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Madécasse Chocolate: Fair Trade, or Exploitation Redux?

An image from Madécasse’s website showing how its chocolate is supposedly farmed. An analysis of Madécasse’s promotional material reveals the problematic tropes underlying its representation of farmers and Africa’s industry.

Madécasse chocolate, created by two ex-Peace Corps volunteers, has garnered a reputation for its progressive stance on fair trade chocolate. Madécasse relies on two related claims to boost its image as an ethical company: first, Madécasse often cites its innovative strategy of keeping chocolate production within the hands of local Madagascar communities, and second, Madécasse boasts that its cacao farmers are able to earn up to four times more income than even fair trade cocoa. Although Madécasse’s socially-conscious values—reminiscent of the Cadbury company values—seem like an exciting opportunity for Madagascar farmers and a breath of fresh air in the chocolate industry, a closer look reveals that Madécasse relies on troubling assumptions about cacao farmers even as it claims to change the narrative surrounding chocolate production.

Madécasse has been praised by gourmet food blogs for the company’s core values, its aim to better the lives of cacao farmers, and its efforts to increase local production within Africa. Madécasse’s website claims that the company began selling chocolate because:

We fell in love with the people and the country and wanted to do more. So we started making chocolate there in 2008 in collaboration with a local manufacturer. Even though 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from Africa, less than 1% of the world’s chocolate is actually made there. We exist to change this.

Additionally, Madécasse claims to go even further than other fair trade chocolate companies because “Madécasse generates four times more income than fair trade cocoa because all of the chocolate production takes place only a few hours away from where it is organically and sustainably harvested” (Russo). By helping “people to produce their own chocolate, so that the work stays in Africa (along with the profits),” Madécasse seems to have incorporated “fair production” into “fair trade.”

However, troubling ideas pervade Madécasse’s feel-good story, as evident in the above excerpts from Madécasse’s website. But before analyzing the problematic aspects of Madécasse’s “exploitation” narrative, a historical analysis will help give further context to Madécasse’s ethics-driven business, and show how Madécasse’s tactics are nothing new in the chocolate world.

Cadbury company values in the 21st century

Chocolate production certainly has a troubled history because of the use of indentured servitude and slaves on cacao and sugar plantations. Yet there were conscientious efforts to reform and change the exploitative method of production as early as the 1800’s. William Cadbury’s boycott of São Tomé and Príncipe exemplifies how the idea of mixing chocolate and ethics is hardly new. Cadbury had heard that contract laborers were working in slave-like conditions on the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe where Cadbury sourced some of its cacao (Satre). The Portuguese plantations there used servicais, indentured servants that were really enslaved people brought from Angola to work (Satre); the conditions that met these slaves were so horrific that the average life expectancy on São Tomé and Príncipe was around 7-9 years (Martin).

To verify these claims, Cadbury hired Joseph Burtt to determine if the cocoa it was buying from the islands had been harvested by slave laborers (Higgs). Burtt’s extensive documentation of labor and slavery in West Africa eventually led to Cadbury’s decision to boycott cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe, a boycott that other companies also joined (although it is worth noting that Hershey did not join the boycott and labor abuses on those islands continued into the 1900’s). Instead, Cadbury and other companies turned to the Gold Coast and other regions to grow cacao; today, up to 60% of the world’s cacao comes from the Gold Coast, mostly bulk cacao of the foreastero variety (Martin).

The Cadbury story is important context for Madécasse in two ways: first, it shows that ethical concerns have been pervasive in cacao’s history, and that Madécasse is not the first company to use chocolate production as an avenue for social change. However, there is another lesson from the Cadbury story that cuts the other way: the Cadbury story also tells us that chocolate companies will try to deflect bad publicity by shifting production to other regions and that these companies may continue harmful production practices out of sight. In either case, it is important to read between the lines of Madécasse’s lofty words to analyze whether its agenda relies on faulty narratives of exploitation and poverty.

What is the reality of exploitation?

Despite the feel-good story of Cadbury’s boycott of cacao plantations in São Tomé and Príncipe, the reality was more complicated: the boycott did not eliminate the slave-like conditions on those islands (which continued up until 1950) and other companies like Hershey stepped into the void left by Cadbury (Martin) (Higgs). Similarly, Madécasse’s characterization of cacao farming in Madagascar paints an incomplete picture of the reality surrounding cacao farmers. In fact, several review of Madécasse chocolate have claimed that the chocolate is “guilt-free” and that the consumer should rest assured that they’re “giving a little something back with each bite” (Cocoa Runners). Only by challenging the exploitation narrative can we break down these statements to analyze the true means of chocolate production.

