Tag Archives: Divine

Divine Intervention: Helping or Hurting?

One day after our chocolate class let out, I was, unsurprisingly, craving chocolate. I happened to be traveling in the direction of the Market in the Square on Brattle Street, so I decided to stop inside and check out their chocolate selection. The market had wide range of chocolate from many parts of the world, but one bar stood out to me. The Divine Milk Chocolate with hazelnuts bar was colorfully and uniquely decorated; I had never seen anything like it before. When I looked a little closer, it seemed it could have a potentially problematic design. After close analysis of the bar’s wrapper, I found that the design, due to the history of Ghanaian chocolate, attempts to make purchasing the bar a charitable act that closes the gap between farmers and chocolate lovers. Sadly, it only increases the divide between the consumer and the producer of cacao.

When I first picked up the bar, I was attracted to the shiny Divine logo and the many blue and tan symbols that graced the packaging. I have to admit, I did not know anything about the Divine chocolate company before encountering this chocolate bar. I decided to analyze the bar as an inexperienced consumer in order to best understand how Divine was marketing their products. As I walk through my experience as a first time consumer of Divine, I will show how the bar is marketed toward closing the gap between the consumer and the producer, and in reality how it does the opposite.

Here is the outside of the Divine Milk Chocolate wrapper:

Divine_Hazelnut_Milk_Chocolate_Bar

As I mentioned before, one of the first things I noticed about the milk chocolate bar’s packaging was its being covered in many tribal-esque symbols. I thought at first that these symbols were an homage to cacao’s Mesoamerican origins. However, when I opened the bar and looked on the inside of the wrapper, I found an explanation on the bottom. In order “to celebrate [their] Ghanaian ownership” Divine decorated the bar with Adinkra symbols which are “traditional West African motifs”. This bar emphasized the symbol “Kokrobotie which represents co-operation and teamwork”.

At first I thought “oh that’s nice, they are celebrating the culture of the farmers.” And then I considered the wording of “West African motifs”. The rest of the wrapping all contained very specific references to the Kuapa Kokoo co-op from which they get their cacao, even the home regions of farmers in Ghana. The vagueness of the symbols’ origins indicates that they are most likely not from Kuapa Kokoo or Ghana. This is problematic, as it is careless to claim that Divine’s image is specifically in the co-op, then use images that are not from there but “close enough” for the Western consumer. It indicates that the company is going for a look rather than sincere representation of culture and leads to their exotification.

We can guess that the symbols exist to create a sense of understanding between the cacao farmers and the consumers. The specific symbol Kokrobotie meaning co-operation and teamwork is ambiguous as well. Perhaps the ambiguity is meant to make the consumer feel as if they are co-operating with the farmers.The connection between farmer and shopper is one that is not often made, and the connection is quite appealing to consumers (Doherty and Tranchell).

An explanation of the symbols found on Divine chocolate bars
An explanation of the symbols found on Divine chocolate bars

Scholar Lucia Hulsether in her work on Tom’s shoes, a company with a mission to help those in developing countries just as Divine does, identifies the appeal of this connection as part of the spiritual politics of neoliberalism. Essentially, the consumer today feels disconnected with those who produce their goods. They feel more ethically satisfied when purchasing goods that close the gap between consumer and producer, especially ones that create a sense of all people buying into global community (Hulsether). The symbols create the sense that the buyer better understands the culture of those producing her food, so she feels more connected, more a part of a global community.

After I noticed he symbols that grace the Divine milk chocolate bar’s packaging, I moved on to the treatment of the farmers of the Kuapa Kokoo co-op.

The backside of the bar contains a few sentences mentioning that their beans are of high quality from the Kuapa Kokoo co-op. I found on the inside of the bar, though, paragraphs of information about the co-op and its farmers. There was a specific section called “Meet Gladys” introducing consumers to Gladys Okai, one of the community members of the co-op (it is unclear whether she is a farmer herself). The profile is similar to this video from Divine’s YouTube channel:

The main difference between the wording on the bar and the video is that Gladys has a voice in the video. On the bar, she is referenced in the third person and some of what she says is the video is translated into abbreviated quotes. The wrapper mentions how the co-op has provided water for her community and what a difference that makes. Her photo is included next to her information.

I’ll admit, at first I was touched by the story. I was glad to have found a chocolate bar that was making such a change in the lives of others. I felt that I was voting, so to speak, with my purchase for more companies with such a mission. And that is exactly how the consumer is supposed to feel.

This is all part of the connection that Hulsether identifies in her work. I can purchase a good, but I am really purchasing the ethical satisfaction that I am not contributing to the exploitation of unknown farmers. I see a face, I hear the story of someone who makes my food, and by making my food her life is improving. I feel like part of a global community working for social change.

I found I had a couple of lingering questions for Divine. The first was whether or not their mission is effective. Scholars have questioned how much the fair trade and alternative trade can make a difference in the communities they claim to help. In one instance, an investigation of a coffee producer in Nigeria found that fair trade impact was limited by the debt from paying the licensing fee, lack of government support and other factors (Utting-Chamorro). The owners of Divine wrote a case study article on whether by going mainstream their mission became “clean-washed”. Clean-washing occurs when a company benefits from the increased sales from being fair trade, but does little to bring about the changes they promise by being fair trade (Doherty and Tranchell). While their report concludes that they have not been clean-washed, we have to consider that this report was written by the owners of the company. While the article is peer reviewed, there’s definitely a conflict of interest here.

We can take with a grain of salt Divine’s claims that they are bringing about change in the Kuapa Kokoo co-op, but my last, most concerning question for Divine was the nature of their leadership and how they market it.

I went back to Gladys’ story on the inside of the wrapper, and I made a key observation after a close reading of the bar. Gladys is referred to in the third person, supposedly by whomever owns Divine. However, right above her profile is a seal claiming “owned by chocolate farmers, made for chocolate lovers”. A large part of Divine, is in fact owned by the farmers of the Kuapa Kokoo co-op (Divine). Why then, are Gladys and other farmers on Divine’s materials referred to as an other? Instead of using language that reads as “this is our co-op, and through our business we have made this change for our community” the language reads as “this company, one that helps this co-op, is what is changing the community”. The marketing of  Divine’s products has created a middle man that does not need to exist.

