Once  there  was a tree…” – Silverstein

This was the tree –



And she loved a little boy from the village

And every day a boy would come

And he would harvest the fruit –

And the village would make them into drink and play king of the world

He would climb up her trunk and gather her pods

And gather for the village

And they would play hide and seek for the pods under the forest canopy

And when the village was tired they would energize in those calories

And the boy loved the tree

And the tree was happy

and the Maize grew nearby –


The fruit was combined with the Maize by the village, (Presilla, 2001).

Pre Columbian corn bears only a passing resemblance to the modern version, being much smaller of ear and bearing only a fraction of the fruit that modern hybrids do, (Piperno, 2011).

One  day the boy came to the tree.

On behalf of the village

And the tree said, “Come Boy, come and climb up my trunk and play in my forest floor and be happy”

“My village is too civilized to climb and play,” said the boy.

“I want to buy things and have fun.

I want some beans -which by now are used as money, (Coe, S. D., & Coe. M. D., 2007).Can you give me some money-beans?”

“Take my pods, Boy, and use them in the village as money and you will be happy.”


The boy used Cacao beans as small coin currency; later Cortez noted this in his journals, (Coe, S. D., & Coe. M. D., 2007). And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered the pods

And his was how the boy got the fruit to the village.

Beasts of burdern

And the tree was happy

And the village ground the fruit and consumed it (Presilla, 2001).

And this is how the village consumed it, with this metate, a round stone that is used to grind cacao or corn against a flat three legged rock (Presilla 2001).



And the ground maize and cacao was mixed with water then poured back and forth into a container to make a frothy beverage, (Presilla 2001).


And this made the tree happy and the village was healthy, wealthy and wise.

And the Maize became God


And the beans used as currency

One  day the boy came back to the tree

On behalf of the village

And the tree said, “Come Boy, come and climb up my trunk and play in my forest floor and be happy.”

“I am too busy to climb trees,” said the boy

“I want the villages to keep me warm and my tummy filled. Can you give me food? I want a wife and I want children, and so I need to feed them.”

“Use my beans”, said the tree, “and the earth’s maize and the bee’s honey.” “Tell the villagers: Mayans and the Aztecs ‘mix the cacao with ground corn and water as a meal, sweeten with honey’. You may cut off my pods and create the meals, (Presilla 2001). Then you will be happy.

There is no need to cook, you may gather them from the forest floor and you can carry them on foot.  They are easy to transport, and provide abundant readily digestible and generally nutritious calories. Eat with the villagers, (Presilla 2001).

Then you will be happy.  Then the Gods too will be happy.


But  time went by

And the village was conquered, (Coe, S. D., & Coe. M. D., 2007) and the Gods were lost.

And the conquistadores cut off her pods and branches and carried them overseas to feed new villages, (Coe, S. D., & Coe. M. D., 2007).

And the tree was moved away from the village, (Coe, S. D., & Coe. M. D., 2007).

And the tree was sad.

One  day a similar boy came

And the tree shook with joy

And she said, “Come Come Boy, come and climb up my trunk and play in my forest floor and be happy”

“My village is too civilized to climb trees”, said the new boy

And the tree was moved again.

And different boys came to visit

Yet these boys were almost the same

The beans traveled long distances, then boys played “beast of burden” and picked and hulled the beans.

And  time went by

And the Empire was established, (Coe, S. D., & Coe. M. D., 2007).

And the pods were transported to yet more villages, (Coe, S. D., & Coe. M. D., 2007).

And the tree was yet more sad.

One  day many boys came.

And the tree shook with joy.

And she said, “Come Boy, come and climb up my trunk and play in my forest floor and be happy.

“I am far from home, said the new boys. We do not speak the language.  We cannot sleep.

We know no one here.



We are too tired and sad,” said the boys.

And so the tree created shade for the weary pickers to rest and hide.

Over the next couple centuries, cacao and corn became important crops.  The Europeans brought horses and mules for transport, but also diseases that wiped out hundreds of thousands.  Cacao was exported to southern Europe where it became an important commodity, first as a spice and medicine. Later, when quantities increased and price went down it became a popular drink for the aristocracy. Still later it became a treat for virtually everyone on the socio-economic spectrum, (Coe, S. D., & Coe. M. D., 2007).

Maize saw a slightly different trajectory as it proved easily adaptable to the European climate and became a very important source of food grown by and for the southern European peasants (Piperno, 2011). Cacao trees proved to be more difficult to export and only flourished a few degrees north or south of the equator, (Coe, S. D., & Coe. M. D., 2007).

