Tag Archives: chocolate love

Momma Told Me Life is a Box of Chocolates

In interviewing my mother about her relationship with chocolate, I initially came into the interview expecting to hear a lot about chocolate playing a major role in her past romantic relationships during times like Valentine’s Day and anniversaries. I didn’t expect chocolate to have played such an important role in the many ways it did in my mother’s life. It was amazing to me how versatile chocolate was as a food item, and even then, how versatile it was in terms of the many different purposes it could serve from day to day for different people. It really gave me a much more personal and relatable example of how the impact of chocolate on the lives of many goes beyond being enjoyed as a snack. The numerous sentimental attachments my mother had to chocolate were surprising.

 When I asked my mom about her first encounters with chocolate, she recollected a story her mother told her about the day she was born. My grandmother was a military wife raising my mother and my uncle at home while my grandfather was overseas. The day she gave birth to my mother, my grandfather had a friend of his deliver a box of chocolates to the labor room to show his love and support for her. When my mom told me this, I was shocked at the way chocolate was being used. It kind of made sense to me because he sent them partially to express his love for my grandmother, but it wasn’t the same type of love, at least to me, as Valentine’s Day. Before hearing this, I had the impression that chocolate and love were only connected through expressions of romanticlove that is shown to appreciate the connection between two individuals. The love being expressed in this situation was more of the love one would get from having a child and feeling a special sense of family and love for a spouse througha child. For that reason, it was unique to me that chocolate was used in that situation. Nonetheless, I thought it was a successful attempt to use chocolate as a gesture of love because my mom said it gave her older brother and my grandmother a strong sense of comfort at the time.

Apparently this trend continued as my mother grew up, as her father would send the family gifts from overseas that often times included some quantity of chocolate. It seemed to me, though, that these gifts of chocolate meant something slightly different than the one given on the day of my mother’s birth. According to my mother, my grandfather would send packages with papers that bore information about the area he was in at the time, food typical of that particular area (with some chocolate always added in for fun), and a cool souvenir. My mom told me that the chocolate they received here was not so much a comfort item. Of course the arrival of the packages certainly made my mother and her family feel comfortable to know that my grandfather was still alive, but that wasn’t the overall point of them. These gift boxes seemed to be more about exposure to the foreign cultures and traditions throughout the world, and not so much about expressing love. For one, the chocolate was an incentive for my mom and my uncle to open the boxes that came, but each time, the chocolate was from different regions of the world and each had a slightly different taste. I thought this was very interesting because the chocolate my grandfather was sending served more as a souvenir than a comfort item. Chocolate in this sense not only comes with an attachment of emotion, but a capsule of information and experiences in a place that you’ve never been. This proved to me how chocolate could be used for the spread of culture and not just to express some form of love. 

As the interview went on, we got into the role chocolate served for my mom when she was in college. Growing up on Fort Bragg, a military base in Fayetteville, North Carolina, my mother was exposed to the opportunity for economic mobility that the military offered young black people. She had seen first hand that while my grandfather may not have been able to be there all the time because he was constantly deployed, they at least knew each pay period that a check would be in the mail with a certain amount of money on it. The bills were always paid and there was never a question whether or not the money would come. In seeing this throughout her childhood, my mother got involved in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) as early as she could. When it came time to come to college, she had gotten into all of her dream schools, but couldn’t afford to go to even her in-state schools, much less out of state. She went to college on Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship, but all they paid for was her schooling. She was forced to work a job to pay for her room on campus, but unfortunately she had to make it work in terms of what to eat. According to my mom, in times of need in college, she would rely on a Pepsi and a Snickers Bar many days for meals. While this is definitely not an ideal circumstance, nor is it necessarily good for one’s health, it shows a different type of significance that chocolate has for people that isn’t so deeply entrenched in the meaning behind it. In this case, chocolate served as nothing more than a not so filling snack used to replace a meal due to hard times. It was humbling to hear an example of such a vital role that chocolate played in my mother’s life.

Image result for snickers bar

Also while in college, my mother met my dad. Initially, their relationship didn’t involve any chocolate at all, besides the fact that my mom described him as “tall, chocolate, and handsome”. My dad was a Bahamian (from the Bahamas) immigrant at the time and his accent was still very strong. He saw my mother one day walking across the yard and waited until she got near his window to wisper out the window to him. She was in love with his accent from the start, though it has faded overtime, and that is part of what made her allow him to take her on a date. She was telling me about how she was expecting to go to a strange restaurant that my father would have liked and wasn’t expecting to enjoy her night very much at all but would give it a try. Nonetheless, she gave it a try and when he picked her up, he greeted her with flowers, a card expressing his feelings for her and… you guessed it—a heart shaped box of chocolates. They went to a normal restaurant and had a good meal, and in the end, my dad even treated her to a chocolate desert, also a “smooth move”, according to him, to confess his feelings for my mother. They later got married and at their wedding, chocolate was served on a big platter along with a chocolate waterfall meant to let drip on strawberries. In both cases, chocolate was used as a display of romantic affection for another individual. 