From Divine's website, the company is clearly proud to say they are partially owned by chocolate farmers
From Divine’s website, the company is clearly proud to say they are partially owned by chocolate farmers

Why then, does this middle man exist? I would argue that is has to do with how Ghanaian chocolate is perceived in Western society. West Africa primarily grows lower quality bulk cacao, but Ghana is the exception. Government regulations have kept the quality of bulk cacao high on many farms in Ghana, and this is well known in the chocolate world (Leisse). Western artisans, though, are hesitant to source Ghanaian beans because of tight purchasing regulations, but also because of perceptions that exotify West African and remind them of slavery (Leisse). Another factor to consider is the perception Americans have of West African labor practices. An American 2005 case study of cacao workers in West Africa found many counts of child labor that resulted in harmful lacerations and/or pesticide exposure (Kirkhorn and Mull). It is worth noting that the researchers did not use a nonrandom population of workers, which casts a shadow of doubt over their finding. Regardless of the strength of their findings, when Western society considers Ghanaian chocolate, they are reminded of poor labor practices both in the past and present.

Here lies the appeal of the middle man. Western consumers can trust a Western third party to go in and make a social change. The chocolate wrapper still emphasizes the changes they bring about so that the consumers feels like they are connected to those who produce their food from across the globe.

And here’s the problem: by using a third party Divine is exotifying, speaking for the farmers and widening the divide between consumer and producer. The Milk Chocolate with Hazelnut bar’s package is condescending in nature, which makes the chocolate buyer feel they are connecting with chocolate farmers, but on a shallow level. The consumer does not consider the innovation, hard work, or humanity necessarily of the farmer. They see a face they are saving. Thus, the divide between consumer and producer on increases.

Works Cited:

“About Us.” Divine Chocolate. Web. 6 May 2015.

Doherty, Bob, and Sophi Tranchell. ““Radical mainstreaming” of fairtrade: the case of The Day Chocolate Company.” Equal Opportunities International 26.7 (2007): 693-711.

Hulsether, Lucia. “TOMS Shoes and the Spiritual Politics of Neoliberalism.” Religion and Politics: Fit for Polite Company. John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, 1 Oct. 2013. Web. 6 May 2015.

Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.”Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 13.3 (2013): 22-31.

Mull, L. Diane, and Steven R. Kirkhorn. “Child labor in Ghana cocoa production: focus upon agricultural tasks, ergonomic exposures, and associated injuries and illnesses.” Public Health Reports 120.6 (2005): 649.

Utting-Chamorro, Karla. “Does fair trade make a difference? The case of small coffee producers in Nicaragua.” Development in Practice 15.3-4 (2005): 584-599.

Images

http://tradeasone.com/shop/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/5e06319eda06f020e43594a9c230972d/D/i/Divine_Hazelnut_Milk_Chocolate_Bar. jpg

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/6f/bc/8a/6fbc8a277c7c372dfd4496eada167c79. jpg

http://www.divinechocolate.com/us/sites/default/files/img_front/cocoa-farmers-button-new.jpg

DIVINELY PROGRESSIVE: How Divine Chocolate is changing the Cacao Industry

Contemporary West African cacao agribusiness is fraught with problems. Most farmers are not adequately financially compensated, involved in the corporate decisions that affect their farms, and usually do not have access to the finished chocolate product that their crop creates for the Western world.

West Africa provides the majority of the world’s cacao supply, with Ghana producing 17.5%. There are about 2 million African family cocoa farms, most of which are very small, and more than 75% of cocoa farmers state that they do not want their children to go into cacao farming. Even though Ghanaian farms yield 2.8 million metric tons of cocoa per year, in 2011 the average income per capita per day for a Ghanaian farming household is less than 30 cents USD (Martin 15: 1-9).

African women, despite being an integral labor force behind the cacao industry, are many times not empowered and are disenfranchised due to problematic power structures inherent to the cocoa supply chain that echo from European colonialism and continue in many rural areas. Cacao farming is culturally considered “masculine work” and men typically are the heads of cacao plantations; as a result too many times female farmers slip through the cracks within the chocolate industry’s distribution of wealth. (Martin 15:1-9, Robertson 124-125).

femalefarmer

Cocoa Ghana Project photo.

Another problem with modern cacao farming is the use of child labor, which is defined by the International Labor Organization as work that is likely to harm the physical as well as psychological health of children, either due to the nature of the work or because of hazardous conditions in the workplace. According to a 2009 Tulane University study, there are about 1 million children in Ghana working on cocoa plantations, where children can experience dangers such as heavy loads, sharp tools, and pesticides with little to no protection or training. Hard labor at a young age can delay children’s development and increases a child’s likelihood of dropping out of school. (Martin 15:11-26).

Responses to the issue of child labor on cocoa farms such as boycotts, the formation of the International Cocoa Organization, World Cocoa Foundation, and the 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol that have aimed to eradicate child labor have mixed results at best. Many corporations have denied the problem in public forums and almost never tackle the question of paying living wages to cacao laborers. (Martin 15:26-34).

And lastly, in addition to anxieties about the harms of mass cacao production on the environment (Ford) there is unfortunately a long legacy of community upheaval in West African cacao-growing societies, i.e. Ghana:

“Conflict over cocoa resources fueled monumental upheavals that took place in Ghana over the past thirty years, against the background of competition between capitalist-oriented peasants, regional ethnic groups, and a national government which sought to control export production…contributed to the fragmentation of lineages and other kinship/community groups.” (Mikell, xix)

Some ways to combat these issues include equal rights interventions, especially for women and children, grassroots in lieu of top-down approaches, knowledge and resource sharing both on the production and consumption sides of the chocolate industry, and increase pay for cocoa. When chocolate is a $100 billion/year industry, cacao farmer poverty is avoidable and inexcusable. In order for the industry to improve as a whole, there needs to be cross-sector cooperation among governments, NGOS, chocolate manufacturers and consumers with active involvement and leadership from cocoa farmers. (Martin 15).

realcost

Martin, Lecture 15, Slide 26.

