All posts by aaas119x209

Treat Yourself: Theo Chocolate and Offsetting Consumption

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Whole Foods Market — chocolate display

The chocolate section at Whole Foods Market is overwhelming to say the least. With rows and rows of options, from milk to dark, imported to local, and organic to conventional, the choice is not always clear. Josée Johnston has explored this idea of increased consumer choice, and how in our neoliberal consumerist society, Whole Foods has “actively promoted the idea of consumer choice in the market as a complement to, and even substitute for the citizenship ideal of democratic participation…with consumers becoming increasingly responsible to self-manage…risks through consumption decisions,” (Johnston 246). However, in providing so many options, some of which are produced in conventional and debatably unethical ways, Whole Foods is also allowing consumers to “opt out of citizenship commitments…and prioritize individual self-interest by purchasing cheaper, unsustainable foods,” (251). Because of this, and in a society which has an increasing “unease with abundance,” it is up to the individual companies within Whole Foods to market their products in a way that convinces consumers that they are in line with neoliberal anxieties, and that their products offset an individual’s consumption (238). Ezra Rosser defines the concept of offsetting as, “the decision [of a consumer] to make a supplemental payment that exceeds what the market demands in connection with consumption and to do so for charitable or socially responsible reasons,” (Rosser, 30). In other words, Rosser argues that consumers are willing to pay extra in exchange for the moral satisfaction of consuming an ethical product. This is particularly important when it comes to chocolate, which is not a requisite commodity, but a self-indulgent treat. The unnecessary nature of chocolate, in addition to its history as a socially irresponsible commodity, makes it a prime candidate for increasingly ethical marketing. In an attempt to aid consumers in morally rationalizing their purchase of chocolate, companies like Theo Chocolate have turned to socially responsible marketing as a means to communicate the company’s own morality. With a number of social partnerships and well-known certifications, there is no doubt that unlike many others, Theo is an ethical choice, and through the use of strategic design, imagery, and wording on their classic chocolate and special partner bars, Theo Chocolate appeals to the desires of socially conscious consumers, emphasizing the extent to which they will morally offset consumption, and giving consumers permission to treat themselves.

Certificatory images prominently displayed on Theo chocolate bars.
Certificatory images prominently displayed on Theo chocolate bars.

Rosser notes that today, “companies have discovered that their bottom line depends in part on convincing customers that they are good corporate citizens,” (Rosser, 45). This is a drastic change from the early twentieth century when “rising industrial chocolate makers (Hershey, Mars, Cadbury, Nestle) were more interested in selling the flavors of particular candy bars than bean lineage,” (Leissle, 22). And while Theo undoubtedly advertises the flavors of their chocolate on the packaging, it is much more subtle. The chocolate and inclusions are pictured front and center, but are almost of equal scale with the certificatory images. Theo chocolate begins to convey their good citizenship with their packaging design, which places certificatory imagery front and center. All of Theo’s products bear the “USDA organic”, “non-GMO”, and “Fair for Life” certifications easily visible on the wrapper, in bright colorful squares that pop from the foreground of the generally white packaging. In displaying these images so prominently and consistently across the large range of their products, it is apparent that Theo is communicating more to the consumer than just the quality of their chocolate. Indeed, the USDA organic certification has no explanatory power when it comes to taste. In Pam Williams and Jim Eber’s book, Raising the Bar, the authors concede that organic says nothing about “better flavor or better quality cacao…[and] for now fine flavor beans remain a distinct minority when it comes to organic,” (Willams and Eber, 201-3). In this way, Theo chocolate is not advertising their certifications as a testament to their chocolate’s flavor, but one to their own corporate morality. The scale and manner in which Theo uses imagery on the packaging plays to the consumer desire to offset their consumption and rationalize their purchase. “Americans are consuming social responsibility,” Rosser says, “…they are both attempting to ensure their consumption does not conflict with their sense of social responsibility and hoping consumption can be the means of meeting their social responsibilities,” (Rosser, 28-9). By including these images on their products, Theo Chocolate is assuring consumers that buying their product not only maintains a certain code of ethical production, but that the company—who says so in their mission statement—shares this same desire “to make the world a better place”.