Image result for flowers and chocolate

Here is where I found one of the most interesting pieces of information, to me. My mother and I both talked to my dad about the day they met in college and he said that he too was very skeptical about how that date would go. He told me that at the time he met my mom, he hadn’t been in the United States for more than a few years, so he was trying to do everything that he saw in movies to seem Americanized and not blow his cover as a foreigner, as if the accent didn’t give it away. The whole story about whispering out of the window and displaying such confidence that actually wasn’t there is a silly story but it shows how chocolate can serve not only as a display of romantic love for another individual, as mentioned before, but as a certification of a certain amount of familiarity one has with American culture. I thought it was interesting that to someone who had never been to America before the late 80s like my dad, chocolate was an Americanthing.

Later in the interview, I was able to ask questions about the role chocolate had played in my mother’s adult life. She continued on from her stories about her wedding and described that chocolate actually played major roles in our family life as she had my brother and I. First off, she received loads of chocolate attached to gifts from family members when she had her baby showers for my brother and me.  This expands on the attachment of chocolate to love and support, whether romantic or not. She also went on to tell me about how when I was younger, I would become immune to the different tricks she would pull to get me to go to sleep, but that warm chocolate milk always did the trick. I went through not needing anything, then after a few sleepless nights, my mom tried warm milk. That worked for quite some time, but it got to a point where even that wasn’t working (What? I know). When she switched to chocolate milk, apparently those were the easiest nights she had with me when I was a baby. I don’t know what this says about chocolate, but I would assume from the context that this example was given in that chocolate is held dear to people’s heart’s for reasons that don’t have anything to do with symbolism. The pure taste of chocolate can sometimes simply warm somebody’s soul and bring a calm smile to their face. Possibly, this is one main reason chocolate has persisted as such a symbolic food item today.

By far, the most unique example of the symbolism of chocolate was through my mom’s talk about her favorite holiday of the year—one that we created ourselves. Almost every year for the past fifteen years, my family has had some member of our family graduate from either high school or college. Each time, my family holds a party to celebrate and my mom bakes a chocolate cake that has deep meaning behind it. Both of my parents and all of my aunts and uncles have faced loads of adversity throughout their lives just because they were black in America. All have prevailed to become very successful at their many endeavors, and take much pride in their children representing not only our family, but also black people in general in a moral and respectable manner. The chocolate cake served at these parties is a reminder that throughout life, the color of our skin will present challenges that we will simply have to deal with. It also let’s us know that if we look around, we have plenty of role models right there within our own immediate families that are breathing examples of people that have prevailed. The chocolate used in this case is symbolic of a sense of deep pride and responsibility toward one’s people. This was the most powerful use of chocolate I heard from her throughout our entire interview.

Image result for chocolate cake

It is clear that chocolate played a major role in my mother’s life, but in many different ways that I had no idea about. I found out about many relationships between my mother and chocolate that were expected, like receiving chocolate on dates, at weddings, at baby showers, etc. in attempts to express either romantic or non-romantic love and affection. The forms I was not prepared to hear about were mainly the symbolism that chocolate had for my dad as an American food item and the chocolate cake my mom makes at every graduation party to remind us that we have more people relying on us than just ourselves. All in all, chocolate has proven to me now, more than ever, how versatile it really is in that it can fulfill many different roles in people’s life.

Monetary vs Dietary Consumption: Men’s role in women’s consumption of chocolate

Bonjour dessert: tout ce que les femmes désirent. The hyperlinked advertisement shows a “sexy” shirtless man, whose apron barely covers him, laboring to make chocolate. The background music and his tone as he whispers French are meant to arouse the female consumer. French is the language of love, and as the male actor concludes in French, Bonjour Dessert are all a woman desires to have. The commercial is actually for a Russian audience and was televised in Bulgaria. While the men are working to produce the chocolate, it seems to be for the consumption of women.

