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The Missing Story: The Spread of Cacao and the Popularity of Cocoa Production in Asia

It is no secret that chocolate was popularized in the Western world by the Europeans, particularly the Spanish, after discovering cacao in the New World. However, since Europeans began to dominate the chocolate industry, particularly relying on colonialism to exploit and export cacao from their colonies, the preeminent narrative has become one of widespread European production and consumption of chocolate. However, the historical focus on how chocolate spread from the European royalty to more broad audiences, such as the “common people” in Europe and in North America, limits the scope of understanding for the global popularity of cacao and chocolate production. The existing research tends to focus on chocolate as it spread from Europe to America, but this leads to a more narrow understanding of cacao and its popularity in other regions like East Asia.

The global narrative of chocolate cultivation, production, and consumptions begins in Mesoamerica. Cacao cultivation and chocolate production originated in Mesoamerica during the early BCE era, and for the Olmecs, Mayans, Aztecs, and other Mesoamerican civilizations, cacao (or kakawa) was reserved primarily to produce drinks for the elite (although it also functioned as a form of currency) (Coe 2013, 78-81). Beginning around the early sixteenth-century, chocolate was introduced into the Spanish culture by Hernán Cortes and originally was similarly regarded as a popular delicacy of the European royalty. “It had been an elite drink among the copper-skinned, befeathered Mesoamericans, and it stayed that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe,” (Coe 2013, 125). Chocolate remained an elite drink in Europe during the Baroque Age, as it spread in popularity from Spain and Portugal to Italy to France. In fact, the French are credited with the invention of the silver chocolatiére, pictured below, which was a chocolate-pot used to produce and serve the chocolate beverage produced from cocoa. The chocolatiére is significant because the invention evolved from the Mexican practice of producing a cacao beverage using a wooden molinillo, also depicted below. However, the French took this concept and produced the silver chocolatiére in which the European nobles could consume their chocolate beverages (Coe 2013, 156-157).

18th century French silver chocolatiére pictured third from the left, among other styles and types of chocolate-pots.

However, once chocolate spread to Britain in the seventeenth century, it also began to spread in popular consumption from the elites to the general public. Like the already-established popular coffee and tea houses, chocolate houses too began to pop up, one of which is depicted below. Chocolate houses were originally frequented by the British nobles and upper class citizens, as demonstrated by the noble style of dress (including the British wigs seen worn by the men in the image), as chocolate still cost more than did coffee (although not as much as tea). While chocolate was still an expensive commodity, the prevalence of the chocolate houses contributed to the spread of chocolate consumption from the elites to the masses as chocolate became popularized in British culture (Coe 2013, 167).

London Chocolate-house c.1708. Silver chocolatiéres can be seen on the tables, while British nobles (dressed accordingly) enjoy the delicacy.

Much of the existing literature on the global spread of chocolate focuses primarily on its path between South and Central America, Europe, and North America. In the 1660s, however, cacao began to spread not only to Europe but also across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines and the South Pacific region (C-spot, A Concise History of Chocolate). Cacao cultivation was especially successful in the Philippines, which at the time was a Spanish colony: “They have brought from New Spain to the Philippines the Cacao plant,” Italian merchant and voyager Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Carreri wrote of his travels to the Philippines in the seventeenth century. “[The Cacao plant] has multiplied so well, although it has degenerated a bit, that in a short while they can do without that of America,” (Coe 2013, 173). The Philippines was chocolate’s “one Asian success,” according to Sophie and Michael Coe; but cacao continued to spread beyond just the Philippines.

Map depicting the main routes for the spread of cacao globally, including to the Philippines and South Pacific/Southeast Asia regions.

As pictured in the map above, from the islands of the Philippines cacao cultivation first spread south to Indonesia, where the suitable climate, vast unused land, and large and inexpensive labor supply made the two Southeast Asian regions prime for Spanish exploitation (Sampeck and Thayn 2017, 93). Cacao cultivation grew in popularity in the Philippines and Indonesia specifically because their agrarian systems were characterized by the plantation sector, which excelled at producing tropical cash crops like cacao (Hayami 2001, 181-182).  Cocoa farming remained popular, however, because local farmers and large-scale plantation systems alike could cultivate cacao; the video below demonstrates that even now, cocoa farming continues to be popular in the Philippines, despite the global narrative about European production of chocolate and American consumption of chocolate.

Indonesia particularly grew in their share of the global cocoa market, while the Philippines began to grow in production of coconut oil instead (Hayami 2001, 190). Later in the nineteenth century, cacao spread from Indonesia westward across Asia and into Sri Lanka (C-spot, A Concise History of Chocolate). Not only was cocoa farming successful in the Philippines and Indonesia, the video below shows that ecological and technological advances allowed cocoa farming to become even more accessible, widespread, and environmentally conscious in the Philippines than it originally had been. So why does the narrative often stop at the introduction of cacao to the Philippines as a Spanish colony when there is so much more to the story? 

Although the widespread acceptance of chocolate in the Western world is a crucial element in the global history of chocolate, much of the existing research focuses solely on the European and North American cultivation, production, and consumption of chocolate as it spread from the elites to the masses. This leaves out an important element in the story of how chocolate rose to popularity in the global market: Asia, particularly regions in Southeast and South Pacific Asia, played a vital role in contributing to the successful cultivation and production of cocoa.

Works Cited

Chocolate House London C.1708. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons.

“Cocoa Farming – The Good Chocolate.” Video, 05:33. Youtube. Posted by John Croft, January 20, 2012.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate: With 99 Illustrations, 14 in Colour. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.

“A Concise History of Chocolate.” C-spot.

French Chocolatieres. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons.

Hayami, Yujiro. “Ecology, History, and Development: A Perspective from Rural Southeast Asia.” The World Bank Research Observer 16, no. 2 (Fall 2001): 169-98.

Sampeck, Kathryn E., and Jonathan Thayn. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” In Substance and Seduction. Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, by Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck, 72-99. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.

The Two Faces of Chocolate: Food of the Gods and the Harbinger of Violence

A Brief History: Cocoa and Chocolate

The creamy, luxuriant, dark brown sweet of pure bliss – chocolate is the enticing candy with an irresistible taste of heaven and the Gods. Yet, little do we know, chocolate has had its tie to Gods since its origins in the New World. The story began in Mesoamerica where the cacao tree, termed Theobroma cocoa or “the food of the Gods”, flourished among the Mayan and Aztec civilizations way before the arrival of European colonizers (Coe and Coe, 1996). The cocoa beans were adopted in every aspect of life – beyond food, they were medicine; an offering in religious, marriage, and burial rituals; and money. The social, religious, and economic significance of cocoa was markedly noted by European ethnographers like Bernardino de Sahagun, and with the arrival of Columbus along with other colonizers, cocoa was brought to Europe. Using sugar, Europe transformed cocoa into chocolate, as the delicacy we know today, which quickly became a widely desired, palatable treat for the rich and poor alike. Not long after, chocolate was mass produced by chocolate manufacturers, and consequently, the chocolate empire took root.  