Cacao farmers have often been victim to the “exploitation” narrative, where they are assumed to be victims of the chocolate-industrial complex. As Carol Off writes, these farmers make a pittance that there is “little remaining for tomorrow” after they buy the basic necessities of life (Off). Off argues that “almost every critic of the industry has identified the key problem: poverty among the primary producers,” and asks if this problem could be solved by “simply undertak[ing ways] to make sure the farmers received a decent price for their beans” (Off).

However, this simplistic analysis ignores the role that national governmental policy and local pressures play in cacao production. At its most insinuous, this exploitation narrative paints farmers as either helpless victims or as exploiters themselves. What is often left out of promotional materials for bean-to-bar companies is how several layers of local, national, and industry forces are sandwiched between the consumer and the farmer. Cacao farms in Africa are often independent family farms with complex land ownership titles. These farms produce cacao for mostly foreign-owned corporations whose primary market is outside of Africa (Martin).

For instance, the equation is often complicated by national policies and inter-fighting that has little to do with how much consumers pay for a bar of chocolate. In the 1970’s agricultural crisis, harsh economic policy worsened economic hardships for farmers and disincentived farmers to continue growing cacao and other cash crops (Martin). Governments have also continued to use the marketing boards/caisse system to hurt farmers by forcing them to sell their crops at price below the world price. In some cases, farmers have been hurt by behind-the-scene politics: some countries had passed legislation that allowed the government to take money out of the cacao farming areas and use it for the benefit of the country as a whole in an effort to shift resources to promote urban industry (Martin). These urban industrial interests were seen as bigger threats to governmental rule and rural farmers had less consolidated power to challenge or lobby for change. All of these examples show how the narrative of exploitation often ignores cultural, economic, and political forces that stand between farmers and the product that we enjoy.

Does Madécasse rely on a simplistic exploitation narrative?

Madécasse’s promotion materials, as well as review of Madécasse chocolate, reveal how the “exploitation” narrative and several other troubling tropes still pervade “fair trade” chocolate production.

Madécasse’s writings contain faint undertones of colonialistic amazement and paternalism in the way it generalizes and describes Africa. Madécasse’s website contains these excerpts:

For centuries, Africa’s economy has been overly dependent on the export of raw materials (cocoa, sugar, coffee, vanilla, to name a few) with zero value added locally. These are eye-opening facts, which explain how a continent so rich in raw materials can remain so poor.

“These are eye-opening facts”—but to whom? Sure, Madécasse is writing to a Western audience, but even such an audience would have already been vaguely aware of African exploitation. The use of the phrase “eye-opening” here seems more to emphasize how Madécasse is doing a great service by raising awareness for poor African farmers—in fact, in the second sentence, Madécasse goes ahead and paints the entire continent as “poor.” Another concern centers around whether these eye-opening facts actually facts at all. Madécasse uses the slogan “Did you know that Africa grows 70% of the world’s cocoa, yet produces less than 1% of the world’s chocolate? Madécasse exists to change this by making chocolate entirely in Africa.” Yet there are chocolate bars and lemon treats produced in Africa (Martin). And Madécasse’s claims are completely contradicted by Madécasse’s later explanation of how they make their chocolate: “We work with a local chocolate manufacturer to actually make our chocolate, from start to finish, in Madagascar.” If there were already local chocolate manufacturers to partner with, has there really been “zero value added” locally, or was Madécasse’s trying to downplay the local economy and paint the Western industry as more advanced?

Another area of concern is that Madécasse provides limited information on the livelihood of farmers that it employs. This is a company who prides itself on how “Madécasse generates four times more income than fair trade cocoa because all of the chocolate production takes place only a few hours away,” yet Madécasse’s description of these farmers is just as opaque as some of the press releases for Hershey or Mars. Madécasse claims that “workers are paid above the “fair” price and are provided job and skill training.” While Madécasse does put the word “fair” in quotes as an acknowledgement that the industry can do more to compensate farmers, there is little else about how the farmers stand to gain any tools, education, or aid from Madécasse. All we know as consumers is that Madécasse has “created meaningful income for over 200 people – from farming of cocoa, to making our packaging, to making our chocolate”—which is a disappointing amount of information for an innovator in fair trade and fairly produced chocolate (Madécasse). The website actually writes more extensively on the environmental impact of nurturing cocoa trees than it does about the farmers that grow the trees: the website boasts an entire section on Madécasse’s “250 acres of forests that provide a safe haven to over 65 species of plants and animals” and “endangered plants and animals,” leaving farmers out of the picture (Madécasse).