Divine Chocolate, a U.K./Ghana-based chocolate brand founded in 1998 that is increasing in popularity in both Europe and the United States, seems to tackle seemingly daunting issues in ways not unlike the solutions Gwendolyn Mikell proposes in her book Cocoa and Chaos in Ghana:

“(Because) rural vibrancy contributes to national stability…(it is in both the chocolate industry’s as well as national governments’ best interest) to…(allow) local agricultural organizations to address local socio-economic needs…(while) establishing rural labor policies which encourage a sexually balanced rural labor force.” (Mikell 253).

yummy

Divine website.

In the 1990s a group of farmers, including Nana Frimpong Abrebrese from the Ghana Cocoa Board, set up a farmers’ co-op called Kuapa Kokoo (“good cocoa growers”) that would trade its own cocoa rather than relying on the middleman system of government cocoa agents. Kuapa co-owns Divine Chocolate Ltd; the company is dedicated to providing cocoa farmers with improved quality of life, to increasing women’s participation and recognition in cocoa farming, in addition to developing environmentally friendly ways to cultivate cocoa while contributing to community development and enrichment. The company is committed to transparency and democracy; as shareholders in the company themselves, the farmers receive a share of the profits from the sale of Divine chocolate bars, have two representatives on the executive board so they can influence how the company is developed, and one out of every four annual board meetings are held in Ghana. In 2007 after Divine Chocolate paid off original loans, the company was able to present their first cheque to the cooperative. This was a milestone in chocolate history, and a step in the right direction concerning Divine Chocolate’s mission.

Divine is made with cocoa bought from Kuapa Kokoo at the guaranteed minimum Fairtrade price of $2000 per ton which protects the farmers from the unreliable, ever-changing market.  The cooperative receives an additional $200 per tonne, which the cooperative invests into Producer Support and Development Funds.  Kuapa Kokoo weighs, bags and transports the cocoa and handles all legal issues for its members. The association now has upwards of 65,000 members in approximately 1400 village societies. (Divine: The Divine Story).

The company is also trailblazing in regards to chocolate advertising; their campaigns broaden consumers’ conceptions of African female farmers in the supply chain as well as providing positive representation of women of color, a rarity when it comes to chocolate advertisements. The women are presented as confident, independent business owners, countering stereotypes of African portrayals in the media. (Leissle 121-139).

blackskin

A not uncommon example of how African bodies are hyper-sexualized and dehumanized in chocolate advertising.(cocoh.net).

http:/http://impressivemagazine.com/2013/07/24/divine-chocolate-with-social-flavour/

Ghanaian female cocoa farmers tend to have smaller, less productive farms due to low literacy rates that make them more susceptible to being cheated. Divine and Kuapa currently work towards increased literacy and numeracy training for women so that they can earn outside income through other enterprises such as selling clothing. By increasing education opportunities to Ghanaian women and girls, many of the prime causes of child labor (such as poverty) are being combatted as well. With more educated families, there is more gender equality and potential for financial mobility, all factors that decrease a region’s “need” for child labor. Divine’s Dark Hazelnut Truffle honors the work Divine and Kuapa do to ensure equality for women cocoa farmers. You can buy one here:

http://shop.divinechocolateusa.com/Dark-Chocolate-with-Hazelnut-Truffle/p/DIV-001453&c=DivineChocolate@Bars

Divine refuses to use palm oil in its products out of concern for environmental sustainability in cacao production. The company also has its own radio program that spreads farming techniques even to remote villages, a still immensely popular tool in Ghana. Since many of Ghana’s farmers are not literate, radio programs provide them with the information and advice on various agricultural issues (such as pests and fungus) in the format they can best understand it. By having this radio program, Kuapa Kokoo creates a more truly democratic cooperative by ensuring that all members understand and have access to the tenets of the organization, learn about Fairtrade standards and benefits, learn about their company’s progress, as well as hear updates on child labor programs from government officials, regardless of literacy rate. Ongoing sales of Divine chocolate fund this and other programs that focus on access to clean water, health care, education, supplying new farming equipment and sanitation to improve standards of living.  Kuapa Kokoo has also taken a lead on addressing child labor and adapting to climate change.  Today Kuapa Kokoo produces up to 5% of Ghana’s cocoa (up to 640,000 sacks of cocoa a year!) (Divine Kuapa Mmere).

In conclusion, increasing pay for cocoa farmers, empowering and educating women, protecting children, while simultaneously innovating environmentally beneficial cacao-growing techniques and improving quality of life in cocoa producing regions is going to have to be a multifaceted effort, with cooperation across multiple sectors of the chocolate industry over time. The growing success of Divine is indicative of the plausibility of this type of cross-sector cooperation (Kuapa set up Divine in 1998 with the help of The Body Shop, Christian Aid, The Department for International Development and NatWest) and highlights the success of alternative business models involving communal indigenous practices and farmer involvement, not unlike Bolivia’s El Ceibo (Healy Ch. 6,7). Because Divine was created in order to propel change in the chocolate industry, it was a historic moment when UK chocolate giant Cadbury’s converted its most popular brand Cadbury Dairy Milk to Fairtrade standards. Divine had succeeded in creating and expanding a market for Fairtrade chocolate and creating a supply chain with the capacity to support a mainstream product. When Cadbury made its decision Kuapa Kokoo started profiting from the Fairtrade premium on cocoa bought for this commodity.  Super-giants Nestle and Mars have since taken their first Fairtrade steps by choosing to buy cocoa primarily from Cote D’Ivoire.  In 2013 11% of all chocolate sold in the United Kingdom now carries the Fairtrade Mark.  Over the past 17 years. Divine has grown in popularity around the world, now available in Europe, the U.S., South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Australia. Chocolate companies should seriously consider adapting similarly to Divine’s missions and business practices, for they are radicalizing the way that chocolate can be done.

Works Cited

A Tale of 2 Women, 2 Races, and 2 Chocolates. N/A. Image. 1 May 2015. http://www.cocoh.net.

