Is chocolate a luxury food item to be enjoyed by the more privileged social classes? Historically, yes. Chocolate consumed as such predates popular westernized culture as identified during the Aztec and Maya civilizations of Mesoamerica. Among both worlds, chocolate was ritually significant and became a fine food item for the affluent royal classes, to name a few. As chocolate was introduced into Europe centuries later, a more entitled class shared the same respects – a beverage for the more distinguished society. For European high society “chocolate was still a delectable symbol of luxury, wealth and power. Chocolate was sipped by royal lips, and only Spanish elites could afford the expensive import.” Until recently, much of those beliefs remained – chocolate in western culture is a food for the rich and privileged.
Advertisements in chocolate have historically portrayed a symbol of class – the upper class. And with a more privileged class comes the discussion of race. The “Chocolat Delicieux” image speaks to class (and race). A close reading of said image depicts an adult European woman in what appears to be a French bistro. In addition to its written French language, a portrait of Arc de Triomphe in the background clues the reader of its Parisian setting. French culture has often been a status symbol and “Most people associate French culture with Paris, which is a center of fashion, cuisine, art and architecture” (Livescience.com). The sophisticate woman pictured symbolizes: fashion and luxury, femininity and sensuality, etiquette, and privilege.
In a similar advertisement, Godiva, a premier Belgian chocolatier, captures a woman of European descent indulging in an assortment of premium chocolate candies. Although not clearly stated, the following appears to be a Christmas advertisement as the model is unwrapping a gift box of chocolates – red and green ribbon, which symbolizes the common colors of the holiday. In a close read of the image, the woman obviously appeals to a particular demographic. Additionally, the gold box and calligraphic font support this belief. Gold as a color has been understood to represent opulence, plentitude, prestige and wealth.
By contrast, blacks and chocolate take a slightly different relationship to popular perception in advertisement. There are no images of those self-indulging in sweet treats, adorned in luxury clothing and jewelry or sharing a chocolate beverage among friends and family during the holidays. Chocolate as a luxury in western society has often been “made available through the use of slave labour, such as coffee and cocoa, often used, and many still use, images of black people to enhance their luxury status” (Chocolate, women and empire: A Social and Cultural History, 36). Instead, images often depict families in West African countries in poor living conditions. Children are sometimes victims of harsh labor environments. As mentioned in class lecture, child labor is defined as “the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful” (Martin). The above image speaks to some of those concerns: A young child harvests cocoa beans in oppressive weather conditions, using manual labor for low pay, without clothing and equipment. The better alternative to poor work conditions and low pay would be a more quality education. Fair trade, better trade among producers/consumers and better working conditions, aims to provide developing countries with those resources.
Martin, Carla. AAAS 119x Lecture 2: Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”. February 4, 2015
Martin, Carla. AAAS 119x Lecture 3: Chocolate expansion. February 11, 2015
Martin, Carla. AAAS 119x Lecture 8: Modern Day Slavery. March 25, 2015