Madécasse’s founders also seems to suffer from a minor “savior” complex in the way they describe their company’s impact on the local economy. In an interview with Fast Company, one of the co-founders Tim McCollum credits Madécasse for how “people are starting to wake up, and realize that for 100 years they’ve been exporting about 65 percent of the world’s cocoa to France, and then importing the chocolate that France makes with their cocoa. There’s this appetite for it to work in Africa as well” (Evans). But if in fact Africa is starting to realize its own production capabilities, the better explanation might be because demand is increasing as a “genuine middle class is emerging across the continent,” not because of foreign investment in one chocolate brand (Russo).

McCollum also pats Madécasse on the back for how it has supposedly created a pool of talent in Africa: McCollum begins by generalizing that “Africa suffers from a brain drain. Everyone who’s educated there is educated abroad and they usually don’t come back because there are no jobs.” To combat this, the founders claim they have “create[d] opportunities for talented individuals even when there isn’t a position available simply to hold on to them,” because “the people are so few and far between that we’ll create that opportunity” (Evans). Not only is this statement extremely dismissive of potential African ingenuity, it also creates a sense that foreigners are qualified to identify and cultivate talent to “save Africa,” for lack of a better term. These condescending “savior” undertones taste bitter in light of Madécasse’s promise to encourage self-growth in local economies.

In conclusion, Madécasse rests on praise-worthy principles: supporting local production and raising awareness of fair trade ideas. However, Madécasse’s execution is flawed in several respects: in terms of historical context, Madécasse is hardly the first company to mix ethics and business, despite what Madécasse’s promotional materials indicate. Additionally, Madécasse might want to have a look at the historical and political context surrounding the production of its beans: as history shows, paying more for cacao beans doesn’t work if the government is the only seller to the global market and simply pockets the increase, and change cannot occur if our conception of cacao farmers does not take government policy and local pressures into consideration. Lastly, Madécasse’s rhetoric is troubling in the way that it paints the local economy as helpless and in need of a foreign infusion of leadership when its own website admits that Madécasse came into existence by relying on already-existing farms and local manufacturers. While Madécasse’s fair trade goals are well-intended, its exploitative narrative and practices should be examined for its perpetuation of simplistic and reductive tropes that pervade the chocolate industry.


Works Cited:

  • CocaoRunners. “Madécasse.” http://cocoarunners.com/explore/maker/madecasse/. Online
  • Evans, Lisa. “How a Chocolate Company in Madagascar Overcame the Odds.” Fast Company. 3 April 2014. http://www.fastcompany.com/3028533/bottom-line/how-a-chocolate-company-in-madagascar-overcame-the-odds. Online.
  • Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. 2012. Print.
  • Madécasse. “Our Impact.” http://www.madecasse.com/our-impact/. Online
  • Martin, Carla. “Modern Day Slavery.” 2016. Powerpoint/lecture.
  • Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: Anatomy of an Industry. 2014. Print.
  • Russo, Maria. “Made in Madagascar: How the World’s Finest Chocolate is Finally Being Produced at Home.” The Cultureist. 27 March 2012. http://www.thecultureist.com/2012/03/27/made-in-madagascar-the-worlds-finest-chocolate-is-finally-being-produced-at-home/. Online.
  • Satre, Lowell. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. 2005. Print.

 

Sashay Away, Godiva: Dismantling the “Diva” Ad Campaign

The most surprising thing about Godiva’s “diva” ad campaign isn’t the use of languid, elegant women to sell chocolate and target the female demographic. In fact, this aspirational campaign, which hopes to generate sales for small items such as individual chocolate bars and boxes of truffles, is just playing on old tropes that have long plagued chocolate advertising. Through its portrayal of upper-class, mostly light-skinned women sensually indulging in chocolate, these ads reinforce the intersection of luxury, chocolate consumption, and women’s sexuality, which must be examined for its perpetuation of problematic gendered and racial norms.

