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Solutions to ethical dilemmas in the cacao-chocolate industry by the bean-to-bar chocolate company, Taza Chocolate.

  1. Introduction

Taza is a bean-to-bar chocolate company based in Somerville, MA, that addresses contemporary issues in the cacao-chocolate supply chain in unique ways. Founded in 2005 as a small, local company, operating on one rented floor of a warehouse in Somerville, the company focused on ethical trade and organic production, in addition to traditional production methods, from its inception. It has now expanded to a nationally sold company with enough capital to more effectively influence the cacao supply chain. By investing and interacting directly with organic cacao farms in South America and the Caribbean, the company is able to ensure that more money is going directly to the farmers and that ethical farming practices are being rewarded. They call this practice “direct trade,” and developed it as an alternative to Fair Trade, which has become controversial in recent years due to questions over its actual impact on small farmers and the cost and difficulty of obtaining such a certification. Further, in order to ensure their own adherence to this direct trade model, as well as to open the possibility of other companies aligning with this model, they have hired a third-party company to verify their sourcing program every year according to the policies they laid out. In addition to their Direct Trade program, Taza also maintains a high ethical standard in other company practices. In reviewing their materials, one finds that they do not rely on exploitation of the image of the cacao farmer as a victim, but instead use images and language that portray them as strong, independent individuals, with pride in their work. They do not rely on exploitative sexual or racial images in their advertising, as too many contemporary chocolate companies do, but instead rely on the unique quality of their product. In these ways, Taza is one of the most ethical chocolate companies currently in operation, and should be used as a model for other companies.

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Taza Direct Trade Certification Logo. Taza has outlined a list of rules to which they adhere and are held accountable by a third party organization they hired.
  1. Current issues in the cacao trade

Cacao is an export of developing countries in tropical regions, and as such, is faced with the economic and agricultural issues associated with developing countries. Cacao is often purchased by middlemen in the country or region in which it is produced, who then export the product to chocolate producers abroad, mostly in the U.S. and Europe. These middlemen purchase cacao from farmers at much lower prices than the global value of cacao, thus earning most of the export’s value for themselves, and returning little to the farmers. This system can sometimes be simply be a result of exploitative middlemen, yet may also be more complicated; often, a combination of local and national laws and regulations, social or societal norms and expectations, and access to global markets, plays a role in this low monetary return to the cacao farmers (Martin, Lecture 8). Whatever the case, the low wages paid to individual cacao farmers has a negative effect on the industry in a variety of ways: forced or coerced labor can result if farmers are under pressure to produce products at such a low cost, unsustainable practices are used, and there is little incentive to improve the quality of the product (Sylla, 26-40; Off, 100-140; Berlan, 2013).

These issues are not new to the cacao industry. Following the abolition of slavery, slave labor or ‘unfree’ labor practices continued on cacao plantations in parts of Africa (Higgs, 133-150), and have continued to this day. Presently, one of the largest, and most publicized, labor issues in cacao production is the use of child labor. The causes of this coerced labor are often very complex and difficult to address, and can range from direct child trafficking in clearly forced labor situations, to micro-pressures such as fear of family breakdown or socio-cultural tradition (Berlan, 2013). Further, the growing popularity and commercialization of chocolate in the U.S. and Europe throughout the 20th century caused a push for larger quantities of cheaper cacao beans, and local and international responses to agricultural and economic events throughout this time period has further complicated production and exportation (Martin, Lecture 8).

 

  1. Attempts at repairing the cacao trade

Because these issues in the cacao industry are difficult to understand and cannot be easily generalized, the responsibility falls on chocolate companies to ensure that the beans they purchase are ethically produced. As local governments and international organizations are often unable to adequately enforce fair labor practices broadly, responses to such issues have mostly taken the form of using the free market to incentivize adherence to a set of principles in cacao and other agricultural practices.