Theo Eastern Congo Initiative partner bar
Theo Eastern Congo Initiative partner bar

Theo further illustrates this notion of good corporate citizenship in their “partner bars.” These chocolate products are the result of partnerships between Theo and a variety of charitable organizations including the Eastern Congo Initiative, World Bicycle Relief, and the Jane Goodall Institute, with some proceeds from the bars going to their respective foundations. This is a practice known as cause marketing, where consumers can support a larger cause by buying a company’s products (45). In partnering with these organizations, Theo Chocolate gives the consumer further reason to rationalize their purchase: that this chocolate bar was not only produced in a way that offsets consumption, but will further offset it even after you actually make the purchase. The packaging of these bars reflects these intentions. The design of Theo’s partner bars differs from the look of classic Theo chocolate. In lieu of images of the chocolate itself on the wrappers, Theo instead uses images that are specifically relevant to the organizations. On classic Theo wrappers, an image of melting chocolate decorated with whatever inclusions are present in the bar grace the packaging. The chocolate itself takes center stage and is obviously the item of sale. On the partner bars however, there is no chocolate present. For instance, Theo’s Eastern Congo Initiative bar is the product of a partnership with founder Ben Affleck’s organization that aims to help farmers in the Democratic Republic of Congo improve their opportunities for economic success in spite of the Congo’s rocky history. The packaging is centered on this goal, depicting a bright, promising golden background with the rising sun ushering in a new dawn for the Congolese people front and center on the wrapper. Similarly, the World Bicycle Relief bar features no images of chocolate either, but instead the smiling faces of African children riding the bicycles given to them by the organization. By removing any image of the product from the labels of these chocolate bars, Theo is advertising how their company will offset the customer’s purchase. They are shifting the emphasis of their advertising from the delicious (but unnecessary) chocolate commodity to the larger (and positive) social implications of choosing to consume this product. In essence, cause marketing is the perfect answer to Johnston’s hybrid citizen-consumer, who aims to “maximize consumer pleasure and alleviate the guilt of mass-market consumerism,” (Johnston, 250). Theo is thus ridding the consumer of guilt, and instead selling a sense of moral satisfaction. In this way, the company’s cause marketing, and the way in which they incorporate it into their packaging, gives consumers peace of mind in their purchase by alluding to the fact that the positive impact of their purchase will far outweigh the negative.

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Theo World Bicycle Relief partner bar

On all of Theo’s products, the aforementioned imagery on their packaging—and the meaning behind it—is enhanced by the strategic placement of text and phrases within its design. As would be expected, “Theo” is written in large letters across all of the company’s products. However, by placing certain phrases and text closer to the company logo, Theo can control with what their name is associated. On the wrappers of their classic bars, to the right of every “Theo” are the words “organic” and “fair trade” in similar colors and fonts. The proximity and visual similarity of these words naturally cause the consumer to associate the three together when they see the name on the bar. The same is done on the wrapper of the partner bars, with the charity’s logo placed thoughtfully near Theo’s own logo. Theo intentionally tries to make this connection in hopes that “consumers will mentally link the company with the charity, carrying over the goodwill they have for the charity to how they feel about the company,” (Rosser, 46). In placing Theo’s logo alongside these phrases, the company is marketing themselves, and thus their products, as an ethical choice. Beyond implicating the company as socially conscious, however, the wording on the back of Theo bars reframes the company’s actions and makes the consumer an active player in the social good. “When you purchase our Coffee & Cream bar, not only are you making a delicious choice, you are directly impacting the lives of farmers in Eastern Congo by supporting true fair trade,” the back of the Eastern Congo Initiative bar reads, giving consumers the illusion that they are fulfilling an active role in change by purchasing the chocolate, “[satiating personal desires while simultaneously addressing social and ecological injustices,” (Johnston, 232). In using text to directly address the consumer, Theo strengthens the relationship between its company and the customer, while superimposing its own ethical practices and charitable work onto the consumer. In this way, Theo promises that the consumer will personally be fulfilled in purchasing their product, and reinforces the notion that the purchase of a Theo bar is a means of meeting one’s social responsibility.

