“Great chocolate, greater relationships”. That is the slogan for Tabal chocolate, a company that claims it is “chocolate’s power to bring people together” that inspires them to make their best chocolate (“History”). Through a chocolate exchange at the Denver Art Museum in 2014, the CelebrARTE and Journey programs began a partnership to help students create Mayan chocolate-inspired poetry and art and to “grow as artists and teachers” (Salazar). And in 2013, Milka chocolate came up with a fun project that required Argentine workers to link hands and work together to connect a cow statue with a vending machine and receive free chocolate bars (Cullers). In each of these situations, chocolate is seen as something that brings people together and this is not a new concept.
The Olmecs and Mayans
From the origins of cacao, society and people groups have gathered together to consume some form of chocolate. In as early as 1500 B.C., the Olmecs would remove the seeds from the pods by hand and prepare them for fermentation- a process that had to be done only when many people got together. Joel Palka, a director of an archaeological project around Chiapas, Mexico, still encounters people in the area who prepare chocolate as a family tradition and cultural practice. He says in a Smithsonian article, “like coffee in the Arab world, or beer in northern and Eastern Europe, it’s not only something that’s good, but part of their identity” (Garthwaite). There is also a Mayan word chocola’j that literally means “to drink cacao together”. The upper class in Mayan society found great significance in communal consumption and cacao became almost a luxury set aside only for special situations.
Recipes using cacao beans have been discovered in a 12th century Cistercian monastery where Cistercian communities, even to this day, gather to prepare and enjoy chocolate in a specific room located above the cloister called the “chocolateria”. Drinking chocolate became such a popular beverage for communal events that Catholics often debated over whether it could be considered a food and should not be consumed during fasting.
Monks preparing chocolate together in a Cistercian monastery
Once cacao was brought to Europe, it served a similar purpose. Chocolate was served at “chocolate houses” in England, where members of the elite upper class would gather together to drink their liquid chocolate, gamble, and share opinions on the pressing philosophical and political issues of the day. Soon, these “houses” became associated with one of the Parliamentary parties, and some evolved into a gentlemen’s club, like the “Cocoa Tree Club”, made up of Tories in England.
The Big Five
By observing some of the original advertisements of the Big Five chocolate companies, we can further understand how throughout history, chocolate is seen as something that brings people together. Many of Cadbury’s advertisements have shown families drinking and enjoying chocolate together, such as one (shown below) in which a woman is seen commenting “This is the nicest way to end an evening” (drinking chocolate together).
A Cadbury advertisement depicting people drinking chocolate together
Another advertisement depicts a family drinking cocoa for breakfast as a “substitute for milk”. Similarly, many older Nestle advertisements depict children playing together, while Mars and Hershey also focus on illustrating couples eating chocolate together.
A Cadbury advertisement depicting a family drinking chocolate for breakfast
This brings us to today. Chocolate companies are still advertising their products as being something that unites people – from couples to friends to even different social groups or cultures. A few years ago, Divine chocolate came out with a series of ads that portrayed female Ghanaian cacao farmers with different captions like “Just developed an appetite for fighting global poverty?” or “Craving a better world or just another piece?”, as if chocolate plays a role in large global issues (Leissle). Many Hershey ads include the motto “shared goodness”, which suggests that consumers are eating the chocolate with others and enjoying it together.
A Divine chocolate advertisement
Outside of how chocolate companies affect our perception of chocolate, society, in general, still gathers around consuming this sweet. It’s common to see families and friends drinking hot chocolate together on a cold winter night, or couples enjoying chocolate together around Valentine’s Day. To enjoy chocolate with others is to share love and joy. As Audrey Richards once said, the “need for nutrition brings people together and creates social groups”. Although chocolate may not necessarily be seen as a necessary nutrition and more as a luxury, it is evident that throughout history, chocolate has done the same.
Cullers, Rebecca. “For Free Chocolate, Strangers Must Hold Hands in Argentine Vending Stunt”. AdWeek. 3 Oct. 2013. Print.
Garthwaite, Josie. “What We Know About the Earliest History of Chocolate”. Smithsonian.com. 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.
“History”. Tabal Chocolate. Web. 10 Mar. 2017
Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements”. Journal of African Cultural Studies. (2012): 121-139.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. Print.
Salazar, Madalena. “Chocolate Brings People Together at CelebrARTE”. Denver Art Museum. 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.