To begin with a bit of history: Godiva’s tactics are not surprising, but what may be surprising and ironic is that chocolate’s takeover of European drawing rooms was facilitated by upper-class women who brought chocolate drink recipes with them when they married into their husbands’ households—marking chocolate from its introduction as a drink reserved for the elite and wealthy (World Standards). In fact, it was not until technological innovation (conching, powdered cacoa, and transportation/storage advances) allowed chocolate to be made at a lower price point and more widely available to the working class. However, what is dismaying is how—even as chocolate became more democratic in its availability— chocolate ads continue to draw on the aristocratic, European segment of chocolate’s history. An 1870 trade card targeted at consumers (see media below) shows how chocolate was already being framed as a drink for white, upper-class, domestically-minded women. Future advertisements to follow would continue to “perpetuate western sexist and racist ideologies under a veneer of pleasurable consumption” (Robertson).

 

Trade card from chocolate manufacturer. Source: Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage by Louise E. Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro.
Trade card from chocolate manufacturer. Source: Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage by Louise E. Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro.

Even today, chocolate ads cannot seem to let go of the fixation on upper-class, white women in its advertising. A great example of this is Godiva’s “diva” ads. Of the five images I have been able to find, four of them are of white women and one of a light-skinned woman who may or may not be of European origin. This blog post will focus on this image in particular:

One image from Godiva’s Diva campaign. Source: Marketing and Advertising Chocolate Group (see references at end of post).

At the most basic surface level, the ad appeals to viewers with a beautiful model and can be interpreted simply as “Treat yourself to Godiva chocolate, you wonderful diva.” The clever tagline (“every woman is one part diva, much to the dismay of every man”) seems humorous and witty. In fact, the use of “diva,” usually reserved for famous female singers or actresses, seems to engage with gender perceptions by stating that “eating this chocolate can make you a diva, a female boss.” Taken at face value, the ad sums up to read “you can be a beautiful, powerful woman—and our chocolate will help you feel that way.” When Jacqueline Lenart, vice president of marketing at Godiva North America, was asked about the ads, she said, “inside every female is a diva,” showing how the ad was supposed to promote empowerment of the “every” woman (Cho).

But a deeper, contextualized reading of this ad undermines its supposed progressiveness: if this ad is supposed to promote the idea of a diva as an influential person, then why the need to bring in the dichotomy of heteronormativity with the tagline “much to the dismay of every man”? Suddenly, the viewer is slapped back into the reality that this diva, and women in general, are objects to be consumed by the heterosexual male gaze. To appeal to this male gaze, the model poses coyly, does not seem threatening in any way, and wears sheer clothing. In fact, this ad undermines its intended uplifting message (“women can be powerful divas”) by playing on stereotypes of gender roles and juxtaposing the powerful word “diva” with a submissive woman sensually inviting the viewer into her chocolate fantasy world. Rather than empowering or celebrating women, this ad merely repeats the idea that women and chocolate are both “markers of sexual excess” (Robertson).

In addition to the ad’s gendered component, the backdrop of this ad, although blurred, also draws on themes of class and privilege in order to entice viewers. The woman sits in front of brocade wallpaper and a large vase, marking her elegant, European tastes. Behind her are chandeliers dangling with crystals, signifying her upper-class privilege. Not only does this ad reinforce gender assumptions under the guise of promoting girl power, but it also subconsciously appeals to cultural markers of race and class that are associated with its chocolate. The diva in this ad campaign is very much a wealthy, privileged, and European flavor of woman.

To push back against this ad campaign, I created my own ad featuring RuPaul, a drag queen known for his campy show “RuPaul’s drag race.”

RuPaul in Godiva's Diva ad campaign
RuPaul in Godiva’s Diva ad campaign

I believe RuPaul’s ad deconstructs the “diva” ad in several ways. First, as a black man with creole roots, RuPaul pushes back against the prevalence of beautiful white woman in chocolate ads. Additionally, RuPaul is known for his work ethic as a singer, an actor, and a drag queen—the opposite of  the leisurely, upper-class women often featured in chocolate ads. Lastly, RuPaul absolutely destroys the gendered assumptions behind the “diva” ad. RuPaul’s drag costume is not intended to appeal to heterosexual men. In fact, the slogan “every woman is a diva, much to the dismay of every man,” actually makes more sense in this ad because heterosexual men might actually be intimidated by RuPaul’s aggressive pose, instead of being enticed by yet another sultry female model. RuPaul’s fluid gender performance also undercuts any gender assumptions that a viewer might have had about women and chocolate: RuPaul’s drag performances actively dismantle heteronormative gender roles in his performances, and RuPaul refers to himself as both a man and a woman.

