Category Archives: Extension

Chocolatey Perceptions: The Simulacra of Cacao

“… the human body is basically an ambulatory colony of trillions of benevolent bacteria of many species, and their complex activity in metabolism and absorption of specific compounds is just becoming known to medical science.” (Coe, p. 31)[1]

A principal perceptive conceit innate to the human condition is the tendency to obscure staggeringly complex phenomena with simulacra[2], which applies so pertinently to our own self-perception as it does to any exogenous phenomenon. This, stemming from the exigences of adaptive prudence, or evolutionary imperative, nonetheless sullies our capacity for holistic and objective appraisal of phenomena and our interactions therewith. By conceptualisation, sociocultural, biopsychological, and linguistic construction, what might simply be labelled and categorised as ‘cacao’ or ‘chocolate’ is to humans a functional simulacrum, with all manner of narratives relative to time and place projected thereon; which, in turn, entail little comprehension of the complex chemistry, economics, industry, and so forth, existential to the product consumed. This article is not intended as a dissection of contemporary conceptions and misconceptions of cacao, but rather as an exploration of the semiotics that surrounded it in Maya, Mexica, and related indigenous Mesoamerican cultures, to offer elucidation of our own perceptions of the ‘food of the gods’ and indeed our predilection for simulacra more widely.

 

Factors monetary

            There are few starker examples of the simulacrum than money. Money is something into which we divest value – divest in the sense that value is displaced from the material objects or practicable services that the metric represents, and for which it is a means of exchange, to the point that, so often in monetary economies of all kinds and not simply in advanced consumerist marketocracies, it becomes an object in and of itself; our conception of value becomes invested in that symbol thereof: money. One of the key particularities of cacao is that it was, for centuries, used by the peoples of Mesoamerica, and later European colonists, as currency (Coe, p. 59). Cacao is a cultigen indigenous to the New World (Mintz, p. 36), specifically to the Amazonian basin towards the Ecuadorian coast, but, while radiocarbon dating has placed the consumption of cacao, in a semi-refined form, in the ancient Barra civilisation through the Olmecs and Izapa (Coe, pp. 36-38), it is the Maya and Mexica for whom we have a wealth of evidence that cacao beans were used as a means of exchange.

Ironically, it may be that one of the first examples of cacao as currency comes from the troves of counterfeit, clay cacao beans found at Balberta, a Classic Maya settlement near to Izapa in the south of modern-day Guatemala (p. 50). The crafting of delicate, ‘almond-like’ cacao beans would have been painstaking and the absurdity of such an endeavour highlights the marked subjective value, psychologically constructed upon its economic usage as tender, and thus indulgence of the simulacrum. When Christopher Columbus made contact with the Maya, believed to be the Putún Maya, near the island Guajana, he and his son, Ferdinand, made mention of the outwardly peculiar inclination of the natives to these beans – ‘those almonds which in New Spain are used for money’ (Weinberg et al., pp. 53-55). In perspicacity, we might similarly substitute the symbolic value placed on paper or digital money in our own cultures to cacao beans, as our own simulacrum is, superficially, of similar arbitrariness – as indeed the Spanish would learn to in their new colonies (Weinberg et al., p. 254). Yet, this would be to make little interrogation into the nature of that particular cultigen and its specificity.

 

Factors otherwise economic

aztec-maya-map

Map of Aztec and Maya Regions, latinamericanstudies.org

Central to cacao’s trade were the waterway networks of the aforementioned Chontal or Putún Maya, who rose to great prominence in the twilight of the Classic Maya period, 250-900 AD, judging by the dress of those depicted on stelae as far and wide as Seibal, in Petén, and Cacaxtla in Tlaxcala (Coe, pp. 52-53) – which may well be demonstrative of the reach and penetration of the cacao-based economy in Mesoamerica even prior to the collapse of Classic Maya ca. 900 AD. Their descendants in the Maya heartlands – see map above – would never be subjugated by the Mexica given their shrewd and peaceful management of trade eastward and onwards into South America (p. 73). Indeed, the Mexica would attribute some degree of prestige to the role of their own guild-like merchants, the pachteca, who would venture across a territory spanning the map of Mesoamerica. The Mexica, as the Spanish, would assimilate into the extant economic order and adopt the incumbent social construction of value, maintaining the norms at play even to the point of collaboration with the gatekeepers of that economic order. This memetic transmission of the symbolic value of cacao between cultures may offer some insight into the processes by which our own perceptions of phenomena, not only that of chocolate, are reproduced.

 

Factors theological

gods-cutting-their-ears-and-bleeding-on-cacao-pods

Gods blood-letting over cacao, Madrid Codex (Public Domain)

            The symbolic value of cacao is omnipresent in the theology of Mesoamerican cultures. Mayan documents were typically written on bark paper and were thus perishable, placing extra importance on the few that survive (Coe, p. 43). In the Late Mayan Madrid Codex gods are depicted letting their own blood onto cacao, part of a persistent metaphorical link between divinity, blood, and cacao (p. 43; see image above). One key factor in the sanguine element of this symbolism was that chocolate was, at the time, often prepared by mixture of ground cocoa powder with achiote[3]. One might view this as predication for symbolism that came about post hoc, as conscious and perfunctory development of the recipe to fit theological and ceremonial purpose, or as some sort of coalescence of the two, but it is the development of that visceral, aesthetic, and ultimately semiotic function to the chocolate that is chiefly of pertinence here – not causality. Another text, the Popul Vuh, was codified by Spanish colonists in an attempt to detail the theology of the Quiché Maya, but it would appear to corroborate beliefs held somewhat consistently, or at least developed dialectically, in Mesoamerica – as attested by Izapa era stone stelae (Coe, pp. 37-40). The sacrosanctity of trees, often anthropomorphised and in the form of a cacao tree, was a consistent feature and the fact that the divine twins and mortal realm were born of the axis mundi[4] can be thought of as another major element in cacao’s rich symbolism[5]. If one were in need of any further proof of chocolate as a simulacrum, its very presence in grave goods[6] shows conceptions extending far beyond the intrinsic value its consumption holds in the mortal realm.

 

Factors psychological

(Please follow hyperlink for video)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnWNNW6C5ss

Chocolate: Benefits vs. Dangers | Is Theobromine Safe?

The complex chemistry of chocolate, and specifically that of cacao, has certainly played a role in the psychology of its perception, be that specious or otherwise. Hervé Robert’s Les vertus thérapeutiques du chocolat is, to date, the most comprehensive medical study of the effects of chocolate, in which he indicated the psychoactive and stimulant effects of methylxanthines[7] theobromine (named for the genus Theobroma) and caffeine and β-phenylethylamine[8], as well as the production of serotonin[9] (Smith, p. 1). Both the Maya and Mexica appear to have used chocolate drinks for stimulant purposes, supplying them to soldiers before combat and athletes before competitions (Weinberg et al., p. 55) – much as we might today drink cups of strong coffee before writing an article. Since there is widespread evidence of cacao consumption in spite of its status as tender[10] there must have been some degree of pleasure associated therewith. One can see how differential food preference across vast cultures and thousands of years may have led to the selective elevation of this particular crop, an affinity therefor. The video above offers an introduction to the debate over the psychological effects of theobromine and caffeine on the brain and body; in modern debates surrounding nutritional and psychological effects of certain substances there tends to be a degree of moral hazard due to the vested economic interests of companies or government agencies that fund research, inertia in food preferences, and the conscious search for foodstuffs with unbalanced value[11]. Stalemate maintains the simulacrum as the technical or highly specialised nature of debates, be they on economics, psychology, chemistry, or any other avenue for debate, often so wholly obfuscate nuances in approach to the phenomenon, ie. chocolate, as to nullify it and so strengthen superficial, expedient categorisation much in the way that ethnobotany, theology, or even the Hippocratic-Galenic humoural system did before.

 

As alluded by the quotation that begun this essay, we have a tendency to reduce the individual human unit to one of uniformity, and consistency of narrative purpose and action, and we take comfort in the somewhat fallacious notion that the trillions of bacteria and cells, even their organelles, that compose us are altogether singular in their congruence. We construct flattened, reductive, two-dimensional avatars that allow us to obscure that complexity with the simulacra ‘Matthew’ or ‘Elliott’, et cetera. This expedient form of categorisation extends from self-perception to all exogenous phenomena, amongst which cacao is no different.

 

 

Endnotes

[1] This article is greatly indebted to the scholarship of Jonathan D. Coe and his late wife Sophie D. Coe, whose book The True History of Chocolate provides the backbone of the historical knowledge here discussed and, in this initial quotation, the genesis for exploration of simulacra in cacao.

[2] “A simulacrum refers to something that replaces reality with its representation”; Dino Franco Felluga, discussing Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation (Felluga, p. 281).

[3] Bixa orellana, a red colouring agent

[4] The ‘world’s axis’, a tree that spans the underworld, Xibalba in Mayan mythology, from whence the divine twins originate, the mortal, and the celestial realms – an element common to numerous world theologies.

[5] The 7th century Palenque Maya king Pakal the Great claimed divine legitimacy for his rule by claiming to have descended from a cacao tree.

[6] Incidentally of major import to the ‘cracking’ of Mayan script given the propensity to analyse contents of containers by microspectroscopy and cross-reference this to labels and historical linguistics.

