The Sorrows Of Young Werther's Originals: Or, Why Artifical Sweeteners Are Bad

Dear Leslie, Congrats on the publication of your essay In Defense Of Saccharin in the Black Warrior Review. You're a hell of a writer; I totally get what Harvard/Iowa/whatever dude you wrote this essay to get over saw in you. So it sorta kills me to say that you're wrong. It doesn't sound particularly counterintuitive to say so, but artificial sweeteners, like the high-fructose corn syrup they were engineered to replace, are wrong. From a public health standpoint they only breed diabetes and deforestation, but it's actually more your tastebuds I'm concerned about: six Equals into a cup of coffee is simply gross.

And forgoing even well whiskey for a grain alcohol daiquiri squeezed out at one of those drive-thrus in New Orleans is tragic. A lot of drunk driving accidents happen on account of those daiquiri joints, babe; it's the Louisiana liquor lobby keeping them there, the same ones who've kept them from raising the liquor tax since 1948, which is why the whole state is one big sobriety check. Modern life can be a needlessly overwrought con that way, which brings me back to calorie-free sweeteners.

I used to rip Equal packets into cappuccino foam, and watery oatmeal, sometimes even toast (though Splenda, incidentally, is better on toast.) I had a sweet tooth, I listened to St. Etienne and Stereolab and shit; I fell in love and marveled that my mother reserved her sweetness intake to a Starlight mint after work and a half-teaspoon Sugar In The Raw; in one office, they kept unlimited Diet Coke and I would throw my cans in other people's cubicles to hide my shameful excess, blah blah blah blah. Anyway, at some point I stopped caring about sweets, I think when I realized my mom had about the happiest life possible. (Not especially.)

"After the sugar high," you write, "there is the sharpened sense of everything that is not sweet. After the saccharin, there is a sense of shame at our consumption. These moments of guilty aftermath aren't more valuable than the moments of indulgence that precede them, it is simply that the tension of this sequence can bring us into contact with the full range of ourselves, as carriers of sentiments both heartfelt and cerebral."

But hold up, sweetie, is that what the comedown from a sugar high is like? We're not fucking talking about Ecstasy here. I haven't had one for awhile, but I recall that the comedown from a sugar high feels like run-of-the-mill lethargy, and I have a feeling you're deliberately misappropriating metaphors here because what's going on can be summed up as

1. An eating disorder and:

2. Unrequited love maybe? Unrequited worship? Do you desire someone older and more knowledgeable than you, or maybe just with better CDs? I know, it's a cliche, like creation itself! (Oooh, Equal on apples: discuss.)

Fear of sugar/sentiment/cliche has crippled your art, you claim, and you cite one of your early characters, Sophie, as an innocent victim of your fears. Of Sophie, a fellow writer offered:

"I know someone's going to want to kick me in the balls for saying this, but there are times when it seems like the author is just lining up Sophie's misfortunes: She has a facial deformity that has crippled her self-esteem, she is sexually assaulted, guys don't like her, she may have an eating disorder, and she's a transfer student. Does anything ever go right for Sophie?" It was a fair point. Sophie hated herself because I hated her too, and hated myself for making her hate herself so much.

So here's another fair point: depending on the deformity, those are some pretty First World problems, and hating yourself for being too young to dwell on any other sort of problem is extra-First World, but eventually the self-hate will subside, resignation will set in, and coffee will taste better black. And the prospect that he may love you back will be just as awesome, though it may lack the same sweetness, since there's no manufactured shame from which you'll be delivered.

In Defense Of Saccharin