Since maize proved to adapt well to modern agricultural methods the planting harvesting and milling of corn became steadily more mechanized over the decades and centuries (Piperno, 2011). Cacao proved more resistant to modernization, and the native North and South Americans proved resistant to slavery, (Coe, S. D., & Coe. M. D., 2007).  At first the Europeans solved this problem by transporting millions of African slaves to the Americas to harvest cacao and sugar, (Coe, S. D., & Coe. M. D., 2007).  Eventually, the economics were such that exporting the growing of both sugar and cacao to Africa was easier and more socially acceptable than transporting Africans to the Americas, (Coe, S. D., & Coe. M. D., 2007).

The Europeans were able to hybridize the cacao tree to produce a more disease resistant albeit less flavorful bean, first growing these new hybrids in the Caribbean then later on in Africa where most cacao is grown to this day, (Presilla, 2001).

The “Trinitario” and Forestor category of cacao tree and beans are considered inferior in flavor to the criolla , but offered disease resistance that was essential to large scale production, (Presilla, 2001). The plantations were large, at least by historical standards, often in the many hectares of cultivation, (Presilla, 2001). The science of transportation, disease control and processing changed dramatically, but some things stayed the same:

Yet the boys still harvest.





The nature of how and where cacao best grows meant that the best way to harvest remained to be nimble young men and boys doing so by hand

And the corn grew thick.


By this time selective breeding and hybridization meant that corn was producing much higher yields with better disease resistance and was grown on increasingly larger plots. The total number of acres under cultivation and productivity of the corn crop exploded (Piperno, 2011).

Most importantly, perhaps, was that sugar had now become an important crop in the Americas and it too was grown and harvested by African slaves.sugar

While not native to Mesoamerica or the Caribbean, being instead from Asia, sugar cane grew very well in the new world. The British government, especially, subsidized the sugar industry quite extensively and the sugar industry became one of the cornerstones of the slave trade and the British ascendency (Mintz, 1985)

And the God changed.

Catholic god

The Spanish exported their God to the “conquered”. To this day the catholic religion of the early Spanish missionaries is the primary religion in most of South American and Mexico.

The Catholic Church has a long and storied tradition of incorporating local customs and traditions into a sort of hybrid religion that eventually usurps local customs and becomes part of the “Catholic” tradition. Even modern Christians eat chocolate bunnies and other candy as spring religious activity even though the chocolate was appropriated from Mesoamerican traditions and the bunnies and eggs were part of a traditional pagan spring celebration  (Martin class lecture, spring 2018)

And the currency changed


Though Spain respected the concept of the cacao bean as currency, the Spanish quest for gold was never ending. The cacao bean’s use as a currency was complicated. In theory it closed power distance and allowed peasants to amass fortunes, in actuality the time energy and capital needed to harvest and process the beans actually increased social stratification. It was used for sustenance, rituals and currency, all at the same time.  This made for a very complicated place in society. Due to lack of viable small coins, however, the Spanish crown made the use of cacao beans official in the sixteenth century, (Martin & Sampeck, 2015),

And the food was transported.


The Spanish introduced horses but more importantly mules to the new world changing how lots of products were transported. Christopher Columbus brought donkeys to the new world in 1495 which would subsequently be instrumental in the conquistadors conquest of the Aztecs. Ten years after the conquest of the Aztecs brood animals were imported from Cuba to begin breeding in Mexico. Wherever there was a Spanish frontier mules were breed for both riding and pack animals (Babb, 2018).

And the ships were utilized.


The large Spanish ships were a far cry from the canoes previously used to transport corn or cacao. Yet the beans were still processed.

At first the Spanish used the same metate that was common in the new world. In fact it is one of the few tools used in the processing of cacao that the Europeans did not change (Presilla, 2001).



Being dryer corn could be milled in the same type of mills that had been used in Europe for centuries on other grains. Grist mills for wheat and other grains had been in operation for centuries when the new world grain corn was added to the mix (Carr, last viewed May, 2018).

So the was corn milled.


One  day the Empire came back to the tree

On behalf of the class distinction.

And the tree said, “Come people, come and climb up my trunk and play in my forest floor and be happy.”

“We are too refined to climb trees,” said the Bourgeois.

“I want the drink for our bone china from China, our crystal from Ireland and to show off in front of the proletarians. Can you give us style? I want to demonstrate we are more worthy to the Gods, more wealthy to our neighbors, and more refined than our workers.”

And the tree was sad.

And the Cacao drink was consumed by some more worthy.



In an excellent example of appropriation, the European aristocracy took the ground cacao from the Americas and served it in tea cups copied or sourced from china but keeping their own traditional rituals. They also served the beverage hot instead of cool or room temperature in keeping with traditional tea and coffee rituals (Martin, class lecture spring 2018).

And consumed by some.


At this point in history the transportation costs and rarity of cacao meant that it was very expensive and only really consumed by the wealthy aristocracy. The lower classes may have saved up money and bought cacao as medicine, but it was definitely not something that was available to them on a regular basis,(Coe, S. D., & Coe. M. D., 2007).


One  day the world came back to the tree

On behalf of the war

And the tree said, “Come people, come and climb up my trunk and play in my forest floor and be happy.”

“We are too busy to climb trees,” said the world.

“I want the calories to keep us warm and fill our tummies. Can you give me food? I want to take that country, exploit their land and I want more troops so I need to feed them.”

And the U.S. American industrial revolution was fueled by the cheap calories of the sugar, corn and chocolate trade.

And then, the industrial revolution came, and nothing would ever be the same.


And agricultural methods, food manufacturing, food consumption and distribution developed between 1850 and 1950 at were astonishing rates and on a scale never before seen.

Yet, the Cacao tree still looked like this –



And the cacao laborers still looked like this.


And the slave labor continued; And it is still a problem in the cacao and chocolate industry today.

And the tree was sad.

Yet the corn grew thick,


The contrast between the progress in the harvesting and processing of corn versus the harvesting and processing of cacao couldn’t be larger. While industrial methods are used in the later stages of processing, much of the work that goes into making cacao into chocolate hasn’t changed in centuries (Presilla, 2001).

Meanwhile the growing, processing and consumption of corn has become one of the most mechanized systems in all of agriculture. Corn production in the US and Europe has become so efficient that there are real concerns that the northern hemisphere is dumping corn as a commodity in South America and Africa at prices that are lower than the price of production in those countries (Hansen-Kuhn and Murphy, 2017).

“In God we Trust” is literally printed on the most important currency in the world. In the United States a “prosperity gospel” exists to such an extent that a large minority of US Christians believe that God rewards devotion with dollars. Capitalism as Religion is a common theme in the self help literature of both new age and Christian books. Marx’s fetishization of commodities may well be complete. In essence, the money and the God now look the same.

And food transportation industrialized.


Again, the contrast between large combine harvesters in the Midwest US vs young men carrying bags of cacao in Ghana or Côte d’Ivoire couldn’t be starker.

container ship

The ships just keep getting bigger. The theme seems to be mechanization and increased scale everyone, except if the labor is provided by those living in abject poverty.

And the vast bulk of these commodities were processed.


An important piece to consider is that if small scale operations in the southern hemisphere, where labor is cheap, actually try to process cacao on a small scale, the trade agreements in place between the global south and global north have  draconian tarrifs, often in the 60-80% range. This contrasts to tariffs in the 15-20% range for unprocessed cacao beans (Sylla, 2014).

And the consumption is more sugar and artificial ingredients than cacao.


Marketing cacao and chocolate to the upper classes is still the primary focus. Small percentage of cocoa added for flavor to predominately sweet milky treats has always been the mainstay of industrial giants like Mars, Hersey et al, but even then, its seen as a small luxury that anyone can afford. More and more though, the second level of commodity fetishism is featuring in chocolate marketing. This is the concept whereby “sophisticated” consumers can engage in a sort of tourism by proxy and fantasize that they actually understand an area because they prefer the chocolate that originated there. This is a concept that has been known and exploited as regards wine for centuries, but is only now starting to find its way into the marketing of chocolate (Martin, 2015)

And the corn crop is consumed by machines.


A large percentage, 40%+, of the corn crop is not consumed by eating, but is actually turned into fuels that augment fossil fuels (Piperno, 2011).

Or animals


Another large percent of the corn crop goes into providing food indirectly by feeding the animals that provide us dairy and eggs, and also fattening the animals we consume as meat.

And during this time sugar production and the percentage of calories from sugar skyrocket.




And  now the consumers of both sugar and cacao came from every social class

And one day the Empire came back

And instead of cutting down the tree

They cut down the boy.

And the tree shakes with fear,

There is no more joy

And these people need your help –










Works cited

Perpino, D  https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/659998 (last viewed 5/8/18)

Martin, C http://real.mtak.hu/33664/ (last viewed 5/8/18)

Babb, D http://www.mulemuseum.org/history-of-the-mule.html (last viewed 5/8/18)

Carr, K https://quatr.us/central-america/history-corn-corn-come.htm (last viewed 5/8/18)

Hansen-Kuhn, K and Murphy S https://www.iatp.org/documents/who-wins-and-who-loses-us-dumping-corn (last viewed 5/8/18)

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Martin, Carla. “Mesoamerica and the Food of the Gods”. Harvard University, AAAS E-119. Cambridge, MA. Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin, 1985. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.





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