Unfamiliar modes—whether they be unique for their novelty or complexity or other reason—require reliance on something established—common practices, or strictly defined rules, perhaps—to guide behavior. Without these, behavior can vary, vacillating and straying from ideal, voiding and making disposable years of toiling through trial and error which those who preceded endured. This idea is known by many names depending on if it is to be supported or decried: functional fixedness when discouraged for its rigidness, not recreating the wheel when acknowledging its inevitably. When we cook a recipe, we rely on this method, when we use a map, we rely on this method, and when we choose how and when to eat foods, in this case chocolate, we rely on this method. Artifacts from antiquity, especially those created by Mesoamerican people, indicated the uses of chocolate which now guide modern people in their interactions with the food today. In particular, from artifacts it can be gleaned that early Mesoamerican people lined graves and tombs with cacao and cacao related items, indicating its purpose as an energizer—something to support life after death, to provide eternal sustenance—and this indication has guided modern people to follow suite in their perception of the food.
One of the first major discoveries of cacao-related artifacts was in Rio Azul in an ancient Maya tomb(Hall et al, 1990). Researchers found a vessel with cacao hieroglyphs etched into the side, and after performing chemical analysis on scraped residue from the inside, they identified it as having been filled with a cacao infused drink. h
Those who were burying this person believed he should be buried with cacao infused drinks surrounding him, suggesting it would be useful in the afterlife, likely providing energy and spiritual power in the transition to the afterlife. Further, pictures of cacao have been found to be painted on ancient Mesoamerican tombs and cacao pods have been found lining graves. Overall, this preoccupation with and desire to surround a dead person with cacao is suggestive of the role it played in the lives of Mesoamericans. It wasn’t thought exclusively as something which provided energy, but something which provided a nebulous energy, something capable of generating unthinkable, almost mystic powers. It was meant to ease the transition form life to death, lead to alertness, and be so capable of infusing one with life-force, that it was the only thing required to send someone’s spirit to the afterlife(Wensem, 2014).
Following precedent form the early Mesoamericans, modern peoples have ascribed chocolate with similar capacity—a nebulous life force with the ability to provide energy and spiritual impetus in the face of difficult circumstances. For example, when preparing for a long day—one with hidden challenges and twists and turns that can’t be predicted—people will opt for an energy bar. Similarly in preparation for grueling workouts or long runs people will fuel with energy bars, and unsurprisingly many energy bars contain a component of chocolate.
It’s this mystical capacity to allow for pushing through hardship and “increase activation” that people believe chocolate contains, stemming from its roots in providing transcendental energy in Mesoamerican tombs (Macht 2006). Chocolate plays a role in other circumstances when people feel the need to look for something capable of providing super-human energy. For example, as demonstrated in the movie Chocolat, a woman relies on chocolate to reinvigorate her sex life with her drunk husband, who has seemingly not touched her in a loving way, for a while, forever. There is no reason to believe chocolate would have this effect, aside from relying on it’s mystical capacity to generate energy and create life-force capable of transcending otherwise insurmountable barriers.
It is difficult to misinterpret the intentionality of Mesoamerican spiritual preoccupation with Cacao. Finding an odd pot in an off tomb, or seeing a hieroglyph painted on a single wall would be reason to spur curiosity, but it wouldn’t be conclusive in any valid way. However, Mesoamerican people made their intentionality clear by the frequency with which they adorned graves and tombs with cacao and cacao artifacts, as well as the sheer quantity of the items. To paint a tomb with cacao images, leave hot chocolate in pots, and leave cacao pods is to leave little to the imagination. These people wanted to send the people they cared for and respected into the afterlife with the one thing capable of providing them with super-human energy to cross the void from life to the afterlife, to enter into a new life full, alert, and satiated. Though it’s impossible to say if these practices influenced modern people consciously or subconsciously, it’s clear we now rely on chocolate for similar reasons: hardships requiring mystical strength and energy to make through. Modern people have followed precedent and further strengthened this role of chocolate for the next people to harness the supernatural powers of this food.
[Chocolate Clif Energy Bar]. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://target.scene7.com/is/image/Target/GUEST_7db7421f-adac-4961-beb9-98ce5f29339d?wid=1400&fmt=pjpeg
Hall, G. D., Tarka, S. M., Hurst, W. J., Stuart, D., & Adams, R. E. (1990). Cacao Residues in Ancient Maya Vessels from Rio Azul, Guatemala. American Antiquity,55(01), 138-143. doi:10.2307/281499
Hallström, L. (Director). (n.d.). Chocolat[Video file].
Macht, M., & Dettmer, D. (2006). Everyday mood and emotions after eating a chocolate bar or an apple. Appetite,46(3), 332-336. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2006.01.014
Maya artefact: Cacao pot with jaguar tail handle [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/images-8/840_00_2.jpg
Wensem, J. V. (2014). Overview of scientific evidence for chocolate health benefits. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management,11(1), 176-177. doi:10.1002/ieam.1594