 

3.1. Fair Trade’s impact and controversies

One of the most well known of such incentivizing organizations is Fair Trade USA, which promises fair wages to workers, no use of forced, child, or exploited labor, safe working conditions and reasonable hours, and environmental sustainability, among others (Martin, Lecture 10; Fair Trade USA, Mission/Values). Whether Fair Trade USA succeeds in these goals is unclear, yet the company certainly has at the very least raised consumer awareness about the issues facing the farmers that produce much of the world’s chocolate, coffee, sugar, and even produce. However, critics of Fair Trade USA believe that the organization fails in the following ways: fails to deliver the promised higher wages to the individual farmer and to developing countries in general; makes it too hard and expensive to obtain certification, so that only large, wealthy farms are able to obtain it; it actually harms small farms that do not have certification; they do not incentivize quality; and it fails to adequately monitor standards; and the farmers do not have enough of a say in the production of their product, among others (Martin, 10; Dickinson; The Fair Trade Shell Game).

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Screen grab from “The Fair Trade Shell Game,” which criticizes the Fair Trade USA certification. The major complaint of this video was the lack of incentives for increased quality of the product in Fair Trade farms, and the lack of farmer input into the process.

3.2. Taza’s solution: Direct Trade

Taza decided to pursue a different approach to ethical sourcing of cacao beans for their chocolate. Rather than relying on an organization like Fair Trade USA to certify cacao farms with its standards of ethical trade and not necessarily effective practices, Taza began engaging with cacao farms directly, investing in farms that would agree to meet their standards of ethical production. This approach is called ‘Direct’ trade, and involves direct engagement of the chocolate company with their bean producers. This means the company must send a representative to each cacao farm they buy beans from at least once a year to check in and ensure their standards are still being upheld, and while it requires more effort on the part of the chocolate company, it seems to have a clearer positive impact on the farmers and their communities than Fair Trade does.

The clearest way in which Direct Trade is a better alternative to Fair Trade for achieving the same goals is its placement of financial responsibility with the cacao buyer, as opposed to the cacao producer. The cacao farms involved in direct trade with Taza, as opposed to those that go through the Fair Trade certification process, do not have to pay to have their farms certified in order to receive the higher premiums. Rather, Taza takes the responsibility of visiting farms and cooperatives, investing in, and paying higher premiums to ones that agree to meet their direct trade program commitments. Additionally, in 2011 Taza took the step of hiring a third party to certify their adherence to this program, to ensure that they do not deviate from the values themselves, thus taking further responsibility in ensuring their beans are ethically produced (Taza, Taza Direct Trade). Having the financial responsibility fall on the chocolate companies that buy the cacao beans ensures that more money is making it back to the farmers, and allows for smaller farms with less capital to participate in the program.

The Taza Direct Trade Program is verified by the third party company Quality Certification Services, and consists of five ‘commitments,’ or rules to which Taza must adhere. The first two of these commitments have already been mentioned, and are 1) the development of direct relationships with the farmers from which they purchase their beans, and 2) the payment of a premium to their cacao producers, specifically a premium of at least 500 US dollars per metric ton. The program then also has a quality standard based on fermentation rate and moisture of the beans, requires USDA organic certification from their suppliers, and requires Taza to produce an annual transparency report that details their cacao bean purchases and interactions with the farmers over the prior year (Taza, Direct Trade Program Commitments). One can see the way in which these rules interact to ensure more benefits for the farmers, as well as incentivize increased quality of the cacao beans: their paying of high premiums, along with quality standards and farm visits, rewards farmers for production of better beans; their commitment to produce an annual transparency report that is verified by a third party ensures that they continue to treat their producers ethically as outlined in their first two commitments.

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Cover of a transparency report by Taza Chocolate. The Transparency reports detail interactions with farmers with photographs and descriptions, as well as accounts of trade. This photo is also a demonstration of positive portrayal of cacao farmers, as described in section 4.

