Category Archives: Multimedia Essay 1

“The Drink of the Elite”

Today, due to the commonality of chocolate as an everyday treat, except for the most expensive, finest-quality chocolates consumed by the those with “well-lined pockets,” (Coe 95), it might be difficult to imagine chocolate as “the emperor’s banquet” (Coe 96). However, pre-Columbian customs reflect a history of chocolate as “the drink of the elite” (Coe 95). The history of this truth lies in glyphs and memoirs recounted by sources who bore witness to this luxury. Chocolate held a place in society by which commoners rarely partook. The historical significance of this custom allows one to trace the history of chocolate as it has evolved for today’s culture to appreciate. History often does not offer palatable derivation.

To extrapolate upon this history, one has imagined that the cacao bean is “the bean of the gods.”

1192575_900

The Aztec elite – the royal house, lords and nobility, long-distance merchants, and warriors (Coe 95) imbibed chocolate, adding to the glory of their imperial existence. With exception, soldiers were welcomed to join, but chocolate was mostly confined to the noble class. This distinction also excluded priests. Coe contends that this chocolate ritual might resemble champagne toasts among today’s elite. This insertion might help present-day society understand the importance of the historical feast that these rulers enjoyed: for champagne is not the usual drink of twenty-first century patrons.

One should note that chocolate was served at the end of the meal. Much like tobacco, brandy, and cigars, chocolate was a delicacy to be appreciated at banquet’s end (Coe 95). Every cultural norm deserves study as one envisions the life of those who celebrated these rites. It is purported that Aztec Emperor Montezuma drank more than his fair share of chocolate!

17267468_799376693547619_8598700822114598912_n

 

The sources upon which this tradition rests include eye-witness accounts of grandiosity and extravagance. Keep in mind that these centuries-old tales were often passed down by the emperors themselves. One story from Bernal Diaz del Castillo involves a “colossal event” in which “300 dishes were prepared especially for him” (Coe 95). Coe adds that Bernal Diaz was in his eighties when he recollected this celebration. Coe also suggests that the hyperbolic manner in which this tale is presented includes other dubious statements in his testimony. However, other accounts, including one from Fray Bartolome de la Casa, might seem more reliable as he, a Dominican friar, was less removed from this glory (Coe 96). According to Las Casas, chocolate was drank from calabash, painted vessels, from the gourds of the calabash tree (Presilla 12) and not from chalices of gold and silver. Regardless of the storyteller, Aztec artifacts confirm that chocolate was not for mere mortals but rather that of the upper class. These artifacts include glyphs and painted pictures that told a story of chocolate’s history. Vessels have been discovered with these artifacts, proving this legacy.

Many desired this social standing: for the pochteca, long-distance traders, regularly enjoyed chocolate drink (Coe 96). Those merchants who aspired to be among those ranks were obliged to host expensive banquets to prove their ability to maintain this economic status (Coe 97). This obligation deserves attention because it is a reflection of “climbing up the ranks” by which today’s society is held. Chocolate was synonymous with “luxury and status” (Presilla 14), but the costliness of this endeavor is a price that many sacrificed. This membership with its costly expenditures was tied to chocolate etiquette (Coe 98). Without this history, one might not appreciate the value of Aztec goods.

 

Works Cited

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

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2001.

A Pretense of Ethics: Slavery in Cocoa and Sugar Production

While slavery has technically been abolished in much of the world since the end of the 19th century, that does not prevent it from still occurring. Specifically, the chocolate and sugar production industries are notorious for slavery and poor labor conditions in the production of their products. Tactics were used by various chocolate and sugar producers to distance themselves from slavery while still supporting the system. The companies and its leadership would appear to be anti-slavery and pro-livable working conditions, however, those same companies used slaves in their production chains or ignored the use of slavery elsewhere. This allowed the companies to continue to use free and cheap labor to increase their profit while maintaining a positive public image.

The major concerns of all companies are profit and public image. Profit keeps the business afloat and successful. Public image ensures that consumers will continue to buy the company’s product, further helping their profit. These aspects take precedence over ethical dilemmas that companies may face even if the leadership of that company might strongly believe in resolving the ethical dilemma. A prime example of this is how the Cadbury company handled allegations that slavery existed in São Tomé and Príncipe, where they purchased over 45% of their cocoa for chocolate production (Satre 18).

The Cadbury family was known not only for being liberal and progressive but also decidedly anti-slavery. George Cadbury, the chairman, was a Quaker with many humanitarian and abolitionist friends, a member of the Anti-Slavery Society and the owner of the Daily News (London), which he used as a platform for the Liberal Party to advance its agenda that included abolition (Satre 16, 21). Cadbury even has a blue plaque publicly displayed in the United Kingdom professing his dedication to philanthropy, suggesting that he had an ethical and moral compass.

Blue_plaque_George_Cadbury
Blue Plaque to George Cadbury in England (Wikipedia Commons)

William Cadbury, another member of the company, when dealing with the issue of slavery in São Tomé and Príncipe constantly expressed interest in stopping it. In June 1902, he wrote, in reference to the Angola slave trade “I am willing to help any organised plan that your Society may suggest for the definite purpose of putting a stop to the slave trade of this district,” (Satre 22) clearly showing his support for ending the slave trade. However, all this talk of support was met with very little action that benefited the enslaved community in São Tomé and Príncipe that produced nearly a majority of the cacao purchased by the Cadbury company. It was not until seven years after Cadbury received the initial reports of slavery that their own commissioned report on the problem was hesitantly released (Satre 32).

The image of morality extended to the company itself. Scholar Charles Dellheim discusses the company culture of Cadbury and throughout the beginning, he attests to the ethical values held by Cadbury. The first things he says about Cadbury is “The Quaker beliefs of the Cadbury family shaped the ethic of the firm” and “The Cadburys practiced benevolence” (Dellheim 14). The fact that he opened with this praise of Cadbury ethics shows that the public image of Cadbury as an ethical company was strong and prominent. And they still had yet to actually stop purchasing cacao from plantations in São Tomé and Príncipe where slavery was present.