Chocolate consumption can refer to the purchase and eating of chocolate (Fahim 2010). While women eat slightly more chocolate than men (91% versus 87% respectively), the chocolate industry heavily targets women in its advertising (Mintel Research in CNN 2012). Cholust choco.jpgcolate is marketed as sexy, and women exude lust in chocolate advertisements as seen in the advertisement below. I decided to explore the legitimacy of these claims from the perspective of men. Specifically, how does chocolate marketing influence men’s role in women’s consumption of chocolate? I interviewed seven male students who responded to the following up: a male who has ever bought chocolate for a significant other. I will situate my findings in the appropriate historical and contemporary contexts. All names have been changed to preserve the anonymity of my respondents. Based on my analysis, men’s purchase of chocolate is not in direct response to media and marketing influences. Instead, men attribute their motivation to purchase chocolate for significant others because of their semiotic understanding of the product and the expressed needs of their partners, coupled with its affordability.

Chocolate as a romantic gesture

Chocolate is associated with romance or love. When asked about the presence of chocolate in his relationship, John described how he and his girlfriend “once went to the taza chocolate factory; it was an entire date around chocolate. I thought it was a nice date. There was a festival with free chocolate, hot chocolate [and] I bought some. Essentially, chocolate serves as a long memory of that date which was cool”. His girlfriend loves chocolate, but he does not particularly indulge in it. Yet, he planned that date to show his girlfriend that he could be interested in the things that bring her joy. It was a chance for him to be romantic in his actions besides saying I love you. The semiotic association of chocolate with love naturally predates John and all of my respondents. 

marriage choco.jpg

Marriage vows between a couple in ancient Mayan civilization

In addition to exchanging vows, it was customary for a bride and groom in ancient Mayan civilization to give each other five cacao beans in order to finalize their marriage process (Coe 2013:61). As depicted in the photograph above, cacao beans were integral to to relationships in Mesoamerica and chocolate continues to be a placeholder in that sense. For example, Cadbury invented the heart-shaped box of Valentine’s chocolates in 1861 (Coe 2013:243). The commercialization of Valentine’s Day as a holiday around love has persisted until today. Purchasing a heart-shaped box of chocolates has evolved into a commonplace display of affection for a significant other. More importantly, the box is filled with chocolates, which my respondents associated with love. In his thesis, Fahim describes a Hershey’s commercial in which the girlfriend is upset with her boyfriend. She starts to warm up to him when he offers her Hershey’s kisses. The Hershey’s kisses are how he convinces his girlfriend to listen to him and show him affection (Fahim 2010). I asked respondents to contextualize their chocolate gift-giving experiences. Matt explained “If I meet someone for the first time and I’m interested, I might get a Lindt chocolate bar because it’s still high quality but it’s not the deepest and truest thing to my heart”. Matt associates the actual chocolate with romance, and does not value “cliché packaging” like the heart-shaped box. The more interested he is in someone, the higher the quality chocolate he offers her. Because of this, he would not gift a girl Hershey’s chocolate kisses. Nevertheless, the principle of offering chocolate as a romantic gesture persists although Matt and other respondents do not turn to specific brands because of their advertising. Overall, the amount of care and effort put into impressing the potential significant other speaks to his semiotic understanding of chocolate with romance.

Chocolate as comfort food 

Respondents recalled they were likely to purchase chocolate for their girlfriends when the latter needed to be comforted. Brian noted that “whenever [his girlfriend’s] studying, whenever she’s stressed, chocolate is just a go-to. It tastes good, makes her happy, [and in turn] makes me happy”. Chocolate brings relief to his girlfriend in times of stress and provides her with energy. In the nineteenth century, chocolate was marketed to mothers as essential to keeping a healthy family. For example, medicinal recipes involved cocoa and women were meant to make these concoctions, not consume them. Such recipes were perceived solutions to physical ailments like stomach aches and fevers (Grivetti and Shapiro 2009:71). Nowadays, women consume chocolate to calm down. Stressing out or worrying too much can be detrimental to one’s health. So it is interesting to trace the trajectory of chocolate from a remedy to physical illnesses to a potential solution of psychological ones. In the same vein, the gender norms associated with chocolate also changed. Women would traditionally prepare the chocolate-infused medicine for men or their children, but not themselves as it was considered “sinful”. Men now gift chocolate to women to bring them comfort, which signals a change in the target audience for the dietary consumption of chocolate.

Furthermore, I was interested in what sort of chocolate respondents purchased. John admitted his girlfriend likes dark chocolate so he either gets her Dove Dark Chocolate or Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate. Connor always purchases Ghirardelli Raspberry and Dark Chocolate Bar for his girlfriend. Sean recalled, “the particular person I have in mind, she really loved chocolate. So that’s why I bought her chocolate instead of flowers [to help her through a rough time]”. My respondents’ primary motivation for purchasing chocolate to provide comfort was because their girlfriends explicitly said they enjoyed chocolate. They were not consciously responding to chocolate marketing ads. Instead, they were simply trying to be great partners because purchasing chocolate was not an adventure or exploration. Rather than in response to media attempts to sway chocolate consumption, the respondents bought chocolate merely what their significant others already had a strong preference for.

