Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. History Dept.


Arnout Van Der Meer

Second Advisor

Kelly Brignac


This thesis argues that patisserie and the French relationship with dessert are a part of national identity. The historical context of patisserie runs parallel to the growth and power of the French colonial empire. Patisserie feels removed from the empire, and yet the two show how gastronomy, luxury, and exploitative power in the form of empire are components of French history and identity. Marx’s theory on commodity fetishism serves as the backbone for this argument. This theoretical idea supposes that value is an objective concept and society attributes importance and perceived meaning. Patisserie exemplifies commodity fetishism as a good with high social value that receives reverence without question, despite the exploitation needed to create it, as represented by the history of the French colonies, specifically with sugar in Haiti, vanilla in Madagascar, and cacao in Cote d'Ivoire. French society has attributed the power to sweetness, in the form of colonial exports and in dessert itself. This value enhances French reliance on empire, reinforces the importance of gastronomy in culture, and reveals the relationship between value and luxury. Creating an industry in patisserie of the ultimate dessert explains the quest for sweetness beyond borders. This history reveals a concluding idea about the role of sweetness within French identity and how it can explain the power of patisserie and gastronomy, the exploitative pursuit of empire, and the significant national value of luxury.


France, Patisserie, Sweetness, Empire, Gastronomy, Luxury