On this year’s Valentine’s day, my best friend and I, being the single women we are, decided to celebrate our the night by buying ourselves chocolate and wine while watching a movie. In all honesty, none of us particularly likes chocolate but it seemed like the appropriate movie snack for Valentine’s day. This type of thinking is not unique to us. It echoes the actions of million other people from all over the world flooding retail shops to buy their significant others flowers and chocolate. It also shows the strong association that our society believes to exist between chocolate and love with or without a heterosexual romance. In other words, while most foods are marketed for their nutritional, aesthetic or dainty value, chocolates have also been sold as symbols of love and sexuality. I would like to explore the various social and historical factors that have led to this phenomenon, and the gendered lens through which Valentine’s day has been tied to Chocolate.
Firstly, the history of cacao in Mesoamerica is essential to understand the symbolic role chocolate has played in portraying romantic love on occasions such as Valentine’s day. In her essay, on “The Conquests of Chocolate”, Norton notes that “chocolate was ritually consumed at betrothal and wedding ceremonies, and presented to visiting dignitaries” (Norton, 2004). It was presented as an offering to the bride’s father by the groom as a testament of his love for his(the bride’s father) daughter and of respect. While most people do not know this history, chocolate companies have capitalized on this knowledge to lure consumers looking for symbols to express their love to one another. Norton argues that “the association between chocolate and romantic love continues to hold sway in our collective imagination, as evidenced by the box-of-chocolate’s status as the quintessential Valentine’s Day gift and its mythical status as an aphrodisiac”(Norton, 2004). Chocolate becomes instrumental for those men who would like to show their feelings to their women and, in a similar fashion as the Mesoamericans, chocolate also symbolizes respect between the two lovers.
Secondly, chocolate was historically, and still is to an extent, marketed as a luxury item. It was consumed by those who belonged in the wealthier class. As observed by Norton, chocolate then “played an important role in Mesoamerican society as a drink that denoted status…” (Norton, 2004). This was also true when chocolate first spread through Europe where Spaniards not only “learned to replicate the taste, fragrance, look, and texture of Mesoamerican chocolate,…” but also “internalized the association between chocolate and noble distinction” (Norton, 2004). Another author, Jamal Fahim, in his work on, “Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing”, claims “chocolate advertising…arouses appetites of a social nature by promising to satisfy viewers’ deep-seated desires for sexual fulfillment and higher class status”(Fahim, 2010). This is why men tend to buy this item to make their women feel special because it is an item that has been historically tied to status and luxury- especially on a day meant to represent passion and love.
Thirdly, and perhaps the assumption we need to address, is that while both men and women have been historically associated with love, women have been, almost exclusively, associated with chocolate cravings. According to Bruinsma et.al, chocolate cravings appear to exist in 40% of women and only 15% of men” (Bruinsma and Taren 1999). These cravings go beyond the socialization of women as being sweeter and therefore liking sweet things. According to Anthony Auger, an assistant professor at UW-Madison, women are more affected by chocolate than men. He references a study conducted that shows the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that regulates food intake, was less active in women when they consumed chocolate which is why they were more likely to eat it more compared to me. This is an interesting take that changes the way we view Valentine’s day and the view that women only like chocolate because they have socialized to love it.
Yet, we do not have conclusive evidence that this is entirely biological. There are various factors that may have led to this evolutionary phenomenon in which women are more likely to like chocolate than men. One of the many explanations is that women prefer sugary foods when they are lactating- an evolutionary mechanism to protect the baby- and this might have advanced the idea that women generally prefer chocolates (McQuillan, 2014). That being said, this paper does not explore other potential explanations for women’s love of chocolate. However, this paper seeks to highlight that women’s cravings for chocolate are perhaps more than just reactions to sensualized advertisements. They might also stem from evolutionary desires that tie certain foods to the female reproduction process and thus set in motion the reaction to advertisements beckoning women to consume more chocolate.
Ultimately, Valentine’s day remains an important day across the world. It’s meaning transcends the boundaries of language and culture in the face of globalization and brings people from all corners together in celebration of romantic love. Expectedly, capitalism also remains at the forefront with companies devising new ways to sell their products. This essay is part of a large conversation on how the culture of consumerism that rises within capitalist states influences the way we understand and limit ourselves within certain gendered norms. It uses a lens of chocolate to highlight the central issue of capitalist initiatives to exploit women’s love for chocolate by branding it as a symbol of love. Yet, it does not seek to place on a moral judgement on whether this is good or bad but simply raises the question of how even food can be instrumental in shaping gender dynamics.
- “Why Chocolate For Valentine’s Day? | The Stories | ~GIVEAWAY~ | G.Y’s Food Talk |.” YouTube. N. p., 2019. Web
- Martinez, Duran. “Stores Stock Shelves For Valentines Day.” 94.9 WMMQ. N. p., 2019.
- Fahim, Jamal. Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate …Occidental College, scholar.oxy.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=sociology_student.
- Bruinsma, Kristen, and Douglas L. Taren. 1999. “Chocolate: Food or drug?” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 10: 1249-1256.
- Norton, Marcy. “Conquests of Chocolate.” OAH Magazine of History, vol. 18, no. 3, 2004, pp. 14–17. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25163677.
- “Curiosities: Why Does It Seem Women Like Chocolate So Much More Than Men Do?.” News.wisc.edu. N. p., 2007.
- McQuillian, Suzan. “Women and Chocolate:Think You’Re Addicted to Dark, Smooth, and Sweet? You’re Not Alone.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cravings/201410/women-and-chocolate.
- Editorial, SheKnows, and Dustin James. “Eat More Chocolate.” SheKnows. N. p., 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2019.