There is one imperfection with the Taza Direct Trade Program that stands out: their requirement of USDA organic certification, a certification for which the farmers need to pay and which cannot be reimbursed by the USDA in any of the countries in which Taza has cacao suppliers (USDA, Organic Cost Share Programs). This requirement is reminiscent of Fair Trade USA, despite Taza’s desire differentiate itself from Fair Trade USA and to reduce the burden it places on the cacao producers. However, the USDA certification is often less expensive than Fair Trade certification, and many companies that purchase Fair Trade agricultural products would also require USDA organic certification, making the Taza Direct Trade Program still substantially less expensive for farmers than Fair Trade, and Taza investment in new cacao farms alleviates such costs (USDA, Organic Certification and Accreditation; Taza, Annual Transparency Reports 2011-2015).

 

  1. Taza’s other positive influences

In addition to Taza’s Direct Trade Program, the company also maintains high ethical standards in their advertising and their portrayal of cacao farmers. They do not rely on the sexualization of women to sell their chocolate, as many companies do, but instead use their ethical sourcing practices and the uniqueness of their product to sell their chocolate bars. Further, they do not exploit the image of cacao farmers as victims when portraying their ethical sourcing, but instead use images of the farmers proudly displaying their work, and write about the farmers’ lives, interests, struggles, and successes, in a very human and relatable way in their transparency reports (Taza, Transparency Reports 2011-2015). For these reasons in addition to their excellent direct trade program, Taza should be used as a model for other chocolate companies in combating the ethical problems in the cacao-chocolate industry.

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Screen grab from a dutch video that portrays cacao farmers in Africa only in the context of ‘exploited.’ The intentions of the video-makers are in the right place, but portrayals like this support an exploiter/exploited binary that is oversimplified.
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This photo from a transparency report is instead a good example of portrayal of cacao farmers as relatable people, with pride for their work
  1. References

Berlan, Amanda. “Social sustainability in agriculture: An anthropological perspective on    child labour in cocoa production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development   Studies 49.8 (2013): 1088-1100.

Dickinson, Rink. “An Analysis of Fair Trade: Reflections from a Co-founder.”       InterReligious Task Force on Central America. Cleveland, Ohio. 02 May 2016.   Speech.

First Taste of Chocolate in Ivory CoastMetropolis. VPRO Metropolis, 21 Feb. 2014.      Web. 30 Apr. 2016.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio     University Press, 2012.

Kierz, Shane. Front Cover, Taza Annual Transparency Report 2014. Digital image. Taza   Chocolate Company. Taza Chocolate Company, Sept. 2014. Web. 3 May 2016.

Last, Jesse. Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Rep. 2015 ed. Somerville,         MA: Taza Chocolate, 2015. Print.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 8: Modern Day Slavery.” Aframer 119x. CGIS, Cambridge,       MA. 22 Mar. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 10: Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/            Globalization.” Aframer 119x. CGIS, Cambridge, MA. 6 Apr. 2016. Lecture.

“Mission/Values.” Fair Trade USA. Fair Trade USA, n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.

Off, Carol. Bitter chocolate: Investigating the dark side of the world’s most seductive         sweet. Vintage Canada, 2010.

“Organic Certification and Accreditation.” Agricultural Marketing Service. United States   Department of Agriculture, n.d. Web. 04 May 2016.

“Organic Cost Share Programs.” Agricultural Marketing Service. United States       Department of Agriculture, n.d. Web. 04 May 2016.

Our Direct Trade Program Commitments. List of Principles. Somerville, MA: Taza          Chocolate, n.d. Print.

Sylla, Ndongo. The fair trade scandal: Marketing poverty to benefit the rich. Ohio University Press, 2014.

“Taza Direct Trade.” Taza Chocolate. Taza Chocolate Company, n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.

Taza Direct Trade Certified Logo. Digital image. Taza Chocolate Company. Taza Chocolate Company, n.d. Web. 2 May 2016.