Underneath the Veil

Hidden beneath the veil of sweetness, however, the history of chocolate reveals a much more bitter reality weaved with violence. To satisfy the insatiable demand in the chocolate market, chocolate manufacturers turned to an incredibly exploitative system of obtaining their raw ingredient, cocoa. Chocolate, like many other imperial commodities, was the refined product of slavery and forced labor on plantation farms, and the consequences of this system can be felt up to today in the global racial, economic, and social landscapes.

The Atlantic Slave Trade

What fed into the imperial market and its strong economic interests was none other than the trans-Atlantic slave trade that uprooted millions of African people to the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe [figure 1]. An internal system of slavery persisted in Central and West Africa before the European exploitation, and this indigenous slavery provided fuel for the rise of this global slave trade (Rodney, 1966). The local slave trade was initially recorded and taken of interest by Portuguese chroniclers, who, in the 16th century, were the first to engage in the trade trans-Atlantic (Rodney, 1966). Other Europeans soon followed, and the slave trade bloomed into what supported colossal economies of commodities like sugar, coffee, tobacco, cotton, and of course, cocoa. By the 19th century, various countries passed laws to ban the importation of slaves, including Britain, the United States, Spain, France and Portugal, but at that point, demands soared, and cocoa’s market had become wholly dependent on the slave trade for mass production. Here, we saw a surge of illegal slave trading under the pretense of contract labor.

Figure 1. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Route

The Chocolate Islands – Cadbury’s Cocoa Scandal:

The persistence of slave labor despite efforts to end it unfolded in the Cadbury cocoa scandal of the 1900s. Cadbury Bros, the British Quaker-owned chocolate company, dominated the market at the time and came under criticism when despite warnings of labor conditions and potential use of slaves, they continued to purchase cocoa produced by the plantations of the island of Sao Tome, a Portuguese colony (Satre, 2005). Notably, Henry W. Nevinson, a journalist who documented his encounters with slavery in Portuguese West Africa in his later published book, “A Modern Slavery” [figure 2], marked that the dynamics of the labor market were as reported – laws passed to ban slavery were worthless, commercial interests begged to be satisfied, and by signing a paper, the slave was a “free” worker and everyone was happy. His report brought into light injustices against native Africans disguised in the legal pretense of contract labor. Disregarding Nevinson and other accounts of anti-slavery campaigners, Cadbury chose to make their own investigations into labor conditions of Sao Tome. Yet, even when these confirmed conditions on par with slavery on the cocoa plantations, Cadbury continued to be a major consumer of the cocoa product from Sao Tome, simply choosing to lobby the Portuguese government to more strictly implement their labor contract laws (Satre, 2005). While Cadbury did make some effort against the use of slavery, they undoubtedly fell short of their Quaker moral and ethical principles of justice and fair trade. The key issue in the persistence of slavery is highlighted here – commercial interests for profit constrain moral action from truly taking root.

Figure 2. “A Modern Slavery” accounted Nevinson’s encounters with slavery in Portuguese West Africa, a land where slavery should have been banned by law. The book became the center of controversy in the English political, economic, and humanitarian landscapes and eventually brought Cadbury to court for their purchase of cocoa from Sao Tome.

Modern Slavery, Child Laborers, Implications

This also comes to explain the reality we see today in “modern slavery”.  At the turn of the 21st century, widespread media reports uncovered child slavery on cocoa plantations in Cote d’ Ivoire, one of the major exporters of cocoa to the world market  (Manzo, 2005). An estimated 15,000 children workers were found to be working as slaves on the 600,000 cocoa farms in Cote d’ Ivoire and were subjected to inhumane conditions and extreme abuse (Chanthavong, 2002). The existence of a form of labor practically parallel to old slavery in modern times implicates many contributors in play, intentional and non-intentional. Whether it be the cocoa  farmers, the slave traffickers, the Ivorian government, the chocolate manufacturers, or us the consumers who buy chocolate at a supermarket, all are relevant to the existence of slave labor and the sufferings it incites. Perhaps the wake of a ravenous market like cocoa and chocolate inevitably demands cheap labor that spirals into exploitative systems of forced labor driven by greed and convenience, but we all have the responsibility to challenge the inevitable. We can begin to ask the next time we stand in the sweets aisle for a Hershey bar, are we playing into the cycle of perpetuating labor abuses? What can we do in our power to mitigate these abuses?

Figure 3. A Child Laborer in the Ivory Coast Harvesting Cocoa Pods

Works Cited

Chanthavong, Samlanchith (2002). Chocolate and Slavery: Child Labor in Cote d’Ivoire. TED Case Studies, Number 664.

COE, SOPHIE DOBZHANSKY (1933-1995)|COE, MICHAEL D. (b. 1929). (1996). The True History Of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Manzo, K. (2005). Modern slavery, global capitalism & deproletarianisation in West Africa. Review of African Political Economy32(106), 521–534. doi: 10.1080/03056240500467013

Rodney, W. (1966). African Slavery and other Forms of Social Oppression on the Upper Guinea Coast in the Context of the Atlantic Slave-Trade. The Journal of African History7(3), 431–443. doi: 10.1017/s0021853700006514

Satre, L. J. (2006). Chocolate on trial: slavery, politics, and the ethics of business. Athens, OH: Ohio Univ. Press.

From Chokola’j to Chocolate, How an Indigenous Good Became The Product of Mass Consumption.

Understanding the historical change of chocolate from an indigenous experience to one of mass consumption is crucial when seeking to understand why capitalist systems are built around certain foods. In the case of chocolate, there were two underlying factors that led to the globalization and mass production of this substance. The first being the very nature of cacao as a social food. The experience of cacao had a great social value that made it appealing to European colonizers. Cacao could be easily integrated into different societies and fit into religion, nutrition, and even socioeconomic class. Cacao’s social value increased demand and developed a huge market potential for chocolate production. The second factor was the wide range and scale of chocolate, culinarily. This led to its mass hybridization, allowing it conforming to all different tastes and preferences making it more economically profitable.