[7] Methylxanthines (ie. caffeine and theobromine) are a class of chemical often sought out with vigour by humanity; they tend to arise in plants as response to injury and can offer neural shock to small pests but in humans an effect found to be in some way pleasing, and that pleasure may be considered psychologically addictive.

[8] The neuro-regulatory effect of phenylethylamine approximates a shallow increase in serotonin. Indeed, there is ongoing discussion in the scientific community as to whether the trans-resveratrol, the bio-active quotient of the anti-oxidant resveratrol that is present in cacao, stimulates actual release of serotonin (cf. NCBI links).

[9] A biochemical process typically associated with softer mood transitions and thus pleasantness or contentedness.

[10] There are of course elements of social stratification not touched on here, and indeed the direct relationship of consumption to the monetary value of the product gives it an air of decadence still played on in chocolate marketing to this day (cf. Godiva link below); though intrinsically it is no different to the consumption of any other product of economic value it is compared to lighting cigars with $50 bills.

[11] As in the current taste for antioxidants, specifically quercetin in chocolate (cf. Life Enhancement link).

 

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2006 (3rd Ed).

Felluga, Dino F.. Critical Theory: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge, 2005.

Mintz, Sidney W.. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1985.

Smith, Lucie. “Les vertus du chocolat.” Review of Les vertus thérapeutiques du chocolat by Hervé Robert. Paris: Éditions Artulen, 1990.

Weinberg, Bennett A. and Bonnie K. Bealer. The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug. London: Routledge, 2002.

 

Web Sources

‘6 pc. Dark Decadence Truffle Flight, $17’ (containing ‘Aztec Spice Truffles’), Godiva

http://www.godiva.com/6pc-dark-decandence-truffle-flight/78350.html

‘Metabolism and bioavailability of trans-resveratrol’, PubMed.gov

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15779070

‘Antidepressant-like effect of trans-resveratrol: Involvement of serotonin and noradrenaline system’, PubMed.gov

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20353885

‘Effects of resveratrol on memory performance, hippocampal functional connectivity, and glucose metabolism in healthy older adults’, PubMed.gov

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24899709

‘Trace Amines and the Trace Amine-Associated Receptor 1: Pharmacology, Neurochemistry, and Clinical Implications’, PubMed.gov

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4820462/

‘Reservatrol and Quercetin – Puzzling Gifts of Nature’, Life Enhancement

http://www.life-enhancement.com/magazine/article/1098-resveratrol-and-quercetin-puzzling-gifts-of-nature

‘Rival Candy Projects Both Parse Cocoa’s DNA’, New York Times; September 15th 2010

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/15/business/15chocolate.html

 

Further Reading

‘7 Facts You Should Know About Trans-Resveratrol’, Global Healing Center

http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/7-amazing-facts-trans-resveratrol/

‘The History of Chocolate: The Mayans and Aztecs’, Godiva

https://www.godivachocolates.co.uk/the-history-of-chocolate-mayans-aztecs.html

The “Power of Sweet”: An Anthropological Perspective on the NCA and Visual Interpretations of Chocolate & Sugar in Industrialized Society

National Confectioners Association, founded in 1884 began as a coalition of trades-people to organize and create viability for their products. The contemporary mission statement on their official website perpetuates that original undertaking; “NCA exists to advance, protect and promote the confectionery industry… serving as a transparent and trustworthy source while building and promoting a responsible industry”. Is anyone else raising their brow at this proclamation of transparency – as it would presumably associate to promoting responsible nutritional standards?

“The medicinal and nutritional aspects of sugar’s role were never far apart, any more than they are today (mid-1980s)” persisted Sidney Mintz in her book Sweetness and Power (106). In 1715, well before the inception of the NCA, the Englishman Dr. Frederick Slare published A Vindication of Sugars Against the Charge of Dr. Willis, Other Physicians, and Common Prejudices: Dedicated to the Ladies. From a contemporary feminist perspective, the title alone makes me chuckle. I’m visualizing Slare on a platform pointing into a crowd, “I’m talking to you there, you miss, and you my lady”. Slare believed that “sugar is a veritable cure-all, its only defect being that it could make ladies too fat”. Well – No thank you Dr. Slare for that prejudgment upon female metabolism, a proclamation which surely added to a persisting gender bias. A notion for refute, Dr. Willis shed light on the topic with his anti-sugar views and clinical findings of what would be later known as diabetes mellitus, (Mintz, 106).

“NCA is proud of the role it plays in the public’s understanding and appreciation of candy’s unique role in a happy, balanced lifestyle.” Certainly, they are proud of their $35 billion-dollar industry totaling 55,000 employees in the U.S. alone. I do not intend to be overly jaded on the matter, but I can’t help but recognize the various clinical analyses and public profiles of high fructose corn syrup in our diets as we understand it today, but that’s a larger discussion in and of itself that would require deeper comparative research. Primarily my concerns lie in the fact that HFCS is often mislabeled as ‘natural flavor’ and during the last three decades, has grown to replace what used to be natural cane sugar in our common grocery foods and candies. Generations before us had already grown accustomed to foods preserved with sugar, becoming complacent with their expectations of taste and economical value through visual culture in advertisements. In my opinion, not much public transparency occurs where reliance on less expensive groceries is present.

The Life & Candy ideology expressed by NCA is particularly interesting in how they use the age old economical reach upon our physical and social values. Influenced by hegemonic notions of pollution and purity of the body, nutritional attitudes across all human societies have interpreted this punitive dichotomy for generations. NCA’s marketing lingo is reflective of the influential nature in which our collective emotional experiences in health, reinforce our ritualized notions within cultural practices surrounding holidays and special events.

Never mind the daily addicted chocolate and candy consumer- See this promotional video echoing the “power, power, power of sweet”, as seen through the lens of the confectioners’ industry workers.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/

We see a progressive move towards less expensive goods that used to be considered only for the elite prior to 18th century Europe and American society. The custom of drinking and consuming chocolate had spread through most of Europe and “one thing that didn’t change – at first, anyhow – was the association of drinking chocolate with high social standing” (Prescilla, 25).

See in the Cadbury ad to your right just how politically inclined a chocolate company was in 1901. The advertising poster was a rousing salute to Edward VII and his wife when he took the British throne (Morton, 86).

Cadbury.Edwardvii“In 1898 in the United States a dollar bought forty-two percent more milk, fifty-one percent more coffee, a third more beef, twice as much sugar, and twice as much flour as in 1872” (Laudan, 41). The NCA began actively lobbying for chocolate companies in the early decades of the 1900s to commercialize chocolate for holidays, and as noted earlier, to this day the NCA still portrays a high relevance with candy to our community practices. I ponder, as Laudan suggests, has “culinary modernism provided what was wanted… the food of the elite at a price everyone could afford”? On that notion, has the National Confectioners Association also prevailed a political platform for chocolate, sugar, and food companies to exploit on the desire to consume what is considered socially elite?

Throughout the creation of anthropology as formal discipline during the 19th century, a new worldview was being introduced, one with scientific tools. With the arrival and maturation of the scientific revolution, the period of enlightenment facilitated human consciousness for the means to alter old world views. In a cultural setting, when interpellation is presumably present, “the experience of the viewer influences the images meaning”. With this known, hegemonic Cadbury.firemangeneralizations can become an illogical way of analyzing an influence of an image upon the whole group of viewers. Therefore, counter-hegemony is an “alternative force that leads us to undo concepts of hegemony”, allowing us to see how the image influences the viewer from a comparative perspective (S & C, 2009).

Coffee, tea, sugar and chocolate long being known as stimulants, we see this reflected in the early 1900s in another – among many – Cadbury advertisements, portraying its popularity with English firemen. Sugar promoting stamina was a lasting notion. See this Baby Ruth ad below that speaks to just that.

babyruth.dextroseGendered advertising was also sewn into most visual aspects of material culture, including in the marketing of candy such as the Tootsie Roll. I think we can reflect upon our social context during these time periods and find parallels between social constructs within advertisements. From a counter-hegemonic perspective, it’s not to say this image below is meant to reinforce gender roles with the consumption of chocolate and sugar products, yet it does create a lens into the artists’ view of the American social scene. tootsieroll.lifeoftheparty

We see thirteen men pictured here, strategically positioned facing this seemingly gleeful American woman holding a Toostie Roll. She, alike the Tootsie, “is the life of every party” as the text reads. I don’t know about you, but if thirteen men were staring at me eating a Tootsie Roll at a party, I’d be finding the closest exit and calling 1-800-N0-T00T$I3!

During a time when women were subjective to the ideologies imposed by men, we see this through the material culture we create. Where heterosexuality is the normal or preferred sexual orientation in most American households. Heteronormative notions in our visual culture is nothing new and we still see advertisements daily, selling sex, and I can’t help but reflect upon Dr. Slares remarks. They indulge the viewer or the reader into a glimpse of the cultural attitudes of the time. The National Confectioners Association has been no stranger to it.