 

Chocolate is affordable

Overall, chocolate is an accessible treat. I asked respondents why they purchased chocolate for significant others. Six of the seven respondents purchase chocolate for their significant other because it is affordable. John explained that “chocolate is a small constant reminder that I care about her and want her to be happy. I’m willing to pay four bucks for two weeks worth of chocolate to make that point”. Chocolate was not always this affordable. The Industrial Revolution was instrumental to the drop in pricing because of drastic improvements in four areas of manufacturing: preservation, mechanization, retail/wholesale and transportation (Goody 2013:85). These improvements exponentially increased the number of  manufactured foods, which in turn made them more accessible and affordable to the average shopper.

Beyond manufacturing improvements, the production of cacao also influence the supply chain. The cacao-chocolate industry has a long history of ethical problems in its supply chain as it pertains to forced labor and slavery on cacao plantations. From slavery in Latin America to forced labor in Sao Tome and Principe to “the worst forms of child labor” in Ivory Coast, the chocolate we consume is often tainted (Coe 2013:192; Mintz 1985:48-50; Off 2006: 122). Cacao is a commodity that large chocolate manufacturers can buy in huge amounts and farmers are not involved in the price-setting discussions. Furthermore, farmers are not always paid on time and therefore struggle to wholly rely on cacao production to make ends meet (Martin Lecture 2017). The respondents were neither aware of nor concerned with the labor abuses and low standard of living of cacao farmers. Respondents did not seek to buy ethically-sourced chocolate and did not look for logos like FairTrade certification. The one respondent who arguably spent more than “four bucks on chocolate” valued the quality of the chocolate he purchased for significant others. Particularly, he would procure Limonoro Sorrento Madagascar-Tohisoa, an exquisite Italian chocolate bar with single-sourced cacao from Mlimonoro choco.jpgadagascar (pictured to the right).  Still, his primary motivation for purchasing such chocolate was the quality of the chocolate and not its ethical considerations. Therefore acquiring it at a lower price compared to bean-to-bar chocolate makers. There are attempts to ethically source chocolate through certifications like FairTrade, Rainforest Alliance Certified and UTZ Certified . Yet, consumers are largely unaware of the distinctions and from my small sample size, not worried about the ramifications of their dollars. 

Food for thought?

None of my respondents attribute their purchase of chocolate for significant others to successful chocolate marketing. When asked why they thought chocolate was in fact their “go-to treat” for their girlfriends John argued, “if my girlfriend was into licorice, I would always have a supply of licorice in my room [instead of chocolate]. I just want to make her happy”. According to John, chocolate was not the inherent solution to romance or comfort. Instead, it was because his partner explicitly suggested she was into it that he bought it for her. For the most part, my respondents bought chocolate with the direct intent to please their girlfriends. This explains why they stuck to the one brand of chocolate they knew would elicit joy from their girlfriends, whether it was Ferrero Rocher or Dove Dark Chocolate. Chocolate marketing did not influence them to purchase the chocolate that a specific advertisement claimed would help men score points with women. While this key distinction important in men’s understanding of their role in women’s consumption, I cannot fully argue that chocolate marketing played no role in men’s semiotic understanding of chocolate.

While respondents did not buy the advertised chocolate, chocolate marketing as it stands today reinforces and rewards the notion that men should purchase chocolate for women’s consumption. Therefore, there is a possibility that chocolate marketing subconsciously influenced my respondents to feel affirmed in their chocolate consumption and therefore continue purchasing chocolate for their girlfriends. I understand that there are limits to my sample of Harvard students and sample size of seven and I cannot make generalizations on the underlying factors of men’s purchases. Furthermore, the scope of paper is heteronormative because all male respondents had female significant others. Respondents also assumed significant other referred to a girlfriend as opposed to a close friend of any gender.

Overall, this blog post serves as an exploration of men’s understanding of their role in women’s dietary consumption of chocolate, especially when they are in a relationship. My respondents believed purchasing chocolate was an easy and affordable way for them to brighten their girlfriends’ moods. They also purchase it because their girlfriends explicitly asked for chocolate. They did not purchase chocolate as a direct response to chocolate marketing efforts. Still, it does not mean chocolate marketing cannot subconsciously affirm men’s decision to purchase chocolate. The investigation begs the question of women’s motivating factors to consume chocolate and if chocolate marketing efforts play a more salient role in their perspective.

Bibliography

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

Fahim, Jamal, “Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing” (2010). Sociology Student Scholarship. http://scholar.oxy.edu/sociology_student/3

Grivetti, Louis and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Wiley, 2009.