Cacao Ghana Project. Image. 5 July 2012. Web. 1 May 2015. cocoakiss.blogspot.com

The Divine Story, Divine Chocolate. About Us. 2011. Web. 1 May 2015. http://www.divinechocolate.com

Ford, Matt. “Chocolate’s bitter sweet relationship with the rainforest.” CNN. 7 July 2008. Web. 1 May 2015.

Healy, Kevin. Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate: Multicultural Grassroots Development in the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia. Notre Dame, UND Press, 2001. Chapters 6 and 7. Print.Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 15: Modern Day Slavery.” AAAS 119x. Harvard College. April 20, 2015. course website.

Kristy Leissle (2012): Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements, Journal of African Studies, 24:2, 121-139 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13696815.2012.736194

Kuapa Radio Hour:Kuapa Mmere http://www.divinechocolate.com

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 15: Modern Day Slavery.” AAAS 119x. Harvard College. April 20, 2015. course website.

Mikell, Gwendolyn. Cocoa and Chaos in Ghana. New York: Howard UP, 1992. Print.

Nita, Catalina. Divine Chocolate with Social Flavor. Impressivemagazine. 24 July 2013. Web. 1 May 2015.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, women, and empire: a social and cultural history. New York: Manchester University Press, 2009. 124-125. Print.

Russell Brand Trews Extra. “The Dark Side of Chocolate-Modern Slavery//Top Documentary Films.” Online video clip. Youtube.com. 22 Nov 2014. Web. 1 May 2015.

VPRO Metropolis. “First taste of chocolate in Ivory Coast.” Online video clip. Youtube.com. Feb 21, 2014. Web. May 1, 2015.

Challenging Domesticity in Chocolate Milk Advertising

The following image is a still shot from a Nesquik commercial showing a mother feeding her children Nesquik chocolate milk. The advertisement presents the chocolate milk as wholesome, nutritious, and pointedly a product of good motherly parenting. This message is certainly not new, and in fact represents a dominant message in chocolate advertising through the later half of the 20th century and still today (Robertson). Emma Robertson in Chocolate, women and empire explores and reports on this trend and the stereotypical portrayal of women as homemaker.

Still shot from a NESQUIK commercial
Still shot from a NESQUIK commercial (1)

An advertisement created as juxtaposition (below), shows a woman consuming chocolate milk in a different setting. Here two women are in a business meeting, and Nesquik is placed as a substitute for coffee. This woman could be the very same woman as in the Nesquik commercial. She could be a mother and a wife, but she also has responsibilities outside of the home. She needs fuel herself, and Nesquik is her chosen drink for such fuel throughout her day at work.

Remake of the NESQUIK commercial - Rachael Cornelius & Leah Gaffney
Remake of the NESQUIK commercial

Robertson emphasizes that portrayal of women in the domestic sphere dominates chocolate advertising, and has for decades. She mentions that women are sometimes, but rarely, featured “outside the domestic context as paid workers” (Robertson 20). To drive her point, Robertson uses Rowntree advertising as a case study. She presents a 1951 advertising brief: “any technique by which we can appeal to the mother’s concern for the well-being of her family or her related anxiety about being a successful mother and winning the loyalty and gratitude of her husband and children might serve as a vehicle to make her think of Rowntree’s Cocoa in the way we want her to think of it” (Robertson 20-21). Rowntree ads, no different from the Nesquik advertisement above, appeal to a woman in her motherly capacity, emphasizing that feeding children chocolate milk is an act of good, loving care. Perhaps this tactic is a bit old? Mothers will undoubtedly put the well-being of their children as paramount. Marketing to that is smart, but the concept has become trite. The reaction advertisement attempts to modernize the portrayal of a woman. In the response ad, chocolate milk still appeals to a female consumer, but instead appeals to her personal needs as an independent woman with responsibilities other than childcare.

This modernization echoes some sentiments of Divine chocolate advertisements, which feature female cocoa farmers in glamorized photos. Kristy Leissle describes this as a “remodeling” of women as “ideal development stewards” (Leissle 131). A similar rebranding is seen in the Nesquik advertisements (one true and one created) above. In both cases, the remodeling attempts to modernize the woman. “Unfettered by husband and children, the Divine women are never essentialized as reproductive labourers. As such, they do not seem responsible for anyone’s development but their own…” (Leissle 132). The Divine commercials feature the women alone, just as the recreated Nesquik commercial features women without children. But this does not intend to diminish the other aspects of a woman’s life; it simply celebrates their importance in another setting. Leissle addresses this: “Although the women are farmers, they are not shown farming cocoa. Instead they hold pieces of chocolate – the luxury food made from the fruit that they grow” (Leissle 128). This association does not strip the woman of her occupation as farmer, but shows her with status, strength, and independence. Similarly, in the recreated Nesquik commercial, although the woman may be a mother, she is not shown caring for her children.

Thus, the recreation of the Nesquik commercial attempts to break the banal, repetitive messaging of chocolate advertisements (selling to women as homemakers) with a refreshing portrayal of a modern woman.

———————————————————————————————————————

Below are similar images of other Nesquik commercials, showing the continued use of the same marketing technique: appealing to women as mothers and homemakers.

NESQUIK commerical
NESQUIK commercial (2)
NESQUIK commercial (3)
NESQUIK commercial (3)

Works Cited

Leissle, Kristy. 2012. “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine

Chocolate advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies24 (2): 121-139

Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. pp. 1-131

NESQUIK commercials:

1) “Nesquik commercial with Bret Loehr.” Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEHdT2Ycto0

2) Retrieved from http://www.coloribus.com/adsarchive/tv-commercials/nesquik-bangkok-4680405/

3) Retrieved from http://www.ispot.tv/ad/7nvU/nesquik-chocolate-bunny-ears

Ceremonial Cacao: The Permeation of Chocolate in Mesoamerican Celebration as the Setting for European Influence

For the people within the ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations, chocolate served as a tool to bring humans closer to a higher power. The sacred nature of chocolate ensured its utilization during countless rituals and celebrations in Mesoamerica. The prevalent use of chocolate by the Maya and Aztec people was no mystery to the Europeans, whose exposure to the beverage at banquets and ceremonies was a driving force in the adoption of chocolate consumption overseas and eventually around the globe.