In this way, the packaging of Theo chocolate bars advertises the way in which it is a socially responsible choice, an offset “providing a mechanism for individuals to correct for the harms associated with consumption” at every level (Rosser, 27). The strategic placement of certifying images on the label suggests that Theo Chocolate has attempted to offset the harms in production, in human labor and the environment. Furthermore, the use of imagery in conjunction with its partner bars suggests that the offsetting of Theo goes far beyond that of production, and continues to make an impact even after consumption. And finally, in implicating the consumer as an active player in this offsetting, Theo Chocolate gives the consumer permission to take credit for the positive social impact that its company is making. In doing so, Theo encourages the consumers to treat themselves, as their consumption has been offset. Permission to treat yourself without guilt is even explicitly given on the package. Above the certifying images and accompanied by a satisfied smiley face is the simple word “Enjoy.” In this singular word, Theo reminds consumers that while their product is undoubtedly an ethically sound choice, it is a delicious one that should be savored, and everyone deserves a treat.

Works Cited:

Johnston, Josée. 2008. “The citizen-consumer hybrid: ideological tensions and the case of Whole Foods Market.” Theory and Society. 37: 229-270.

Leissle, Kristy. 2013. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. 13 (3): 22-31

Rosser, Ezra. 2011. “Offsetting and the Consumption of Social Responsibility.” Washington Law Review. 89 (1): 27-101.

Williams, Pam and Jim Beer. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp. 141-

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Multimedia Cited:

Link 1: https://www.theochocolate.com/

Link 2: https://www.theochocolate.com/eci

Link 3: http://www.worldbicyclerelief.org/

Link 4: http://www.janegoodall.org/media/news/theo-chocolate-and-jane-goodall-institute-present-cocoa-practices-initiative-change

Image 1: http://www.graspingforobjectivity.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/IMG_2376.jpg

Image 2: https://www.theochocolate.com/sites/default/files/1303_Theo_ClassicBars_85Dark_Web_CL.jpg

Image 3, 4: Personal photos taken in Whole Foods Market, Hyannis, MA.

The Contingencies of Chocolate in Childhood

           

Issues of production have surrounded the cacao industry for decades. From Joseph Burtt’s investigation of Sao Tome and Principe in the early 1900’s, to the ongoing investigation of modern day labor practices, big chocolate companies have long been under fire for suspected (and often proven) instances of exploited labor in their supply chains. Many of the exploited are children who reportedly live in harsh conditions, perform dangerous and strenuous tasks, and are often subjected to physical abuse (Off, 121). However, the struggles of these children go largely unseen by the average consumer in developed nations today. Indeed, not only do chocolate companies often avoid addressing the modern day issues of child labor, but in some instances, their marketing strategies play to the one thing deprived of exploited children: a childhood. A subtle, but undeniable example of this marketing strategy is the 2009 commercial for Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate, starring two children and their dancing eyebrows. This commercial, with its funny premise, upbeat music, and young subjects, advertises chocolate by connecting it to the idea of childhood joy. However, this is in direct opposition to the experiences of children at the other end of supply chains just like Cadbury’s. In response, our advertisement reflects this opposition, juxtaposing the childlike joy of chocolate with the lack of joy and true childhood in its production. By bringing the child worker to the forefront, creating a direct comparison between the producing and consuming child, and playing to the audiences’ sense of morality, our advertisement critiques that of Cadbury, shifting the focus of marketing from the experience of consumption to that of production, and challenging the notion that childhood is indeed universal.