Food is fundamentally social, but some food more than others. Cacao began as a social food in indigenous communities in South America. Cacao’s several names Theobroma Cacao meaning “drink of the Gods” and Chokola’j meaning “to drink together” are representative of the fact that cacao held great social value in indigenous communities. The ritual consumption of cacao was framed as a sensory experience and was held sacred in spiritual and medicinal purposes. Nahuatl songs depicted cacao as divine and the experience of drinking cacao was said to evoke somatic states (Sampeck 74). Creating and consuming different tastes of cacao was also part of its rituals. However, the pre-Columbian preparation of the drink was not standardized among indigenous communities. Each had its own particular recipe for growing, processing, and seasoning cacao (Sampeck 77). Cacao was made with vanilla, chili peppers, and several different fruits (Sampeck 77). Archeological remains prove that there were various blends of cacao drinks. Cacao has also been used as currency in many Mesoamerican communities adding to its social value (Sampeck 82).

Image: Indigenous person holding a cacao pod. The depiction of this sculpture is relevant to the fact that cacao held great value in indigenous communities as many remains show indigenous individuals with cacao. 

“File: Cacao Aztec Sculpture.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 21 Nov 2019, 15:45 UTC. 27 Mar 2020, 20:24 <>.

Compared to a staple food like maize, which was widely consumed among indigenous communities, Cacao was more important due to its social significance and various infusions. Its popularization among indigenous people transferred to Europe when the Spanish arrived and devastated Indigenous populations. While both foods, cacao and maize, were transferred to Europe during the Columbian exchange the intrinsic social value associated with cacao remained. Because of cacao’s multifunctional communal uses and various flavors deemed it valuable, it could cater to European social culture in a way that maize couldn’t. This is essentially what allowed cacao to be mass-produced, as consumer demand increased market potential also increased. Also, complementary goods that became to be associated with chocolate also help to grow the developing market. (Minz 8)

When the Spanish were introduced to cacao in the 1500s they were intrigued by the many distinctive uses of cacao in indigenous communities (Christain 2). They sought to integrate this somatic, social, and economical use into the frameworks of their own society and it was very easy to do so. Cacao was unique because it was one of the few foods that could survive the long voyage from South America to Europe, in what would later be known as the Columbian exchange. Once cacao reached Europe it was easy to integrate into the lives of many who could afford to overindulge in the good because of its intrinsic social value and its various flavors that could cater to all types of people. Cacao, now known as chocolate, spread across Europe. Chocolate, still in the drink form, appeared in French and British high society and chocolate social houses that catered to the social elite. (Lovemann 29)

Image: Chocolate social houses for the elite in Britain, shows that chocolate had an ingrain social value that could be transferred to different society’s worlds apart. “File:Chocolate-house-london-c1708.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 30 Jan 2020, 13:58 UTC. 27 Mar 2020, 20:26 <>

The spread of cacao across Europe also contributed to the transcontinental diffusion of cacao and variations of taste due to the blend of cacao with other substances. Europeans used sugar, cinnamon, and milk to form the different tastes of chocolate. 

Cacao’s inherent social value and its various blends are a huge part of the reason why it would later be mass-produced. Because it could be shared among many different individuals in society with different preferences, it became a product of desire which led to increased demand. Supply met this demand soon after during the Industrial Revolution. The social value and hybridizations of chocolate grew on the onset of the Industrial Revolution when chocolate was commodified and made widely available to the poor (Carlo 1). In the 1800s, Coenraad Johannes Van Houten extracted the fat from chocolate using alkaline salts (Carlo 1). This made it much more affordable to produce and it was sold at a cheaper price, which made it available to different socioeconomic classes. Later, Joseph Fry made the first solid chocolate bar and Rodolphe Lindt created the first conching machine changing chocolate’s taste and texture to what we know it today (Carlo 1).

Image: depictions of some of today’s diverse chocolate flavors, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate. This demonstrates how chocolate could conform to all tastes and preferences appealing to larger groups of people.

“File:Chocolate(bgFFF).jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 3 Apr 2017, 15:18 UTC. 27 Mar 2020, 20:25 <>.

Chocolates inherent social uses and it a range and scale in form and flavor changed how it was consumed worldwide. Chocolate fit into the global market because it met the demand of individuals looking to overindulge and socialize. Chocolate stands apart in variety. The degree to which cacao was modified appealed to new groups of people increasing social value and developing a larger market for the production and consumption of the good. However, the integration of chocolate into European societies and the distinctive taste formed, speaks to the tragedies of colonialism and the erasure of indigenous practices that encompassed cacao. 

Works cited: 

Sampeck, Kathryn, and Jonathan Thayn. 2017. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” pp. 72-99

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

Christian, Mark. “Ethical Chocolate & Social Capitalism: Consumers of the World Unite.” Spot, 25 Mar. 2011,

Loveman, Kate. “The Introduction of Chocolate into England: Retailers, Researchers, and Consumers, 1640-1730.” Journal of Social History, vol. 47, no. 1, 2013, pp. 27–46. JSTOR, Accessed 27 Mar. 2020.

Christian, Mark. “Ethical Chocolate & Social Capitalism: Consumers of the World Unite.” Spot, 25 Mar. 2011,

Carlo, Juan. “How Did Chocolate Become so Popular?” Why Is Chocolate So Popular? | Juan Carlo Blog, 28 Feb. 2017,

“File:Cacao Aztec Sculpture.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 21 Nov 2019, 15:45 UTC. 27 Mar 2020, 20:24 <>.

“File:Chocolate(bgFFF).jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 3 Apr 2017, 15:18 UTC. 27 Mar 2020, 20:25 <>.“File:Chocolate-house-london-c1708.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 30 Jan 2020, 13:58 UTC. 27 Mar 2020, 20:26 <>

How Europe Changed Chocolate

We all love chocolate, but how has it evolved into what it is today? Europeans have transformed chocolate into one of the most common dessert foods in the world. This journey began fairly local to the equator and now continues throughout the entire world. Europe transformed chocolate into something everyone desired, and those involved in supplying this demand did so in quite innovative ways. However, the history of chocolate is not as sweet as it may seem, as it involves some very inhumane practices.

The story of chocolate begins in what is now known as Mexico, Central America, and South America. People like the ancient mayans had many uses for the cacao plant. Some of the most common uses were chocolate as medicine, as flavoring in food, and as a ritualistic drink (Garthwaite 2015)(lecture 2, slide 54). Throughout all of these uses, chocolate was not the sweet milky treat we often think of today. Chocolate was more raw and bitter tasting (Garthwaite). It was often prepared as a drink or mixed into a different food. The ancient Mayan drink, Xocolatl, is a perfect example. “Xocolatl” translates to “bitter water,” and was thought of as the food of the gods to the Mayans (Harris 2019). An example of how important chocolate was to the Mayans is the marriage ritual “tac haa.” This ritual used chocolate to help bring the families of a couple who would potentially marry together. Things involved in marriage are always those things that are most important to us, and this is no different. Chocolate was so valuable that cacao seeds were even used as currency in Mesoamerica (Cartwright 2020). Before Europeans got their hands on chocolate, it was a bitter product used to enhance the experience of life with no negative repercussions. This changed when Europeans brought themselves into the world of chocolate.