*

Sources:
Cartwright, Lisa and Sturken, Marita   2009   Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York, NY  Oxford University Press, 2nd ed.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe   2013 [1996] The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson
Martin, Carla    2017 AAAS E-119 Lecture Slides. Laudan, Rachel on Culinary Modernism (p.41)
Mintz, Sidney   1986 [1985] Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books
Morton, Marcia and Frederic.   1986   Chocolate, An Illustrated History Crown Publishers, Inc. New York, NY   Cadbury Limited images (pg.82 + 87)
National Confectioners Association, 2017
The Power of Sweet – That Power. National Confectioners Association advertisement
Organic Consumers Association, 2017 (Mercola)   2007    How High Fructose Corn Syrup Damages Your Body.
Presilla, Maricel   2009   The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Toop, C. R., Muhlhausler, B. S., O’Dea, K. and Gentili, S.   2014    Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. Consumption of sucrose, but not high fructose corn syrup, leads to increased adiposity and dyslipidaemia in the pregnant and lactating rat.
Unknown Artist, “The LIFE of the Party” Tootsie Roll advertisement
Unknown Artist, “Keep Going with Baby Ruth”

 

Pre-Columbian cacao usage: more than a delicious snack

 

In contemporary society, the primary role of chocolate is as something to consume. Although some types of chocolate are more expensive or valued than others, it is generally easy to obtain, not necessarily precious, and available to just about anyone who desires it. In pre-Columbian cultures, however, although chocolate was used as a food, it also had other kinds of significance. It was a precious item, not necessarily available to those who were not elite, and had much symbolic and religious significance, playing an important role at various occasions.

Although evidence of cacao has been found on Olmec pottery shards from as early as 1650 B.C., not much is known about the cacao related customs or beliefs of the Olmec people. More is known about the role of cacao in the Mayan and Aztec civilizations that followed them, thanks to the depictions of cacao in Mayan books (codices) and ceramics and the recollections of the Spanish priests and conquerors, who observed Aztec society before it fell. Indeed, the decoding of the Mayan symbol for cacao (see below) was one of the keys to translating the Mayan hieroglyphic language. (Carla Martin, chocolate class).

kakaw_28mayan_word29

Mayan script for the word ‘kakaw’. The drawing is based on Kettunen, Harri; Helmke, Christophe (2008).  “Introduction to Maya Hieroglyphs: Workshop Handbook'”. p. 73.  To learn more about Mayan hieroglyphs, visit: http://www.mesoweb.com/resources/handbook/WH2008.pdf.

The Mayan and Aztec civilizations shared similarities in their use of cacao. It’s preparation was far more varied than it is today. Presilla tells us that the idea of how to prepare cacao may have come from other foodstuffs such as maize that were dried, roasted and ground. The beverage made of ground cacao beans and water was typically bitter and savory –  often flavored with chilis and other botanicals – and only sometimes sweetened. Coe tells us that it was often mixed with maize (mature or young) was a way to make a nutritious gruel with more caloric value. Presilla mentions the use of cacao as a seasoning in other dishes as well. The froth was particularly desirable and was created by pouring the liquid from one container into another, sometimes at great height.

Aztec woman pouring

Picture of Aztec woman, from the Codex Tudela, pouring chocolate from one container to another to raise the foam.

Although cacao may have been available to various strata of Mayan society, in Aztec society it could only be used by the elite: nobles, the merchant class (long distance traders), and warriors. The Aztecs felt that bad luck would come if a commoner drank cacao – and the penalty for a commoner who did so was death. According to Coe, the Aztecs also did not care for drunkenness (the penalty was death) and chocolate was viewed as an alternative beverage to alcoholic beverages.  Warm cacao generally seems to have been preferred by Mayans, and it was typically served in tall vessels. When it was served cool, they served it in shallow bowls. The Aztecs liked their cacao cool and served it in small round gourd bowls. The Aztec warrior class also had cacao as part of their rations – the ground cacao was pressed into wafers for portability on their treks. (Coe)

Cacao vessels could be quite elaborate. The ornate ceramic jar depicted below is an example of a Mayan cacao drinking cup. According to the Walters art gallery, the hieroglyphs describe it as a cacao drinking cup, and include the name of the owner. It is covered with a variety of cacao imagery and decorated with molded cacao pods, which also indicate that it is intended for cacao. It’s fine construction indicates that it is for the use of the upper classes. It may have been intended for use in a special feast or as a special gift.

mayan_-_lidded_vessel_-_walters_20092039_-_side_a

Mayan lidded cacao vessel, decorated with molded cacao pods and cacao imagery and glyphs

Festive and ceremonial use of cacao was a feature for both the Aztecs and the Mayans. At Mayan marriages, the couple exchanged 5 cacao beans with each other. Mayans also had a baptism-like ritual in which children who reached puberty were anointed with a cacao mixture. (Coe, Mexilore). Aztec traders (the pocheta) hosted large banquets as a means of climbing the ladder to higher ranks within the guild, and cacao was an important aspect of the banquet. (Coe) The word “chokolaj” means “to drink chocolate together”, thus referring to the communal aspect of consuming chocolate. (Coe)

Although important as a foodstuff, cacao was also used as money. It was a precious item, as it was fussy to grow and could only be cultivated in a narrow range of temperatures. It would not grow in Aztec lands and had to be acquired through long distance trade or as tribute paid by conquered peoples. Cacao beans were used to pay laborers and Coe tells us of price lists which show the value of various commodities (tomato, rabbit, avocado, etc.) in cacao beans. As Coe points out, drinking cacao was equivalent to actually drinking actual money.

Cacao was also a feature of the symbolic and spiritual universe of the pre-Columbians. Many pictures depict gods with cacao trees, pods, and seeds, including a portrait of the opossum god bearing the legend, “cacao is his food.” (Coe) Cacao was among the offerings placed in graves for the dead to take to the after life. (Presilla) In Aztec cosmic imagery a cacao tree stands at the south, in the land of the dead. (Coe)

The Mayans and the Aztecs also associated blood and cacao.  According to Coe, cacao could metaphorically be referred to by the words for heart and blood, and cacao was sometimes colored with achiote to become red like blood. Some scholars believe that this could be because of the resemblance of the cacao pod to the heart. Or, perhaps as Coe suggests, it was because both the heart and the cacao pod “were the repositories of precious liquids.” Coe also refers to an image in the Mayan Madrid Codex in which gods pierce their ears with obsidian blades. The blood drops down and sprinkles on cacao pods. Finally, as Coe and Mexilore tell us, in the annual Aztec ritual to ensure the continuation of the world, the sacrificial victim was supposed to dance happily before his death and the removal of his heart. To enchant him and keep him happy as he danced, he was made to drink cacao made with the water used to wash the blood from the obsidian blades that were used on the previous sacrificial victim. (Coe)

Cacao played a large and significant role in pre-Columbian society. As a foodstuff, it was prepared in a myriad of ways. It marked important occasions and was typically consumed by the elite. It’s preciousness is shown in that it could be used as money. Indeed, cacao was a significant aspect of the pre-columbian view of the cosmos. One has to wonder what they would think of today’s easy availability, low cost, and casual use.

References Cited

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

Maricel E. Presilla, The New Taste of Chocolate, revised. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Mexicolore, The food of the Gods: Cacao use among the prehispanic Maya, http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/maya/chocolate/cacao-use-among-the-prehispanic-maya.

Mexicolore, Chocolate: the blood of the Gods?, http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/maya/chocolate/blood-of-the-gods. 

Walters Art Gallery, lidded vessel description                    http://art.thewalters.org/detail/80194/lidded-vessel/

Wikipedia Commons, Mayan glyph for cacao, public domain.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cb/Kakaw_%28Mayan_word%29.png

Wikipedia Commons, Aztec woman in Codex Tudela.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/ff/Mujer_vertiendo_chocolate_-_Codex_Tudela.jpg/366px-Mujer_vertiendo_chocolate_-_Codex_Tudela.jpg

Wikipedia Commons, Mayan lidded vessel, owned by Walters Art Gallery, public domain. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/37/Mayan_-_Lidded_Vessel_-_Walters_20092039_-_Side_D.jpg/423px-Mayan_-_Lidded_Vessel_-_Walters_20092039_-_Side_D.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spread of Cacao and Cultural Appropriation

Cacao is a staple of the western culinary tradition and is enjoyed in nearly every region of the world. Why has cacao become so popular? The answer to this question is not simply “because it tastes good.” Some will turn to biology to answer this question. The presence of theobromine, caffeine, and sugar in chocolate releases feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine to the frontal lobe, hippocampus and hypothalamus (1). While this helps explain why so many different cultures throughout history enjoy chocolate, this biological explanation is not sufficient. Cacao in its natural form has very different chemical properties than a bar of chocolate. Cacao is difficult to cultivate and requires complex processes to go from bean to chocolate bar. It is true that people crave chocolate– but the stimulant properties in chocolate are not strong enough to justify the amount of effort and expertise required to bring chocolate on the market.

Tracing the spread of cacao from Central America requires us to examine how culture, economics, and biology interact.For most of history, the world has borrowed the process of cacao production without paying homage to the cultures that discovered the process. This Food must be understood from a holistic point of view where we are not only examining the final product, but the entire system of production bringing that product into existence (2). The processes used to cultivate cacao are intrinsically intertwined with the cultures that discovered the process of cultivation.

Understanding the spread of cacao requires us to examine its origins and the cultural practices surrounding it. Examining this migration offers important lessons about cultural appropriation and economic development and can help us be more mindful, compassionate consumers.

The first people to cultivate cacao were the Olmec civilization (1500 BCE – 400 BCE). The genetic origin of cacao can be traced to the amazon river bed area in what is modern day ecuador (3).