Eyebrows debuted in 2009 in the UK to advertise Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate. At the beginning of the ad, a man is present, setting up the lighting for what seems to be a photo shoot. When the phone rings, he leaves, the two children look at each other, and a push of the boy’s watch begins the music. Alone, the young boy and girl then begin a choreographed dance routine with only their eyebrows to the fun, upbeat music. The commercial ends with a purple screen and Cadbury’s marketing slogan: “A Glass and a Half Full of Joy.” Cadbury thus paints a specific picture of childhood and consumerism in this ad, aiming to persuade the audience that consuming their chocolate will lead to unadulterated joy, equivalent to that of a child. They accomplish this in a variety of ways. For one, the children depicted in the ad fulfill a specific image of consumers. In her article about the framing of Divine Chocolate’s advertisements, Kristy Leissle speaks on the importance of stylization in crafting visual depictions of the “modern” consumer, (Leissle, 134). Cadbury does just this by stylizing the children as well put together, the boy in a sweater and tie, and the girl in a purple dress, indicative of high class. Furthermore, the boy’s use of technology suggests that they are somewhat educated, and the fact that the routine was obviously choreographed suggests that these children have time for leisure activities like eyebrow dancing. In this way, Cadbury’s stylization depicts the target consumer—higher class, educated, and with disposable time/income.

However, in choosing to make these two characters children, Cadbury also ties in the concept of childhood to the image of the consumer. The young age of the stars is emphasized from the outset of the ad, when the adult leaves and the children are left alone to play. This suggests that, had the adult been present, the children would not have been behaving in such a way. Furthermore, the idea of joyful play is accentuated by the use of the pink balloon, used as an instrument, but iconic of childhood all the same. Excluding the adult from the fun in the commercial undeniably links the joy of play with children. But, as viewers watch the commercial, the peculiarity of the children’s behavior is humorous and brings joy to the audience as well. In this way, Cadbury creates a connection between the children and the audience, interweaving the image of a consumer with the uninterrupted joy of childhood, and suggesting—through the commercial and the slogan—that their product can recreate such joy in everyone.

Response to Cadbury's "Eyebrows" commercial regarding children in the supply chain.
Response to Cadbury’s “Eyebrows” commercial regarding children in the supply chain. (see full citation below)

Our ad challenges Cadbury’s illustration of childhood joy and the claim that chocolate always produces such joy. In Eyebrows, Cadbury does not place chocolate in the forefront of the advertisement, but instead highlights the consumer and the effect of the product on the consumer. Our ad turns this on its head by focusing instead on the producers and the effects of production. Featuring a duality of images, our ad is designed to encourage comparison. The left half of the image depicts our reinterpretation of Cadbury’s consumerist child. All smiles and surrounded by a bountiful basket of chocolate, these children embody the concept of childhood joy surrounding chocolate. Opposite these girls is the image of a child on a cacao farm, carrying a similar basket, but this time full of cacao pods. He is barefoot and dirty, appearing sad and tired. The bottom corner of the ad reads, “Child labor is not so sweet.” By placing these visually related, but contrasting images opposite one another, our ad encourages the viewer to compare the childhood experiences of consumer and producer. Additionally, the slogan in the bottom right is a direct critique of Cadbury’s slogan. Instead of emphasizing the joy that chocolate brings consumers, we allude to the aforementioned difficult experiences child laborers often face in the pursuit of chocolate production. The goal of this divisive image was to illustrate the divisive quality of childhood cross-culturally.

In this way, we employ different persuasive techniques and advocate different consumer behaviors than Cadbury. As explained by Leissle, in order to persuade viewers to buy chocolate, the advertisements “need to show a positive image that makes you feel good,” (131). By juxtaposing these two images, we force the viewer to question the morality of purchasing certain chocolate. The contrast was supposed to be jarring, disrupting the continuous notion of childhood created by Cadbury to expose a different type of childhood: one devoid of joy and more emblematic of the picture painted by Carol Off of “dusty, frightened children, without footwear, dressed in scanty clothing, [with] unsmiling faces revealing poignant details” (Off, 123).

Our ad thus responds to Cadbury’s Eyebrows by using the same platform—childhood—to emphasize very different aspects of chocolate and to invoke very different emotions in the viewer. Instead of using playful youth to link childhood joy and naiveté with consumption, we use visual comparison and audience pathos to make the viewer consider the other side of the supply chain. By shifting the focus of marketing from consumption to production, our ad challenges the notion that childhood and the joy it engenders is universal. In bringing this dichotomy to the forefront, we call for change—in the production and marketing of chocolate, but more so in the understanding that everyone deserves a childhood.