Xocolatl – The ancient Mayan chocolate drink

Chocolate is mass-produced in many variations in today’s world. Most commonly, chocolate is a sweet milky product consumed more like a dessert or candy. The chocolate market is currently valued at about 100 billion dollars per year (lecture 1, slide 4). Chocolate has evolved from something used for health benefits and religious purposes into something that is most commonly a guilty pleasure of those who consume it. In fact, we can’t get enough of it! In the year 2017 alone, Americans consumed 3 billion pounds of chocolate (lecture 4, slide 11). It’s fair to say that chocolate has changed drastically throughout history, and this change has been largely facilitated by Europeans.

Common variation of modern-day chocolate

When Europeans travelled to the New World, they would bring things back to Europe that were useful or valuable, and cacao was one of these things. They began calling the processed and traded product “cocoa” instead of cacao. This is the first sign of Europeans starting to separate their product from traditional Mesoamerican chocolate. Like with anything, Europeans wanted to make as much money as possible from cacao production. At first, only the elite could afford to have chocolate. Naturally everyone wants access to the luxuries that the wealthy have access to. This image along with the addition of things like sugar and powdered milk to chocolate recipes led to a huge European demand for chocolate. A familiar name, Henri Nestle, was a Swiss man who created powdered milk in 1867, and another Swiss man, Daniel Peter, used powdered milk to create the first milk chocolate bar in 1879 (Lecture 5, slide 21). These European innovations were huge steps towards modern chocolate. Demand was high, people were making money, but chocolate and sugar were not cheap to produce and ship to Europe. Jean Tobler created the Toblerone filled chocolate bar in 1899 (Lecture 5, slide 25). Filling the chocolate bar with nougat was not only delicious, but it significantly reduced the cost of producing these bars. Everything seemed to be great in Europe’s chocolate industry, but what about the places where all of this chocolate and sugar was coming from?

To maximize profits and reduce costs, Europeans used slave labor to meet the soaring demand for these crops. African slaves were brought to the New World on European ships and forced to work under extremely harsh conditions. Countless slaves were worked to death to satisfy the European sweet tooth, and both slave and child labor continues to this day ( There is great evidence that all of this slavery in the Americas did not happen because of racism, but racism against Africans and African-Americans is a byproduct of this slavery (Lecture 5, slide 67). All of the terrible racist acts throughout our history stem from greedy Europeans wanting more and disregarding others.

Child labor in cacao production

Yes, Europeans did incredible things for the growth and expansion of chocolate, but at what cost? In developing the chocolate industry and supplying the ever-growing demand, innocent lives were destroyed, and individuals with no relation to the chocolate industry continue to suffer the consequences. We can all still enjoy chocolate for what it is, but we need to be recognize the sacrifices and violence that has brought it to us.

Works Cited

Cartwright, Mark. “Chocolate in Mesoamerica.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 24 Mar. 2020,

Garthwaite, Josie. “What We Know About the Earliest History of Chocolate.”, Smithsonian Institution, 12 Feb. 2015,

Harris, Karen. “Xocolatl: The Mayan Food Of The Gods.” History Daily, 10 Apr. 2019,

“Chocolate: Child Labor & Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Food Empowerment Project, 11 Mar. 2019,

Class Lectures

Gender and Chocolate Through Time

In modern American society, the association between chocolate and gender is evident in everything from advertisements depicting women as lustful consumers to packaging portraying colorfully dressed little girls in search of a sweet treat. The gender norms surrounding this food have a long history dating back to Mayan civilization; this history reveals that gender roles have fluctuated over time, but have continually reinforced a hierarchy in which women are subordinate to men. 


The consumption of chocolate in Ancient Mayan society was intended to be a highly social event. According to The True History of Chocolate, chocolate was consumed at banquets, weddings, baptisms, and other events of societal significance which brought the community together (Coe and Coe). There was even a name for the action of drinking chocolate together, chokola’j. However, within these social events, the production and consumption of chocolate remained highly divided along gender lines. Women were seen as the primary preparers of chocolate, evident in the image of the Princeton Vase below, as the female figure in the bottom right corner is pouring the liquid in order to create the froth, which was seen as the spiritual component of the drink. The men, in contrast, are portrayed as the consumers of the chocolate once it has been prepared by the women. By portraying them as the consumer, the artist of this painting sets them apart as the beneficiaries of the divine qualities of the chocolate drink. 

History of Cacao — Pure Kakaw - cacao drinks for creativity ...

In the following image, a sculpture features a Mayan soldier clad not only in armor and headpiece, but with cacao pods sticking out from his chest and arms. This conformed with the Mayan belief that cacao would increase your energy, closely allying that food with the image of strength and triumph. While there is speculation over whether the depicted figure is a soldier or partaker in an athletic contest, it is clear that there is a connection between cacao, strength, and masculinity. 


In the modern era, some aspects of the gender roles surrounding chocolate have remained the same as in early Mayan society, while others have changed. While men were portrayed as the primary consumers of cacao, in contemporary society the role has since shifted to women. This is especially apparent in the gendered advertising of chocolate. For instance, the following advertisement explicitly makes the connection between women, chocolate, and seduction. The ad features the ball of Lindt chocolate within the lipstick-red lips of a woman, proclaiming the company’s mission to be “mastering the seduction of smooth.” The advertisement both identifies the female as the consumer, and, by so closely linking the female with the decadent chocolate, associates her with the commodity. This is but one example in the breadth of promotional advertising that objectifies and sexualizes women in order to sell a product. 

Sexism | Chocolate Class

As the perceived consumer of chocolate changed from Mayan society to the modern day, the characteristics associated with chocolate changed as well. When consumption of chocolate was portrayed as masculine in Mayan society, it was heavily associated with spiritual power, divinity, and purity — it was “the food of the Gods.” However, with the consumption of chocolate portrayed in the modern era as feminine, the food is now linked with indulgence, sin, and temptation. This association of women with sin dates as far back as Greek mythology, with Pandora giving into temptation and opening the vase of evils that continue to plague the world; or the Bible, with Eve committing the original sin and setting into motion the Fall of Eden. As Russell Belk and Janeen Costa write, perceptions of chocolate consumption affirm “the broader stereotype that women are the consummate consumers of the Western world” (qtd. in Coleman 179), a trope whereby femininity is associated with consumerism, sinfulness, and sexuality. 