This Maya representation of the two gods Chac and IxChel exchanging Cacao provides evidence for the mesoamerican idea of divinity in Chocolate. This god-worthy substance therefore found a special place in many Maya and Aztec ceremonies, where Europeans first tried the beverage

Chocolate was commonly used in offerings to gods, such as the Sovereign Plumed Serpent, as well as in human sacrifices (Dillinger et al 2058s). Cacao was widely considered a food of the gods, depicted in many Maya creation stories as a divine gift. In one Maya creation story, cacao was given to humans by the god, Sovereign Plumed Serpent, directly after humans were created from maize (Dillinger et al 2057s). Before a human sacrifice would occur, the individuals awaiting death would consume a chocolate beverage for “comfort” (Dillinger et al 2058s). Banquets, during annual festivals and in honor of distinguished guests, featured large quantities of chocolate as well (Dillinger et al 2058s). Spanish Friars and colonists experienced these events within the Aztec Empire, and wrote first hand accounts of what they witnessed, presenting the European world with the wonder of chocolate.

Those who were awaiting sacrifice were often provided with Chocolate as a comforting elixir.

From the earliest European accounts of life in New Spain, it is apparent that chocolate was present for many of the initial meetings between the Spanish and the Aztec people. As a gift of hospitality, the Mesoamerican people offered chocolate to visitors, including Hernán Cortés and Fray Bartolome de las Casas, introducing the European explorers to a taste they had never experienced before. One of Hernán Cortés’ men noticed the powers associated with drinking chocolate stating, “this drink is the healthiest thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world…” (Coe and Coe 84). This statement was published in Venice in 1556, helping to bring the myth of chocolate to a European audience. Similarly, Fray Bartolome de las Casas sheds a light on the taste of chocolate as witnessed at “the emporer’s banquet,” stating “the drink is water mixed with a certain flour made from…cacao. It is very substantial, very cooling, tasty, and agreeable, and does not intoxicate” (Coe and Coe 96). Spanish women were also partially responsible for the adoption of chocolate in Europe, as some of these women were provided with “chocolate served in golden goblets” during a huge banquet in 1538 at the Great Plaza of Mexico and reportedly became, “addicted to the black chocolate” (Coe and Coe 114). Cortés and his men, de Las Casas, and a number of Spanish women began to experience the Spanish taste for chocolate in the new world, and seeking the taste back home as well.

Following Cortes’ arrival in the New World, he comes across ambassadors of Motecuhzoma II, who warn him to turn back, but eventually Cortes’ and his men are welcomed by Motecuhzoma II with a banquet. The banquets of Motecuhzoma II commonly featured chocolate, as he had a great store of Cacao beans. This is an example of European introduction to the taste of chocolate.

Today, the influence of cacao use during Mesoamerican rituals and celebrations can be seen throughout the world. The first documented introduction of chocolate as a beverage in Spain occurred in 1544 when Kekchi Maya nobles met with Prince Philip (Dillinger 2059s). Within a century, demand for chocolate spread to France, England and other European countries (Dillinger 2059s). Today, chocolate is a global entity consumed in mass proportions. In the United States alone, chocolate sales exceeded 20.6 billion dollars in 2014 (“Statistics and facts on the chocolate industry”). The existence of this enormous market for chocolate has its origins in Mesoamerica, and can be attributed to the sharing of chocolate between the Aztec people and the Spanish explorers before the conquest of the Aztec Empire.

Works Cited:

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

“Statistics and facts on the chocolate industry”. Statistica (2013). 1-92. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

Dillinger, Teresa L. et al. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate”. The Journal of Nutrition 130 (2000). 20572- 2072s. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

https://www.withfriendship.com/images/h/35977/the-scene-of-these-sacrificial.jpg http(Photo 1)

http://ageofex.marinersmuseum.org/mm_images/F1230CBA1_p93Cortez_large.jpg (photo 2)

http://blogs.uoregon.edu/mesoinstitute/files/2013/11/Chocolate-2-1az3lcd.jpeg (photo 3)

Oh, How Divine!

Chocolate is a ubiquitous food that has been an instrument or product of companies, commercials, and love worldwide for centuries. It is often depicted as a superfood and even divine food as illustrated below. While its taste alone would likely incline one to highly praise this food for its flavor, the divinity and perfection attributed to chocolate is derived from the cultural and religious history of cacao, its predecessor. Why is divinity and perfection associated with chocolate today? Is it simply a recent marketing ploy to fascinate buyers’ gustatory attentions?

An illustrative advertisement for chocolate bars produced by Divine Chocolate Limited (Founded 1998), a leading global chocolate provider.

The cacao tree and its fruit have been imbued with divinity since the earliest recordings of them. Ancient Mesoamerican peoples including the Mayan and the Aztec credit their culture and their very existence to them. In fact, the cacao tree is considered to be a world tree—a gateway to the divine—for the ancient peoples who inhabited the cacao-growing regions of Mesoamerica (Martin, AAAS 119x Lecture 3). The relationship between the Mayan and cacao are illustrated multiple times throughout the epic found in the Popul Vuh a Maya document, which in particular, contains that people’s creation myth. Though it is referenced multiple times within this text, the exact role of cacao is not clearly defined in the Popul Vuh. However, the pointers to cacao’s divine significance found in the text lie in the narrative facts (a) that a living head of heroic Maize God is depicted fruiting from the cacao tree cacao and (b) that cacao is listed among other staple Mayan foods found on the Mountain of Sustenance with which the gods would create human bodies (Coe, 39). Moreover, Theobroma cacao—the cacao tree’s scientific name given in 1753 by Swedish scientist Carl von Linné—directly references the sacred roots of cacao—“the food of gods” (Coe, 17).

Classic Maya vase located in the Popul Vuh Museum (Guatemala City) depicting the head of the Maize God attached to a cacao tree as if it were a pod. A parallel depiction drawn by Simon Martin accompanies.

Likely originated within Olmec civilization (1500-400 BC), highly developed in 600 BC within the Maya civilization, and transmitted to the Aztec civilization, chocolate bears the divine mark of cacao as it becomes a featured food item for sacred rituals and the consumption of the elite. Archaeological discoveries continuously indicate that, especially in Maya society, the significance and cachet of chocolate (Presilla, 12). As a food item, chocolate maintains a plethora of culinary variations; but most chocolate consumption was experienced as a beverage (Coe, 15). Of all the modes that even chocolate as a beverage possesses, the most illustrious form is a chocolate beverage with a frothy top (Presilla, 13). The coveted foaming, or frothing, chocolate beverage likely occurs as a result of manual continual aeration of the beverage as depicted below. This invention is the crème de la crème of chocolate and was typically reserved for one of two things: the altar of sacrifice to a god or the table of the noble (Presilla, 9). This pouring out of a worthy drink offering, or libation, to a god reinforces the inextricable elements of divinity and perfection found in chocolate. Moreover, the preparation of this frothed beverage for the noble of society also demands a certain benchmark of skill and craftsmanship that is worthy and befitting of elite company.

The Princeton Vase (A.D. 670-750) is a Late Classic Maya vase that interestingly depicts a woman likely preparing a frothy chocolate beverage by pouring the beverage repeatedly from vessel to vessel to create aeration and, thus, foaming.

These ancient customs, beliefs, and rituals surrounding cacao and chocolate fuel today’s portrayal of chocolate as a premier food to be regarded in high esteem. Chocolate’s highly involved and evolved association of divinity and perfection even predates the creation of chocolate itself and originates with cacao. At first, these concepts are not industrially constructed addendums to the story of chocolate to take advantage of the marketing landscape. Rather, this ideology about chocolate has existed for millennia, yet with such status comes indeed marketing and social potential that can be leveraged by chocolate producers and consumers alike.

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

Martin, Carla. AAAS 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Online.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. Print. Revised.

The White Consumer’s Burden: Whole Foods Chocolate Marketing and Commodified Benevolence

Like a movie, a clothing boutique, or an advertisement, each grocery store has a target audience. Most grocery markets will try to appeal to as many different groups of people as possible — easy, considering everyone needs to eat — but they all place certain values over others. Some look to make themselves extremely affordable, some specialize in bulk, and some boast luxury items or health foods, or in the case of Whole Foods Market, both. Established in 1980, Whole Foods has taken its place as the token health-food grocery store in the American consciousness (Whole Foods…). As natural, organic, and local foods are generally more expensive, Whole Foods’ target audience is clearly the upper-middle class, especially those with anxieties about health and food quality. The chain also boasts quirky and luxury food items, also in line with the upper-middle class target. Whole Foods Markets, however, have taken on a marketing strategy far different from most health food stores, and especially most luxury food stores. Instead of simply focusing on health or quality, the company sells an exaggerated, often empty sense of social conscience to its primarily well-off American consumers. This essay looks to explore Whole Foods’s tendency for self-righteous, often racially othering heartstring-tugging through an examination of the contents of the market’s chocolate display.

First, to get some perspective on the luxury chocolate market, I visited Cardullo’s in Harvard Square, a well-known spot for luxury and imported foods. Browsing the chocolate section, I noticed (as expected) a variety of international chocolates and candies, and also well-known luxury brands such as Chuao, Green & Black, and Lake Champlain Chocolate.

ImageImageImageImage

 

(Photos taken by me)

Each chocolate brand boasted a fancy name or a special flavor combination, but none claimed to be anything more than delicious and of high quality. Cardullo’s appears to not have any qualms about looking snooty and upscale, which might be a little easier for the little shop, being an independent luxury store in the middle of a wealthy area, that is, Harvard Square.

Whole Foods is an entirely different story. The store itself, introduced with blooming flowers and full of hand-written, hand-carried, handpicked charm, is designed so that its aesthetic lets us know “that what’s before us is bursting with freshness” (Lindstrom). Sure, any grocery store is going to want to give that kind of impression of freshness, but Whole Foods has a particularly farm-to-table feel to it, even though the market is a chain and therefore gets much of its produce the same way the other supermarkets do. Upon approaching the large, well-organized chocolate display, the difference between Cardullo’s and Whole Foods becomes strikingly clear. While the rack is punctuated by the occasional row of Chuao, Green & Black, or Lake Champlain, it’s mostly filled up with brands that boast “organic” or “fair trade” chocolate. But many of these bars also boast something else, something that seems positive but is in many ways problematic. There’s Equal Exchange chocolate, a decidedly fair-trade company, which tells the story of Ramon, “from Conacado Co-op in the Dominican”, who supposedly contributed to the making of your bar, on the wrapper. There’s Alter Eco chocolate, claiming to give you a “taste of Ecuador”, and which boasts a commitment to “foodie, farmer, and field”. There’s Theo and Newman’s Own, both of which are organic and fair trade. Whole Foods also has two different store-brand chocolate bars on the shelf, both of which sport interesting labels in an attempt to match their brand name competitors:

ImageImage

 

(Image source: first- http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/whole-foods-market-organic-dark-chocolate-bar-tanzania-schoolhouse-project
second –  http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/organic-dark-chocolate-almonds)

The packaging on each bar has the official USDA organic seal, and then a strange, clearly non-official seal claiming “WHOLE TRADE GUARANTEE”. The Whole Foods brand bar sports images of a rainforest as well as a group of smiling non-white people, and the 365 bar has an odd stamp on it declaring that the chocolate within is imported from Italy. Clearly, the Whole Foods store brand bars are attempting to keep up with the socially- and environmentally-conscious campaigns of their competitors, but haven’t even done enough of what the packaging and framing claims to do to even merit more than the USDA organic official seal. Still, even though their store brand isn’t the prime example, it still contributes to the main, somewhat troubling theme of the entire display.

On the Whole Foods Market website is a list of Core Values, including “We Serve and Support Our Local and Global Communities”. The description of this value contains a description of Whole Foods’ commitment to working “towards poverty alleviation in developing-world communities where Whole Foods Market sources product” (Whole Foods…). Looking over the chocolate shelf, a large proportion of these chocolate brands advertise not only a delicious product, but one that helps someone across the globe, most notably someone working in the chocolate industry, and therefore, ostensibly, living in some kind of poverty. It’s also extremely important to note that most of the people “helped” by these chocolate brands are not white. The company seems to be making an attempt to play to what the Whole Foods CEO calls “the powerful altruistic impulse that is a key aspect of what it means to be human” (“‘Conscious….'”)

