Empty Pleasures

The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda

By Carolyn de la Peña

292 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 24 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-7274-1
    Published: August 2012
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7967-2
    Published: September 2010
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8343-8
    Published: September 2010

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Awards & distinctions

2011 Association for the Study of Food and Society Book Award

2011 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Sugar substitutes have been a part of American life since saccharin was introduced at the 1893 World's Fair. In Empty Pleasures, the first history of artificial sweeteners in the United States, Carolyn de la Peña blends popular culture with business and women's history, examining the invention, production, marketing, regulation, and consumption of sugar substitutes such as saccharin, Sucaryl, NutraSweet, and Splenda. She describes how saccharin, an accidental laboratory by-product, was transformed from a perceived adulterant into a healthy ingredient. As food producers and pharmaceutical companies worked together to create diet products, savvy women's magazine writers and editors promoted artificially sweetened foods as ideal, modern weight-loss aids, and early diet-plan entrepreneurs built menus and fortunes around pleasurable dieting made possible by artificial sweeteners.

NutraSweet, Splenda, and their predecessors have enjoyed enormous success by promising that Americans, especially women, can "have their cake and eat it too," but Empty Pleasures argues that these "sweet cheats" have fostered troubling and unsustainable eating habits and that the promises of artificial sweeteners are ultimately too good to be true.

About the Author

Carolyn de la Peña is a professor of American studies at the University of California, Davis. She is author of The Body Electric: How Strange Machines Built the Modern American.
For more information about Carolyn de la Peña, visit the Author Page.


"A well-cited, thought-provoking, and fascinating analysis of the sociological, psychological, political, and financial underpinnings of the promotion and use of artificial sweeteners in the U.S. . . . Highly Recommended"--Choice

Empty Pleasures is full of insights about artificial sweeteners.”--Gastronomica

"Charmingly written and exhaustively researched, de la Peña's exploration provides a fascinating look into a seemingly commonplace food additive."--ForeWord Magazine

"In its most intriguing chapter, the book details the “saccharin rebellion" . . . [which] reveals much about ordinary Americans’ perceptions of pleasure in a risk-filled world.”--A Nota Bene selection of The Chronicle of Higher Education

"Fascinating."--The New Yorker "Book Bench" blog

"Carolyn de la Pena conducts a thorough review of artificial sweeteners and how their role and perception have changed over the years."--Wilmington Star-News

Multimedia & Links

Visit the author's website here.

Follow the author on Twitter @carolyndlp.

Read her blog posts at the American studies blog "...And Everyday Life" here.

For a Q&A with the author click here.