Works Cited:

Leissle, Kristy. 2012. “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24 (2): 121-139

Off, Carol. 2008. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: Random House. Chapter 6: The Disposables.

Multimedia Cited:

Cadbury commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVblWq3tDwY

Link to Cadbury Joymaker: https://www.cadbury.co.uk/Joymaker 

Response advertisement:

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https://smartypots.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/mp9004227381.jpg

(Right)

https://angeladona.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/dsc00026.jpg

Milton Hershey: Marketer and Teacher of Chocolate Innovation

Industrialization changed many aspects of the chocolate-making process in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The processes invented and implemented during this time—from the melangeur and the conche to milk dehydration and bar molding, industrialization made the bitter beverage of the ancient Mesoamericans into a sweet treat that was nearly unrecognizable to consumers. This dramatic transformation is most evident in the advent of Milton Hershey’s milk chocolate bars. Unprecedented in the United States, Hershey’s company “was built to exploit a brand-new product,” (D’Antonio, 120). In light of consumers’ lack of knowledge, Hershey had to teach his consumers, as well as sell to them. This is evident in his marketing strategies. As seen in the chocolate wrapper below from the early 1900’s, Hershey markets his chocolate by playing to the new characteristics imparted to chocolate bars as a result of industrialization. His strategic use of descriptors and imagery highlights the new characteristics of industrial-age milk chocolate—its sweetness, flavor, and form—alluding to the newfound processes that transformed it from a bitter beverage, and showing consumers what this novel product had to offer.

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Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar Wrapper, 1906-1911 (http://www.hersheyarchives.org/exhibits/default.aspx?ExhibitId=20&ExhibitSectionId=42)

One of the most obvious differences between traditional chocolate and Hershey’s milk chocolate bar was its sweetness. While the Spanish were known to have added sugar to their chocolate beverages, none used as much sugar as Milton Hershey, owner of his own sugar mill in Cuba (Coe, 248). Hershey highlights this new level of sweetness by labeling his product as such multiple times on the wrapper. “Hershey’s sweet milk chocolate,” the wrapper reads, with the additional description of the bar as “a sweet to eat.” This characteristic sweetness would not have been possible without the industrial inventions of the melangeur and the conche. The melangeur, created by Phillipe Suchard in 1826, involved the mixing of the chocolate with sugar to better incorporate the dry solids and form a crude liquid (Coe, 247). Rudolphe Lindt expanded upon this process in 1879 with his invention of the conche machine. In much the same way, the conche used granite rollers and subtle heat to warm the chocolate and refine the particles of sugar and cacao, creating a smoother chocolate (Coe, 247-48). In this way, the melangeur and the conche were central to creating a chocolate that was sweet, but not overly gritty, and Hershey celebrated this sweetness by labeling its chocolate as such.

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Print of a traditional melangeur machine (http://www.zeno.org/Meyers-1905/I/Wm17938d)

More obviously, on both sides of the wrapper (and in the biggest font) reads “Hershey’s milk chocolate.” The addition of “milk” as an indispensable adjective speaks to its absence in chocolate prior to industrialization. Until milk could be dehydrated, thanks to Henri Nestle in 1867, it could not be added to chocolate, for it would spoil (Coe 247). Thanks to this process, and the original advent of milk chocolate by Daniel Peter in 1879, Hershey was able to create the milky flavor of chocolate that we love so much today. This flavor would have been unknown to many consumers of the time, so by marketing his chocolate as specifically “milk chocolate” Hershey gave a nod to the innovations of industrialization, while at the same time informing consumers of chocolate’s new creamy flavor.

As aforementioned, Hershey’s wrapper deems the chocolate bar as “a sweet to eat,” and though this may seem trivial, the fact that chocolate was for eating was not a given before this time. Up until 1847, when Joseph Fry discovered how to make a thinner, more moldable chocolate by adding cocoa powder and sugar to melted cocoa butter, there did not exist chocolate bars as we know them today—chocolate was primarily for drinking (Coe 241). Thus, it was necessary for Hershey to explicitly market his milk chocolate as “a sweet to eat,” in order to instruct consumers of its use, and differentiate it from products that had come before.

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Hershey’s Cuban holdings, 1920-1940. (http://www.hersheyarchives.org/exhibits/default.aspx?ExhibitId=22&ExhibitSectionId=56)

Finally, in addition to emphasizing chocolate’s characteristics brought about by modern innovation, Milton Hershey alludes to the transformative process of industrialization itself. Hershey, known as “the Henry Ford of Chocolate Makers,” was responsible for the advent of chocolate mass-production (Coe, 248). Hershey mechanized many of the processes used in chocolate manufacturing, and from bean to bar, Hershey designed his company to maximize efficiency (D’Antonio, 119). This could not have been accomplished without the use of industrialized technologies, which allowed Hershey to make great quantities of high-quality chocolate at low cost. The chocolate wrapper itself is a symbol of these technologies, as it would have been printed in mass quantities. Additionally, it would also have been used farther along the assembly line to wrap the mass-produced chocolate. Every aspect of Hershey’s operation was thus mechanized on a large scale, and this was evident through the mere existence of the standardized wrapper. But with the addition of the small image, Hershey zooms out to capture the big picture of industrialization as a whole. Front and center on his chocolate wrapper is the image of a small child emerging from a cacao pod, holding a chocolate bar. This image hearkens back to chocolate’s origin, anchoring the product to its source: the cacao pod. By including this image on the wrapper, Hershey captures chocolate’s transformation from bean to bar in light of new technologies. Furthermore, the seemingly naked child emerging from a womb-like pod symbolizes the rebirth of chocolate as something new. By including this picture of chocolate’s agricultural origins on his technologically produced wrapper, Hershey thereby captures the history of chocolate while ushering in a new era and a new chocolate empire.

Hershey thus traced the transformation from bitter beverage to sweet bar in the design of his chocolate wrapper. Its words and imagery served as a marketing strategy intended to better inform the consumer of his product by celebrating the history of processes that had inspired it, but also the promise of future chocolate to come.

Works Cited:

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

D’Antonio, Michael D. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print, pp. 106-126.

Images:

Image 1: http://www.hersheyarchives.org/lib/image-functions/resize.aspx?MaxHeight=302&MaxWidth=495&ImageUrl=/files/exhibit/90015B6F31.1%201906-1911%20ca.jpg (Accessed 3/09/15)

Image 2: http://www.zeno.org/Meyers-1905.images/I/Wm17938d.jpg?w=500&h=446&vid=2017949100 (Accessed 3/11/15)

Image 3: http://www.hersheyarchives.org/lib/image-functions/resize.aspx?MaxHeight=302&MaxWidth=495&ImageUrl=/files/exhibit/5A1300.2.jpg (Accessed 3/11/15)

The Medical Hybridization– or Rationalization– of Cacao for Consumption

Throughout history, humans have been wary of the unknown. This constant vigilance has benefitted us throughout evolution by helping us to avoid possible dangers, especially in the context of items for consumption. Understanding the ways in which our bodies react to different food substances is crucial to our survival. In light of this, it is unsurprising that when cacao—an exotic commodity—was introduced to the Spanish diet in the 16th century, it was met with hesitation. Originally a Mesoamerican good, cacao was undoubtedly foreign and certainly questionable when it was first brought across the Atlantic by Spanish explorers (likely Hernán Cortés) in the early 1500’s (Coe 129). In order for this new product to be accepted by the Spanish (and later European) people, cacao needed to be transformed into a food and a concept that fit in with the already existing framework of diet and medical culture (120). By fitting cacao (in its various forms) into the ever-pervasive humoral scheme of medicine, the Spanish were able to hybridize chocolate into a form that was acceptable by the general population. However, there was a tradeoff for this hybridization: what the Spaniards gained in acceptance through the application of Galenic medicine, they lost in true knowledge of cacao’s medicinal properties. In this way, the medical hybridization of cacao in Spain and Europe was not comprehensive, but rather was a selective hybridization that excluded some of the most medicinally applicable aspects of cacao known to the Aztecs— a more ‘primitive’ people, but a people who understood the world around them better than the Europeans would for years to come (122).