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

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: The New Press, 2006

Multimedia Sources

Advertisement of woman eating chocolate

Bonjour YouTube commercial

Limonoro Sorrento Madagascar Chocolate

Mayan Marriage

 

Chocolate and Romance: A Historical Exploration of Chocolate’s Association with Love

Chocolate in modern society is deeply intertwined with ideas of romance, love, and lust. From our celebration of Valentine’s Day, a holiday in which the exchange of chocolate and love notes is foundational, to advertisements from chocolate companies filled with sexual innuendos, we are constantly bombarded with ideas and images depicting chocolate’s association with romance. While many consider chocolate’s relationship with love to be a tactic manufactured by large chocolate companies to increase sales, there has been a long-standing association between chocolate and budding romance that began in pre-Columbian times. Chocolate’s affiliation with love and romance today is both rooted in tradition and influenced by capitalistic endeavors to sell more chocolate.

One of the earliest examples of chocolate’s role in romantic relationships is an ancient Mayan marriage ritual called tac haa. The ritual involved the potential groom’s family serving a chocolate drink to the father of the woman he wanted to marry. The men, including the father of the potential groom, father of the potential bride, and the admirer himself would sit together and discuss the marriage, while women remained removed from the negotiations. The women, such as the potential groom’s mother, would be involved in making the chocolate drink that was served to the guests (Martin, Lecture 2).  Another Mayan marriage ritual involving chocolate took place at the actual wedding ceremony. The Mayan bride and groom would exchange five cacao beans with each other, and wedding guests would drink chocolate together (Coe and Coe 61). Ancient rituals such as tac haa and the exchange of cacao beans do not directly resemble modern traditions surrounding chocolate and romance (i.e. heart-shaped chocolate boxes that are presented to significant others), but both ancient Mayan marriage rituals and heart-shaped chocolate boxes share the common thread of lovers being united through chocolate. It could be that rituals like tac haa serve as prototypes for modern traditions involving chocolate and courtship.

An example of a contemporary courting ritual involving chocolate is depicted in the following advertisement for Edible Arrangements: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1I1FW1ffSc. The advertisement showcases a man setting up a romantic evening on Valentine’s Day. It is clear to any viewer that this is a romantic evening because of the cultural connotations of the objects presented in the ad. For example, the man lights candles, there is a rose and box of chocolates set on the table, and slow music plays in the background. Roses, candles, and chocolate are all objects American society associates with romance, specifically with courting women. As the advertisement progresses, the heart-shaped box of chocolates begins to speak, saying that he is the “ultimate wing-man,” reiterating the idea of chocolate being used to woo women in our society. The object of the advertisement is to demonstrate how Edible Arrangements is superior to the box of chocolates in wooing the woman. However, including the box of chocolates as something to compete with further emphasizes the notion of offering chocolate as an established method of courtship in our society.

Presenting chocolate to a significant other is not only used as a method of courtship in modern society, but has evolved into becoming fundamentally associated with the definition of “romantic” altogether. For example, AskMen, a popular website that offers life advice to men, contains an article entitled “9 Simple Romantic Ideas for Every Man” linked here http://www.askmen.com/dating/heidi_60/77b_dating_girl.html.  One of the romantic ideas listed is to “Be More Thoughtful,” and a suggestion on how to do so is to “leave [your significant other] a chocolate ‘kiss’ on her pillow before bedtime.” It is apparent that giving your partner chocolate should be viewed as a thoughtful gesture, and by doing so one can be described as “romantic.” Thousands of men visit AskMen for daily advice and likely follow it, indicating how chocolate has become an extremely conventional method of showcasing a man’s thoughtfulness and affection for a woman. Similarly, the way chocolate is presented in this article suggests that women too have been conditioned to feel loved and appreciated when their partner gives them chocolate.

Chocolate’s affiliation with romance extends further than simple courtship and gift-giving. In fact, people have long used chocolate as an aphrodisiac, or in combination with believed aphrodisiacs, to heighten sexual desire in themselves and in others.  A chocolate beverage called Atextli consumed by the Aztecs was believed to be healthy due to its supposed aphrodisiac qualities (Elferink 27). Chocolate beverages have also been documented as being used in love potions to seduce and control men. Margarita Orellana writes, “Because of its dark color and grainy texture, chocolate provided an ideal cover for items associated with sexual witchcraft. These included various powders and herbs, as well as female body parts and fluids, which women then mixed into a chocolate beverage and fed to men to control their sexuality” (81). Whether chocolate truly possesses aphrodisiac qualities or not, modern chocolate companies often use chocolate’s historical association with sexuality as the basis of their marketing. Linked here is an example of a typical chocolate advertisement from Lindt, a company known for their chocolate truffles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgGz2oNk0Pg. Although not overt, once can see how Lindt is sexualizing chocolate in this advertisement. Terms like “irresistible,” “passion,” and “luscious” have carnal connotations, and the image of the woman removing her scarf suggests that the idea of consuming chocolate has heightened her sexual desires.

The affiliation between chocolate and romance, beginning with Aztec and Mayan traditions, perseveres in modern times. Something else that has remained in tact is the idea of men using chocolate to court women, and women having sexualized responses to chocolate. There seems to be a stark difference between men and women’s interactions with chocolate that have become engrained into contemporary society.

Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie D., Michael D. Coe, and Ryan J. Huxtable. The true history of chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

De Orellana, Margarita, et al. “Chocolate III: RITUAL, ART AND MEMORY.” Artes De México, no. 110, 2013, pp. 72–96., http://www.jstor.org/stable/24318995.

“Edible Arrangements Advertisement.” YouTube, uploaded by MBR616, http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=b1I1FW1ffSc. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.

“Lindt Chocolate Commercial.” YouTube, uploaded by LindtChocolateUSA, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgGz2oNk0Pg. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.

Jan G. R. Elferink. “Aphrodisiac Use in Pre-Columbian Aztec and Inca Cultures.” Journal of the History of Sexuality, vol. 9, no. 1/2, 2000, pp. 25–36., http://www.jstor.org/stable/3704630.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and ‘The Food of the Gods’.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard College: Cambridge, MA. 1 Feb. 2017. Class Lecture.

“9 Simple Romantic Ideas for Every Man.” AskMen, http://www.askmen.com/dating/heidi_60/ 77b_dating_girl.html. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.

 

 

 


 

 

Unwilling to see past the pleasure: How one woman’s positive memories and continued fondness for chocolate make it difficult for her to consider chocolate production

INTRODUCTION

On Sunday, May 1st 2016 I interviewed a woman by the name of Martina about her memories of, experiences with, preferences for, and decisions regarding chocolate. I didn’t ask very many questions, but we spoke for a little over an hour as she provided rich descriptions and recollections in her answers. Over the course of the interview it became apparent that Martina has an almost uniformly positive mental association with chocolate. This is a particularly strong association as she engages with chocolate on a daily basis. Indeed, it is this powerful link of chocolate to pleasure and happiness for Martina that had prevented or at least dissuaded her from considering any negative aspects of chocolate production and trade.

 

MEMORIES

When asked about her first chocolate-related memory, Martina spoke about the chocolate egg that she received on Easter when she was very young.

“When I was about 6 or so I got this enormous chocolate egg from the Easter bunny. It must have been about 6 by 3 inches. It was this beautiful egg that had coconut cream on the inside, chocolate enrobing the coconut, and then my name written in cursive on the outside of the egg. I wanted to eat it right away, but I also wanted to look at it because it had my name and was so beautiful. So I ended up setting it aside and went with my family to the UU church. When we returned, my dog had eaten it. I was heartbroken. But it is still this wonderful memory of having this beautiful chocolate creation that was mine.”

Dog with chocolate egg
Dog and a chocolate egg – much like the egg that Martina’s dog ate

Martina also commented on her favorite treats at the time and the sweets on which she would spend her allowance money, showing that she valued chocolate highly at an early age.

“I always loved chocolate. I would always spend allowance money on food, especially chocolate. And it was so foreign to me that best friend growing up didn’t like it! I still don’t understand it… Anyway, I remember often spending my money on Mallow Cups. They looked like Reese’s peanut butter cups but with marshmallow instead of peanut butter inside. I don’t remember if there were jokes or tokens on the cardboard cards under the mallow cups, but there was also some sort of additional incentive to buying them. I remember that kids collected them. When I was older and had more allowance money, I would go spend all of it on English Toffee at John Wanamaker’s department store – I think I was able to purchase a quarter pound or so. That toffee with milk chocolate and almonds on outside – so good.”

Some other memories that Martina readily recalls revolve around chocolate in different forms:

“I really didn’t have a preference when it came to chocolate – I loved eating it any which way. One of the first things I learned how to cook was a batch of chocolate meringues – delicious. I also really liked chocolate ice cream. I would always love going over to my friend Samantha’s house because her father worked for Breyers and they always had great chocolate ice cream. But one of my most memorable childhood experiences was eating a 10 gallon container of chocolate, chocolate chip ice cream with my four brothers. My dad had been driving behind an ice cream truck on his way back from work, when the tub of ice cream fell off. This was before they had fancy ice cream flavors in grocery stores, so this was some sort of specialty flavor that you could only get in ice cream parlors.”