This disconnect between their talk and action was largely driven by Cadbury’s desire to increase profits and maintain a positive public image. William Cadbury, who was known to be liberal and anti-slavery, explained that the slavery he faced with his company now appeared different to him. He “admitted that one ‘looks at these matters in a different light when it affects one’s own interests’” (Satre 19) and he displayed this inability to see the issue of slavery as the same because it affected his own interests when he explained that Cadbury “should all like to clear our hands of any responsibility for slave traffic in any form” (qtd in Satre 19). This approach to slavery is very different from what he portrayed before about putting an end to the slave trade. Here, he wants to dissolve any responsibility that he or the company has with the existence of slavery, but it does not necessarily follow that slavery must be abolished for this to happen. In fact, when they eventually boycotted cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe, slavery was not eradicated, instead, they were no longer responsible and another chocolate company took their spot in purchasing cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe.

Despite the Cadbury’s professed commitment to abolition, they still allowed slavery to continue in São Tomé and Príncipe because ending it would “affect [their] own interests,” meaning the profit of their country. It would be costly to try to move production elsewhere and additionally pay more to purchase the new cacao because the laborers would actually be paid wages. Even Cadbury said, as paraphrased by Sir Martin Gosselin, that “this might mean paying a somewhat higher price at first; but they were ready to make this sacrifice, if by so doing they could put a stop to a disguised slave Trade” (Satre 24). Unfortunately, if this were truly the case, Cadbury would have worked to end the slave trade in São Tomé and Príncipe rather than just leave the region, still open to slavery, because they started to get pressure from their consumers.

Through all of this, Cadbury was additionally protecting their public image. While publicly they seemed to be anti-slavery, it is clear that their actions did not reflect that. However, they continued to push the image that they were moral, ethical and fair. Cadbury had several ads claiming that they chocolate was “pure”. Once such ad is shown below. While pure probably literally meant that there were physically no additives that might contaminate the chocolate, the word choice connotes a sort of innocence. Purity is associated with something clean, moral and without scandal.

30541815
Cadbury Advertisement in 1900 (The Advertising Archives)

Even in the report, they had commissioned on the working conditions in São Tomé and Príncipe, they sugar-coated the issue. There was an initial report that was revised to be less offensive to the Portuguese government and Higgs describes the difference in Chocolate Islands saying “The most striking difference between the two reports was the careful language in the 1907 version. As Burtt acknowledged, great care was taken to avoid ‘referring to the serviçaes as slaves or to the serviçal system as slavery, because, approaching the matter as I did with an open mind, I have wished to avoid question-begging epithets”(Higgs 136). Intuitively it would follow that Cadbury would look to end slavery in order to preserve their public image. However, their public image did not depend on whether slavery exists, it depended on whether they were tied to the slavery that exists, or as Cadbury put it, they were responsible for the slavery. Instead of actually working to end slavery, Cadbury looked to distance itself from the slavery that existed in their supply chain. This meant that they moved their production elsewhere, but did not ensure that slavery actually ended. As a result, the slavery continued even after they stopped purchasing from São Tomé and Príncipe.

In the following podcast, the story of William Cooper is explored. William Cooper was similarly anti-slavery and even started his own sugar production company that did not use slave labor. However, he owned slaves himself. Again, there is a contradiction between what is ultimately done versus the principles he held.

Ultimately, the motivations of profit and public image drive companies to do things that may not seem to fit with what they believe ethically. This creates a huge gap in justice and equality in production. It also allows the companies to feign ethics and morality without actually acting in defense of those things.

 

Works Cited

Cadbury. Cadbury magazine advertisement. The Advertising Archives. 1900,

http://www.advertisingarchives.co.uk/detail/37639/1/Magazine-

Advert/Cadburys/1900s.

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

2012, Athens, Ohio. 136.

Charles Dellheim. “The Creation of a Company Culture: Cadburys, 1861-1931.” The

             American Historical Review, vol. 92, no. 1, February 1997, pp. 13-44.

Lowell J. Satre. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business.

University Press, 2005, Athens, Ohio. 16-32.

Oosoom. Blue plaque to George Cadbury at 32 George Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham,

England. Wikimedia Commons. April 7, 2007,

2007, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blue_plaque_George_Cadbury.jpg.

“Sweet Talk: A History of Sugar.” From BackStory, 7 February

2014, http://backstoryradio.org/shows/sweet-talk.

 

 

Bernardino de Sahagún: First Anthropologist?

Anthropologists study people throughout the world, their evolutionary history, how they behave, adapt to different environments, communicate, and socialise with one another (Royal Anthropological Institute 2017). They do so with a scientific interest, they look to understand the people they are studying and look only to understand. There are no ulterior motives in true anthropology and they do not strive to change their research subjects in anyway. Bernardino de Sahagún has often been called the “First Anthropologist” for the work that he did studying the natives of Central America. While Bernardino de Sahagún should be recognized for his contributions to the field of anthropology and our understanding of Central America before the Spanish conquest, giving him the title of “first anthropologist” goes too far given his study’s evangelical motivations.

Born in 1499, Bernardino de Sahagún grew up and spent the first third of his life in Spain. He studied at the University of Salamanca which at the time was a “principal center of culture in Western Europe” (Leon-Portilla 2002). At the University he joined the priesthood and in 1529 he set sail with a group of Franciscan monks for the New World. Less than a decade after Cortes’ conquest the land of New Spain was filled with conflict when he arrived. During the early part of his time in the New World, he demonstrated a talent for learning native languages and worked at the Imperial College of Santa Cruz in Tatelolco instructing natives in a variety of different subjects. It was there that he trained his main collaborators who would assist him in the creation of a number of works about the people of Central America before the Spanish conquest. In 1547, he undertook his first research endeavor collecting 40 Huehuetlahtolli which were orations from the pre-Spanish literary tradition. His research efforts continued to expand until 1558 when he began his general study of New Spain which would led to the creation of the Historia General otherwise know as the Florentine Codex (Leon-Portilla 2002).

The Historia General is an incredibly important text for which Bernardino de Sahagún has received a number of accolades and acknowledgements. It is one of the few texts that describes life in Central America before the Spanish Conquest in great depth. In The True History of Chocolate, the Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe (2013, 65-66) argue “Fray Bernardino de Sahagún [is] rightly held by many in the anthropological profession to have been the world’s first field ethnographer.” Stuart B. Schwartz (2000, 24-25) points out “The Florentine Codex has been called one of the greatest ethnographic works ever.” The below is a statue erected to de Sahagún in Hidalgo, Mexico. There is also a statue of him in his hometown in Spain. These statutes illustrate the high levels of praise Bernardino de Sahagún has received for his work in New Spain.