In the 21st century, we have entered an age of greater awareness surrounding issues of sexism in society. This has widened the debate regarding the gendered portrayal of chocolate consumption in society, a debate that chocolate companies themselves are now beginning to engage in. The following advertisement by Cadbury was published in response to a controversial advertisement released by Snickers Australia that attempted to combat sexism but ended up including traditional stereotypes. This Boost Nuts advertisement, in turn, attempts to brand itself as combating sexism the right way with the hashtag #sexismisnuts. In contrast to traditional advertisements, it associates chocolate with masculinity rather than femininity by using phallic language and imagery. Despite this reversal, it continues to identify the primary consumers of chocolate as women. While this shows effort on the part of Cadbury to label and call out sexist advertising, it doesn’t completely eliminate it. It additionally raises the question: would it be too much to ask to remove gender entirely from our conception of chocolate?

Chocolate, peanuts and patriarchy | Women's Views on News

As Deborah Lupton writes, food, “as a commodity, is consumed not simply for its nourishing or energy-giving properties … but because of the cultural values that surround it” (qtd. In Coleman 179). Chocolate specifically has held a central role in global societies, from serving as a fixture of social gatherings in Mayan culture to maintaining a constant presence in every grocery store in 21st century America. In addition, by consuming these commodities, Lupton continues that “those [cultural] values are transferred to the self,” rendering these foods “central to the development and articulation of subjectivity” (qtd. In Coleman 179). Throughout history, these cultural values that we have consumed through chocolate have continued to enforce implicit gender norms. It is critical that we assess these gender norms at the most basic level of food, by thinking critically and speaking out about the chocolate that we consume. 

Works Cited

Belk, Russell and Janeen Costa (1998), “Chocolate Delights: Gender and Consumer Indulgences,” Gender, Marketing and Consumer Behavior: Fourth Conference Proceedings, 179-193.

Coleman, Catherine. “Dessert: Heavenly Or Sinful? Consumption, Carnality and Spirituality in Food Advertising,” in E – European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 8. Eds. Stefania Borghini, Mary Ann McGrath, and Cele Otnes. Duluth, MN:  Association for Consumer Research. Pages: 245-250.

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

Lupton, Deborah (1996), Food, the Body and the Self, London: Sage Publications.

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


“History of Cacao.” Pure Kakaw – Cacao Drinks for Creativity, Health & Ceremony.,

Lindor, “Mastering the Seduction of Smooth.” Advertisement.

“Maya Noble.” Sculpture. 

Cadbury, “Sexism is Nuts.” Advertisement.

Industrialization on Essential and Luxury Calories

Before the enlightenment era and the centuries of subsequent learnings that followed, religious dogmas took for granted that people knew the fundamental facts about the world, and then built up teachings and rules to appease and satisfy those fundamentals. The scientific and industrial revolution was beyond all else, the understanding of society that there are things we don’t know – our acceptance of ignorance. As a result, these times led to drastic changes, including our understanding and socialization of food. Building on the learnings of the last 500, people developed countless inventions that impact how we eat, including novel modes of transportation, new machinery, new markets, and new ways of preserving food (Goody). This post will look at chocolate as just another product in the grand schematic of our diets. Because our diet can be separated into essential and luxury calories, we can analyze clearly how the composition of these two groups changed, and better understand chocolate, or luxury, consumption habits as a whole.

Generally, consumption of essential calories saw a continuous rise from the early 1800s to the mid 1900s, and the composition of these calories shifted away from carbohydrates and toward proteins. It is important to note that starting in the 19th century, famine was almost entirely a thing of the past as the last major food crisis occured in 1816 in much of Europe as a result of the end of the Napoleonic Wars (Grigg). From there on forward, there were no major notable famines in Europe. This security was the result of an economy that was rapidly increasing in productivity. In this time of security, there was a shift in the types of food people ate, moving from cheaper to more expensive goods. In the early 19th century, starchy staples comprised 65-75% of total calories, principally because starches like cereals and potatoes were so much cheaper than more protein rich products, and the majority of the population was poor (Grigg).

As society became wealthier and more productive from a series of industrialization related changes in the 1800s including agricultural advances for increased food production, transportation for an increased ability to exercise national comparative advantage and exports, and finally an increase in wages generally that resulted in improved buying power, the composition of the European diet changed dramatically. As demonstrated by Grigg, calories became more and more available per capita per day, increasing from around 2000 calories in the early 1800s to approximately 3000 by 1930. 

These changes were paired with a decrease in the number of calories required due to sharp decreases in physical activity due to increased automation and improved heating within everyday buildings (Grigg). Together, these changes meant that there were surpluses in the margin of peoples’ diets, and as a result, people were able to shift their eating habits to more expensive mainstay foods and were able to more easily supplement essential calories with luxury ones. As seen in the table, caloric intake was at a peak around 1910 at which point people were first able to eat, at least for the majority of the population, however much they wanted. The fall in subsequent decades relates to increased awareness of the nutritional importance of moderation, and the related shift to lower calorie, higher cost items such as luxury goods like chocolate. The shift to preferred foods, like dairy, livestock protein, fruits and vegetables, and fats and oils meant that people were spending more on fewer, but better tasting calories. As seen below, Grigg highlights the dramatic shift away from starchy staples as France and other European countries entered the 1900s.

The question still remains as to why people are spending on more expensive items? Are these items substantially more valuable and therefore raising the social welfare of Europe as a whole, or are people attracted more to the social distinction and advertising marketing that sets these items apart as privileged and distinguished? If the latter is true, our conceptualization of history as a line of human progress is dramatically undermined insofar that we normalize more expensive items that do not substantively create value, and therefore counteract the improvements in everyday wealth with valueless spending.

Beyond mainstay items and general economic trends that allowed for increased consumption, luxury items such as sugar and chocolate became dramatically more accessible through the late 1800s as a result of industrialization. Factorization and the concentration of production allowed food production to be far more efficient, simultaneously emphasizing inequality as fewer firms had control over more and more means of production. Foods began to be processed less and less on farms and by individuals as larger establishments began consolidating production with machinery and outsizing capital. Chocolate saw different trends from other products insofar that this industrial manufacturing dramatically lowered its prices and improved its taste (Clarence–Smith). Luxury goods are luxury due to their price, and also because there is something special about their taste that sets it apart, in some way warranting the large price. This distinction was set culturally, while at the same time access and price lowered dramatically due to the benefits of scale in an industrializing world that focused production more and more under large establishments. Beyond cost, various industrialization era inventions improved the digestibility problem of chocolate. As seen since chocolates earliest times as a beverage, the product is bitter when untampered, and while the taste is unique, it was not for every palette. However, around 1914, sales expanded dramatically as chocolate diversified as a product, becoming more digestible in many different forms of powders and alkalizable in order to create a significant improvement in taste. Beyond the powderization, technical breakthroughs from the Swiss allowed for milk chocolate, which greatly improved the quality of eating it directly (Clarence–Smith). In looking at the various luxury goods, or “junk foods” as referenced by Coe and Coe, the trend for chocolate was set apart from coffee and tea. Chocolate grew faster than tea and coffee between 1870 and 1897 with the establishment of a neoliberal market. According to Clarence–Smith, “world imports of cocoa beans grew ninefold between 1870 and 1897, whereas those of tea doubled, and those of coffee rose only by about half” (Clarence–Smith). Chocolate, due to surpluses in the average person’s pocketbook, had been revolutionized as a widely available good. While chocolate had been universalized, the question remains as to whether or not chocolate actually added value to everyday lives, or instead was just a cultural phenomenon that costed far more than the joy it brought.