The Fair Trade Shell Game. Markham Nolan, Dusan Sekulovic, and Sara    Rao. Vocative.             Vocative, 20 Dec. 2013. Web. 4 May 2016.

Whitmore, Alex. Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Rep. 2014 ed.       Somerville, MA: Taza Chocolate, 2014. Print.

Whitmore, Alex. Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Rep. 2013 ed.       Somerville, MA: Taza Chocolate, 2013. Print.

Whitmore, Alex. Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Rep. 2012 ed.       Somerville, MA: Taza Chocolate, 2012. Print.

Whitmore, Alex. Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Rep. 2011 ed.       Somerville, MA: Taza Chocolate, 2011. Print.

Whitmore, Alex. Gabriel Pop, General Manager at Maya Mountain Cacao, proudly          stands in their new drying house. Digital image. Taza Chocolate Company. Taza           Chocolate Company, Sept. 2012. Web. 3 May 2016.

The sexualization of women in chocolate ads: completely absurd when subverted.

The overt sexualization of women is pervasive in current chocolate advertising. This is likely an artifact of the portrayal of chocolate as sinful, which has been common in western culture since its introduction to the European market. Chocolate advertising is, and has been for a long time, problematic in many ways, but the sexism and clear sexual innuendo in its advertising seems both the most frequent abuse as well as the most curious. Chocolate is mostly an impulse purchase in the U.S. and Europe, and is most often purchased by women, so chocolate advertising, understandably, targets women (Martin, Lecture 2016). At the same time, however, the portrayal of women in chocolate ads is often incredibly sexist, and sexualizes them in a way that is expected of ads targeting a mostly male audience.

I have selected three chocolate advertisements that use this form of marketing. The first is a frame from an advertisement for a Cadbury flake bar, in which the viewer intrudes on a young woman eating a Cadbury chocolate flake bar in her bathtub, and presumably having an orgasm. Really, the imagery is so apparent that we don’t actually have to presume that much, if at all. It is understandable that a company would want to advertise a product to women as capable of giving them orgasms, at least on the level of ‘sex sells,’ yet ads like this portray the women as obsessive and sex-crazed, at best, and objects akin to a piece of chocolate at worst. Emma Roberts points out in her book that there is a clear link in advertising between women and sex, and that such advertisements “perpetuate western sexist and racist ideologies under a veneer of pleasurable consumption” (Robertson 2009), yet this is often used to sell products to men. In fact, advertisement research on the topic has shown that women in general respond more negatively to sexual advertisements than men (Dahl, Sengupta, & Vohs 2008). Why would ads for women cross the line from selling sex to women, to selling sex to men and falling into sexist stereotypes?

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This woman is apparently having an orgasm by eating this chocolate bar in a way that suggests fellatio. Nobody eats chocolate like this, and no one eats chocolate in a tub. Why is she being sexualized to sell the chocolate to women?

Below are two more ads that fall into the category of sexualization in a way that targets women and is at the same time offensive to them. In the advertisement of Filthy chocolate, the sinfulness and obsessiveness that often ties women and chocolate together is explicitly written in the text of the advertisement. Further, we can see the woman, clothed in chocolate, in a state of what seems to be intense pleasure, but with her body contorted in an extremely unrealistic way, and which portrays sexuality but not ‘properness.’ That is, it buys into a typical representation of women for male audiences, that aims to portray them as sexual objects, but with some degree of resistance to that sexuality, because are not intended to embrace their sexuality as openly as men can. In the advertisement by dove, it is hard to discern any traceable attempt to appeal to women, other than the fact that a woman is eating the chocolate. The woman holds her mouth and consumes the chocolate in an incredibly sexual way, but is disembodied, without any character, and shows no sign of enjoyment of the action, which the other ads, though problematic, at least are able to achieve. This ad strikes me as completely nonsensical, as it only sexualizes the woman but fails to deliver any convincing evidence that the chocolate will maker her happy.

 

 

In our advertisements, my group partner and I decided recreated these advertisements with men eating chocolate in the absurd way that women are portrayed as eating chocolate in many of these ads. It is intended to point out the completely flawed thinking that goes into ads that target women at the same time as stereotyping and objectifying them. First, and most apparently, nobody actually eats chocolate the way that these women are portrayed as eating chocolate. It is actually accepted in the media as not being absurd because people are used to this overt sexualization of women, but our ad points out how absurd it is by showing people very different from incredibly attractive, likely airbrushed, women eating chocolate in this manner. These ads include an attempt to portray the contorted, sexual-yet-shy body language of the ‘Filthy’ chocolate ad, to the apparent orgasm that eating chocolate can give a person. In the context of young men doing these things instead of young women, they seem ridiculous.

 

Works Cited

“As Britain’s Sexiest Chocolate Ad Hits 40 … It’s Joss – Only the Sultriest, Funkiest Flake            Girl.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.

Bui, Quang. Filthy Chocolate Ad Campaign. Digital image. 22 May 2011. Web.

Dahl, D., Sengupta, J., & Vohs, K. (2008). Sex In Advertising: Gender Differences And     the Role of Relationship Commitment. Journal of Consumer Research, 215-231.

Mauss, Marcel, and E. E. Evans-Pritchard. The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange     in Archaic Societies. New York: Norton, 1967. Print.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 9: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate         Advertisements.” Aframer 119x. CGIS, Cambridge. 30 Mar. 2016. Lecture.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. 2010.   1-131. Print.

Silva, Tanya. “Chocolate, Orgasms, and Valentine’s Day.” Tanyasilva.com. N.p., n.d.        Web. 6 Apr. 2016.

Sugar as an essential nutrient during the industrial revolution

The popularity of cane sugar in Britain quickly rose from the 17th through the 20th centuries, after its introduction from the New World, but its uses changed several times throughout this period. In Sweetness and Power, Mintz breaks down sugar use in Britain during this period into 5 categories: medicine, spice, decoration, sweetener, and preservative (Mintz 78). The most popular, or common, of these uses varied over time; for example, in the 17th century, when sugar remained an expensive rarity, it was more commonly used as a medicine, spice, or decoration. By the end of the 19th century, however, sugar’s popularity was firmly rooted in its use as a sweetener. Mintz points out that at this time it had become a “virtual necessity” (Mintz 148), yet fails to effectively incorporate this into his categorization of its uses. How can any one, or a combination, of these uses explain the enormous part that sugar came to play in the diet of the average English person, representing one-fifth of daily caloric intake (Mintz 5-6)? Rather, by the beginning of the 20th century, a sixth use developed for cane sugar, which is able to more thoroughly explain its rise in status from luxury to necessity. After the industrial revolution, sugar came to be used as a nutrient, an absolute requirement for the sustenance of many middle class families, due to its source of cheap energy during a time when the rise of an industrialized economy necessitated such sources for productivity.

There is remarkable alignment of the changes in sugar consumption and the manufacturing economy in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries. The industrial revolution, which was the major turnover in manufacturing processes to the large-scale use of machines, took place in England roughly between the mid 1750 and mid 1840 (Landes 3-8). While it is difficult to determine causality between the industrial revolution and the rise of sugar consumption, we should note that this period of time contains the only roughly exponential change in the rate of increase of sugar consumption in British history (Image 1). This reflects a strong correlation between the rate of change of sugar consumption and the rate of mechanization of the British economy, as demonstrated by the change in fuel use during this time (Image 2). This change in sugar consumption was due to a massive transition in sugar consumption demographics, from consumption only by the wealthy in the early 18th century to consumption by all middle class British citizens by the mid 19th century (Mintz 147-148). Just after 1850, the price of sugar dropped dramatically, enabling its purchase in massive quantities by the middle class, and setting the stage for the use of sugar to expand beyond Mintz’s categorizations and into a staple of the diet. Though these changes in sugar consumption may have not been directly caused by industrialization, their co-occurrence allowed sugar to enter into use as a fundamental nutrient of the English diet.

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Images 1 and 2 show a comparison of the change in sugar consumption per capita over time and the change in the use of various fuel types over time. The massive increase in coal use in the second image indicates the mechanization of industry during the industrial revolution. Exponential growth in rate of change of sugar consumption reflects exponential growth in the use of coal.

 

So why does industrialization align so well with the dramatic changes in sugar consumption we see at this time? Industrialization necessitated cheap sources of quick energy for both the workers and for non-working family members (usually women and children). Carbohydrates were incredibly important for both agricultural and industrial workers, which is reflected in the prominence of bread in their diets, on which working class families spent anywhere from 50-70% of their food budget (Griffin 16 and Feinstein 635). With the sudden increase in the availability of sugar just after the industrialization of the British economy, another source of cheap, even quicker, energy could be introduced to their diets. Further, though workers did consume sugar for energy, especially industrial workers, who consumed twice as much as agricultural workers (Griffin 14), sugar became even more important to the families as a means of cheaply boosting energy of the non-workers. High protein foods, such as meat, were expensive for these families, and so a great majority of products like these were reserved only for the working men of the families (Martin and Griffin 11). Even in situations where the women or children in a family worked, it was often thought that they needed less protein than men, and so this inequality in consumption was maintained. For this reason, sugar became incredibly important to the diets of women and children, taking up roughly 20% of their daily caloric intake, as discussed earlier. This type of consumption is clearly reflected in the advertising of sugary drinks and candy bars at this time, which were heavily targeted at women and children and noted such products’ abilities to prevent exhaustion and give nourishment (Image 3).

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An advertisement for sugar demonstrates its use as a key nutrient supplying energy specifically for children. Other advertisements of the time, while not necessarily just for sugar but rather for candy bars and soft drinks, proclaim their nourishing properties and ability to alleviate exhaustion.

An analysis of the change in sugar consumption and availability during the 18th and 19th centuries, together with an understanding of the dietary needs of workers in an industrialized economy, allows us to more completely understand the rise of sugar consumption—a rise that continues today. In examining these factors and the advertisements that reflect the culture of sugar consumption in this period, we realize that Mintz’s categorizations of sugar’s uses was incomplete. The industrial economy and the need for cheap, quick, energy that it propelled, both at work and in the home, drove sugar to move beyond its earlier uses, and to become considered a necessary nutrient.

 

Works Cited

Feinstein, Charles H. “Pessimism perpetuated: real wages and the standard of living in Britain during and after the industrial revolution.” The Journal of Economic History 58.03 (1998): 625-658.

Griffin, Emma. “Living Standards in the British Industrial Revolution: Evidence from Workers’ Diets.” Living Standards in the British Industrial Revolution: Evidence from Workers’ Diets. Academia.edu, n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

Landes, David S. The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present. London: Cambridge U.P., 1969. Print.

Martin, Carla D. “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” CGIS, Cambridge, MA. 24 Feb. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Image: Sugar advertisement. CGIS, Cambridge, MA. 24 Feb. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao.” Image: sugar consumption over time. CGIS, Cambridge, MA. 17 Feb. 2016. Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

Rautner, Margaret T. “The Industrial Revolution – Infogram, Charts & Infographics.” Image: fuel use over time. Infogram. Infogram, n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

Mayan and Aztec cacao use: stratified by gender, yet socially significant for all.

Cacao originated in Mesoamerica and became an incredibly important crop for most indigenous groups of the region as early as 2000 BCE (Coe & Coe, 33-105). Cacao’s stimulating properties, due to the compound theobromine, likely led to its high value in these societies, in which it often became a religious symbol, playing a role in origin myths and depictions of religious figures (Coe & Coe, 38-42). The cultural importance of cacao in Mesoamerican civilizations, however, was not simply its nutritional value or use in religion.

Rather, the most important cultural impact of cacao was what followed this assignment of high value: it came to be used as social currency to solidify bonds across family groups and within families, and to reaffirm hierarchies in these societies with the various roles groups could play in its production and consumption. In examining the Aztec and Mayan civilizations, two of the most expansive and well-documented of these Mesoamerican civilizations, we are able to see that the consumption of cacao solidified a gender divide in which males were afforded higher status, and were more able to enjoy the social benefits of meal sharing, or in this case, cacao sharing. Still, however, it is also likely that the social quality of the preparation of such drinks afforded women in these societies some social benefits as well.

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In this image from a mayan vase, we can see the god of maize depicted as a pod from the cacao tree. This god in particular is often depicted in this way, but many other gods are often also depicted as wearing or carrying cacao, which became an important part of religion in Mesoamerica.

Cacao based drinks, which varied somewhat from civilization to civilization, were ritualistically shared to bring together family groups at ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, and marriage arrangements, and we are able to see how social bonds can form around its consumption in a way that Mintz describes of shared consumption in general (Mintz 3-7). Yet in most depictions or descriptions of such ceremonies, only the men of the participating families are involved in the consumption of cacao, and women are more likely seen preparing or frothing the cacao drinks that are to be shared. In this way, we can see a clear stratification of the Mayan society along gender lines.

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In this image from the Princeton Vase, like many others depictions of such ceremonies, we see a woman at the ceremony frothing the cacao beverage but not participating in its consumption.

This stratification extends to class as well—the elites or royals are most often depicted as having cacao, and royals even depicted themselves as descendants of cacao trees, putting themselves close to gods and establishing a justification of their high status. From these two types of representations we are able to follow the hierarchical logic pretty clearly: royals and elites are close to cacao and therefore close to god, and men are the second order of this stratification because they can participate in the consumption of cacao (elite men are highest, then likely elite women, then lay men, then lay women), placing women the lowest on this scale. Considering Mintz’s analysis of shared consumption as one of the ultimate methods of social bonding, are the women of these societies then left out of the social sphere by their not participating in the ritual cacao drinking?

Here we can see that Mintz left out a key predecessor to social consuming: social preparation. In reality, the women of these societies were likely often a vital part of these ceremonies in their preparation of the cacao beverages, and likely realized social benefits of this beverage preparation outside of the ceremonies as well. In Richard Wrangham’s book, Catching Fire: How cooking made us human, he discusses in depth the way in which cooking together contributes to a shared community in a similar way that Mintz describes of eating together (Wrangham, several). We can sometimes see depictions in art from these Mesoamerican societies of groups of women preparing this cacao beverage together, and it is likely that the women within a family group would work on this task together, solidifying family bonds. Although it is hard to know, it seems possible that, at gatherings of multiple families, the women might prepare the beverages together, further helping socialize across the families, and contributing to a community within their own social sphere. Finally, in most depictions of these ceremonial gatherings, the women are shown frothing the beverages in front of the guests. Such an activity does not need to be public, but its depiction as such suggests that, though they were given a lower status and an accompanying lower status role in these rituals, they were still likely a vital part of the socialization of their families and their communities.

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In this image from the Florentine Codex, we see a cacao beverage being prepared by several members of different generations in a family group. This shows the way in which preparation of cacao could be a highly social event.

 

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

Sotelo, Angela, et al. “Chemical and nutritional composition of tejate, a traditional maize and cacao beverage from the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, Mexico.” Plant foods for human nutrition 67.2 (2012): 148-155.

Wrangham, Richard W. Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. New York: Basic, 2009. Print.

“Maya Agriculture.” Maya Agriculture. Authentic Maya, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.

“Los Medios De Intercambio.” Los Medios De Intercambio. Editorial Raices, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.

“A Brief History of Chocolate: Part 1.” Dandelion Chocolate. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.