Of Lovers and Fighters: Chocolate Consumption for War…and Peace

World War I began in July 1914 and by December had already claimed nearly one million lives. But on Christmas Eve both British and German sources report that guns fell silent. Singing was heard coming from the German trenches as Silent Night echoed through the cold air. Around dawn on Christmas Day, Captain Robert Hamilton made contact with German officers and a local armistice was agreed upon for 48 hours. Sainsbury’s, one of Britain’s top supermarkets, recreated that event for the 100th Anniversary of WWI with a commercial showing soldiers on both sides exchanging greetings and sharing what they had brought with them, of which included tobacco, cigarettes and, more interestingly, chocolate.

What I find most meaningful is the representation of chocolate as valuable item. The commercial begins by comparing the standard ration biscuit to that of a chocolate bar, embodying the notion that both are nutritious but one ultimately more valuable, a concept later enforced by giving away the chocolate. We see a game of soccer enjoyed by the soldiers, sharing of cigarettes, even elements of friendship and peace. But the commercial does not end with the soldier fondly recalling the soccer game, rather the act of gifting his chocolate.

Two of chocolate’s identities are portrayed here; as a source of nutrition and as a gift. During the war, both biscuits and chocolate were rationed to soldiers in order to provide them nutrition. Chocolate has long been associated with strength, being given to warriors to help them stay strong in battle. Therefore, sharing ‘power’ with the enemy could be seen as weakness, but in this advertisement it is seen as strength, used to convey sacrifice, charity and human contact. Despite the bounds of war, we teach ourselves that the greatest sacrifice we can make is for another person. What I see represented in this advertisement are perceptions of chocolate, both historically and present. Chocolate, once being a food of the elite, has evolved into being shared, gifted and enjoyed by all walks of life with its value transcending just its material qualities, providing sustenance, strength, comfort and even to make us smile. Interestingly, both identities are visually represented in the commercial with historical gender representations of each; male warriors eating chocolate for sustenance and women giving it as a gift as a gesture of nurturing. In fact, the Cadbury World exhibition, which opened in 1990, reinforces this representation by describing an Aztec woman, as a representative of both a ‘feeding mother’ and ‘sexual woman,’ giving Cortez access to chocolate, laying the foundation within British culture of men as the ‘bearers of chocolate’ while positioning women as consumers (Robertson 68).

Perhaps even more interesting is the subliminal power of British chocolate – as seen represented by the blueish wrapper of a Cadbury-esque chocolate bar. Cadbury was Britain’s leading manufacturer of chocolate bars during the war, traditionally wrapped in a blueish package, and replicas of this bar were sold for £1 each with profits going to the Royal British Legion (Smith 2014). The main message of this advertisement appears to be soldiers coming together in the middle of a war for a moment of peace. Some have criticized this is an attempt by Sainsbury’s to sell more chocolate, capitalizing on the memory of those who lost their lives fighting against tyranny. Personally, I feel this advertisement represents humanity in the face of brutality. While the correlation between peace and Christmas is universal, the representation of the power of chocolate is both subtle and meaningful here.

I have created two advertisements (one as the header above and the other as a poster below) which complement the idea that chocolate is for sharing (even in wartime) and through this we take a step towards staying true to our own humanity, despite the greed and hate that is often generated through war and conflict. I attempt to show soldiers acknowledging the importance of humanity during the war, and use chocolate as a conduit to remind us that this valuable, or perhaps seemingly common, item can be used for the greater good.

Ration poster featuring chocolate's use during WWI
Ration poster featuring chocolate’s use during WWI

 

This poster serves as a double entendre, that while it shows the public need to ration so soldiers may have enough, it plays off the idea behind the original advertisement that even soldiers are subject to the same standard of humanity – that they, too, can ration and share their chocolate in an effort to remain human, reminding us of something greater during war. I also attempt to blur the traditionally accepted gender associations of the time, feminizing the use of chocolate by men as a gift for the means of nurturing as opposed to being used by them for their own sustenance.

The visual aspects of the commercial play on the emotions created by people around how we perceive the holidays: snow on Christmas Eve, singing of a popular Christmas carol and un-wrapping gifts represent something that most people are familiar with – a season of giving. It also, in my opinion, shows us just how humans have shifted their views towards war. While the notion of universal peace and generosity remain during Christmas time, since WWI we have moved from away from a more civilized approach to war (such as armistice, parlay and other gentlemanly conduct as rules and standards of war) and have evolved into a more selfish approach, often showing no mercy to our enemies or regard for their well-being as humans. The Sainsbury’s advertisement, along with my complimentary pieces, reminds us that behind every battle and soldier lies a human being, capable of charity, peace and humanity. These are qualities we ought not to lose. And as with a bar of chocolate, quality makes the difference between a man and a good man.

Works Cited:

Fogg, Ally. Sainsbury’s Christmas Ad is a Dangerous and Disrespectful Masterpiece. The Guardian. 13 November 2014. Web. 7 April. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/13/sainsburys-christmas-ad-first-world-war

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 2009. Print.

Sainsbury’s Christmas: The Story Behind Our Christmas Ad. Video. Youtube. 12 November 2014. Web. 6 April 2015. https://youtu.be/2s1YvnfcFVs

Sainsbury’s Official Christmas 2014 Ad. Video. Youtube. 12 November 2014. Web. 6 April 2015. https://youtu.be/NWF2JBb1bvM

Smith, Mark. Sainsbury’s Christmas Advert Recreates First World War Truce. The Guardian. 13 November 2014. Web. 7 April 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/nov/13/sainsburys-christmas-advert-recreates-first-world-war-truce

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