On the same page as the company’s mission statement about alleviating poverty is this image:

Image

(Image source: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/core-values/we-serve-and-support-our-local-and-global-communities)

It may look like something you’ve seen before, maybe on Facebook, maybe on someone’s blog. A usually young, white person poses for a picture with a large group of generally non-white people in an African, Central American, or Southeast Asian country. This white person, like the woman above, might be wearing the traditional or popular clothing of the region. This, I argue, is Whole Foods’ consumer target. What’s problematic about this is that images like the one above, as well as much of the language used in products promoted by Whole Foods, sell well-off white Americans a sense of cultural connection, pride in personal benevolence, and exoticism which doesn’t actually exist, or at least doesn’t do what it claims to. With this, many of these products also sell a kind of racial othering that paints the “conscientious American consumer” as the guardian of the “poor, quaint inhabitants of x country”. For this reason, I call the image above a “white man’s burden image”. Compare the sentiments expressed by that photo to this cartoon, drawn during the height of Western imperialism.

Image

(Image source:  http://politicalwhereabouts.blogspot.com/2013/04/colonialism.html )

The cartoon is obviously extremely racist and extremely explicit, depicting two white men, one American and one English, carrying the poor, childlike and ignorant foreigners over the treacherous road of  “superstition”, “brutality”, and, more notably, “oppression”. The Whole Foods photograph in no way says any of the things this cartoon says directly, but when paired with the site’s text, it creates a strange sense of almost paternalistic benevolence on the part of the white, American Whole Foods consumer — she must be helping those traditionally-dressed Southeast Asian women, or at least “experiencing a different (and often depicted as more primitive) culture”. Consumers buying chocolate from Whole Foods are given the idea that they are doing both of these things at a distance. They operate on the notion that “It makes no moral difference whether the person I can help is a neighbor’s child ten yards from me or a Bengali whose name I shall never know, ten thousand miles away”, but the impact of this ideology when used to market a product usually results in great relief for the consumer, little relief for those the product claims to help, and a strengthened racial and cultural divide between consumer and beneficiary (Singer). Two brands on the Whole Foods rack I found to be especially guilty of this marketing ploy of commodified benevolence are Madecasse and Divine.

On the one hand, I would consider Madecasse’s campaign severely problematic.

Image

 

(Image source: http://cocoarunners.com/explore/maker/madecasse/#)

The company boasts unique, more open, rougher packaging, reminiscent of a burlap sack, adorned with rough designs that look hand-drawn. The words “BEAN TO BAR IN AFRICA” adorn the bottom of the package, indicating that while the chocolate is from Madagascar, the rest of the processing probably occurs in some other part of Africa. The problem with Madecasse’s marketing, as well as its connection to the marketing campaign of Whole Foods Market, lies in the mission statement that gets printed on the back of the wrapper. The one I picked up began with “We were peace corps volunteers…” and some other bars were printed with this:

Image

(Image source:  http://www.madecasse.com/our-story/ )

Who is “we”? Why, the American peace corps volunteers, of course. The brand blatantly puts the non-African entrepreneur on the high horse, claiming that their benevolence (and, by association, the consumer’s) has the power to “change the world” through a “better” bar of chocolate, both in flavor and moral value. Everything about the brand’s packaging culturally appropriates and caricatures an African aesthetic, but nothing about the brand’s mission statement alludes to any agency from any African cocoa farmers.

Another company, Divine, advertises their product with this video clip:

The problem with this video is not truly the seemingly caricatured depiction of the process: it’s the happy, everything-is-alright tone combined with the sequence of images about schools, sanitation, water, etc. While Divine does seem to do a better job than Madecasse in depicting its cocoa farmers as “real” people, this advertisement once again plays to the idea of the “benevolent white folk”, in that it’s implied that the white people eating the chocolate at the beginning are helping the black African people throughout the video to obtain improvements in schools, sanitation, etc. Not only that, but this tone of happy helpfulness turns images of what should seem inadequate and appalling (hand pumps, one-room schoolhouses) into a quaint sign of improvement, that no matter what the situation looks like now, it’s better than it would have been without the consumer.

On a lighter note, here’s a good example of a video by Africans (whose country of origin is unknown) responding, not to the Divine video itself, but to the  to the same type of cultural simplification taking place there:

While Whole Foods does appear to have organizations in place to actually help “alleviate poverty” and assist struggling communities, the company’s use of this as a primary marketing ploy leads to less-than-earned relief and benevolent pride in upper-middle class American consumers and a widened gap between those consumers and the human beings they believe they are so kindly helping. Although Divine chocolate (and Whole Foods itself) would like you to believe you can, you can never really use a chocolate purchase to “indulge in a cause”.

Works Cited

“‘Conscious Capitalism’: Q & A With Whole Foods CEO John Mackey”. Int. Esha Chhabra. Forbes. 3 Jan 2013. Web. Accessed 6 May 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/ashoka/2013/03/01/qa-with-whole-foods-ceo-john-mackey-about-conscious-capitalism/

“Divine Story”. Divine Chocolate. 2011. Web. Accessed 7 May 2014. <http://www.divinechocolate.com/us/about-us/divine-story>

Lindstrom, Martin. “How Whole Foods ‘Primes’ You To Shop”. Fast Company. 15 September 2011. Web. Accessed 8 May 2014. http://www.fastcompany.com/1779611/how-whole-foods-primes-you-shop

“Our Story”. Madecasse. 2014. Web. Accessed 6 May 2014. <http://www.madecasse.com/our-story/>

Singer, Peter. “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”. Philosophy and Public Affairs. 1972. Web. Accessed 8 May 2014. <http://www.utilitarianism.net/singer/by/1972—-.htm&gt;

Whole Foods Market Website. Whole Foods Market IP. L.P., 2014. Web. 5 May 2014.

 

The Supermarket Pastoral and Conscientious Chocolate

I credit food-oriented journalist and author Michael Pollan, and especially his brilliant book The Omnivore’s Dilemma,with much of my interest in food anthropology. I cannot recommend the book highly enough, and it is to this book that I turn in framing this study.