BDSStatute

Among the number of biographies written about Sahagún, he has been called “the creator of anthropological research methodology” (Leon-Portilla 2002, citing D’Olwer) and “one of the high points of Spanish science” (Leon- Portilla 2002, citing Graibrois). Leon-Portilla’s (2002) biography is even called Bernardino de Sahagún: First Anthropologist.

While Bernardino de Sahagún’s work deserves many accolades, the claim that he is the “first anthropologist” goes too far. The explicit motivations for his study run counter to the central goals of anthropology as a science. He embarked on this research to learn as much as he could about the “idolatrous, human, and natural things” of New Spain (Leon-Portilla 2002, 133) in order to make evangelizing the natives of New Spain easier. Anthropology at its core is focused on understanding for understanding’s sake. De Sahagún’s project was focused on understanding with the aim of changing and eradicating. Leon-Portilla (2002, 133) admits this saying “it would be wrong to postulate that he was moved primarily by what we would qualify as scientific interest.”

The evangelizing goal of de Sahagún’s mission is indisputable. In the prologue to the first book of the Historia General he says that Fray Francisco de Toral ordered him to conduct and complete the work. The evangelizing mission is not about celebrating or understanding another culture or group of people. It is about changing a group of people’s beliefs and way of life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=484cFgk-p1c

The above link shows a clip from the 1986 movie The Mission which is about 18th Century Spanish Jesuit Missionaries in South America (Joffe and Bolt 1986). In this clip the natives are shown singing and chanting songs they have been taught by the missionaries. This is a dramatic representation of the missionaries’ tendency to encroach into the lives they are interacting with rather than just observing and understanding.

Bernardino de Sahagún should be acknowledged for this contributions to the world including pioneering some essential anthropological methods. His portrait by Cecil O’Gorman shown below rightly includes a book that alludes to his work among the natives in New Spain.

BDS

Bernardino de Sahagún should be remembered for this work, for showing the world what life in Central America looked like before the Spanish conquest. To call him the “First Anthropologist” goes too far and is ignoring reality. De Sahagún’s evangelistic motivations disqualify him from that title as the missionaries sought to understand and change, whereas anthropology at its core is about celebrating and understanding in and of itself.

The Anthropologist Ruth Benedict is quoted as saying “The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences” (Royal Anthropological Institute 2017). The work of missionaries does not align with this purpose. Bernardino de Sahagún was certainly an indigenist and an appreciator of native culture but he was a missionary and not the “first anthropologist.”

 

Works Cited

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

Joffé, Roland, and Robert Bolt. 1986. The Mission. Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video.

León Portilla, Miguel. 2002. Bernardino de Sahagun, First Anthropologist. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Royal Anthropological Institute. 2017. “What Is Anthropology?” Discover Anthropology. https://www.discoveranthropology.org.uk/about-anthropology/what-is-anthropology.html.

Schwartz, Stuart B. 2000. Victors and Vanquished: Spanish and Nahua Views of the Conquest of Mexico. Bedford Series in History and Culture. Boston: Bedford/StMartin’s.

 

The Evolution of Cacao-Based Drinks in Mexico

Millions of tons of chocolate are produced each year, yet few today would guess that this sugary treat had its origins in frothy, semi-sweet cacao drinks prepared for Maya and Aztec royalty. Chocolate bars, candies, cakes, and pastries are the most popular forms of the food in most of the US and Europe today. Chocolate milk and hot chocolate retain some basic similarity with the cacao drinks of thousands of years ago, yet they combine the chocolate with milk, sugar, and other ingredients that would have been foreign to the Maya and Aztecs. Yet, in Mexico, a tradition of cacao beverages has been preserved from the fall of the Aztec empire to the present day. In this paper, I investigate modern cacao drinks and argue that though they are often marketed with references to the Maya and Aztecs, modern drinks represent a unique hybridity of ancient traditions and European ingredients and styles of preparation.

Chemical analysis has shown that cacao beverages were produced in Mesoamerica as early as 1100 BCE.[1] Cacao beverages were prepared by both the Maya and Aztec, and were considered very precious because cacao beans were used as a form of currency.[2] Maya drinks, especially those produced in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, were known for being prepared hot, while Aztec cacao drinks were generally cold.[3] In Aztec times, cacao beverages were often prepared in different ways depending on the quality of the cacao. High quality cacao was combined with water and frothed, while lower-quality cacao was often combined with other ingredients, including corn, seeds, chili peppers, vanilla, and other flowers.[4] By the time the Spanish arrived in the 1600’s, cacao beverages were sold in markets across Mexico, though cacao remained expensive and had high social significance.[5] Because of the wide range of different flavorings combined with cacao drinks, different regions of present-day Mexico each had unique interpretations of cacao beverages during Aztec times.[6]

Today, Mexico still has a wide range of cacao-based drinks available in different regions of the country. During lecture on February 1st, we watched a video detailing the preparation of Champurrado, a popular chocolate beverage in Mexico today.[7] In this video, the drink is prepared using pre-processed bars of dark chocolate, rather than the raw cacao that would have been used in ancient beverages. Additionally, the Champurrado is mixed with sugar, milk, cinnamon, and star anise – additions that are distinctively European. However, Champurrado also contains masa harina (a form of corn flour) and water, and makes use of a traditional molinillo (an item introduced to Mesoamerica by the Spanish[8]) to mix the ingredients and create a froth. Though the mixture of cacao and water is distinctively Mesoamerican, the additional ingredients and use of a molinillo reflect the influence of Spanish colonialism.

However, Champurrado is just one of many popular cacao drinks in Mexico today – and just one of many unique combinations of ancient recipes and European influences. Today there are a variety of different cacao drinks made in different regions of Mexico, for example bu’pu in Tehuantepec, chorote in Tabasco, tascalate in Chiapas, and tejate in Oaxaca.[9]

Tejate is perhaps the most authentic, as archaeological research has shown that many of its ingredients, as well as the vessels it is served in, reflect the style of cacao beverages produced in Oaxaca for thousands of years.[10] According to a 2009 article from The Atlantic, in tejate’s recipe “you’ll almost always find a blend of nixtamal corn, cacao beans, mamey seed, and rosita de cacao–the secret ingredient that makes tejate truly special. Rosita de cacao is the flower of the funeral tree (Quararibea funebris).”[11] Once the ingredients are combined, tejate is served combined with water and topped with a pile of frothy foam.[12] Similar cacao-foam-based drinks can be found passed-down from generation to generation in Cholula, Puebla, and other regions of Mexico.[13] Though tejate combines cacao, corn, flowers, and abundant foam, much like ancient drinks, it also includes modern influences. Today, tejate is served with a sugar-based syrup, and some have experimented with serving tejate paste “in cookies, cake, ice, powder,” and other forms that stray away from the traditional liquid.[14] Though tejate recipes have been passed down for generations and represent a unique cultural inheritance, they have not been immune to the ingredients and new tastes imported by Spanish colonizers.

The video below describes a drink that can be found in Mexico City, Espuma de Cacao[15] – a beverage very similar to the tejate prepared across Oaxaca. However, it is notable that this version of the drink specifically calls it “El elixir de los Dioses” – the elixir of the Gods – a direct reference to the elite pedigree of cacao beverages in Maya and Aztec times. The video does not reference the influence of Spanish colonialism, yet the inclusion of sugar in the recipe reflects the changes to traditional recipes that occurred under Spanish rule.

Video is from OZY travel blog article.[16]

Besides the recipes for cacao-foam drinks passed down in communities across Mexico, there are also recipes that have been created specifically to recreate the cacao-drinking experience of the Aztecs and Mayans. Munchies documents some such recipes made by Fernando Rodriguez, a businessman in Teotihuacan.[17] Rodriguez uses recipes for ancient drinks, found in such sources as the Popul Vuh and Florentine Codex, to design modern drinks that rely on the same key spices, flavors, flowers, and production methods.[18] Though Rodriguez bases most of his drinks on the historical clues he finds from ancient writings, he still makes some blends that introduce cinnamon, ginger, and other spices that were first introduced to Mesoamerica by Spanish colonizers.[19]

Though different areas of Mexico each have their own variations on how to prepare and serve cacao-based drinks, there are common threads that connect all these beverages. In all areas, modern Mexicans are proud of their unique cultural heritage stemming from Aztec and Maya civilization, and market modern cacao drinks for the ancient wisdom and tradition that they perpetuate. Many of the ancient drink-making customs remain the same – corn, flowers, and water are often added, and foam is still often considered a desirable element to top the beverage. Yet, Spanish and European taste and colonial influence can also be seen in many variations of these drinks. The most common manifestation of this is the addition of sugar, though cinnamon, ginger, star anise, other spices, and milk also reflect the influx of European ingredients and taste preferences. The cacao beverages produced across Mexico today are unique, with no clear counterpart in most other countries, yet they represent both the heritage of ancient civilizations and, more subtly, the complex and difficult legacy of Spanish colonialism.

 

[1] John S. Henderson, Rosemary A. Joyce, Gretchen R. Hall, W. Jeffrey Hurst, and Patrick E. Mcgovern, “Chemical and Archaeological Evidence for the Earliest Cacao Beverages,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, no. 48 (2007): 18937. http://www.pnas.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/content/104/48/18937.full

[2] Sophie D. Coe, and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 3rd ed. (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013), 81-84.

[3] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 83-84.

[4] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 86-94.

[5] Daniela Soleri, Marcus Winter, Steven R. Bozarth, and W. Jeffrey Hurst, “Archaeological Residues and Recipes: Exploratory Testing for Evidence of Maize and Cacao Beverages in Postclassic Vessels from the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico,” Latin American Antiquity 24, no. 03 (2013): 345-62, 345-347, accessed via Hollis, http://www.jstor.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/stable/23645680?seq=3#page_scan_tab_contents

[6] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 94.

[7] Dr. Carla Martin, “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods,’” February 1, 2017, slide 82, https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1FzrAQvjXJZnu7lTixblZ1FsyfDjnXtQ-8JyXd2uq5ZM/edit#slide=id.gef490479d_4_279

[8] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 83-85.

[9] Soleri, et al, “Archaeological Residues and Recipes,” 347.

[10] Soleri, et al, “Archaeological Residues and Recipes.”

[11] Alex Whitmore, “Cacao Tejate: Ancient Chocolate Drink,” The Atlantic, April 28, 2009, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/04/cacao-tejate-ancient-chocolate-drink/16609/

[12] Whitmore, “Cacao Tejate.”

[13] Margot Castaneda, “How Mexico Is Rediscovering (and Reinventing) Ancient Cacao Drinks,” Munchies (a branch of Vice News), January 7, 2017, https://munchies.vice.com/en_us/article/how-mexico-is-rediscovering-ancient-cacao-drinks

[14] Castaneda, “How Mexico Is Rediscovering (and Reinventing) Ancient Cacao Drinks.”

[15] Libby Coleman, “This Chocolatey Mexican Drink Will Get You Foaming at the Mouth,” OZY, January 24, 2017, http://www.ozy.com/good-sht/this-chocolatey-mexican-drink-will-get-you-foaming-at-the-mouth/75134

[16] Coleman, “This Chocolatey Mexican Drink.”

[17] Castaneda, “How Mexico Is Rediscovering (and Reinventing) Ancient Cacao Drinks.”

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

 

Bibliography

Multimedia Sources 

Castaneda, Margot. “How Mexico Is Rediscovering (and Reinventing) Ancient Cacao Drinks.” Munchies (a branch of Vice News). January 7, 2017. https://munchies.vice.com/en_us/article/how-mexico-is-rediscovering-ancient-cacao-drinks

Coleman, Libby. “This Chocolatey Mexican Drink Will Get You Foaming at the Mouth.” OZY. January 24, 2017. http://www.ozy.com/good-sht/this-chocolatey-mexican-drink-will-get-you-foaming-at-the-mouth/75134

Whitmore, Alex. “Cacao Tejate: Ancient Chocolate Drink.” The Atlantic. April 28, 2009. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/04/cacao-tejate-ancient-chocolate-drink/16609/

 

Academic Sources 

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Henderson, John S., Rosemary A. Joyce, Gretchen R. Hall, W. Jeffrey Hurst, and Patrick E. Mcgovern. “Chemical and Archaeological Evidence for the Earliest Cacao Beverages.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, no. 48 (2007): 18937. Accessed via Hollis. http://www.pnas.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/content/104/48/18937.full

Martin, Carla. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” February 1, 2017. https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1FzrAQvjXJZnu7lTixblZ1FsyfDjnXtQ-8JyXd2uq5ZM/edit#slide=id.gef490479d_4_279

Soleri, Daniela, Marcus Winter, Steven R. Bozarth, and W. Jeffrey Hurst. “Archaeological Residues and Recipes: Exploratory Testing for Evidence of Maize and Cacao Beverages in Postclassic Vessels from the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico.” Latin American Antiquity 24, no. 03 (2013): 345-62. accessed via Hollis. http://www.jstor.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/stable/23645680?seq=3#page_scan_tab_contents

Hershey in War, from Rations to Friendship

Headquartered in rural Pennsylvania, over 87% of Hershey’s total revenues are based in North America, despite corporate strategies promoting global market expansion. Of Hershey’s twelve production facilities, ten are in North America and only two are in Asia.[1] Despite production and consumption based in the United States, the Hershey name has made a significant impact internationally through its association with the American military. This relationship heightens the dichotomy between cacao as a source of sustenance and a luxurious treat. Cacao promotes athletics and war on the one hand, pleasure and enjoyment on the other. In the U.S., Hershey supplied ration bars for soldiers. Its classic candies have bridged cross-cultural divides from World War I through the Berlin Airlift, the swamps of Vietnam to the deserts of Iraq.

The first documented histories of chocolate reveal the origins of the bean’s association with both indulgence and nutrition. Civilizations in Latin and South America recognized that “Armies travel on their stomachs.” The Aztecs, for example, believed that chocolate provided energy to fighters, who consumed the beverage before battle. [2] This tradition extended to European society. Britain’s Cadbury proclaimed that its cocoa, “Makes men stronger,” while Hershey deemed its chocolate bar “A meal in itself.”[3] Enjoyment of chocolate thereby spread from royal circles to the masses while it maintained its association with energy and success.[4]

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Soldiers continued to rely on chocolate as portable, high-energy fuel. In the French and Indian War, Benjamin Franklin sent each colonial officer six pounds of chocolate. The Continental Congress set price controls on cocoa, and the Americans rejoiced after the British left behind pounds of chocolate at the Fort of Ticonderoga.[5] World War II marked the intersection between the commercialization of chocolate production and the mass mobilization of armies. Mars created M&M’s in 1932, after Forrest Mars saw Spanish troops eating chocolate beads encased in sugar (to prevent melting). Mars sold M&M’s exclusively to the US military during WWII until turning to the public market in 1948.[6]

While Mars approached the U.S. to begin their relationship, the state reached out to Hershey.[7] The Office of War Information popularized the “militarization of food” through posters, film shorts, radio broadcasts, and propaganda that the Allie would win from combining democratic institutions with productive capitalism.[8] The initial request for Hershey in 1937 was for a 4 ounce bar, high in energy, resistant to heat, and tasting “little better than a boiled potato.”[9] The resulting product was terribly dense, earned the moniker “Hitler’s Secret Weapon” for its effect on the digestive system, and found itself more often discarded than eaten. Hershey continues to revise the recipe, introducing new iterations from Korea to Vietnam.[10]

Sugar-filled, traditional version of American chocolate became tools of diplomacy across language, culture, and generational gaps, a narrative that Hershey helped build. World War I saw troops from opposing trenches across the western front held a temporary truce in December of 1914.[11] British soldiers shared Rowntree chocolate biscuits, sent to support soldiers from its headquarters in York. They broke the biscuits together and then they played friendly games of football, at least until the war resumed the next week.[12] During World War II, this process began at home. Hotel Hershey interned 300 Vichy diplomats in the United States from 1942 through late 1943, since C-suite officials of Hershey offered the Hotel to the State Department.[13] Diplomats and wealthy businessmen, including the Hershey family and even the Vichy diplomats, continued to frequent luxury French dining establishments to enjoy chocolate, despite rationing restraints.[14] Meanwhile, the general public was forced to remove sugar from large parts of their diet.[15] Thus, the elite continued to mix chocolate and business, while soldiers and the poor traded in traditional sweet treats for subpar alternatives.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Chocolate from the United States began to foster goodwill among noncombatants soon thereafter. Operation Vittles earned international acclaim during the Berlin Airlift, when 1st Lt. Gail Halvorsen included a few pieces of candy for children in his drops. Soon, his fellow soldiers began to participate, chipping in Hershey treats from their rations. As the public grew aware of the effort, corporations began to donate massive shipments of candy. Ultimately Halvorsen dropped 12 tons of candy and gum for the children of West Berlin from his C-47.[16]

Memoirs of American soldiers exchanged dropping candy out of planes for personal contact with children through candy. David Todeschini arrived in Vietnam as a medical aid provider at age 19. In his first visit to an orphanage, he recalled how,

[The children] ran out to greet us, asking for candy bars, and to have their pictures taken. We had a box full of assorted candies, chocolate, and peanuts donated by the GIs on base, which we distributed immediately upon our arrival; the cache being depleted in less time than it took for the medics to unload their medicine and equipment from the jeeps.[17]

Though the friendship began with sugar and smiles, he argued that the children “sure took notice of us, and it certainly goes beyond the fact that they always begged us for chocolate and candy—you could see it in their eyes, and many of us could see ourselves in their faces.”[18] Steven Alexander expressed similar sentiments in his memoir. The soldiers dreaded receiving C-ration boxes with tropical Hershey chocolate bars, too hot ever to melt and inedible. He instead found joy through chocolate by giving children Hershey bars and then seeing their reactions. Alexander reflected, “I only wished I had a real chocolate Hershey bar from home so she could really enjoy the candy. But she seemed to be happy with what I gave her.”[19] His tropical bar ration may not have added to his happiness, but the classic Hershey treat let him give temporary good cheer to others.

However, these relationships sometimes soured. Todeschini recounted a horrific, heart-wrenching dilemma that faced some of his comrades. The Vietcong began using children as weapons, playing on the moral affinity of American soldiers for local children:

Here comes an innocent child running down a dirt path, barefoot, and carrying about five or 6 pounds of high explosives heading right for you. The child may be racing several others to get there first; to be the first to get a Hershey bar. You know that in 10 seconds, you, your comrades, and the children will die.[20]

Could any man bring himself to shoot? The Vietnam War left behind some valid, anti-American sentiment. However, many of the soldiers attempted to build relationships with local communities based on trust, companionship, and shared appreciation for Hershey. These efforts sometimes ended tragically, but they facilitated an image of generosity regarding American soldiers toward Vietnamese children.

Most recently, the U.S. Air Force has been engaged in dropping food, water, and medicine to people struggling in remote areas, separated from relief by fighting. Another single pilot began this wave, this time Master Sergeant Stephen Brown, who added a little candy to each drop before his peers joined him.[21] Of the 109 bundles of 10,545 gallons of water and 7,056 Halal Meals Ready to Eat, each contained Hershey bars, Starbursts, or other sweets. Brown reflected that they hoped to provide “something that will make a dire situation a little brighter, even if it’s just for a few moments.”[22] Though Hershey remains a distinctly American brand, its reputation has thus extended overseas through the military, from the trenches of France to the desserts of Iraq. Hershey chocolate’s role in military rations and in civilian contacts recalls a dichotomy that has existed since the earliest days of chocolate, between sustenance and pleasure. However, the reality that Hershey chocolate, in both cases, is provided by Americans to soldiers and to children, respectively, shows that it continues to reflect a legacy of luxury and elite access, even in this arena.

[Word Count: 1293]

[1] “The Hershey Company,” 10-K (Hershey, PA, December 31, 2015), https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/47111/000004711116000095/a2015_formx10-kq4.

[2] Sophie Coe and Michael Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 3rd ed. (London: Thames & Hudson, 2013), 73.

[3] Ibid., 239.

[4] Ibid., 234. The rise of financial systems in Protestant countries, with capital stores and technological framework, facilitated this democratization of chocolate. The estates of sugar plantations in outposts of empire reduced the price of sugar. And two inventions specifically improved taste and lowered price: Van Houten’s addition of alkaline (to reduce bitterness) and Fry’s creation of milk chocolate (to increase sweetness and lower price).

[5] Though these blocks did not have sugar added, their caffeine content energized soldiers just as they had the Aztecs. Rodney Synder, “History of Chocolate: Chocolate in the American Colonies,” Colonial Williamsburg, http://www.history.org/history/teaching/enewsletter/volume9/jan11/featurearticle.

[6] Mars formed a partnership with Hershey’s, founded in 1898, to supply the milk chocolate for this confection until he could produce the filling internally. M&M’s remain a part of Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) today. Laura Schumm, “The Wartime Origins of the M&M,” History.com, 2017, http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/the-wartime-origins-of-the-mm.

[7] Allison Carruth, “War Rations and the Food Politics of Late Modernism,” Modernism/Modernity 16, no. 4 (January 1, 2010): 767–95, doi:10.1353/mod.0.0139.

[8] Carruth, 770; U. S. Office of War Information, Food for Fighters, 1943, http://archive.org/details/FoodforF1943. This short film argued that “Food correctly used means fighting strength for our soldiers and better health for civilians,” discussing food plants, university laboratories, and quartermaster corporal studies. These promoted “good food in plenty of variety,” supplied on the front using repurposed assembly lines from candy companies.

[9] Stephanie Butler, “D-Day Rations: How Chocolate Helped Win the War,” History.com, http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/d-day-rations-how-chocolate-helped-win-the-war.

[10] For more information on the evolution of Hershey through military research, alongside other food developments, see Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat (New York, New York: Current, 2015). These chocolate bars have remained relatively unpalatable given the difficulty of replicating the melting temperature of good chocolate once eaten without turning into a puddle in desert heat.

[11] Iain Adams, “A Game for Christmas? The Argylls, Saxons and Football on the Western Front,” International Journal of the History of Sport 32, no. 11 (June 2015): 1395.

[12] Gemma Mullin, “New Exhibition Reveals How Chocolate Was Morale Booster for Soldiers,” Mail Online, July 22, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2701170/How-chocolate-helped-win-WW1-New-exhibition-reveals-important-confectionary-morale-booster-troops-trenches.html.

[13] This hotel was the center of the resort town centered on the Hershey factory in Pennsylvania. The State Department did pay Hershey a $256,643 bill, and the Hotel reopened to the public the next year. Jackie Kruper, “A Sweet Prison Camp,” World War II 20, no. 2 (May 2005): 58–60.

[14] Carruth, 779.

[15] The poor, at this point, relied on inexpensive treats like chocolate for 30% of their daily calories, so the rationing significantly impaired their nutrition. Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power (New York: Penguin, 1985), 256.

[16] “Berlin Airlift: The Chocolate Pilot,” PBS, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/airlift/sfeature/candy.

[17] David Todeschini, Land of Childhood’s Fears – Faith, Friendship, and the Vietnam War (Lulu.com, 2005), 105.

[18] Ibid., 19.

[19] Steven Alexander, An American Soldier in Vietnam (Page Publishing, 2013), chpt. 9; 10.

[20] Todeschini, 258.

[21] Dorian de Wind, “The ‘Candy Bombers’ of Iraq,” Huffington Post, September 4, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dorian-de-wind/the-candy-bombers-of-iraq_b_5769316.html.

[22] “The ‘Almost’ Candy Bombers of Iraq,” U.S. Air Force, accessed March 16, 2017, http://www.af.mil/News/ArticleDisplay/tabid/223/Article/494965/the-almost-candy-bombers-of-iraq.aspx.

~~~

Works Cited

Alexander, Steven. An American Soldier in Vietnam. Page Publishing Inc, 2013.

Butler, Stephanie. “D-Day Rations: How Chocolate Helped Win the War – Hungry History.” HISTORY.com. Accessed March 15, 2017. http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/d-day-rations-how-chocolate-helped-win-the-war.

Carruth, Allison. “War Rations and the Food Politics of Late Modernism.” Modernism/Modernity 16, no. 4 (January 1, 2010): 767–95. doi:10.1353/mod.0.0139.

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

Kruper, Jackie. “A Sweet Prison Camp.” World War II 20, no. 2 (May 2005): 58–60.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York: Penguin, 1985.

Mullin, By Gemma. “New Exhibition Reveals How Chocolate Was Morale Booster for Soldiers.” Mail Online, July 22, 2014. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2701170/How-chocolate-helped-win-WW1-New-exhibition-reveals-important-confectionary-morale-booster-troops-trenches.html.

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

Schumm, Laura. “The Wartime Origins of the M&M – Hungry History.” HISTORY.com. Accessed March 16, 2017. http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/the-wartime-origins-of-the-mm.

Synder, Rodney. “History of Chocolate: Chocolate in the American Colonies.” Colonial Williamsburg. Accessed March 16, 2017. http://history.org/history/teaching/enewsletter/volume9/jan11/featurearticle.cfm.

“The ‘Almost’ Candy Bombers of Iraq.” U.S. Air Force. Accessed March 16, 2017. http://www.af.mil/News/ArticleDisplay/tabid/223/Article/494965/the-almost-candy-bombers-of-iraq.aspx.

“The Berlin Airlift: The Chocolate Pilot.” PBS. Accessed March 15, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/airlift/sfeature/candy.html.

“The Hershey Company.” 10-K. Hershey, PA, December 31, 2015. https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/47111/000004711116000095/a2015_formx10-kq4.htm.

Todeschini, David. Land of Childhood’s Fears – Faith, Friendship, and the Vietnam War. Lulu.com, 2005.

S. Office of War Information. Food for Fighters, 1943. http://www.archive.org/details/FoodforF1943.

Wind, Dorian de. “The ‘Candy Bombers’ of Iraq.” Huffington Post, September 4, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dorian-de-wind/the-candy-bombers-of-iraq_b_5769316.html.

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

Churning into the “Chocolate Age:” How Industrial Age Technologies Created a New Chocolate Era

You may be surprised to find out that the chocolate that we know today is a relatively new, tasty discovery- one that came about from the Industrial Age.

When the Industrial Revolution took place, the world revolutionized with it, and industries of all kinds were forever altered. The chocolate industry, still in the Mayan age, sprouted into a new field and its effects can still be traced today. The technology in the Industrial Revolution provided the tools to advance the field of chocolate, which allowed for mass consumption and commercialization, giving way to the “Chocolate Age.”

Chocolate’s “God-Like” Beginnings

Cacao was considered the “food of the gods,” and was treated as such: before the Industrial Age, chocolate was made the traditional way that the Mayans made it with a long, drawn-out process of cracking shells and traditional grinding to create a bitter chocolate drink (unlike the chocolate of today) (Szogyi, 1997).

20100214_01a_kjf_ps_120.dng

Modern Mayan woman demonstrating how her ancestors

would grind cacao (Smithsonian)

This treat was considered to be a drink that was both a commodity and spiritual experience; although it was available to the masses, the wealthy certainly had more access to the treat because they could afford it. Cacao was taken as such a serious product that the Mayans used its seeds as currency; further, it was used to promote fertility and life, and cacao pods are found all over elite and ancient artifacts, temples, and palaces. Clearly, these uses and techniques demonstrate how luxurious chocolate was to them; these processes stayed this way even during the era of the Aztec empire and many centuries later (Horn, 2016 & Szogyi).

The Industrial Difference

This process of chocolate was so revered that it essentially did not change until the Industrial Age with a ground-breaking invention for grinding that used the newly-innovated steam and hydraulic process; in 1778, Doret, a Frenchman, invented a hydraulic machine that grinds cocoa beans into a paste (Beckett, Horn). Before then, the process of grinding was long and tedious and this machine allowed the process to become easier to create for the masses. Soon after, more inventions came along for grinding that further made consumption more popular. For instance, Dubuisson invented a steam chocolate grinder in France because it was even cheaper to replicate than Doret’s product, which allowed for an even higher level of mass consumption of chocolate. The Industrial Age created the environment to allow for this change – without steam and hydraulics, and the friendly and booming business atmosphere for support, Doret and Dubuisson would certainly not have been able to create these inventions. Where would be chocolate be today? One could reasonably predict that we could have eventually have had these technologies, but it is safe to assume that it would have taken the chocolate industry much longer to reach its glory.

The steam engine and hydraulic system are considered staples of this Industrial Age with new technologies across the boards for trains, factories, and buildings, but we can also appreciate how these technologies allowed for the advancement of chocolate technology. The value of chocolate significantly decreased because it was accessible to everyone; from here on, it was no longer an “elite” product or just a “food of the gods,” but, rather, a food for everyone. Thus, the Industrial Age that changed the world on so many fronts quickly churned into the “Chocolate Age” as well.

The idea of the mass consumption of chocolate from the Industrial Age can be traced along the later part of the history of chocolate. Quickly after the revelation with the cocoa beans came a new way to make chocolate an even more accessible product with commercialization – via “dutching” (Squiciarinni & Swinnen, 2016). In 1828, Van Houten, a Dutch chemist, invented a method to press cocoa by separating the cocoa butter by pressing it with alkali, making the matter soften up enough to produce cocoa powder, which was light and fluffy; unlike the current chocolate of that time, dutching made chocolate highly digestible, which would attract new consumers and open up a whole new market for chocolate – just like these technologies helped do so in other industries such as the construction field (i.e. making materials more affordable and attractive for building).

Van Houten’s cocoa press (World Standards)

img4

 

Additionally, cocoa powder was the secret ingredient needed for the chocolate industry and companies to seamlessly make solid chocolate bars and coat them as well as bring in new flavors such as white chocolate. From there, a second wave of the Chocolate Age had been set and was about to take place.

 

A Second Wave of the Age – Mass Commercialization and the Chocolate Bar

With the mass consumption of chocolate from these new Industrial technologies came mass commercialization. Quite simply, we can see that chocolate companies would not be what they are today without this commercial influence; specifically, the dutching process sparked a spread of commercialization across Europe, which allowed for the worldwide chocolate industry we have come to know and love. For example, Cadbury, one of the largest chocolate companies today, and Joseph Fry (founder of what is known as Mondolez International today) bought the dutching press; these two companies are credited to be the first companies to create and sell the chocolate bar. They also made the chocolate bar a highly accessible treat with aggressive advertising; this marketing scheme raked in millions of dollars for these companies (Beckett, Horn). It was the catalyst behind the beginning of giant factories built to keep up with this demand.

Thus, the chocolate bar became (and still is) a symbol for a quick, delicious treat for everyone and anyone.

img5

Fry’s chocolate bar packaging (Foods of England)

Moreover, the dutching system then inspired the chocolate exportation business that brought chocolate on to an international stage – a few decades after the start of the chocolate bar, the Van Houten presses became powered by steam engines, and, just like with the Dubuisson’s steam engine, came with another Chocolate Revolution. The mass consumption and commercialization of chocolate began in European countries such as Germany and France, which eventually led its way to the United States (Beckett, Szogyi). These countries then started their own chocolate giants such as Hershey’s and Nestlé, which embody the same mass consumption and commercialization ideals that have advanced the history of chocolate along and allowed it to further churn.

Without the Industrial age, chocolate would just not be the same. It is literally unrecognizable from its Olmec and Mayan roots. From the Industrial Age, the Chocolate Age churned on and on – all starting with the advancements in steam and hydraulics.

 

References

Beckett, S.T, et al. Industrial Chocolate – Manufacture and Use. Wiley Publishers: Hoboken.

Horn, Jeff. The Industrial Revolution: History, Documents, and Key Questions. (2016). ABC-CLIO: Santa Barbara.

Squicciarini, Mara P & Swinnen, Johan. (2016). The Economics of Chocolate. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Smithsonian. Retrieved from http://newsdesk.si.edu/releases/power-chocolate-reveals-true-roots-celebrated-food

Szogyi, Alex. (1997). Chocolate: Food of the Gods. Greenwood Publishing Group: Westport.

The Foods of England. Retrieved from http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/chocolate.htm

World Standards. Retrieved from http://www.worldstandards.eu/chocolate%20-%20history.html

 

 

 

Sugar Gave Chocolate to the Masses

The history of chocolate begins with the Olmecs and then was past along to the Mayans and the Aztecs as one civilization conquered another (Presilla 23). All of these ancient civilizations began the process of harvesting cacao pods from the tree and finished by preparing it as a drink – the entire process they completed themselves. It cost nothing for them besides time and labor, so it was a relatively common drink at the time.

Aztec-woman-preparing-the-cacao-drink

1An Aztec woman is depicted above pouring her chocolate drink from one vase into another. This process was used to aerate the chocolate in order to make the drink frothier (Presilla 20). The Molinillo was later invented to create the same results as from this technique (Martin). This technique traveled all the way from the Aztecs to Europe and the Americas.

After the Spanish colonization of the Aztecs in the early 16th century, the Spanish noticed the special chocolate drink they had been making. Bringing this back to their country, they decided to add sugar to the drink that had previously only been flavored with different spices but had yet to be sweetened in such a way (Presilla 25). This addition of sugar is the reason why chocolate was once exclusively for the elite but has since become something that people of all classes can afford and want to enjoy.

When chocolate was first introduced in Spain, it was a drink of the elite due to its exotic and luxurious association (Presilla 25) , along with the cost of labor to import and produce it from the pod. After chocolate had reached Spain, it was then sent to Italy, then France, then Britain, so that other European elite could have what those of Spain did (Martin). At that time, sugar prices were also extremely high, for they have been perpetually decreasing over time, and sugar was considered to be a rarity in 1650 (Martin). Regardless of how the price of cacao was at the time, the price of sugar mattered very much for the cost of the overall product. Since sugar was part of the drink when it was introduced to the other parts of Europe, it became fully associated with it (Martin).

morning-chocolate-venice

2The European nobility, pictured above, are seen sipping cups of chocolate, which was poured from a special chocolate kettle. This represents how only the wealthy were able to consume chocolate during the 17th century, since it was too expensive for everybody else.

It wasn’t until after 1800 that sugar was able to be mass consumed in the United Kingdom (Mintz 147-148). This was due in large part to the Industrial Revolution and the invention of the steam engine, which began to power sugar mills in places like Jamaica, one of the largest producers of sugar for Europe (Monteith 242-243). This resulted in a huge increase of sugar, which therefore lowered the price, making it more attainable for all. Given the huge role that it has in chocolate, whether in a chocolate drink as it was in the past or as an ingredient in the more recently developed solid chocolate candy, this decrease in price greatly impacted accessibility.

This transition can now be seen as “Culinary Modernism”, which results in affordable food for all that was once considered a luxury only for the elite (Laudan 40). This was able to occur because of the technology that sped up the process of harvesting sugar and the speed of transportation upon exporting it. Mintz claims that after 1850, sugar transformed from a luxury into a necessity for almost every member of society (147-148).

In addition to being cheap, sugar has been an important part of chocolate because consumers have been increasing their desire for and consumption of sugar inversely to the price, so the cheaper it is, the more people have been buying it. in 1880, each person in the United States was consuming about 38 pounds of sugar per year (Mintz), and today that number has risen to about 110 (Blodget). A similar statistical trend is apparent for the amount of chocolate consumed in the United States over the past century, increasing all the way to 38 pounds per person per year (Blodget).

Sugar has also affected the way that the large chocolate companies in the market advertise their products. Children have a natural inclination towards things that taste sweet, so sugary chocolate is something one would assume that most enjoy. 1-2-12AE-25-ExplorePAHistory-a0k9g3-a_349.jpg

3The advertisement above represents the sweet girls that would love to have some sweet milk chocolate. This advertisement displays the cheap price of only 5 and 10 cents for a chocolate bar. The little girl also appears to be very excited about the chocolate bar she has, which the Hershey Company wants to be the case for all of the young children being targeted by this ad.

As tastes have changed over time, from the sugar-free Aztecs to Western civilizations that now include about 87 grams in one serving of milk chocolate (USDA), sugar has always played a key role in who gets to consume chocolate. The addition of sugar was once an expensive luxury that the wealthy got to experience, but once the price of sugar significantly dropped the price of chocolate did as well, making it available for everyone.

Works Cited

Blodget, Henry. “American Per-Capita Sugar Consumption Hits 100 Pounds Per Year.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 19 Feb. 2012. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

“Food Composition Databases Show Foods List.” Food Composition Databases Show Foods List. USDA, 2017. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

3Hershey’s Sweet Milk Chocolate from Chocolate and Cocoa Town. Digital image. Explore PA History. WITF, Inc., 2011. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

Laudan, Rachel. “A Plea for Culinary Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food.” Gastronomica 1 (2001): 36-44. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

2Longhi, Pietro. The Morning Chocolate. Digital image. Public Domain, 2013. Web. 7 Mar. 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate Expansion.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge. 8 Feb. 2017. Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. N.p.: Penguin, 1986. Print.

Monteith, Kathleen E. A. Jamaica in Slavery and Freedom: History, Heritage and Culture. Kingston: U of the West Indies, 2003. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.

1An Aztec woman generates foam by pouring chocolate from one vessel to another in the Codex Tudela. Digital image. Ancient Origins. Public Domain, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

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