The actual value of chocolate can be analyzed through how Latin America approached and treated chocolate differently from Europeans in this time of industrialization, and ultimately it is clear that its excitement was entirely cultural. Latin Americans resisted the widespread socialization of chocolate, especially as a beverage, on account of its barbaristic relationship to pre-civilized times in Central and South America. Despite dramatic increases in incomes, consumption of chocolate did not appreciate significantly (Clarence–Smith), showing how an increase in consumption was perhaps more cultural in Europe, and not necessarily a distinctive value add. Moreover, even in European countries, Mintz argues that chocolate’s broad consumption was primarily induced from a place of power. As luxury goods that were originally enjoyed by the rich became available to the cotidian, they were glorified in ritualistic ways, used disproportionately during holidays and celebrations as a result of their luxuries nature. This relationship was held for chocolate as well as for sugar through the industrialization era, as Clarence–Smith notes that “public bodies vigorously propagated chocolate,” including a democratization of consumption via regular issues to military personnel during the Boer War of Britain, America’s war with Spain in 1898 and generally as a foodstuff for german troops in the 1880s (Clarence–Smith). This democratization was not enjoyed from the bottom up, but much like the effects seen in Mintz during monarchic times, it still came from the top down during the late 1800s when democratic governments began to hold the majority of the power in Europe. 

Works Cited:

Clarence–Smith, William. 2016. “Chocolate Consumption from the Sixteenth Century to the Great Chocolate Boom.”

Goody, Jack. 2013[1982]. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World
Cuisine.” pp. 72-88

Grigg, David. 1995. “The Nutritional Transition in Western Europe.” pp. 247-261

Putting Chocolate Into an Historical Context

When you bite into a chocolate bar, you are probably thinking something along the lines of “Yum, this bar of sugar is delicious” or “I’m on period, I deserve this”. Well, I’m sorry to say, but I am here to ruin chocolate for you. As you bite into that chocolatey sweetness, have you ever paused to think about where chocolate comes from? The origin of what we now call chocolate are racist, violent, and complex. Chocolate as we know it today would not exist without slavery and the forced servitude of entire groups of people around the world.

Chocolate is made from cacao beans and, as far as we can tell, originated with the Olmec in what is now southern Mexico some three thousand years ago. It is theorized that they were the first civilization to make chocolate from cacao (Coe, 37). Cacao was incredibly important in both Maya and Aztec cultures. In ancient Maya society, cacao was consumed as a beverage and used as a flavoring for food. It was usually drunk from tall, cylindrical vase and these jars were often buried with their owners.

Vase for drinking chocolate

Meanwhile, the Aztecs inhabited an area that was not conducive to growing cacao trees, so they mainly imported cacao beans through merchants and used it as currency as well as food. When the Spanish arrived, they found consuming cacao beverages to be a sensory experience unlike anything they had been exposed to before (Sampeck, 77). Columbus himself first came across cacao beans when his ship passed by a canoe full of traders. Though he didn’t know what the beans were at the time, it was clear they held some sort of value based on how the traders treated the beans. Today, people (especially chocolate-aficionados) tend to romanticize that moment, claiming that it was the moment “chocolate was discovered”, while ignoring the centuries of colonization, exploitation, and violence – also just because a white man sees something does not mean he discovered it. 

Eventually, the Spanish developed what most textbooks call the encomienda system (it was slavery) so that indigenous people could grow cacao and the Spanish could take it for themselves. In these “systems”, the Spanish owned the land, a percentage of the crops, and the lives of the indigenous laborers toiling in the fields. Indigenous laborers faced serious abuses and violence in these encomiendas, despite the fact that the purpose of this system was to protect indigenous people and bring them into the Christian faith. It doesn’t get much better from here. Cacao beans eventually made their way to Europe, where chocolate drinks became increasingly popular and as Coe writes, it “conquered Europe” (Coe, 125). Thus began the process of enslaving millions of Africans around the world to work on sugar cane plantations and cacao farms to feed the growing hunger for chocolate in Europe and the Americas.

Even today, you would be hard pressed to find chocolate untouched by child labor at some point in the supply chain. Around two-thirds of the world’s cacao supply comes from the former Gold Coast in West Africa. Over 2 million children work in this region on cacao farms, in harsh conditions, away from their families, often unable to attend school. This is chocolate’s dark side. Though it is often advertised as a guilty pleasure, a sultry indulgence, next time you feel the craving for some sweetness, think about where your chocolate has come from and try supporting businesses that ethically grow cacao.


Sampeck, Kathryn, and Jonathan Thayn. 2017. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.”

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2007[1996]. The True History of Chocolate



Cocoa played a role in Mayan mythology, and certainly this religious role helps explain why Cocoa was involved in Mayan death rituals (Schwartzkopf & Sampeck, 2017). However, this does not entirely account for the plant’s seemingly outsized inclusion in funeral rites. Rather, a historical review of mayan society and spiritual beliefs reveals that cocoa’s myriad functional uses in Mayan society as a currency, status symbol, comestible, and energizer uniquely positioned it to serve as a provision and aid for the soul’s journey into and existence in the afterlife (Coe, 1996; Schwartzkopf & Sampeck, 2017). 

A long record of cocoa and death 

In Europe and America Chocolate is often associated with vitality. It’s seen as an energizer, as an aphrodisiac, as a symbol of indulgence (Coe, 1996). However, today, chocolate can also often be found in rituals surrounding death. For example, chocolate decorations, treats, and beverages are ubiquitous in Dia de los Muertos (Brandes, 1998). And this involvement of cocoa in rituals of death is by no means new. 

(Martin, 2020) 

Thanks to chemical tracing of cocoa compounds such as theobromine and translations of hieroglyphics for words related to coca on burial vessels such as the one pictured above, scientists have been able to establish that cocoa has been used in Mayan burials, funerals, and memorials for well over a thousand years (Hall, Tarka, Hurst, Stuart, & Adams, 1990). 

Mayan spiritual beliefs 

This long standing tradition begs what may seem like an obvious question: why would Mayans choose to use cocoa in particular in rituals of death? The answer to this question requires an understanding of Mayan beliefs surrounding the fate and journey of the soul after death. Records make it clear that their society considered provisioning the dead to be important, and that doing so served a number of purposes. Provisions sustained the dead in the afterlife, serving as a commestible (Prufer & Hurst, 2007). They also served as symbols of status and wealth for the deceased (Prufer & Hurst, 2007). Finally, some provisions served as currency that allowed souls to pay off various spirits that might hinder them on their long journey from the body to the other side (Prufer & Hurst, 2007). Recognizing this might help illuminate why cocoa, which served so many roles in Mayan society, would be a critical such provision. 

Cocoa as sustenance 

Cocoa was both treasured and ubiquitous in mayan society as a comestible. As evidence of this, archaeological findings show that Mayan nobles throughout their history had different names for different cocoa preparations, and it appeared as an ingredient in an enormous variety of drinks and foods (Schwartzkopf & Sampeck, 2017). Moreover, cocoa consumption was seen as a rich sensory experience that was refreshing, invigorating, and highly adaptable to the needs of different moments and locations (Schwartzkopf & Sampeck, 2017). 

In short, cocoa was a highly prized comestible, the consumption of which was celebrated in mayan society. Therefore, when seeking to provision the dead with a source of food, selecting an ingredient that is highly valued across time and region for its rich flavor, myriad uses, and energizing effects would make sense. 

Cocoa as luxury possession 

Numerous accounts of Mayan society as well as archaeological findings indicate that Cocoa was treasured as a luxury good and an indicator of power, wealth, and social standing (Coe, 1996). Indeed, Mayan records indicate that in some cases Cocoa beans were treated as a non-tradeable, non-comestible, and even non-heritable good (Prufer & Hurst, 2007). In such cases its role was clearly to serve as a possession rather than a food or even a currency (Prufer & Hurst, 2007). 

(Martin, 2020)

In addition, cocoa was not just treated as a trivial possession, but rather as a signifier of nobility. For example, in the image above, a Mayan king’s mother emerges as a cocoa tree in order to signify the veracity of his royal lineage and therefore support his claim to power (Martin, 2020). 

Therefore, as a status symbol and one that in some cases could not be passed on to heirs, cocoa was a perfect choice when selecting what possessions would accompany and assert the standing of a soul in the afterlife. 

Cocoa as currency 

Cocoa beans were also used as a currency in Mayan society (Coe, 1996). These beans weren’t simply used as a comestible to barter for other goods, but rather were circulated in society as a form of money with an agreed upon value that would give the holder a set purchasing power (Coe, 1996). Once again, Mayans believed that along the passage to the afterlife the soul would encounter certain spirits that would try to hinder the journey, and would require payment to let the soul continue on unmolested (Prufer & Hurst, 2007). So, it only makes sense that Mayans would bury their dead with money – money which came in the form of cocoa beans. 

Cocoa as stimulant 

Finally, Cocoa was also seen as a stimulant, likely due to the effects of caffeine (Coe, 1996). Indeed, it was even used by Mayan athletes. The image below illustrates a participant in a ceremonial Mayan sport wearing cocoa beans in order to heighten his abilities and improve his performance (Martin, 2020).  

(Martin, 2020). 

Given Mayan faith in the invigorating effects of cocoa, Prufer and Hurst argue that it only makes sense that cocoa would accompany the dead and even be consumed during the funeral ritual (Prufer & Hurst, 2007). Both, they say would help energize the soul  for the difficult journey to the afterlife (Prufer & Hurst, 2007). 


In summation, cocoa was used and prized in Mayan society for a variety of reasons.  Given these important and myriad functional uses for cocoa, as well as Mayan beliefs surrounding the afterlife, it makes sense that the Mayans would include the bean extensively in their funeral rituals. 


Brandes, S. (1998). Iconography in Mexico’s Day of the dead: Origins and meanings. Ethnohistory, 45(2), 181-218.

Coe, S. (1996). The True History of Chocolate

Hall, G., Tarka, S., Hurst, W., Stuart, D., & Adams, R. (1990). Cacao Residues in Ancient Maya Vessels from Rio Azul, Guatemala. American Antiquity, 55(1), 138-143.

Martin, C. (2020). Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food Lecture 2: Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”. Cambridge, MA. 

Prufer, Keith M., & Hurst, W. Jeffrey. (2007). Chocolate in the Underworld Space of Death: Cacao Seeds from an Early Classic Mortuary Cave. Ethnohistory, 54(2), 273-301.

Schwartzkopf, S., & Sampeck, K. (2017). Substance and seduction : Ingested commodities in early modern Mesoamerica (First ed.). Austin: University of Texas Press.

Whatever It Takes – How Hershey Became the World’s #1 Chocolate Company

A recent report in 2019 by Statista revealed that Hershey is unequivocally the king of the chocolate industry: compared to other chocolate companies, Hershey leads in market share at 43% (see Figure 1)– 13% more than its nearest competitor, Mars, Inc.

Market Share of World’s Leading Chocolate Companies (Statista 2019)

So how did this come to be? How did a small chocolate company founded in 1894 survive an unforgiving capitalist market and become the industry giant we know it to be today? This blog post analyzes how Hershey has exploited workers in different areas of its supply chain over time to maintain its profitability, allowing the company to overpower its competitors in the race for market share.

1937: Manufacturing Labor Exploitation Exposed

1929–1933 marked the period of the Great Depression. GDP fell over 25% over the course of 4 years. Since chocolate is a discretionary good, demand for Hershey’s chocolate decreased, causing Hershey’s price of chocolate per oz to fall by 15%. However, despite this decrease in price/oz, Hershey managed to maintain its profitability through effectively decreasing its labor cost/oz.

To do this, Hershey pulled two levers: 1) it increased the volume quota per worker, and 2) it cut the paid hours per week from 60 to 40. This meant that workers had fewer hours to produce a higher quantity of chocolate products than before. Annual bonuses were also cut to zero.

This was especially distressing given how labor-intensive the production of Hershey’s chocolate was. Hershey’s kisses, for example, were individually wrapped in foil by hand.

Workers wrapping Hershey’s kisses by hand

By late 1936, workers were ready to unionize. They began circulating a pamphlet called “The Chocolate Bar-B”. Some claims in this pamphlet include that employees faced “low wages, erratic work schedule, and recent orders to speed up production.” The newsletter insisted that “chocolate workers [performed] physically demanding labor, with deafening levels of noise and temperatures over 100 degrees” (D’Antonio 2008).

In response to these abusive employment practices, the factory workers went on strike. However, five days into the strike, Hershey “loyalists” and dairy farmers whose livelihoods were affected by the halted operations of the factory stormed the factory, outnumber the strikers four to one. Strikers were violently beat up and injured (D’Antonio 2008).