In summary, the intersection of white female beauty, privilege, and chocolate products is nothing new. A close reading of chocolate ad campaigns can reveal the undercurrent of race and gender assumptions in our cultural conversation. RuPaul’s ads challenges the expectations of gender in society and pushes back against the gender and class dynamics that underly chocolate advertising. Instead of Godiva’s ad, which claim to celebrate women (but actually demotes them to sexualized objects and almost exclusively cites to European tastes), RuPaul’s diva ad utilizes an actual diva who is worthy of the title.

 


References:

 

Chocolate’s Expansion Beyond Europe

Despite chocolate’s wide availability in Mayan culture, the European chocolate experience was much like that of the Aztecs: chocolate was mostly a drink restricted to the elite. Eventually, however, chocolate would spread to every strata of society and even to countries that previously rejected the chocolate tradition. How did chocolate win over the economies and hearts of cultures worldwide? Chocolate’s expansion beyond Europe was made possible by two factors–mechanization and culturally-relevant marketing strategies.

In the Baroque era, chocolate failed to become a popular drink outside of Europe (Clarence-Smith). Even inside Europe, chocolate had to fight for attention with tea and coffee, two other foods that were held in higher esteem. In fact, while chocolate was associated with aristocratic excess, tea and coffee were seen as drinks that represented “sobriety, serious purpose, trustworthiness, and respectability” (Clarence-Smith). Art depicting chocolate during this era reflects how chocolate was seen as part of a ritual reserved for higher-class persons, especially women (see media below). However, in areas under Spanish influence (such as the Phillipines), chocolate enjoyed a strong favoritism among the population. Yet chocolate would fail to take root as a popular food in the rest of Asia, perhaps due to the overwhelming Confucian tea tradition prevalent in East Asia.

Woman pouring chocolate from a 18th-century painting. Wikimedia Commons license.

But the mid-1800’s would see the beginnings of a revolution that would allow chocolate to be made cheaper, to be molded into unique forms, and expand beyond the higher and middle classes. The invention of conching, powdered forms of cocoa, and chocolate in bar form allowed chocolate to be made more rapidly and at a price point that was friendlier to the lower classes. At the same time, chocolate began being revered as a source of protein. “British workman cocoa houses were” being built to cater to the common laborer (Clarence-Smith) and militaries began providing chocolate bars as part of soldiers’ rations. As a result of falling prices and more diversification of chocolate forms, lower classes could afford more of the substance in chocolate’s various incarnations. Advances in transportation and a move towards closed storefronts allowed chocolate to travel intact across countries and into the hands of consumers (Goody).

Despite the lower prices for chocolate and its increasing ubiquity thanks to mechanization, markets in East Asia remained closed to chocolate companies until well into the 20th century. By this time, America was thoroughly hooked on chocolate, with even the National Confectioners’ Association running ads encouraging the daily partaking of chocolate (Martin). Mars was the first to attempt to bring this type of campaign to East Asia. Mars’ executives knew that China held an untapped chocolate market, and they decided to make a splash by using big marketing tactics. Mars’ first move was establishing a representative office in Beijing during the Asian games and sponsoring sports—which led to M&M’s becoming the official snack food of the 1990 Games.

Other chocolate companies were also eager to move into China and East Asia, and they incorporated several clever marketing strategies to fuel Asian consumers’ taste for chocolate. In the 1950’s confectioners hit upon a marketing nerve that resonated with Japanese consumers: they marketed Valentine’s Day as a chance for women to show affection towards men. For a woman to reveal her feelings towards a man was considered radical in Japanese culture at that time. Confectioners cleverly created a day where it was “acceptable” for women to express their feelings (Just Hungry). This type of marketing tapped into cultural traditions and expectations, showcasing how confectioners adapted to the culture of East Asian countries in order to make sales. Confectioners also used unique marketing strategies such as sponsoring an artist who went viral with his design for a heart-shaped carriage (Martin). By tapping into cultural mindsets and encouraging grassroots expansion, chocolatiers were able to edge into the Asian market.

Today, chocolate is finally hitting the sweet spot in Asia. Confectioners have expanded on the practice of “obligation” gift-giving in certain cultures and heavily marketed occasions where chocolate gifts are an obligatory treat. For instance, on Valentine’s Day, women in Japan are expected to give “giri chocolate” to males to whom they have no romantic feelings whatsoever, such as their bosses or mentors (Just Hungry). Marketers have gone even further and created a “White Day” where men could return the favor and gift women with chocolates and candy.