From these memories it is clear that throughout Martina’s childhood she developed an extremely strong relationship with chocolate and still has these very fond recollections of her experience with friends, family, and chocolate. As she put it: “thinking about it now, it seems like most of my favorite memories and stories deal with chocolate.” This observation is telling, as Martina has formed strong positive associations with chocolate due to her enjoyable memories with the good.

 

DAILY INTERACTION

Martina’s fond experiences with chocolate are not only in the past, in fact they happen on a daily basis. When I asked Martina when she had last consumed chocolate and about how regularly she consumes it, she responded “about an hour ago” and “I would say that in a month, there is only a day or two that I go without eating chocolate.”

When I gave an involuntary “wow” in surprise, Martina responded:

“I know it sounds excessive, but I normally eat chocolate in moderation. I am able to do so because I find a small amount so satisfying. I really like that about chocolate. But if I am going to indulge in something that I know is not great for me, it is likely going to be a chocolate dessert. When I go to a dinner or some sort of social gathering, people often expect me to bring a chocolate dessert because they know how much I like it.”

Martina said that the chocolate that she consumes now is different from the types of chocolate that she consumed as a kid. She doesn’t like candy bars and now prefers “chocolate in more of a darker and purer form.” These “darker and purer” chocolates that she consumes on a daily basis are either Dove’s Silky Smooth Promises or Hershey’s Bliss (images shown below). When I asked why she came to like these chocolates and if she had seen them advertised she responded that she really liked the smoothness and taste of the chocolates, but really wasn’t exposed to much chocolate advertising at all.

Perhaps ironically, not being exposed to chocolate advertising could actually be beneficial to Martina’s positive image of chocolate. This is because she is not encountering the overtly sexualized language and imagery that is often used to sell chocolate products.  This link between chocolate and sex was especially pushed in advertisements for luxury chocolates (Robertson, 2009). This tactic was most popular during the first three-fourths of the twentieth century, but it remains in use to this day (Robertson, 2009).

 

HEALTH

In addition to liking the flavor of these dark chocolates, Martina also states that she enjoys the health benefits that they provide: “I know that dark chocolate is good for me, so it is sorta like a health food. I mean that in terms of eating a couple pieces of dark chocolate every day. Not a big slice of chocolate cake with ice cream.”

This association that Martina makes between “moderate” chocolate consumption and good health is quite common. Yet, claims of chocolate’s health food properties are mostly misleading, if not inaccurate. Unprocessed cocoa powder does contain flavanol compounds that have been shown to have beneficial antioxidant and cardiovascular benefits (Fisher and Hollenberg, 2005). However, most chocolate undergoes extensive processing and does not retain these health benefits (Hollenberg and Fisher, 2007). Dutch processing, which treats cocoa with alkali to neutralize its acidity, is one process that robs cocoa of many of its beneficial flavanols (“Heart-Health”, 2012).

But even then, the health benefits derived from consuming flavanol-rich chocolate are likely exaggerated as well. Dr. Norman Hollenberg, a radiologist at Harvard Medical School and Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, greatly exaggerates the amount of cocoa consumed by the Kuna, an indigenous population of Panama. He attributes their good vascular health to drinking “at least 5 cups of cocoa with extraordinarily high flavanol-content each day” and drinking this almost exclusively (Hollenberg and Fisher, 2007). In fact, anthropologists have not found cocoa beverage consumption to be this extensive or this exclusive. The Kuna consume many different types of drinks and have a multitude of different commercial beverages available to them (Howe, 2012). Additionally, the claim that the coastal Kuna exclusively consume flavanol-rich chocolate is likely inaccurate. The availability of commercially-produced chocolate and its use in the preparation of chocolate drinks means that the amount of flavanol consumption is less than what Hollenberg makes it out to be (Howe, 2012). Thus, it is unlikely that their excellent vascular health is due to massive, exclusive consumption of favanol-rich chocolate.

Thus, Martina is enjoying chocolate on a daily basis, and believing that the chocolate that she is eating is healthy for her. Although the health benefits that she thinks her Dove and Hershey chocolates contain are doubtful, the repeated pleasurable experience of consuming the chocolate and the added psychological boost of doing something to improve her health, further reinforce an aura of positivity around chocolate.

 

ENGAGING WITH THE ISSUES?

Even experiences that might have caused Martina to think about the production of chocolate and possible negative aspects, were overtaken by positive associations. She recalled her experience of seeing a cacao farm for the first time and thinking about the production of chocolate:

“I was on my honeymoon in St. Lucia and I saw a cacao plantation and thought it was very interesting. I hadn’t thought about the growing process before and where chocolate came from.”