Cacao, a sacred substance, as an offering to the Aztec sun god.
Cacao, a sacred substance, as an offering to the Aztec sun god.

In Aztec society, the tradition of cacao as medicine was well engrained in society. Cacao was used for digestion and elimination issues, anti-inflammatory purposes, or as a source of strength to name just a few (Dillinger et al., 2061S). The Aztec beliefs and disease etiology that backed these medical claims stemmed from an extensive knowledge of the native plants, as well as centuries of experience with substances like cacao (Coe 122). Cacao was no exception, and though they may not have known about caffeine per se, through experience and acquired knowledge of the Theobroma cacao plant, the Aztecs knew that it behaved as a stimulant, increasing alertness and providing energy. Cacao’s slew of medicinal properties added to its symbolic meaning for them—a meaning that was quickly stripped when the Spaniards adopted it into their own culture (126).

Francisco Hernández' publication detailing his botanical and zoological finds in New Spain (modern-day Mexico), 1615.
Francisco Hernández’ publication detailing his botanical and zoological finds in New Spain (modern-day Mexico), 1615.

Hearing of the abundance of medicinal plants growing in Aztec Mexico, Royal Physician Francisco Hernández of Spain was sent to study and classify the native botany in terms that the Spanish would understand (Dillinger et al., 2063S). Hernández recorded data on many plants, fitting them all into the theory of Galenic medicine that Europe so heavily relied upon. He classified cacao as a “cold” substance, concluding that it would be good to treat “hot” conditions like fever and hot temperaments. However, he also conversely concluded that depending on the flavorings added (chilis, etc), cacao could also be a “hot” substance used to combat colic (Coe 122-3). The contradictions did not end here. Physician Juan de Cárdenas reported that cacao could lead to fatigue, but physician Henry Stubbe concluded that it was a “speedy refreshment” that was especially helpful to restore energy (Dillinger et al., 2064S). In this way, there was no clear consensus about the medicinal effects of cacao in Europe, and this is largely a result of the general vagueness and inadequate evidence backing the heavily lauded humoral theory of medicine.

Yet, these inconsistencies did not seem to bother the Spaniards, nor the Europeans at large. To me, this suggests that the general population was not looking for truth in exchange for their approval of cacao, but merely a sense of familiarization and the 201012-w-hot-chocolate-lake-champlainreassurance of safety that we evolutionarily crave. The Aztecs had the answers behind the powers of cacao, and though they may not have been easily communicated, Francisco Hernández and others like him were so caught up in mapping the exotic plant onto their own mental schemas, that the real meaning (and symbolic meaning) was lost somewhere over the Atlantic. In this way, the introduction and subsequent hybridization of cacao was less of a hybridization and more of an adoption with appropriation to appease the masses. I can’t really be mad though, because as much as I’d like to know exactly what the Aztecs knew about chocolate, I can’t blame the Europeans for not needing a real medicinal reason to dive in to some cacao.

Works Cited:

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

Dillinger, Teresa L., Barriga, Patricia, Escarcega, Sylia, Jimenez, Martha, Salazar Lowe, Diana, and Louis E. Grivetti. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate.” The Journal of Nutrition 130 (2000): 2057S-2072S. Web. 18 February 2015.

Image Links:

Image 1: http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/images-ans/ans_21_05_2.jpg

Image 2: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8d/Francisco_Hernández_(1615)_Quatro_libros_de_la_naturaleza_y_virtudes_de_las_plantas_y_animales.png

Image 3: http://globalimmersions.com/Images/Hot%20Chocolate/201012-w-hot-chocolate-lake-champlain.jpg