Whether or not Milton Hershey himself instructed the anti-strikers to attack does not absolve Hershey from the blame in this violence. As historian Catherine Koonar writes, “By the late 1930s, the Hershey brand was beloved by American consumers…Mr. Hershey was respected as great industrialist and philanthropist. This affection allowed the company and its supporters to portray unionists as greedy and ungrateful and labor organization as unnecessary and ultimately incompatible with Mr. Hershey’s vision” (Koonar 2018).

Thus, Hershey was able to exploit a conflated, idyllic perception of its company to suppress a union strike, allowing it to maintain profitability. By 1937, Hershey reported $37 million in pre-tax income (D’Antonio 2008).

Today: Exploitation of Cacao Farmers and Children

In 2000, a British organization called True Vision Entertainment released a documentary titled Slavery: A Global Investigation. This award-winning documentary reported on the chocolate industry’s alleged connection to cocoa harvested by child slaves. The filmmakers meet with 19 children who were recently freed from slavery by cacao farmers—they describe getting “broken in” during the first six months, which entailed routine beatings. Before these beatings, the boys are stripped naked and tied up. The documentary sparked national outrage as these boys bared scars covering their bodies. As one boy heartbreakingly says, “[People] enjoy something I suffered to make; I worked hard for them but saw no benefit. They are eating my flesh” (Haglage 2015).

In response to this documentary, Hershey denied ever knowing that child slavery was happening. They vowed to eradicate child slavery in cacao farming by 2005.

However this has yet to come true. This is why in 2018,  American consumers filed a lawsuit against the Hershey Company, “alleging that the company is violating consumers’ protection laws by not disclosing that their cocoa suppliers in Cote d’Ivoire rely on the worst forms of child labour” (Haglage 2015).

What drove these cacao farmers to use child slaves? A cacao farmer in True Vision’s documentary says it’s because “he is paid a low price for the cacao, and thus needs to harvest as much of it as he possibly can” (Haglage 2015).

Cacao farmers from the Ivory Coast are interviewed. The farmer makes $9.20 a day to provide for him and 15 workers.

Due to its large amassed market share over time, Hershey has a large amount of bargaining power with these farmers. Thus, it’s no surprise that farmers are getting paid so little. Almost 80 years after the labor strike, Hershey continues to grow in size and profit, and yet its exploitation of laborers remains the same.

Where is Hershey now?

From $37 mn in pre-tax profit in 1937, Hershey’s 2019 pretax profit was $1.38 bn (Hershey 2020). This represents an aggressive CAGR of 4.5%. This growth was built off the backs of exploited workers in various parts of the supply chain. While Hershey has certainly changed in size, the verdict is still out on whether its labor practices will change for the better.

Works Cited

“Annual and Other Reports: The Hershey Company.” Annual and Other Reports | The Hershey Company,

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Paw Prints, 2008.

Haglage, Abby. “Lawsuit: Your Candy Bar Was Made By Child Slaves.” The Daily Beast, The Daily Beast Company, 30 Sept. 2015,

Koonar, Catherine. “Making Chocolate American: Labor, Tourism, and American Empire in the Hershey Company, 1903–85.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 142, no. 3, 2018, pp. 339–364., doi:10.1353/pmh.2018.0032.


Mayans, Metates, and Manos- Oh My!

Metates and manos are ancient Mayan food processing tools that played a role in various cultural, ceremonial, and gendered aspects of the society. They came in a variety of shapes and sizes, each of which required a different technique in order to produce the desired effect. The four main types of metates are basin, trough, concave, and flat (Adams, para. 1). Corresponding manos were not only differentiated by the type of metate they were created for, but also more specifically the individual metate that they were used with (Adams, para. 4). From this we can see that metates and manos could not be interchanged, even if they were of the same type. For instance, one could not simply borrow the trough mano that belonged to their relative or neighbor, for use with their own personal trough metate. This is because the stone tools conformed to each other uniquely over the duration of their use, and the depth and convexity of one metate would not match the convexity and width of a mano that had been consistently worked into the surface of another metate [See Figure 1] (Adams, para. 4).

Figure 1: Diversity of Mano and Matate shapes and mismatched conformation

 As such being the case, these tools were most likely handled and stored with care. If one or the other became damaged, or was lost, replacing one of the pair meant replacing them both. This is because metates and manos were not used exclusively for the production of foods such as maize to be eaten for the average or everyday individual in Mayan society (Walker, 264). These were tools used by women, and more specifically in the case of making cacao beverages, were used “following a highly ritualized protocol” (McAnay and Murata, p. 12). Thus, this is a reasonable assertion, in view of not only their specificity, but also their use in preparing a variety of cacao based foods and beverages such as cacao pulp batidos, cacao and chile balls, and chocolate beverages (Lecture 2, Mesoamerica and “food of the gods”). The known significance of cacao as an item of consumption for royalty and other elites in society further supports this notion (Lecture 2).

The techniques used to pulverize cacao, maize, and a variety of spices typically involved “one of two types of grinding forms: a reciprocal back-and-forth motion or a rotary or circular motion” (Walker, p. 265). In Figure 2, you can see an instance of this type of rotary motion, most likely to be used with a basin metate (Adams, para. 2). Then Figure 3 depicts the type of back-and-forth motion used to pulverize roasted cacao beans (Lecture 2). 

Figure 2: Depiction of One-Handed Mano technique with Basin Metate
Figure 3: Depiction of Two-Handed Mano technique with Trough Metate

The type of stone materials used to create and design these complimentary devices differed based on region and context, given that religious ceremonies and burials have shown evidence of manos and metates created with more nontraditional materials, such as coral (Walker, p.270). However, “these types of stone tools, however, would have been imported items, as the most commonly available local stones utilized for grinding tools were quartzite, dolomite, and limestone” (Walker, p. 273). From this we can see that, much like cacao, the production of the metates and manos themselves were involved in long distance or cross regional exchange in order to acquire more durable materials, such as igneous stone (Walker, p.273).

From this we can see that manos and metates were culturally integrated into practical aspects of Mayan life by way of food production and the definition of gender roles or duties. This is also true of ceremonial and religious contexts, in which special cacao based recipes would be prepared, perhaps with metates and manos crafted from distinct or significant materials. Though the diversity of these tools, even amongst those of the same type, can serve as the basis for further research, it also highlights the notion that we can still draw parallels between lifestyles in the past and present. Times have changed, but that does not mitigate the inherent diversity of human daily practices. Just as there are standard ways of holding utensils or using certain tools and there are those individuals that ‘break the mold’ and have it their own way, the diversity of manos and metates is emblematic of this. Each set is distinctive not only because of the materials they were crafted from, but also because of the individual that used it on a regular basis. From their hand size and grip to the amount of pressure they were able to exert in order to pulverize a given food, the unique curvatures of these tools tell us stories about those that used them. And, in their distinctions, simultaneously highlight the significance of human sameness and difference.