Here is a photo of giri choco, which is Japanese for “obligation chocolate”—the kind of chocolate women must give to men whom they have no romantic interest in. Flickr attribution/non-commercial license.

Far from being an elite food today, chocolate has crossed from the drawing rooms of Spanish and French nobility and emerged as a global product. Its entrance into East Asia was facilitated by 19th century advances in production and enabled through the use of marketing tactics that created a cultural fever for the sweet treat.


Sources:

Clarence-Smith, William Gervase. Cocoa and Chocolate, 1765-1914. 2000. Print.

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” 2013 (1982). Print.

Just Hungry. “The Japanese Valentine’s Day tradition of compartmentalized chocolate giving.” 8 Feb. 2016. http://justhungry.com/uniquely-japanese-valentines-day-tradition-compartmentalized-chocolate-giving. Online.

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food Lecture Slides 2016.” 2016. Online.

 

Forbidden Luxury: Aztec Chocolate Regulation and Tradition

Aztec sculpture with cacao pod. demonstrating its importance and ubiquity in Aztec culture. Wikimedia Commons image.

In most of the world today, chocolate is ubiquitous and cheap: 99-cent candy bars, discounted post-Valentine’s Day candies, and hot chocolate cafes allow members of every economic class to enjoy the sweet treat. It may seem incomprehensible that the enjoyment of chocolate was once heavily regulated. However, among the Aztecs, chocolate consumption was influenced by Aztec religious beliefs and laws, and subsequently limited by social rank and regulated by special traditions.

Despite the availability of chocolate to every social strata in Mayan society, most of the Aztec population was not allowed to taste the end product once the cacao beans were turned into drinkable chocolate. This restriction stands in contrast to the fact that cacao beans were used as everyday currency: three beans, for instance, would buy a freshly-picked avocado (The Telegraph). A few interrelated factors might resolve the discrepancy. The Aztecs had to import cacao from a distance, which naturally led to restrictions place on the availability of chocolate drinks and explains how pochteca, the long-distance merchants that traded chocolate, were given elevated status that allowed them to partake in drinking chocolate. These traders “travelled through very dangerous lands to reach their markets, and often fought pitched battles with hostile foreign groups” (Coe and Coe), and their ability to drink the fruits of their labors might have been compensation for their warrior-like class status.

Chocolate’s status as a luxury was also cemented by Aztec religious belief and legal sumptuary codes: the Aztecs believed that their god Quetzalcoatl had brought chocolate to humans and had been cast out of heaven for his blasphemy (Kerr). Cacao was even referred to as “heart and blood” in this warlike society, and cacao was important to both warrior and religious ceremonies. Additionally, the Aztec emperor Motecuhzoma Ilhuicamina laid down sumptuary laws that banned commoners from drinking cacao, among other luxuries. The Aztecs only allowed members of the royal house, the nobility, long-distance merchants, and warriors to drink chocolate. In fact, under these laws, the only commoners who might have been able to taste chocolate would have been the soldiers on the march (Coe and Coe, 99). In that exceptional case, transportable, ground pellets made of cacao were rationed out to soldiers while on a campaign.

Pochteca on their journey, bent over with the weight of their cargo. Wikimedia Commons.

The act of drinking chocolate was also regulated by several traditions governing how chocolate could be served to elites. Chocolate drinks were never sipped or drunk during the meal; rather, chocolate was drunk at the end of the banquet as a dessert (Coe and Coe, 96). Fray Bartolome de las Casas recounted how chocolate was served in painted calabash cups and how the lords revered these vessels as though the cups “were gold and silver” (Coe and Coe 98). Bernadino de Sahagún corroborates the use of special gourd and calabash cups to serve chocolate. In one account of a banquet held by merchants (one of the classes allowed to partake in the chocolate tradition), Sahagún recounts how the meal ended with the lords being served chocolate out of fine cups while the lesser citizens drank chocolate from clay cups. The hierarchical regulation on chocolate extended even to the types of drinking vessels that a person was permitted to use during the ritual of drinking.

Mayan drinking vessels depicting nobles drinking chocolate. Found using Google image search with usage rights stipulated.

In conclusion, chocolate enjoyment was restricted in Aztec society by its strict hierarchal rules, and reinforced by religious beliefs. The fact that pochtecas were allowed to participate in drinking chocolate was probably a testament to the dangers encountered on trade routes and underscores how important cacao was to the Aztecs. Luckily, there are no such restrictions on chocolate today, and its wide availability makes it a democratic treat.


Bibliography: