Tag Archives: american

C’est la vie? C’est la guerre! A Comparative Analysis of French and American Haute Chocolate

Sweat condensing on her brow, an American Pasty Chef attempted to balance a crescent moon shaped chocolate centerpiece atop a three-tier cake.  Being observed by a French chocolatier only added to the nerves that steeled into her clenched jaw and stabilized her trembling hands.  Hours of work had gone into this elaborate piece, an expense that would hopefully be passed on to the customer when they purchase this decadent, luxurious and ostentatious celebration of chocolate, craftsmanship and refinement.  It embodied various certifications, testifying to the veracity of the ethical production therein and extending its meaning from its origin, through the artisan, to the consumer.

Just as the bottom tangent of the chocolate piece began to set, aided by a can of spray-able liquid nitrogen intended to solidify the melty chocolate and fasten it into place, the weight of the moon rested at too deep an angle.  It tumbled.  Over the back of the cake, it gashed the bottom layer on its way to the stainless steel table where it shattered, breaking the silent concentration and cutting the tension in the room.  The Pastry chef sighed and began to collect the shrapnel with a towel, slowly scooping it into a pile for re-melting.

C’est la vie…” said the American Pastry Chef.

C’est la guerre.” replied the French Chocolatier.

This semi-fictional scene reflects the dichotomous nature of chocolate in haute cuisine between French and American spheres of distinction. The deft use of fine chocolate is prevalent in both attitudes, both value the origins and efforts of the cacao’s genesis, both have studied and practiced their craft.  However, whereas the American is resigned in the failed effort to express the cumulative value of the product and her skill, the French craftsman is steeled into resolve, determined to win the war. “Such is life, Such is war” is a common French expression that mirrors the approach of French and American approaches to chocolate in haute cuisine.  The American approach is one of collaborative effort, emphasizing the transparency of sourcing to demonstrate the rusticity of the product.  The French approach is one of competitive determination, steeped in refinement and luxury.

This analysis is not intended to present a normative argument.  That is, this is not an examination of which culture has a better or worse approach to haute cuisine in that one way is right or another is wrong.  Rather, these tools seek to explore how haute chocolate can reflect bifurcated levels of distinction. In the interest of flow and concision, the United States is referred to as ‘America’ wholly separate from other North and South American regions.  Additionally, the habitus of other European Nations such as the Netherlands and Austria may overlap with those of the French, however France is selected as grounds for comparison as it offers special distinction via various guilds and the tradition of the chocolatier.  This is also not intended to make over generalizations, it is understood that there are exceptions to trends and the examples herein were chosen to highlight the specific distinctions.

Haute Chocolate

While neither nation produces cacao, the raw ingredient for chocolate, their relative attitudes towards fine chocolate are molded by habitus.  Defined as a collection of culture, history and access to cultural and economic capital, Pierre Bourdieu offers habitus as the foundation of an individual’s foodways. (Bourdieu, 2005) The purpose of this comparative analysis is to explore the similarities and differences in American and French approaches to fine chocolate.  While both nations enjoy a reputation for the production of fine chocolate, they have very different attitudes and approaches to the market.  This analysis intends to contrast these attitudes, provide examples that demonstrate the distinction between distinctions, define the roles of distinction and habitus, and critically analyze how these attitudes are expressed in an effort to better understand the role of nationality and culture in the growth of the fine chocolate market.

Where an individual’s habitus lies is dependent on their perceived cultural and economic capital.  This capital functions as a social currency, lending veracity to their perceived identity, be it as a ‘foodie,’ ‘gourmand,’ ‘conscious consumer’ or other informal title, cementing an individual’s place inside or outside of distinct groups. (Power, 1999)  An individual’s food choices, in this case chocolate brands, reinforce their identity and allow them to explore other, tangential foodways with more comfort and familiarity.  The intersection of economic and cultural capital is particularly informative in an analysis of chocolate brands as each is designed for a particular market.  While the positions of brands along the axis may be of some debate, literature and marketing materials often guide it’s position by utilizing adjectives such as ‘luxury,’ ‘rustic’ or ‘bean to bar.’

pic1

For the purpose of this analysis, focus will be placed on the brands and approaches on the left side, High Cultural Capital with varying Economic Capital.  Haute culture, if not cuisine, is by definition high in cultural capital as its purpose is to push the boundaries of sensory experience and offer unique, ephemeral products.  Food choices made accordingly serve as evidence of ‘distinction,’ which “reflects the ability of dominant class factions to legitimate their tastes as superior.” (Johnston & Bauman, 2015) As illustrated, there are many brands that cluster in the top left corner, with High Economic capital.  These products are advertised as expensive and luxurious.  In this context, luxury can be defined as a product whose price exceeds the cost of raw materials, processing and labor. Fine cacao makes up only 5 -7 % of global production. (Martin & Sampeck, 2015)  Its consumption indicates a desire to separate one’s experience from the challenges of the everyday.  Within the world of chocolate, this means a simplification, or complete ignorance, of the harsh realities of cacao production.

C’est la vie…

The American approach to haute chocolate is as diverse as any other.  Foodie culture has elevated chefs to rock-star status. As such, in 2018 one is as likely to encounter an acclaimed chef or chocolate producer who looks a bit different from a traditional, clean cut chocolatier.  Tattoos, long beards and bespoke eyeglasses offer credence to the adept skill and alluring aloofness of urban chefdom.  This approachability, itself a rebellion from rigidly structured hierarchies of French brigade styled kitchens, offers the transparency that consumers demand.  Buzz words such as ‘bean to bar,’ ‘artisanal,’ and ‘chef inspired’ adorn many of commodity products.  The Mast Brothers experience is an exceptional case study of the consequences of betraying this transparency.

In late 2015, a former employee who blogs for dallasfood.org under the name Scott, posted a blog that uncovered a betrayal of transparency by the Mast Brothers, operators of a specialty chocolate company that sold ten dollar bars of chocolate at Whole Foods.  According to the author, commodity chocolate was being melted down and repackaged into luxury advertised bars.  The follow up Quartz article blew the story up and the Mast Brothers became the poster boys for forged identities in the artisanal community.  The placement of the product, in high end grocery stores, themselves suspect of duplicitous marketing, combined with a curated narrative about the ‘hipsterness’ of bar, offered little defense as the supposed transparency on offer became opaque.  The backlash was swift and harsh, eventually leading to an apology and reintroduction of the product.

 

Right Image: Nick Zukin Twitter @extramsg

Left image: Mast Brothers Facebook

Taza chocolate is a craft chocolate producer based in Massachusetts.  Their branding and sourcing heavily refers to Mesoamerican origins, minimal processing and Fair Trade sourcing.  The chocolate itself remains slightly grainy, an effect usually eliminated in industrial processing, testifying to the rustic nature of the product.  Taza offers a chocolate experience very different from luxury French and European Brands.  Advertised as ‘stone ground organic direct trade’ their products offer a sensorial connection to Mesoamerican chocolate history cementing the consumer’s identity as a thoughtful ‘foodie’ if not a conscious consumer. Taza compounds their commitment to transparency and rusticity with tours of their manufacturing facility, with old timey equipment and informative guides.  This producer is an example of the ‘rustic’ or unrefined American approach.

pic4

Image: Amazon.com

In any chocolate culture, Valentine’s Day is a special occasion.  Heart shaped boxes of chocolate for any price point are available for gifting.  It is no surprise that at the highest level of foodie distinction, The James Beard Foundation, would center chocolate consumption for the event.  Enter Staten Island Chef Peter Botros and his team.  Famous for his restaurant The Stone House at Clove Lakes, Chef Botros collaborated with the JBF for a themed titled ‘Dreaming in Chocolate’.  A 7 course dinner for 175$ per person, the evening featured Seared Dayboat Scallop with Chocolate-Chestnut Cream, Potato Crisps, and cocao nibs and other creative chocolate expressions. This event is one of many collaborative efforts between institutions and individuals that celebrate and market the chocolate experience.

Chocolate competitions, courses, books and best practice videos further explore the collaborative nature of American haute chocolate.  Working with certifying bodies such as USDA organics, The Rainbow Coalition and Fair Trade emphasize the transparency and minimal processing that offers a more rustic experience typify the American approach.

C’est la guerre…

French haute cuisine needs little introduction.  France it is often claimed is home to the best wine, the best cheese and the best bread.  An encounter with any Francophile will bear this out.  However, the French approach to haute chocolate bifurcates from the American approach in a number of ways.  Examples of the competitive nature, refinement and luxurious identities offered by French chocolatiers contrast with those of American producers is telling ways.

French chocolate bars and advertisements market the luxury of French chocolate through visceral imagery.  Gold script, royal velvet and dark shiny tones offer justification for the high prices of luxury bars.  An extreme example of this is the famous Jean Paul Hevin chocolate stiletto, featured in BBC production ‘Chocolate Perfection with Michel Roux Jr”.  Produced by hand, in one size and for only the right foot, this chocolate product blurs the line between food and art.  The creation is demonstrative of refined skills of the chocolatier. Its image practically screams ‘SEX’ and its lack of purpose pushes its existence into one of pure ostentation.  This product would be unthinkable using the methods and consistency of a rustic chocolate, such as Taza and pedigreed chefs rely on relationships with the most refined legacy chocolate producers in France.

pic5

Refined chocolate producer Valhrona based in Tain l’Hermitage outside of Lyon, France is one of the leading producers of gastronomic chocolate.  Their products offer elite levels of distinction with a legacy dating from 1922.  (Coe & Coe, 1996) A central player in haute chocolate, Valhrona has a robust sourcing plan, has established chocolate schools, and is based in one of the richest wine cultures in Europe.  As such, they were one of the first to offer chocolate in the cru, grand cru, and premier cru varieties, highlighting the value of the terroir expressed in their chocolate.  By using adjectives familiar to audiences with an excess of cultural and economic capital, Valhrona’s refined approach to chocolate typifies the pride and mastery of knowledge demanded by French haute chocolate.  The institutional investment in chocolatiers and their craft is shared with official national recognition.

The Mielleur Ouvrier de France, MOF, is awarded to the ‘best craftsmen of France’ and typifies the competitive nature of French haute chocolate.  Rather than compete against others, this competition invites only French chocolatiers to compete against their own skills.  Preparations take months or years, the winners are selected by former MOFs, and each competition may offer none or many awards.  The award is offered to other craft industries as well, but few are as compelling or tempting as the chocolatiers. This competitive nature, designed to weed out the unworthy, is distinct

pic6

As illustrated in the diagram above, French and American chocolate distinctions differ in a number of ways.  The central overlap, that of price, exoticity, specialty and terroir, form core values from which the cultures begin to bifurcate.  These adjectives, among others, describe shared distinctions, realms where haute chocolate is intrinsically valued, fetishized and subject to the highest levels of cultural and economic capital.  An analysis of French and American examples of haute chocolate yields different yet related levels of distinction.

These differences can be juxtaposed to fully illustrate and expose a dichotomy of distinction.  Collaborative vs competitive, rustic vs refined and transparent vs luxurious are just a few of the bifurcated approaches to chocolate and the core values that make up their relative haute culture.  The American approach is market based, placing emphasis on the quality, economic value and artisanal specialization of small ‘bean to bar’ companies who place equal importance on the genesis of the cacao as well as the locality of the producer, collaborating with certifying bodies to enhance the veracity of their claims.  The French models emphasizes a more competitive approach where the chocolatier is subject to communally agreed upon standards, exemplified in the MOF and artisan guilds.  The American ‘bean to bar’ isolates a particular geography, culture and terroir and the artisans strive to express that sense of place through minimal industrialization often to the detriment of texture, color or perceived sweetness.  Conversely, French legacy brands, such as Valhrona, often refine the raw product, blending it with other select varieties of plant and geography to create a specialized flavor, emphasizing the elite-ness, luxury and unique qualities of specialty varieties.

Critically, the transparent and luxurious approaches to haute chocolate may be the most illustrative of the distinct dichotomies.  American chocolate bars often prominently feature recognized symbols of transparency.  Affiliations with USDA Organics, Fair Trade, Free Trade the Rainforest Alliance offer cultural capital to the consumers that reflects their personal core values and communicates to themselves and others that they are concerned with the class struggles and systemic inequities inherent in the cacao trade.  Conversely, French chocolate bars rely much more heavily on images of luxury.  French chocolate production is more closely related to national legacy; one removed from the conflicted history of colonialism and offers a product with a value that exceeds the costs of raw materials and the human labor used to produce it.

Both chocolate cultures have evolved foodways that reflect cultural values inherent in wider social and economic spheres. (Meigs, 1997) The arguments of the analysis herein could very well be extrapolated and transposed onto similar products, such as bread, cheese or wine.  Chocolate holds a special place in this reflection because the raw material, cacao, is not grown in the US or in France.  Both carry with them a burdened class legacy and have had a historic hand in oppressive economic systems that relied on exploitation and enslavement.  Future research could examine how haute chocolate deals with these legacies differ between nations, however both mold the perception of the consumer based on external values already inherent in their respective cultures.

References:

Bourdieu, Pierre.  2005.  “Taste of Luxury, Taste of Necessity.”  In The Taste Culture Reader:  Experiencing Food and Drink, edited by Carolyn Korsmeyer, pp. 72-78.  New York:  Berg

Coe & Coe, 1996. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London p259

Johnston & Bauman. 2015. Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape. p32 Routledge, London & New York

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. 2015. The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. socio.hu. The Social Meaning of Food, Special Issue in English 3: 37-60

Meigs, Anna. 1997. Food as a Cultural Construction. Food and Foodways 2(1): 431-457.

Power, Elaine M. 1999. An Introduction to Pierre Bourdieu’s Key Theoretical Constructs. Journal for the Study of Food and Society 3

 

Advertisements

Chocolate at CVS

CVS calls itself a “pharmacy innovation company,” so it is not the first place one thinks of when considering places to buy chocolate. However, the options for chocolate products in the 24-hour Cambridge, MA location claim a surprisingly large section of aisle space. More than half of the candy aisle is taken up by chocolate, and their aisle dedicated to holiday and seasonal products is also predominantly filled with holiday-themed chocolate items. There’s a tantalizing array of similar chocolate products lined up in the checkout line, neatly packaged for individual, one-time consumption. And for a customer who wants to try something fancier, there is an aisle endcap labeled “Premium Chocolates.” There are some interesting trends in the options available for purchase. With the exception of the small premium chocolate selection, all the chocolate is milk chocolate, most of it consists of chocolate in combination with another food such as peanut butter, caramel, or fruit, and all the options that I could find were produced by one of the four largest chocolate companies: Mars, Nestle, Hershey, and Cadbury. In fact, a lot of the options were simply the same product in different forms. A customer can buy a 2-pound bag of individually wrapped mini Reeses, or a bag of even smaller unwrapped Reeses, or an 8-pack of large Reeses, or an individually-wrapped large Reeses, or a bag of Easter-themed Reeses shaped like bunnies or eggs. It’s all peanut butter surrounded by a milk chocolate layer, but the customer can choose at least six different forms in which they’d enjoy eating this product. Additionally, most of these chocolate products were on the lower end of the price range. For only about two dollars, a customer can buy individually-wrapped chocolate items of up to eight ounces. Even the premium chocolate endcap is dominated by yellow stickers denoting huge sales. A picture of this is shown below.

premiumchocolate

(image taken by me)

A customer can buy two chocolate bars and get the third for free, and the most expensive bar was eight dollars.

Compiling these observations, we can see that CVS primarily sells inexpensive, sugary milk chocolate products produced by huge chocolate companies who are very focused on packaging, and that CVS branches out a little bit with their premium chocolate selection but still focuses on keeping the price down. Why is this? CVS is a drugstore where people shop to find household conveniences, health products, and snacks. According to one article, CVS tries to sell to all Americans because everyone needs pharmaceuticals, but its target market is the elderly. CVS is not primarily a food store, so it makes sense that CVS would try to sell chocolate products that are most likely to appeal to its target demographic of middle-class and elderly Americans. CVS is doing well as a company, so its products must be selling well. We can see, then, that the average American enjoys buying milk chocolate that is sugary, brightly packaged, and produced by Nestle, Mars, Hershey, or Cadbury. The explanation for why Americans prefer this style of chocolate lies in our history. Sugar production, industrialization, and aggressive marketing all contributed to the way our chocolate industry looks today.

Until the 1700s, sugar was a luxury product in Europe. People knew of its existence, but it was too expensive to eat frequently and was consumed primarily by the upper classes. Demand for sugar continued to grow, however, so from the 1500s onwards, European powers established sugar plantations in the Caribbean, imported slaves from west Africa to labor on them, and competed with one another to become the foremost sugar exporters. Britain, France, and Portugal were the most successful with sugar production and trade. Most of the sugar produced in their colonies was consumed back in Europe as demand continued to grow and grow. By the mid-1700s, sugar was a regular feature of most Europeans’ diets (Mintz 5-45). By 1850, the price of sugar in Britain dropped sharply due to new economic policies that navigated away from protectionist policies for colonies and towards free trade (Mintz 61). This decrease allowed sugar to become even more of a necessity to English diets, and since sugar was cheap, it served as a substitute for other, more expensive foodstuffs for working class people (Mintz 161). These same trends happened in the United States. The combination of the facts that sugar is cheap and that humans have a strong sweet tooth have contributed to the fact that more and more of our diet consisted of sugar until we have gotten to where we are now: a society that adds sugar to nearly all processed foods.   This explains why we like our chocolate so sugary; we like everything sugary.

This still doesn’t explain, however, why only four chocolate companies produce the chocolate we see in CVS. This limited brand choice is due to two main, overlapping factors: first, American industrialization allowed for huge economies of scale, allowing factories to mass-produce items such as chocolate at low prices. Second, a couple chocolate factories captured the American market while chocolate was still a new item and the American taste for chocolate was still forming, causing Americans to crave a certain flavor of chocolate that only those companies could produce. In the mid-1800s, the Industrial Revolution took off in the United States as people figured out how to use non-human sources of energy to power large factories that used automated processes to mass-produce items on great scale. This led to the rise of the working class and their mass demand for affordable foods. The mass manufacture of foods, then, became very important where it had previously been a small market (Goody 85). There were massive improvements in “four basic areas: (1) preserving; (2) mechanization; (3) retailing (and wholesaling); and (4) transport” (Goody 72). All of these innovations allowed for food to be produced and processed on a larger scale than ever before, shipped everywhere in the country for consumption, and sold at the lowest prices it had ever been. Processed food became a necessity in the working class diet, and mass production of foods by large-scale companies is still the way that most of our food is produced today. Chocolate is one of these foods that became mass-produced, and the first company to mass-produce chocolate in the United States was Hershey.

Hershey conceived a new business strategy that was previously unused by sweet-makers: he produced vast amounts of his products at low prices instead of making a lot of products at varying prices. This allowed him to sell his Hershey Kisses and bars to nearly “every grocer, druggist, and candy store owner in America” (D’Antonio 123). His strategy worked, and Americans liked the candy so much that Hershey made $3.6 million dollars in sales in 1911 and $5 million dollars in sales in 1912 (D’Antonio 123). Hershey has been a permanent fixture in American culture ever since. One explanation for why Hershey chocolate has stayed so popular in the United States is because it introduced a distinct flavor of chocolate to Americans before they had tried any other flavor of chocolate. Americans came to associate the Hershey flavor with true chocolate, and would be reluctant to try anything else. Europeans, meanwhile, often dislike the slightly sour taste of Hershey chocolate (D’Antonio 108). Other chocolate companies had to come up with their own innovations to compete successfully with Hershey’s initial chocolate monopoly. Mars company, for example, was mainly successful because it came up with the idea of enrobing other sweets in chocolate and selling it as a chocolate bar. This allowed Mars to sell a much larger “chocolate” bar than Hershey for the same price because other ingredients were cheaper than the chocolate, and this larger bar for the same price was very appealing to consumers (Brenner 57-59). The original Mars bar consisted of chocolate-covered nougat and caramel, and looked about three times as thick as a Hershey bar. We can see an advertisement below for the original chocolate Mars bar, where it emphasizes that it consists of 3 flavors.

Mars had the same flavor of chocolate as Hershey-in fact, Mars initially bought its chocolate from Hershey- so the only difference in products was the added nougat and caramel. Mars quickly became as successful as Hershey and competed for market share. These large companies were able to produce chocolate extremely efficiently, so they were able to sell their products at lower prices than local confectioners (Brenner 188). The large companies soon outcompeted smaller ones, and thus most of our chocolate today is produced by massive companies that can sell us chocolate for the lowest prices.

There are signs, however, that consumers are starting to pay more attention to factors other than flavor and price when purchasing chocolate. Now that chocolate is so affordable, Americans are starting to be concerned with the way in which chocolate is produced: is it fair to the cacao growers? Is it ecologically sustainable? Does it have health benefits? According to Kristy Leissle, demand for organic, healthier chocolate is on the rise (23), which is reflected by the resurgence of artisan chocolate makers. The number of bean-to-bar chocolate artisans has risen from one to thirty-seven from the 1970s until now (Leissle 23), and the number keeps growing. Recently, there has been an emphasis on how organic, dark chocolate has health benefits and is tastier than mass-produced milk chocolate. More and more Americans are buying “premium,” especially dark, chocolate (Bean to Bar 167). This growing interest in fine chocolate is reflected in CVS’s small “Premium Chocolate” section. CVS itself is attempting to become a more health-oriented drugstore. It stopped selling cigarettes and is stocking its shelves with healthier options overall (Thau). This could explain why CVS is selling some darker, higher quality chocolates. However, all of the premium chocolate that CVS sells is still made by large companies that put their chocolate through a lot of processing. The brands available are Ghiradelli, Lindt, and Chuao: all large and well-known companies with not much of an emphasis on producing their products in an ecologically and ethically sound manner. This is likely because although CVS is making steps to sell more healthy, environmentally conscious products, it still must appeal to its target audience, which wants inexpensive and convenient snacks. These brands of premium chocolate are more expensive than typical American milk chocolate, but they are still much less expensive on average than artisan bean-to-bar chocolate, or than organically produced chocolate. CVS is thus striking the balance between healthier, socially conscious options and low price options. Overall, the options at CVS are a fairly accurate reflection of American trends towards chocolate overall. Americans are still hooked on extremely sugary, processed chocolate and are not willing to pay high prices for candy, but are starting to demand more dark chocolate due to its health benefits and common linkage with socially conscious initiatives.

Works Cited

“About.” CVS Health. CVS, n.d. Web. 5 May 2017.

Brenner, Joël Glenn. The emperors of chocolate: inside the secret world of Hershey and Mars. New York, NY: Broadway , 2000. Print.

Convex Strategies. “CVS: Demographics And Business Model Mean Tons Of Upside For The Stock.” Seeking Alpha. N.p., 16 Aug. 2012. Web. 5 May 2017.

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s extraordinary life of wealth, empire, and utopian dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2007. Print.

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 2013. 72-89. Print.

Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 13.3 (2013): 22-31. JSTOR. Web. 5 May 2017.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and power: the place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin , 1987. Print.

Thau, Barbara. “Can CVS Become The Whole Foods Of Drugstore Retailing?” Forbes. N.p., 22 Apr. 2017. Web. 5 May 2017.

Williams, Pamela Sue., and Jim Eber. Raising the bar: the future of fine chocolate. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Publishing Corporation, 2012. Print.

Mars advertisement image link: http://robinthecandygirl.blogspot.com/2009/01/where-have-all-mars-bars-gone.html

The first image of Premium Chocolate was taken by me.

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.