cultural relativism was very well. I agree with the idea of being to afford certain types of restaurants and dining shows a social hierarchy in the United States. Comparatively to that of those who only shop at whole foods. Very unique article!

  19. Nathan Rome says:

    This essay makes me think that designer clothing is another sort of “flex” that people all around the world value. In places like Hollywood I’m sure it’s the hegemonic norm to buy the nicest clothes, house and food just because people value expensive things. It’s important to note that many people take pictures for social media of their indulgences.

  20. Theodore Gonzales says:

    Nice job! I like how you point out the importance of sharing the picture of a meal online, which sort of overlaps with the gym selfie essay. I think it would be interesting to look at wether or not people of varying class status experience different norms about posting photos of their experiences, such as food or the gym, and why there exists such expections.

  21. Glenn Jones says:

    I had never heard of the Sugar Factory before reading this essay, but you did a great job of explaining what it is. It’s fascinating that even food, which is an (enjoyable) basic human need, has become a way of separating classes. It seems that the Sugar Factory’s popularity might be linked to the United States being an industrialized country; it seems that more industrialized conditions lead to more foods with refined sugar. I also think that the success of the Sugar Factory would probably be impossible to understand for those from a less industrialized, more traditional society (such as a hunter gatherer society). I wonder whether the Sugar Factory is partially a reaction to the popularity of diets such as the Paleo Diet, which is about eating more naturally and avoiding refined sugars/processed foods?

  22. joe archer says:

    I liked the idea of the American “flex” as seen through the lens of Boas. I liked how you pointed out how the meals have very little actual nutritional value, but in the American context, the social value is elevated because of the cost. Very interesting essay!

  23. Chris Shaw says:

    This is a very interesting essay. I really enjoyed how you were able to combine restaurants with social hierarchy by demonstrating the culturally norms of showing off class by making expensive purchases or “flexing” on others by showing their amount of boujee on Instagram or Snapchat. The sentence that really stuck out to me was “Hegemony is the idea of lived dominance and subordination of classes… and it is now helping to hold up the hierarchy, without our direct acknowledgment.” This screams a thousands words towards our culture of how many things can be seen as social hierarchy or higher class. I never put these two together because I, myself dabble with both fast food and nicer restaurants but didn’t notice the social signs from the crowds of both types of restaurants.

  24. Emily Aseff says:

    This essay is a really great analysis of the weird “flex” culture we live in right now. The focus more and more on the rich and almost unattainable lifestyle for many people is something that would be really interesting to dive into more. I’ve never heard of the Sugar Factory and I have a crazy sweet tooth but I think my college wallet will keep me at 7/11. Thank you for analyzing this!

  25. Joshua Kuntz says:

    Great perspective into the way our culture consumes food. Reading through the essay I saw a lot of parallels between the examples and Marxist Anthropology. Especially in the use of economic limitations which echos ideas of social classes and the difference of “taste” between tax brackets. Falling into the lower portion I don’t see the point of such excess but obviously other people find a value in it.

  26. Chad Brock says:

    I really enjoyed your essay here. I liked that you didn’t just focus on one thing, but rather mixed aspects of anthropology, social class, and most importantly the food. I liked how you explained that most people in America today will often just do something to try and flex on others through social media. I see this every single day on Snapchat and Instagram, people show off the luxury goods they have or buy. The way you explained the sugar factory through your aspects of anthropology were clearly explained in your essay and make sense. The sugar factory sounds like a cool restaurant until you see the price tag on these items, pretty wild people actually pay for those foods! Great essay!

  27. Sky Rodriguez says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your essay with us. I loved it. The whole idea, just like you explained is the definition of conspicuous consumption in American society. We’re all so caught up on sharing our lives on social media as a “mask” of the life we would like to have. It’s also a little funny because I have found myself taking pictures of my meal just seconds before I’m about to eat so that other people can see it (which sounds funny when you say it out loud)
    Your explanation of practice theory in regards to this topic is perfect, and I would have personally used this one too. The hegemony of overspending and class differences is definitely the cherry on top of the society that we currently live in.

  28. Shaiyah Weissman says:

    It’s funny that something I’ve seen hundreds of times online and never thought anything expect “wow that’s super cool, I’d like to go there” has such a deeper meaning than I ever realized. This was a super interesting interpretation of how much what seems like a harmless fun restaurant experience actually has on our culture. This reminds me of how there has been this new food trend of putting edible gold on foods and selling them for exorbitant prices, for what reason? A cool photo and the experience of trying it. I think much of this also comes back to how our culture is so obsessed with doing this for the photo which in turn is just people “showing off” their economic status. Super interesting essay and well written!

  29. Ryan Schulze says:

    Overall, this essay was very well written and made good use of the various anthropological terms within the essay. Specifically, I liked how they used and applied Boasian anthropology and how they connected it to the sugar factory. It is interesting to see how other cultures view the sugar factory as opposed to Americans and to understand why their views are different.

  30. heidi Andringa says:

    I found it interesting how you talked about other cultures seeing our eating and spending habit to be crazy. I had never thought of how other cultures would view this, because for us it is relatively normal that people would go to a place like the sugar factory for the experience. Americans are very caught up in trying to show off their experiences and wealth, and viewing this through the Boasian theory was very interesting. Other cultures for example, would never think to share their food on social media, but in America, it is a pretty common thing.

  31. GC Masciantonio says:

    This sugar factory place sounds very interesting, and a very good place to observe cultural norms in society. I like the way you incorporated Boasian theory into your essay, along with the idea of the “flex.” Cultural norms are tested by restaurants and food every single day and people don’t get to appreciate the cultural significance it brings to the world. This was a very well written essay, and The Sugar Factory sounds like a very breath-taking place to eat and observe culture.

  32. Nathan Davis says:

    I enjoyed your use of Boasin theory with respect to Americans trying to show off their experiences and money through things like the sugar factory. I thought it was a very good point when comparing the lack of nutritional value that this provided compared with the value that society puts on it just in order to show off so to speak.

  33. David Pastuer says:

    I have never been to the sugar factory. This seems super strange but I totally understand how a place can come to be in america. I liked how you use to very unique theories of anthropology. Boasin and practice theory are both different in there daily use. One focus on what we say vs what we do the other focuses on cultural relativism. Looking at the sugar factory a place that would be considered disgusting to me seems super normal and super common in america. There is a huge culture of eat terrible in the US that does not exist in many countries. I have always wondered why this exists here. I was very intrigued with your essay but I wondered if you could apply other theories to the sugar factory. When I think about food I always want to think about it through a symbolic anthropology aspect since access to food and resources in america has always been a contentious topic.

  34. Issabella Turra says:

    I think this essay is super interesting because I have never actually put thought into the fact that the dining experience in America is so much more than just eating the food. It 100% shows your social status, because the cool places that people always are posting pictures from, are typically the more expensive places, even if they aren’t the best quality of food. I thought that the example of the sugar factory really carried the essay and helped explain the theories nicely. We live in a time where instagram and snapchat are very important in sharing our lives with everyone else and “flexing” the money we do have and the cool things we can do with it. The food industry is a very important way we as Americans organize people into social classes and I really enjoyed this essay because it made me think about things in ways I really never have before.

  35. Chase Loisel says:

    It surprises me the lengths of which people will go to show off or flaunt their wealth to the point of detriment on a consumable product such as a meal at a restaurant although given hegemonic societal values of social media, the shallowness of this display somewhat makes sense. Showing off your wealth even when unnecessary or unhealthy through expensive foods is surprising as it realistically shouldnt be seen as a “flex” as the items are often disgustingly unhealthy which would normally be seen as a negative. Although this logically makes sense, if someone appears to be healthy while eating unhealthy foods this could be seen as a way to show off which along with the display of wealth can explain why this flaunting through a seemingly illogical trend is so popular.

  36. Madison Moriarty says:

    I really like the topic you choose for this essay, because everyone knows about the sugar factory, and it is so true that people go for the hype of it. The company is successful for mostly the celebrity endorsements, and then people feel by going there their status is similar to a celebrity. It is something that can be related to anything from clothes to restaurants. It is all just a way us humans try to fulfill the need to feel “good” and “worthy”. I also like how you talked about how Americans indulge unhealthy compared to other countries because it is so true, and many people don’t realize it.

  37. Ally Fitts says:

    I have always been interested in the hype of the Sugar Factory, as the drinks just look like sugar bombs and the food is never pictured on people’s social media posts. It is interesting that American’s value the image of their food so highly, and many go out to eat just so they can get that perfect Instagram story. While I am guilty of posting excessive food pictures, it continues to amaze me how people dwell on their social media image. ‘Flexing’ on Instagram is a daily reoccurrence that is not often analyzed. Therefore, I find it intriguing how concepts like conspicuous consumption align perfectly with a common trend demonstrated throughout all social media platforms. Many people are not aware of how their posts influence others, both positively and negatively. Your Sugar Factory example is a perfect representation of how people’s lives are driven by their social economic appearance in order to place themselves at a higher level.

  38. John Fallon says:

    I had never thought about food the way that it was presented here but I find it very interesting. People nowadays choose restaurants because of their hype or because celebrities choose to go there. This leads to paying way more than is necessary for the dish they are served. I feel as though the consumer culture today is thrown off and should be focussed completely on quality rather than popularity.

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