The cacao plantation interests her but the joy and love associated with the honeymoon is the predominant sentiment that comes through when she describes the experience. She does not mention labor conditions or ecological considerations. I then asked Martina if she knew why she hadn’t thought about the production of chocolate before and if she currently has any concerns when making chocolate purchasing decisions.

“Hmmmm I am not really sure. I guess I just feel so far removed from the production of it that I hadn’t really considered the growing process. And I don’t really have any social or biological considerations in mind when I buy chocolate….. even though I probably should. I try to be conscious of what I eat. I get local vegetables, grass-fed meat (and little of it), cage-free eggs. I have done some reading about food health and environmental costs of food production, but I don’t think about it as much with chocolate. I think it might be because I can’t get locally-sourced chocolate. I feel like I don’t have as much control over what types I can get. And with the amount that I eat, I don’t think about if it is sustainably harvested on a daily basis. But I do appreciate getting that information when it is available.”

I found this response by Martina fascinating because it shows that she is normally a conscious consumer. She is invested in learning about where her food comes from and the impact of buying and eating certain products. She then acts on this information and buys in a manner consistent with her beliefs. It is then especially interesting that her careful purchasing of food items does not extend to chocolate. She suggests that this may be because of a lack of information – without having good knowledge about what types of chocolates are best for the environment and best for the farm workers, it is difficult to make a good choice.

I then asked her if she buys chocolate other than the Dove and Hershey individually wrapped chocolates, and she responded:

“When I buy for other people I am buying a nice chocolate. A good quality chocolate. It can be a little overwhelming even because there are such vast arrays. So sometimes I go by pretty packaging haha. Well, as long as there is something interesting about it – single source, or sustainably harvested, or fair trade. For example, I bought a range of chocolates (both in brand and chocolate percentage) to give to my brother for his birthday so that he could sample the different types. Some were single source, others were fair trade.”

It seems from this response that, for Martina, labels like “free trade” and “single source” are terms that add intrigue and a sense of high quality, rather than terms that could indicate the farming conditions, good pay, or positive social impact. Rather than mention buying fair trade as a way to, for example, combat the mistreatment of children working small plots of in West Africa, it is something that adds to the packaging and makes the bar an “interesting” purchase (Berlan 2013). Child slavery is a serious issue in some places, with evidence of children not being paid, often missing school, and some being made to do strenuous, dangerous work (Berlan, 2013; Off, 2008; Ryan, 2011). This is just one of many ethical considerations, but her inability to grapple with these types of issues stems from her ingrained positive relationship with chocolate and lack of good alternatives.

For Martina, deeply thinking about the chocolate that she consumes would mean questioning the fond memories that she has and the continual joy that she receives from consuming it daily. It would also mean changing her purchasing habits (as she has done with her vegetables, dairy, fruit, and meat). In fact, it is precisely because she acts on these environmental and health considerations when it comes to other foods that investigating chocolate would lead to an unfavorable outcome for her.

She makes the important point that getting good information about the production of chocolate is difficult, and there are few companies that have that knowledge and are transparent with it. Restricting herself to only buying from companies that share this knowledge publicly would greatly constrain her purchasing options and significantly increase the price she pays for chocolate. Her awareness that it would be nearly impossible to pivot her chocolate consumption to a different, more transparent brand at the levels that she consumes it, prevents her from engaging with the ethical side of chocolate production.

 

CONCLUSION

Martina’s experience is probably not that different from that of many people in the U.S.. Chocolate is ubiquitous in the United States and this prevalence has led many of us to develop a love for it. I doubt any member of “Chocolate and the Politics of Food” would support companies and operations that involve exploitative practices. But without access to good information about the nature of production of our favorite chocolates, what options do we have? It is certainly easier to switch to sustainable and ethical products in areas of life where they are readily accessible, than to give up a product you love.

 

WORKS CITED

Berlan, Amanda. “Social sustainability in agriculture: An anthropological perspective on child labour in cocoa production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies 49.8 (2013): 1088-1100.

Fisher, Naomi DL, and Norman K. Hollenberg. “Flavanols for cardiovascular health: the science behind the sweetness.” Journal of hypertension 23.8 (2005): 1453-1459.

“Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate.” Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic, Jan. 2012. Web. 01 May 2016. <http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/heart/prevention/nutrition/food-choices/benefits-of-chocolate&gt;.

Hollenberg, Norman K., and Naomi DL Fisher. “Is it the dark in dark chocolate?.” Circulation 116.21 (2007): 2360-2362.

Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica 12.1 (2012): 43.

Off, Carol. Bitter chocolate: Investigating the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet. Vintage Canada, 2010.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate nations: Living and dying for cocoa in West Africa. Zed books, 2011.