Changing Symbols of Chocolate

Chocolate as a Symbol

Over the years, chocolate has drastically changed, in terms of preparation style, taste, who it is consumed by, etc… Chocolate is no longer seen only as a food of the elite, but the variability of chocolate  has allowed for it to become a ubiquitous and accessible treat to many. The evolution of chocolate has gone through many stages, however, it has always served as a political, social and economic symbol in society . This is evident through the uses of chocolate in the Aztec Empire, the Industrial Revolution and post world war II uses.

 

Chocolate in the Aztec Empire

Going back to the times of the Aztec Empire we already see politically charged moves motivated by cacao. Focusing on the “Aztec conquest taking place during the reign of Ahuitzotl,” we can see their motives were to economically driven.(coe aspaceout-1.gifnd coe71) This conquest was to obtain the land of “Xoconochoco… already famed for the high production and top quality of its cacao.”(71)  Cacao held great economic power in the Aztec empire which motivated the conquest of land. Already, we can see that the Aztecs revered cacao economically. Cacao also served as political and social symbol for this empire as well. This is evident by those who consumed chocolate or cacao. “The Aztecs considered chocolate a far more desirable beverage, especially or warriors and the nobility.” (78) Drinking chocolate in this time period was  a symbol of nobility, signifying ones wealth and status.

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photo courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_warfare

 

Chocolate in Europe

With the introduction of chocolate into Europe, again we see chocolate become a symbol of aristocracy. “It had been an elite drink among the copper-skinned, be feathered Mesoamericans, and it stayed that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe.” ( coe and coe, 125) As we move into the the Industrial Revolution chocolate comes to take on a different meaning and symbol. The industrial revolution is characterized by improvements in transportation, materials, machinery, etc. For chocolate, industrialization stood as a large social change, allowing chocolate for the masses. With the popularization of chocolate amongst the masses, chocolate served as a symbol of economic efficiency. Moving along in history, the establishment of the companies like Cadbury, Fry’s and Rowntree, “had a social conscience in the midst of all this money making, unlike many Victorian captains of industry.” This had important social implications, as these companies because branded and known for “ factories with adequate housing for their workers, even  a dining room and reading room.” (245) Not only was this effective on a local scale but on a global scale. “The Fry family was deeply distressed by the wretched working conditions, approaching slaver, which then prevailed on the plantations of Portuguese West Africa and they boycotted cacao from those parts until the situation improved.” (245) In these times we can see that chocolate has held a special place in society. It was once for the elite and then it was accessible to everyone. It had been a symbol of wealth and eventually through the social conscientiousness of certain brands became a moral symbol.

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This is one of Fry’s chocolate bar covers. The Fry company was known for their quaker and moralistic ways. 

photo courtesy of: http://www.flickriver.com/photos/topcat_angel/2343618575/

 

Chocolate Post World War II

In 1948-1949, Post World War II diplomatic relations among countries were tarnished. Germany was split up into Eastern and Western zones. The West was divided by France, Britain and the U.S while the East was controlled by the Soviet.  Tensions soon began to grow between the Soviet, it the East, and the Allies, who were in the West. The Soviet formed a blockade allowing no supplies to the west, even thought the roads were blocked, the Allies thought of “supplying the cities with supplies by air.” (The Candy Bomber) Though the soviet was blockading the West, these airlifts helped prove the blockade useless. One of the Airlift pilots, Halvorsen,  wanted to do more, as he saw children on the East, excited by the idea of candy. Though these relations between the East and West were rocky, one pilot wanted to do more, to make a diplomatic gesture. In the case of Operation Little Viddles, chocolate and candy was the mending power that brought these zones to better terms. “Nearly overnight, Halvorsen became the face of the Berlin Airlift and a symbol of American goodwill.” (Volk). In this instance, it is clear that the gesture of providing these kids with chocolate was a political and diplomatic move, trying to better the relationships between the East and West of Germany, while also easing the relationship with Germany and the U.S.

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This photo shows the excitement children had over candy and chocolate. For them to receive candy from the Operation Little Viddle was a huge deal for them. 

photo courtesy: http://jackiewhiting.net/AP/ColdWar/BerAirlift.htm

Chocolate over the years has gone through many alterations.  In different cultures, chocolate has served as different types of political, economic and social symbols. In the Aztec empire chocolate was used to signify wealth and nobility. This symbol stayed the same as chocolate traveled to Europe. Through the industrial revolution and the Victorian age, chocolate and certain brands came to symbolize morality. In post War War II chocolate and candy were important for symbolizing a diplomatic gesture. Chocolate is always changing and varying, however, it always finds its place in society

 

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie Dobzhansky, and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Vol. 29. London: Thames and Hudson, 2007.

Volk, Greg. “How One Pilot’s Sweet Tooth Helped Defeat Communism.” Mental Floss. N.p., 13 June 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2016

“The Berlin Candy Bomber.” The Berlin Candy Bomber. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

 

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