Screen Shot 2017-03-11 at 8.59.27 PM.png

(Source: Martin, Carla. 01 FEB 2017, Chocolate Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture Slide, Harvard Extension School)

Cacao developed humid lowlands of Yucatan Peninsula, generally the domain of the Maya. However, much of the culture surrounding cacao did not develop in that area. We find evidence of cacao culture in the Aztec region which was much hotter and drier. The Aztec relied on Maya labor to produce the cacao products which were central to their religious and cultural practices.

Much of what we know about the early culture surrounding cacao development comes from Bernardino de Sahagún (1499-1590), who spent many years learning about the way of life of the Aztec. Sahagún is credited as being the world’s first anthropologist and strived to understand the Aztec civilization outside of western biases. The culmination of Sahagún’s work was Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, in which he chronicled the significance of cacao in Aztec rituals, as an indicator of social class for the wealthy, and as a conduit of trade. Sahagún also detailed the crucial network of roads that enabled interregional trade. The reason why we know cacao moved from the Maya zone of influence to the Aztec zone of influence is from Sahagún’s writings.

Beyond this, there is further evidence that cacao trade extended beyond the Aztec-Maya empire as far north as present day Southwestern United States. A cylindrical vessel from 900 CE found in this area tested positive for evidence of cacao and it is believed that the residents of southwest pueblo bartered turquoise in exchange for cacao. This suggests that cacao was central to interregional trade in early Mesoamerica.

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(Source: Martin, Carla. 01 FEB 2017, Chocolate Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture Slide, Harvard Extension School)

Development of cacao remained confined to this region of the world until Christopher Columbus arrived in Guanaja Bay Island off the coast of present-day Honduras in the Caribbean. Cacao was of particular interest to the Spanish colonists who were suffering malnutrition from their long voyage across the ocean. Cacao was seen as an advantageous export and as a medicinal supplement. The first exports of cacao from the Izalcos port of Acajutla saw rapid growth between the 1500s to 1600s. The price of cacao skyrocketed as chocolate became a popular luxury among European nobility.

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(Source: Martin, Carla. 01 FEB 2017, Chocolate Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture Slide, Harvard Extension School)

The rise in popularity of cacao occurred alongside the rise of sugar exports. As colonies grew to develop the production of sugar and cacao, so grew the rise of racism and the international slave trade. The industrial revolution ushered in a new age of economic prosperity built on innovation and also exploited labor and resources. Much like the Aztecs to the Maya, Europeans and North Americans relied on slave labor to produce their goods, especially chocolate.

Presently, the systems of exploitation and inequality on cacao production still persist. Chocolate is a $100 billion dollar per year industry and 75% of the world’s chocolate is consumed in North America and Europe. However, 75% of cacao comes from West and Central Africa. The average cacao farmer makes 0.50-0.80 cents per day– well below the Work Bank’s global poverty line of $1.10. Looking at these figures and statistics, it is incumbent upon us to be conscious consumers so we don’t continue the system of oppression and exploitation that has persisted throughout the past.

Footnotes

(1) Albers, Susan. 11 FEB 2014, Psychology Today. Retrieved 05 MAR 2017. Link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/comfort-cravings/201402/why-do-we-crave-chocolate-so-much

(2) Mintz, Sidney W. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power. pp. 74-150.

(3) Proposed by Cheeseman in 1994. Motomayor et all (2002).

Europe Conquers the New World, Chocolate Conquers Europe

To study the history of chocolate in Europe since the 17th century is to study the socioeconomic climate of the time throughout Europe.  The introduction of chocolate to the European continent occurred via the Spanish conquistadors who discovered the cacao beans and the chocolate drink made from these beans when they interacted with the indigenous peoples.  It is believed that in 1544 Europe got their first taste of chocolate prepared in this way when the conquistadors reported back to the Spanish court with a delegation of Kekchi Mayan Indians who bore gifts for their conquerors, including beaten chocolate (Presilla, 24).  From the Spanish court, chocolate made its way into the lives of the elites in Spain, England and France, as well as other European countries, before becoming the staple commodity widely available to all social classes that it has become today.  Although the nations of Spain, England and France were distinct and undergoing different social and political climates during the time of the arrival of chocolate in the Old World, the history of chocolate consumption in these countries does share the commonality that in both chocolate began as a luxury affordable only to those of greater means before it became the widely accessible commodity it is known as today.

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Mayan vase from Chama.  Source: The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised by Marcela E. Presilla

The above image is of a Maya vase from Chama, a region of Guatemala in which cacao is harvested, and shows a chieftain like that of the Kekchi Mayans being carried in a hammock, as was the chief of the Kekchi when he first introduced chocolate to Philip II of Spain.

Spain was one of several European countries to be impacted by the arrival of chocolate from the New World.  Although accounts vary as to how it got to Spain, it is known for certain that by the first half of the seventeenth century the same chocolate that the Spanish creole of Mexico were drinking had integrated into the Spanish Court (Coe, 131).  The way that it was consumed, however, was much more regal than it had been in present-day Mexico.  As it was coveted primarily by the Spanish royals, the way in which this chocolate was consumed became more refined over time.  In the mid-17th century the viceroy of Peru, Marques de Mancera invented a device to prevent ladies from spilling their chocolate onto their finery; The mancerina featured a silver saucer with a large ring in the middle into which a small cup would fit snugly and offered a solution for those noble Spaniards who had the luxury of owning valuable clothing worth protecting from chocolate (Coe, 135).  In fact, chocolate was so commonplace to these Spanish elites that around 1680 it was common to serve it and other sweets to officials during the public executions of the Spanish Inquisition (Snodgrass, 207).  Cosimo de’ Medici of Spain, who later became Grand Duke of Tuscany, was also known to consume chocolate liberally during the public and grand events of the Spanish nobility of Baroque Spain, including while watching a bullfight with the Spanish king, and earned himself a reputation as a “chocoholic” resultantly  (Coe, 135). 

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The Mancerina. Source: http://www.ascasonline.org/newsGENNA104.html

The origin of chocolate in France is not known with certainty.  But its association with nobility was not very different in France than it was in Spain.  In Louis XIV’s decadent Palace of Versailles chocolate was a staple served at all public events hosted for the French elite.  It wasn’t until the King’s wife died and he married the conservative Madame de Maintenon that the ruler became thrifty and consumption of chocolate in the palace ended (Coe, 156).  Like the Spanish, the French had appropriated special vessels for serving chocolate.  The chocolatiere, a long vessel with a spout, hinged lid and a straight wooden handle, both poured and frothed the chocolate for serving and was surely made of silver if it was to be used by elites (Smithsonian, 2015).  In France, as in other parts of Europe, the drinking of chocolate was at times taboo for women.  When the Infanta Maria Teresa married the King of France in 1660, she brought Spanish women to serve in her court but was forbidden from drinking chocolate with them and took to doing so in private, as the act was not permissible for noble French women (Coe, 154).  However, this taboo did not last long; In 1671 the marquis de Sevigne wrote to her ill daughter that chocolate would make her well again saying:

“But you are not well, you have hardly slept, chocolate will set you up again.  But you do not have a chocolatiere [chocolate-pot]; I have thought of it a thousand times; what will you do?  Alas, my child, you are not wrong when you believe that I worry about you more than you worry about me.” (Coe, 155)

During this time, chocolate had a reputation for being untouchable to those of modest means.  Recently at Hampton Court Palace researchers discovered a chocolate kitchen, a room in which the King’s personal chocolatier procured chocolate delights for the King and his court on a daily basis.  So essential was this indulgence to the King that his chocolatier was known to travel with him to provide him with his sweet supply.  As in France and Spain, the luxuriousness of consuming chocolate was not limited to the food itself but also included the means by which the chocolate was consumed.  Pots for serving the beverage were often made of silver or gold.  In fact, William III is reputed to have used a chocolate pot that was made of gold and weighed 33 oz!  Many were employed in the making of chocolate and the associated paraphernalia and these costs associated with consumption meant that the drink was unattainable for many (Historic Royal Palaces, 2014)

The article linked below was published by the Smithsonian Institute and outlines the rise and fall of chocolate as the food of nobility.  At one point it details the means by which chocolate eventually became accessible to people of all classes in Europe and the United States.  The Industrial Revolution was in large part to thank for driving down the costs associated with chocolate consumption during the 19th century.  For example, it was during this time that Coenraad Van Houton invented the cocoa process, which created cocoa powder, a staple ingredient of many chocolate products consumed today.  While it is easy to see chocolate today as something that is off-limits to no one, to understand the history of chocolate is to understand that in Europe the commodity began as a luxury to be enjoyed by only those of the highest privilege.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/brief-history-chocolate-pot-180954241/

References:

Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver (photographer).  (2012). Mancerina.  [digital image].  Retrieved from: http://www.ascasonline.org/newsGENNA104.html

Baker, Mary Louise. (Photographer). (1926).  Rollout watercolor of the Ratinlixul vase from Guatemala.  [digital image].  Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

Coe, M. & Coe, S. (2013).  The true history of chocolate.  London, UK: Thames & Hudson, Ltd.

Historic Royal Palaces.  (2014, September 3).  The making of the chocolate kitchen [Video file].  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QslIjfi_-I

Righthand, J. (2015).  A brief history of the chocolate pot.  Smithsonian Institute.  Retrieved from: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/brief-history-chocolate-pot-180954241/

Presilla, M.E. (2009).  The new taste of chocolate revised: A cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes.  Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

Snodgrass, M.E. (2004).  Encyclopedia of kitchen history.  New York, NY: Fitzroy Dearborn.

Chocolate as Food

 

Julia Naumowicz

08 March, 2017

Nicholas Paskert

Chocolate, Culture, and The Politics of Food

The Discovery of Chocolate as Used in Food in Ancient Mesoamerica

Of all the discoveries in the New World, the one that has seen the most monumental influence over the development of the Americas as well as Europe and the rest of the world has been the cacao tree. Theobroma cacao, the scientific name for the cacao tree, is a very exacting plant that requires the most specific growing conditions, found originally only in a very small part of equatorial South America but rediscovered in certain regions of Africa for the purpose of large cacao plantations. The effort that goes into cultivating cacao lends to its value as a unit of currency in the ancient world. When Christopher Columbus wrote during his fourth voyage to the New World in 1502, he made note of an encounter with a native tribe of indigenous Americans in a large dugout canoe. In this entry he describes the contents of the longboat, including “many of those almonds which in New Spain [Mexico] are used for money(Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. p109. Print.).” He mentioned the natives’ reverence for these “almonds”, remarking that “when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen(109).” It can be noted that Columbus was not aware of the existence of cacao itself, as he refers to them in his memoirs as almonds.

When Carl von Linné coined the scientific name for the cacao tree in 1753, more than two hundred years after the discovery both of the cacao tree and of the Mesoamerican civilizations which cultivated it, he settled on Theobroma cacao. Theobroma is Greek, meaning The Food of the Gods, mentioned in religious carvings dating back to the Olmecs (Coe 39). Still, it was believed in the anthropological community for decades that the classic Maya and Aztecs did not use cacao as food. The general perspective by historians regarding the ancient Mesoamerican attitude towards cacao was that the bitter bean was too valuable to be eaten by common folk. It was a special luxury and a symbol of wealthy extravagance, cherished by the noble class as well as warriors and the traveling merchants of the Aztec empire, who would frequently be met with violence on the road due to the value of their cargo and so were considered somewhat of a class of warriors themselves (Coe 98).

The mendicant Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún recorded the preparation of cacao water, or cacahuatl, in his General History of The Things of New Spain, an encyclopedia written partly in Nahuatl, the native language of the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, and partly in Spanish. The drink is typically roasted cacao nibs that are finely ground in a metate, or grinding stone, mixed with ground maize, then stirred into water; the chocolate seller would then stand upright and pour the cacao water from one vessel to another, gradually producing a bubbling froth. At the same time cacao would be ground up with maize and

other seeds, then compressed into a thin wafer that would be put in Aztec soldiers’ food rations (98).

After the Spanish conquest of the New World, beginning in Central America and spreading both north and south, the use of so-called “new world” spices, such as allspice and vanilla, were being introduced to common Old World spices such as black pepper and basil in creative new culinary inventions. The most popular of this is the mole sauce, a rich marriage of savory and sweet with a signature heat that pairs well with most meats and other savory dishes. Much like the meztiso people who were originally credited with inventing this sauce, the mole is considered to be the first blend of Spanish and Nahuatl customs into a new culture of itself. For decades academics believed that it was the meztiso population of the newly established state of Mexico that first mixed cacao with food, however new studies have proven that cacao was eaten as part of dishes as early as 450 CE (Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009. p15. Print.).

During an excavation of the Copan ruins in Honduras in 2009, researchers Cameron McNeil and Jeffrey Hurst discovered traces of theobromine in a vessel containing capsaicin, the chemical marker for capsicum peppers, and turkey bones. Theobromine was also found on a dish that had once held tamales, found in the same site (15).

Before McNeil and Hurst made their discovery, it was believed by anthropologists that cacao drinks were specifically marked by a certain set of hieroglyphs, called the Primary Standard Sequence.

It has been long established that the presence of the Primary Standard Sequence would indicate the presence of cacao in a drinking vessel, because the drinking of cacao water, or cacahuatl, was a sacred rite reserved for the Aztec elite as well as those soon to be sacrificed. The Primary Standard Sequence is a formula of Classic or at times post-Classic Mayan hieroglyphs, the first few pictures describe the shape of the vessel and dedicating the vessel itself, either to a patron or to the gods, then the middle of the Sequence describes the contents of the vessel, and the final few glyphs were a series of noble titles (Coe, p45). It was David Stuart, an expert on Mayan hieroglyphics, who discovered that the symbol in Classic and post-Classic Mayan for cacao was a fin or comb and a fish, with the comb indicating ka-, which, combined with the fin of the fish beside it, becomes kaka- with the symbol for –w following it (45) When the Primary Standard Sequence was identified, only then was a drinking vessel or liquid storage vessel sent off for chemical testing. The presence of theobromine, an alkaloid closely related to caffeine, would determine whether or not cacao was drunk out of a particular vessel. With McNeil and Hurst’s discovery, more and more items are being tested for cacao residue (Presilla 15).

In the modern world, cacao is most commonly consumed in the form of sweetened chocolate bars, mixed with palm oil rather than cocoa butter in order to maximize profits. When it comes to savory dishes, the mole sauces enjoyed by Mexico’s ancestors has remained largely unchanged, but there are also subtle regional variations as well as personal touches which vary from household to household.

The first recipe which will be explored has been found was told to Sahagún in this manner, speaking of the cacahuatl sellers in the streets:

She grinds cacao [beans]; she crushes, breaks, pulverizes them. She chooses, selects, separates them. She drenches, soaks, steeps them. She adds water, sparingly, conservatively; aerates it, filters it, strains it, pours it back and forth, aerates it; she makes it form a head, makes foam; she removes the head, makes it thicken, make it dry, pours water into it, stirs water into it (Coe 98).

Well-made cacahuatl was cherished by the upper class, who would serve it at parties. At times it would be mixed with other spices, such as vanilla or black pepper, or the ever popular chipotle chili.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. “How The Aztecs Made Chocolate.” The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. 84. Print.

The first mole sauce to be presented is the reimagination of the turkey dish in which McNeil and Hurst first discovered cacao’s use as an ingredient in Mayan cuisine.

Ingredients:

  • 9 ancho chiles (4 ounces), stemmed and seeded
  • 11 pasilla chiles (4 ounces), stemmed and seeded
  • 12 mulato chiles (4 ounces), stemmed and seeded
  • 1 large white onion, unpeeled
  • 1 medium head of garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 (one inch) stick true cinnamon (soft Ceylon cinnamon, sold as canela in Hispanic markets)
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon aniseed
  • 1 medium-sized corn tortilla
  • ½ cup (about 2 ounces) dry-roasted peanuts
  • ½ cup (about 2 ounces) blanched sliced almonds
  • ½ cup (about 2 ounces) hulled green pumpkin seeds
  • ½ cup (about 2 ounces) sesame seeds
  • cup extra-virgin olive oil from Arbequina olives or freshly rendered lard
  • 1 medium-sized ripe plantain, peeled and cut into thick slices
  • cup (about 2 ounces) pitted prunes
  • ½ cup (about 2 ounces) dark raisins
  • 3 ounces dark chocolate, preferably El Rey Bucare (58.5% cacao), Askinosie Soconusco (75% cacao), an artisanal Mexican chocolate, or Ibarra brand table chocolate
  • ¼ to ⅓ cup (about 2 ounces) grated Latin American brown loaf sugar (piloncillo), muscovado sugar, or packed dark brown sugar, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Well-flavored chicken broth

To roast the chiles

Wipe [the chiles] clean with a damp cloth. Heat a large griddle, comal, or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Dry-roast the chiles on the griddle in about 6 batches, allowing about 1 minute on each side and pressing them down with a spatula. Transfer them to a large bowl as they are done; cover with about 4 cups warm water and leave them to soak for about 20 minutes. Drain and reserve 1 cup of the soaking liquid

For the rest of the sauce

Dry-roast the onion and the whole head of garlic on the griddle, stirring occasionally, until blackened and blistered, about 8 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Lightly dry-roast the cinnamon, black peppercorns, and aniseed (do not scorch). Frind them to a fine powder om a spice mill or a coffee mill and set aside.

Lightly toast the tortilla on the griddle, allowing about 30 seconds per sidel set aside. Dry-roast the peanuts, almonds, and pumpkin seeds, stirring or shaking the griddle, for about 1 minute. Set aside in a small bowl. Toast the sesame seeds for about 30 seconds, stirring or shaking the griddle; scrape out into the same bowl. When cool, finely grind the nuts, seeds, and tortilla in a food processor.

Heat the lard in a large 12-inch skillet over medium heat until melted. Add the plantain slices and sauté until golden brown. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and let drain on paper towels; set aside the skillet with the fat.

Peel the cooled onion and garlic, chop the onion coarsely, and set aside. Combine all of the roasted ingredients, plantain slices, prunes, and raisins in a large bowl or pot with the reserved chile soaking liquid. Working in 3 or more batches, process the mixture in a blender or food processor to make a purée, adding more chile soaking liquid as needed if the mixture is too thick to process easily. Repeat until all has been processed.

Heat the preserved olive oil or lard in the skillet over medium heat until fragrant. When it ripples, as the purée and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.

If you are planning to use the paste immediately, dilute it by stirring in chicken broth until it is the consistency of thin tomato sauce. It isn’t absolutely necessary, but the consistency will be much silkier if you fore the thinned mixture through a fine-mesh sieve by pushing with a wooden spoon. If you are not using it immediately, cool the mole paste to room temperature, transfer to storafe containers, and pour a thin film of melted lard over the surface to help keep it from spoiling. Seal tightly and store it in a cool place or the refrigerator. It will keep well for several months.

  • “Xalapa-Style Mole (Mole Xalapeño).” The New Taste of Chocolate. Maricel E. Presilla. 193-95. Print.

Below is a video found on YouTube of a modern Steak with Chocolate recipe, found on the Phantom Gourmet’s channel:

Ration D-day: Chocolate’s role in Warfare

hungry-d-day-rations-E

When you think of warfare, you probably think of soldiers, tanks, or guns; you probably do not think of chocolate, however, chocolate played an integral part in World War II. The military in the first half of the 20th century had a problem. Men were fighting on the front lines were in conditions where field kitchens could not be established. Sustenance would have to be shipped in and it would have to be compact and portable. It was to this end that Captain Paul Logan, of the office of the U.S. Army Quartermaster General, turned to chocolate. He met with William Murrie, then president of Hershey Chocolate Corporation, and Sam Hinkle, his chief scientist, in 1937 about developing a chocolate bar emergency ration that could stand up to the rigorous military standards required for field rations[1]. Chocolate was uniquely qualified as a choice for rations as it is not only lightweight and portable but it is also is a stimulant, provides a quick burst of energy and is fairly nutritious. There were, however, some technical issues that need to be dealt with before chocolate was ready for duty on the front lines.Nestle's 1943 Ad

As anyone who has left a chocolate bar in their pocket on a summer’s day knows, chocolate tends to melt in moderately high temperatures. This gives chocolate its wonderful mouthfeel but also makes it a challenge to transport it hot climates. This is due to one of chocolate main ingredients; cocoa butter, which has a melting point of 78 degrees Fahrenheit[2], turning any chocolate above that mark, whether in your mouth or in your pocket, from a solid bar to a mushy mess.

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Furthermore, as it was to be an emergency ration, this chocolate couldn’t be the tempting treat you usually think of when you think chocolate bar. According to Sam Hinkle, chief scientist at Hershey at the time, “Captain Logan said that he wanted it to taste not too good, because, if so, the soldier would eat it before he faced an emergency and have nothing to eat when the emergency came,” Hinkle said. “So he said, ‘Make it taste about like a boiled potato.'”[3]

chocolate propaganda

Hershey scientists and the US Army Quartermaster Corps set out together to engineer a chocolate that could stand up to the military’s exacting standards. As Joel Glenn Brenner states in her book, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, “The result was the famous Field Ration D, nutrition-packed “subsistence” chocolate made from a thick paste of chocolate liquor, sugar, oat flour, powdered milk and vitamins …it could withstand temperatures of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and contained 600 calories in a single serving.” (Brenner 8). That was all well and good but the military needed to make sure that these Ration D bars could stand up to the challenge of the harsh environment of war. According to the Hershey Community Archives, “The first of the Field Ration D bars were used for field tests in the Philippines, Hawaii, Panama, the Texas border, and at various Army posts and depots throughout the United States. These bars also found their way to Antarctica with Admiral Byrd’s last expedition in 1939. The results of the test were satisfactory and Field Ration D was approved for wartime use.”

pow_D_Bar_2

Once assured of these chocolate bars being up to snuff, the military put them into production. In her book, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, Anastacia Marx de Salcedo describes the packaging process: “The finished bars were sealed in foil and then paper-wrapped in sets of three, for a total of 1,800 calories, enough to sustain a man for a day. (Later, when foil became scarce during World War II and the use of chemical weapons seemed imminent—mustard and chlorine gas had been used frequently in World War I—waterproof cellophane and wax coated boxes were used [to prevent any deadly chemicals from leaching into the soldiers’ food]). By the end of 1945 Hershey was producing 24 million bars a week[4].

87006b24f391-300x149

As for what the soldiers thought of them, their thoughts can be seen in the nickname they gave it; “Hitler’s secret weapon”. In his article, “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!”, Terry W. Burger interviews John Otto, a platoon leader in Company A of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 505th Parachute Regiment, for his experience with the Ration D bars, “They were awful,” “They were big, thick things, and they weren’t any good. I tried ’em, but I had to be awful hungry after I tried them once…. Whatever they put in didn’t make them taste any better.” Nevertheless, the Ration D bars kept the soldiers alive on the battlefield and in other precarious situations. Not only that, because chocolate contains stimulants such as theobromine and caffeine, it kept the soldiers awake and alert, which was vital to their survival and success, especially in hostile territories like Nazi-occupied France. Some of the soldiers dislikes of the bar may have stem from their quick consumption; the instructions clearly stated the bars are to be eaten slowly (in about half an hour the label says), so a soldier on the move who consumed his Ration D bar a little too quickly may have experienced quite a bit of gastronomic distress.

1943 chocolate Life Magazine

Either way, the Ration D bars served also as a diplomatic tool, turning many starving Europeans into friends of the United States[5], as described by 82nd Airborne Veteran John Otto, “People wanted them, You’d give them to kids. In some places they were very hungry. And they sure helped relax people about American soldiers.”

S2003.53

Chocolate has been part of the military ever since. In 1943, Hershey created the Tropical Bar, the Ration D’s ever-so-slightly better tasting cousin, for consuming in the hot and humid Pacific[6]. This bar saw action during the Korean War (1950-53) up through the early days of the Vietnam War[7].  In 1990 Hershey created the Desert Bar, which tasted like an original Hershey bar but could withstand temperatures up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit[8]. Not that Hershey was the only game in town; Forrest Mars introduced M&M’s in 1940; just in time for the chocolate candy that “melts in your mouth, not in your hand,” to be added to soldiers rations[9]. Today soldiers receive chocolate in a variety of places, whether it’s in a MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat)[10] ration or a care package that boosts their spirit and gives them a little taste of home.

thecuriousg-yelllow-m-m-vintage-poster

Footnotes:

[1] Hershey Community Archives

[2] Joel Glenn Brenner, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, page 11

[3] Terry W. Burger, “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!”

[4] Hershey Community Archives

[5] Terry W. Burger, “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!”

[6] Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, page 87

[7] Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, page 87

[8] Joel Glenn Brenner, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, page 10

[9] Joel Glenn Brenner, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, page 46

[10] John C. Fisher and Carol Fisher, Food in the American Military, page 183

Works Cited

Marx de Salcedo, Anastacia. Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat. Penguin. 2015.

Brenner, Joel Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey And Mars. Random House, Inc. 1999.

Fisher, John C., and Carol Fisher. Food in the American Military: A History. McFarlan & Company, Inc. 2011.

Burger, Terry W. “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!” America in WWII, Feb. 2007, p. 36+. General OneFile, libraries.state.ma.us/login?gwurl=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GPS&sw=w&u=ntn&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA400957701&asid=4593f3eb2321afb7732288b7e5322620. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

“Ration D Bars” Hershey Community Archives. http://www.hersheyarchives.org/essay/details.aspx?EssayId=26. Accessed 3 Mar. 2017.

Schumm, Laura. “The Wartime Origins of the M&M”, June 2, 2014.  History.com. http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/the-wartime-origins-of-the-mm. Accessed  3 Mar. 2017.

Butler, Stephanie. “D-Day Rations: How Chocolate Helped Win the War”, June 6, 2014. History.com. http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/d-day-rations-how-chocolate-helped-win-the-war. Accessed  3 Mar. 2017.

Graber, Cynthia and Twilley, Nicola. (2017, Jan 30). We Heart Chocolate. Gastropod. Podcast retrieved from https://gastropod.com/we-heart-chocolate/

Image Credits

(in descending order)

http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/d-day-rations-how-chocolate-helped-win-the-war

http://dyingforchocolate.blogspot.com/2012_05_01_archive.html

http://pocketsofdelight.blogspot.com/2013_06_01_archive.html

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/319192692320412964/

http://users.psln.com/~pete/pow_D-Bar.htm

http://blog.hersheyarchives.org/category/world-war-ii/

http://dyingforchocolate.blogspot.com/2012_05_01_archive.html

http://www.hersheyarchives.org/essay/details.aspx?EssayId=26

http://www.thecuriousg.com/blog/2016/03/03/mmmmm-mms-75/

Chocolate’s Journey from Medicine to Food

In The Prisoner of Azkaban, as Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts to begin his third year at school, his train is ambushed by a group of wraiths. One of them attacks Harry, leaving him cold and shaking at the floor of his compartment. Luckily for the young wizard, a fellow traveler hands Harry a piece of chocolate; Harry then “took a bite and to his great surprise felt warmth spread suddenly to the tips of his fingers and toes” (86).

In a world where wizards and witches travel by broomstick, mend wounds with a wave of a wand, and slay larger-than-life beasts, it is chocolate that heals an ailing wizard? Maybe chocolate’s history has something to bear on this interpretation: might there be clues in the cultural history of chocolate why this substance has special powers of health?

In its first uses by Europeans, chocolate was associated with medicine, credited with healing a variety number of human ailments. Part of this is because chocolate, containing caffeine and theobromine (both stimulants) does have a measurable effect on mood—but its status as an elixir can be traced back to Europeans’ early understanding of the product.

Seventeenth-century Europeans understood their own bodies as composed of four humors; you’re healthy when they’re in balance. In this precarious scale, it was important to know where your foods fit in: were they moist, cold, hot, dry? For sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europeans, chocolate (along with sugar and coffee and tea) presented a profound problem of classification, as they were encountering it for the first time (Coe 128).

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Title page from a 1652 pamphlet promoting the health benefits of chocolate prepared and consumed correctly.

Perhaps chocolate was medicine, good for your humors if you took it correctly. Many pages of the 1652 publication “Chocolate: Or, An Indian Drinke,” an English translation of a Spanish text that extols the benefits of chocolate, are devoted to debating the food’s true properties: Is it dry, or wet? Is it hot, or cool? The author concedes that chocolate is sometimes hot and sometimes cool, sometimes moist and sometimes dry. Moderation is key—it’s bound to be good for you under the right conditions. Can you add cinnamon, or would that be too hot? Are there times of the year where it might be more beneficial? In the following passage, he advises the seasons to drink it: “You may take it till the Moneth of May, especially in temperate dayes. But I doe not approve, that in the Dogdayes it should be taken in Spaine, unlesse it be one, who by custome of taking it, receives no prejudice by it” (37). In other words, don’t drink it when it’s hot out, unless you like to drink it when it’s hot out.

As the food historian Ken Albala has pointed out, physicians had financial incentive to promote chocolate as a pharmaceutical: “In thriving competition with those who sold chocolate for mere pleasure, physicians insisted that chocolate is more properly a medicine than a food and they utilized any available explanatory system to bolster their arguments” (Albala 54). Indeed, the mental calisthenics of classifying foods to these categories pushed Nicolas Blegny, the physician to King Louis XIV, to complain about the “useless reasoning of one who comes to the conclusion that chocolate is cold, the arguments of another who sustains that it’s hot, in a word which leads to another pretending to prove that it’s tempered”(quoted in Albala 67). And this problem, combined with the ever-expanding medicinal uses of chocolate and the uptick in its recreational use, would slowly erode the product’s early stature as a powerful medicine.

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1930s Hershey’s advertisement promoting chocolate syrup for health

While medicine may have provided chocolate with a point of entry into the European household, historians point out that therapeutic uses of cacao quickly gave way to recreational ones. Sophie and Michael Coe write, “soon [chocolate] became a medicine that was appreciated for its taste, its filling nature, and its stimulation” (126). Sidney Mintz takes a similarly utilitarian view of sugar—another new, exotic food entering European diets—that can be applied to chocolate as well: “The former medicinal purposes of sugar were now assimilated into a new function, that of a source of calories” (Mintz 108). These historians claim that by the late 17th century, these new, possibly miraculous substances introduced into Europe just decades before had become demystified. Once potential drugs and dangers, they became food.

But can we leave the story there? After sugar became merely a source of calories and chocolate became merely a consumer good, the forces of industrialization and commercialization began to pick up some of the threads where early medicine left off. Advertisements, not physicians, could make new claims about the health benefits chocolate had to offer. In this way, chocolate companies the new physicians, eager to sell exclusive formulas to an audience eager for novel concoctions.

A popular strategy to market chocolate was to promote its contributions to health.

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Early 20th century advertisement for chocolate as a restorative.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, candymakers made claims about the virtues of chocolate for children, for workers, for women. A 1900 Hershey’s advertisement called their bars “more sustaining than meat.” Another from the early 20th century depicts children climbing chocolate jars on their way to better health. Another advertisement from Baker’s makes the claim that doctors are recommending the chocolate to fight fatigue. Maybe all of these strategies, which now seem wrongheaded, come from the same tradition of promoting chocolate as something to restore our humors, reset our balance, when deployed correctly. They want to draw on the uncertain line between medicine and food.

After all, if chocolate can restore vitality to the world’s most famous wizard, imagine what it can do for us muggles.

Works Cited
Albala, Ken. “The Use and Abuse of Chocolate in 17th Century Medical Theory,” 2007 Food and Foodways, 15:1-2 (2007): 53-74.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013.
Colmenero de Ledesma, Antonio, Chocolate: or, An Indian Drinke By the wise and Moderate use whereof, Health is preserved, Sicknesse Diverted, and Cured, especially the Plague of the Guts; vulgarly called The New Disease; Fluxes, Consumptions, & Coughs of the Lungs, with sundry other desperate Diseases. By it also, Conception is Caused, the Birth Hastened and facilitated, Beauty Gain’d and continued. Trans. James Wadsworth. London: John Dakins, 1652. Available from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21271/21271-h/21271-h.htm (Accessed March 10, 2017).
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, 1999.

Economic Viability vs. Social Responsibility: A Glimpse into Cadbury’s Early Business Ethics

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Every spring, particularly around Easter, the iconic Cadbury Creme Eggs (pictured above) command significant shelf space in nearly every store. For many decades people around the world have received immense pleasure from cracking the egg’s chocolate shell open to release the gooey and cloyingly sweet yellow and white fondant, which resembles a chicken egg, but tastes drastically different. Before the idea for the traditional Cadbury Creme Egg was hatched, the Cadbury company struggled to sustain its favor with the public. Chocolate adulteration scandals and questionable business ethics created public relations nightmares and could have ruined the chocolate giant. Perhaps you will be surprised (or not) to learn that Cadbury’s idyllic Quaker village in Bournville, England, constructed during a time of chocolate success and expansion, revealed a lifestyle and way of conducting business very contradictory to the laborers who procured the cocoa.[1]

Despite the Quaker values of the Cadbury family, they made some questionable decisions in terms of business ethics. When it came to the adulteration of chocolate, which littered the chocolate industry during the 1800s, and cocoa sourced under slave-like conditions, the Cadbury’s either turned a blind-eye or lacked proper oversight throughout their production chain. In these instances, it appears economic benefits outweighed moral duties.

While other companies were caught adding ground brick to their chocolate confections, Cadbury admitted to adding starch and flour to their products. By the end of the 19th century, the Cadbury chocolate adulteration scandals had been counteracted with advertising campaigns promoting their purity promise: “Absolutely Pure, Therefore Best” (Coe & Coe 2013, 245). This was successful and a period of growth followed. Keeping in line with the company’s Quaker values and its paternalistic interest in its workers, George Cadbury constructed a model village, Bournville, for Cadbury company workers complete with ample housing, recreation facilities, and a school (Satre 2005). The photograph below reveals just a small section of the Bournville Village circa 1903 with its clean, wide streets and large housing units surrounded by well-groomed landscaping. Although the company expected a high level of productivity and reliability from its chocolate factory workers during the 48-hour workweek, Cadbury clearly invested back into the community to create a family-like atmosphere.

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However, this idyllic chocolate community and way of life did not extend down to the cocoa laborers, perhaps because they were indirectly working for Cadbury. During the early 1900s, the Cadbury company relied on the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe for nearly half of its cocoa beans. Lowell Satre (2005, 24), author of Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business, reports that in 1902, Cadbury alone purchased 20% of the cocoa produced on those two islands.

Just one year prior, in 1901, Cadbury became aware of the post-abolition slavery practices on São Tomé and Príncipe after the release of some publications from British investigative journalist, Henry Nevinson (Martin 2017). However appalled George Cadbury may have been by the thought of enslaved workers procuring the cocoa his company processed, his 7-year remiss reaction failed to show any grave concern. Catherine Higgs (2012, 137), author of Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa reveals Cadbury, “rejected the idea of a boycott, since it would rob the chocolate makers of the leverage they enjoyed as major buyers of São Toméan cocoa.” Clearly boycotting slave-produced cocoa purely on moral grounds was not as important as economic clout and would only be used as a last resort tactic unless another economically viable option became available.

Technically, [legally] the cocoa laborers worked under a type of indentured servitude, as serviçaes, and could be repatriated after their contracts ended, though it was inefficaciously enforced. Despite Cadbury’s correspondence with island visitors who reported “good treatment” of workers, the death rate was still astronomical, with the life expectancy of an enslaved cocoa worker on São Tomé and Príncipe to be less than a decade (Higgs 2012 and Martin 2017). Even though cocoa laborers on the islands were not technically Cadbury employees, since the Cadbury company sourced a significant amount of their cocoa beans there, they were part of the demand issue that kept the laborers working more hours than required by their British counterparts. Thus, it begs the question, should Cadbury have been responsible for allowing these conditions to persist or aiding in alleviating them? Not only did the Cadbury company benefit from the cheap commodity produced by slave labor, but the Portuguese government did also. Knowing this, perhaps the British government should have shared in the responsibility as well.

Cadbury’s moral and social responsibility seemed to be reflected more in word than in deed. Although Cadbury investigated the conditions in São Tomé over several years, both in person and through correspondences with adversaries, he did not institute a boycott of slave-grown cocoa for nearly a decade after first learning of the severe conditions. Meanwhile, the company profited. Part of the reason for the delay was the thought that if English chocolate companies did not buy cocoa from São Tomé and Príncipe, “someone else would” (Satre 2005).

Unfortunately, this was true. When the Cadbury company finally ceased purchasing cocoa from the islands, along with a few other English chocolate firms, U.S. based chocolate companies swooped in. Cadbury had not miraculously decided to finally take the high road after eight years though. Two months prior, Cadbury purchased land on the Gold Coast (present day Ghana), with plans to build a factory site (Higgs 2012). While this new cocoa district was not experiencing the slave-like conditions of the islands, it offered a different form of cheap labor, which could be considered questionable labor practices as well.

Thus, this move to the Gold Coast was economically favorable and seemed to pacify public concerns. Inequalities still persisted between the chocolate factory workers in Britain and the cocoa harvesters in Africa. One thing is clear: satisfying commercial interests took priority. The battle between economic viability, moral duty and social responsibility still persists in the chocolate world today.

 

[1] In this post, “cocoa” is synonymous with cacao or cacao beans; the raw product or unprocessed commodity used to make chocolate.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013. The True History of Chocolate, 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

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

Martin, Carla. 2017. “Slavery and Forced Labor in the Atlantic World.” Lecture, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food from Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 1.

Satre, Lowell J. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens:     Ohio University Press.

Chocolate: Caloric Convenience or Conscientious Confection

Buying chocolate in America can be much like any other purchase in terms of the shockingly wide range of options, flavors, and price points made available to the consumer.  There are basic candies and bars that will satisfy a craving and there are expensive treats that claim to be so luxurious they go so far as to hint at the possibility of providing for a longer life (https://www.theochocolate.com/product/158).  All of these options are available under the name of chocolate and convenience.  This essay will focus on comparisons between only two candy aisles at two stores:  CVS and Whole Foods; both Fortune 500 companies, neither of which are confectioneries or chocolate houses.

CVS

CVS is a $117.4 billion (according to Forbes.com) drug retail company.  Not only are they the biggest retailer of prescription drugs and the second-largest pharmacy benefits manager in the U.S., but they also provide healthcare services through medical clinics and diabetes care centers.  In addition, they also sell chocolate.

True to their origins as a pharmaceutical vendor, when one walks into a CVS, it has a compact, efficient, and even slightly clinical look and feel.  The open space is brightly lit by overhead fluorescent lights, large red tags indicate where items can be found, and special offers and discounts are loudly displayed and announced overhead.  Even the retail staff members are dressed in white lab coats lending to the authenticity of a doctor’s waiting room.

This store prides itself on health, but also low prices and convenience.  It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and offers weekly and even daily special discounts.  The candy aisle is located at the front of the store near the entrance, across from toys and other fun, spontaneous, instant-gratification type items and extras.  Additional chocolate items are lined up under a selection of gum at the register for last-minute impulse purchases, with sale prices highlighted to focus attention on the discount provided.

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Display at the CVS checkout counter. Candy bars, placed under the gum, are all on sale for $0.88 or buy one and get the second one at a 50% discounted price.

As one walks to the candy aisle, the packaging and marketing materials (mostly plastic) are immediately noticeable in bright colors, bold fonts, and large labels.  The branding, for most American customers, would be quickly recognized as all belonging to the “big chocolate” brands:  Hershey’s, Ferrero Rocher, Nestle, Mars, and Cadbury (Martin, “The rise”).

There are bars of chocolate, but the majority of products offered are blended with, or provide a shell coating over, less expensive products.  The iconic milk chocolate Hershey’s bar is showcased in the middle row at eye-level, sharing the shelf with Nestle Chunky bars (a chunky-shaped candy bar with milk chocolate, California raisins, and roasted peanuts). Nips (a hard candy, some of which contain a chocolate-flavored filling), Dove chocolate bars and Cadbury Dairy Milk bars are above.  Below are larger packages of bars, including:

  • Hershey’s Special Dark (a semi-sweet chocolate bar)
  • Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme (a white candy bar with pieces of chocolate-flavored cookies interspersed)
  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (large chocolate coated peanut butter confections)
  • York Peppermint Patties (dark chocolate-covered soft peppermint disks)
  • Hershey’s Mounds (a dark-chocolate covered center made from shredded coconut)
  • Hershey’s Almond Joy (a milk chocolate-covered coconut-based center topped with almonds)
  • Mars Snickers (a milk chocolate-covered nougat topped with caramel and peanuts)
  • Mars Milky Way (a chocolate-covered chocolate malt flavored nougat with caramel)
  • Nestle Butterfinger (a chocolate-toffee-covered bar with a flaky, crisp, peanut butter-flavored center)

These items can be purchased individually; however, the majority of the products are in gradually increasing sizes and quantities with prices ranging from $0.39 to $0.89 an ounce.  While no great mention or display is made with regard to the ingredients, origin, manufacturing practices, ethical concerns, or quality of cacao in these products, three of the four Dove chocolate bars are stamped with the Rainforest Alliance certification.

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CVS aisle stocked mostly with large-packaged chocolates.

Based on the selection provided:  the absence of cacao mentioned, the presence of larger size packages, the heavy focus on additional ingredients such as nuts, fruits, and/or confections, and lower bulk prices that accompany them, etc., we learn that the CVS’s targeted audience has limited time and money to spend.  The intention is “caloric consumption,” grab and go convenience, a meal substitution or perhaps simply to ease a craving.

Whole Foods

Whole Foods is an $18.8 billion (according to Forbes.com) supermarket chain that claims to be “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” (www.wholefoodsmarket.com).  Their goal is to sell the healthiest foods possible and offer products that are free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, and hydrogenated fats.  There is a welcoming feel to the expansive space.  The lighting is warm without being harsh, the walls are lined with soft wood, posted signs are in uniformly calming tones, and helpful employees all wear green aprons.  It has the look and feel of an up-scale farmers market.

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Candy aisle at Whole Foods.

One can find the candy aisle located next to the produce section, across from organic baby foods, and adjacent to a beautiful display of organic “Whole Body” healing bath salts and soaps.  The chocolate bars (mainly bars and mostly dark, only a few milk chocolate or blended confections are offered) are wrapped in expensive papers and foils featuring endangered species, philanthropic organizations and specific causes, picturesque scenes or artistically created designs.

There are no “big chocolate” products to be found.

Each bar appears to have been hand-selected from a variety of artisanal chocolatiers.  Some are smaller than others, but all promise their own unique look, feel, story, and taste.

Instead of being recognized and advertised by known “big chocolate” brand names, these brands chose to focus instead on highlighting select ingredients and percentage of cacao.  Each bar clearly calls out the selected ingredients, origin and percentage of cacao as well as the origin and processing of any included ingredients.  Some examples include:

  • 45% cacao milk chocolate with Congo coffee and cream
  • 55% dark chocolate with chilies and cherries
  • 57% organic dark chocolate with sea salt and caramel
  • 60% dark stone ground chocolate with toffee almond and sea salt
  • 65% dark chocolate with forbidden rice
  • 70% organic fair trade dark chocolate with cherry almond
  • 70% dark chocolate bar with ancho chile, cinnamon, and orange
  • 72% cacao organic dark chocolate, cardamom, cinnamon, and chili
  • 88% cacao – extreme dark
  • 99% cacao
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Some of Whole Foods’ chocolate selection.

Ethical, health, and religious concerns are also addressed through seals of (sometimes multiple) certifications on each chocolate bar, such as: Demeter, Whole Trade, Fair Trade, Fair for Life, Direct Trade, Non GMO Project Verified, Oregon Tilth, Certified Gluten-Free, Rainforest Alliance, Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Certified Cacao, Dairy-Free, Soy-Free, Vegan, Kosher Dairy, and USDA Organic. If additional information is desired, the store has also placed a display rack at the entrance to the aisle featuring a free publication titled, “For a Better World, Issues & Challenges for a Just Economy.”  It even includes a reference guide to fair trade and worker welfare programs provided to educate customers and raise awareness levels of labor practices.

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Whole Foods’ chocolate selection.
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Fair World Project free magazine provided to customers at Whole Foods.

The price points reflect the additional information, attention to detail, and more expensive packaging.  Costs per ounce range from $0.59 to $3.85.  Not only are costs higher than CVS, but even the cost differential within Whole Foods’ offerings are significant.

Errol Schweizer, executive global grocery coordinator for Whole Foods Market, stated that “The fair trade chocolate category in our grocery departments has grown by more than 350 percent over the past five years. That’s a true indicator that ourshoppers are really making a positive impact on the lives of cocoa growers in developing countries” (Martin, “Alternative trade”).

The intended audience has time and money to spend.  Whole Foods has created a shopping experience that intentionally targets the “conscientious consumer,” someone who is educated on agricultural sourcing and labor practices – or would at least like to be.

These high-end chocolates are being provided for someone who wants to treat themselves to something delicious and feel good about it; a way of thinking that their self-indulgence (via the chocolate and price point) is making a positive impact on the world around them.

Ultimately, both stores sell chocolate while focusing on “health” and “healthier living”, albeit through very different lenses.  CVS provides chocolate and chocolate-coated items intended for mass consumption at a lower price point – making the process as quick and efficient as possible through placement and known brands.  Whole Foods provides high-end, more artisanal chocolates intended for indulgence at higher price points.  Their goal is to provide their customers with a buying experience – chocolate is located in the middle of the store (not as convenient for quick shops) and intended to have time to browse, read, and learn about different products and practices as part of a shopping routine.

 

Works Cited

Fair World Project. “For a Better World:  Issues & Challenges for a Just Economy.” Issue 12 Spring 2016.

Forbes.  The World’s Most Valuable Brands. http://www.forbes.com/companies/cvs-health/.  N.p. N.d. Web. 11 May 2016.

Martin, Carla D. “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 6 Apr. 2016. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Haute patisserie, artisan chocolate, and food justice: the future?” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 27 Apr. 2016. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 9 Mar. 2016. Class Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.

Theo Chocolate, Inc.  Chocolate Bars. https://www.theochocolate.com/product/158. N.p. N.d. Web. 11 May 2016.

Whole Foods Market.  http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com. N.p. N.d. Web. 11 May 2016.