The eponymous dilemma that the omnivorous homo sapiens faces in asking what we “should have for dinner,” is explored by Pollan in what the book jacket describes as “a natural history of four meals,” (Pollan, 1). In between delving into the modern industrial-agricultural complex through the lens of a McDonalds meal and exploring the modern (in)viability of entirely producing one’s own food, Pollan analyzes the various “alternative” systems of food production which occupy the ground between these poles. In part of this analysis, Pollan engages in a discussion of Whole Foods and like establishments, and it is this discussion that intersects with our interests in this essay.

Pollan quite rightly describes shopping at Whole Foods as “a literary experience,” arguing that the food at such stores is made special and elevated above the “realm of ordinary protein and carbohydrates” by the “evocative prose” which surrounds it—either literally, as printed on its packaging, or in the signs and brochures that surround it in the store (Pollan, 134). Pollan quite rightly points out that the steak he examines in Whole Foods, which comes with a verbose account of the steer’s happy pastoral life, stands in stark contrast to the meat available in conventional supermarkets, where “the only accompanying information comes in the form of a number: the price,” (Pollan, 135).

What does this dearth of information tell us about conventional supermarkets and the system of production lying behind them? Any and all information accompanying a product for sale can and must be treated as an advertisement for that product. In my last multimedia essay I discussed advertisement’s function of creating a need in the consumer, but this function falls away as we begin to discuss simpler foods, especially staples: nobody needs to convince the average American that they want to buy eggs, or meat, or tomatoes–they are simply a staple of the diet. These products are available from a variety of brands and vendors, however, so it becomes a question of which eggs or meat or tomatoes. Since the products of the industrial agricultural system are held by the internal ideology of that system to be standard (a tomato is a tomato like any other tomato, an egg is an egg, etc.) there is no ground on which different companies can compete for the consumer’s dollar other than price. The methods of production cannot be discussed because they are just as standard as the product: there is only one cheapest way to produce an egg. Furthermore, the cheapest way to produce an egg is also so horrific that the consumer would rather not know—yet another indication that this food system has cheap production, high yield, and low price as its highest goals.

Image

A conventional supermarket egg carton. Available information is bare-bones: the contents (12 eggs), the USDA size classification, instructions for storage, a money-back guarantee, and the producing company’s name and information. The price would presumably be listed on a tag attached to the shelf. We will return to a discussion of the company’s name, the picture at the top, and the packaging information at the bottom left below. (Source: http://www.eggboxes.com/)

As Pollan says, “in the industrial food economy, virtually the only information that travels along the food chain linking producer and consumer is price… and farmers who get the message that consumers care only about price will themselves care only about yield. This is how a cheap food economy reinforces itself.” (Pollan, 136). And yet this paradigm is not universal, as is obvious from the existence of “alternative” groceries such as Whole Foods. Clearly, there are many consumers who care about more factors than merely price—indeed, price often becomes entirely a secondary consideration to other factors. It is a simple fact that Whole Foods is more expensive than a conventional supermarket, and its continued existence and success is evidence that there are shoppers willing to pay more. What are they paying for?

I have said that Pollan attributes to the foods available at Whole Foods “complex aesthetic, emotional, and even political dimensions,” above and beyond conventional supermarket products (Pollan, 134). I would argue—and indeed, it seems to be a central tenant of AfAm 119x—that food naturally, inherently, and inevitably has such dimensions. Yet if this is true, how do we account for the undeniable difference that Pollan describes? These dimensions are inherent in food, but they are not immanent in it—they cannot be erased but they can be hidden. And they are hidden with stunning efficacy by the modern industrial agricultural system. A steak for sale at a conventional supermarket has these dimensions but the consumer confronts none of them—they have been conveniently censored for the consumer’s eyes by the collective action of every link in the production chain preceding him. As people have taken less and less part in the production of their own food, it has become increasingly possible to remain in ignorance about one’s food. Quite simply, someone who does not make their own sausages never needs to know how sausages are made. Much of my experience in AfAm 119x has been learning about the historical, political, cultural, and other dimensions of chocolate that had always been hidden to me even as I consumed it for many years. Even outside of classrooms there is a constant conflict between forces trying to hide and forces trying to expose these dimensions—for example, the laws which forbid recording devices inside slaughterhouses and the humanitarian groups which smuggle cameras in so we can see how our pork pigs die. The modern mainstream paradigm of food production in this country gives the consumer as little exposure to these dimensions as possible, and most of us like it that way.

Most, but not all. As Pollan points out, one of the key ideals underlying the late-20th-century organic movement in America which gave convoluted birth to Whole Foods and its ilk (for a comprehensive and lucid account of this movement’s history, read Omnivore’s Dilemma) was the restoration of some of the flow of information about the various dimensions of our food. People wanted to know more about how their food was made, and they wanted the chance to tell those producing their food more about how they wanted it produced. But the state of food production in this country had already reached the point where direct observation was and is nearly impossible. According to Pollan, the food you or I eat every day comes from a farm that is, on average, fifteen hundred miles away (Pollan, 136-137). We wanted to know more, but we didn’t have the “time or the inclination” to go find out for ourselves. The “organic” label, and every other such label found in supermarkets, is an “imperfect substitute,” in Pollan’s words, “for direct observation,” (Pollan, 136). Here, Pollan introduces a vital critical term: the “Supermarket Pastoral.”

 

“…to bridge that space we rely on certifiers and label writers and, to a considerable extent, our imagination of what the farms that are producing our food really look like. The organic label may conjure an image of a simpler agriculture, but its very existence is an industrial artifact… “Organic” on the label conjures up a rich narrative, even if it is the consumer who fills in most of the details, supplying the hero (American Family Farmer), the villain (Agribusinessman), and the literary genre, which I’ve come to think of as Supermarket Pastoral. By now we may know better than to believe this too simple story, but not much better, and the grocery store poets do everything they can to encourage us in our willing suspension of disbelief.” (Pollan, 137)

 

Such stores as Whole Foods cater to those consumers who are dissatisfied with knowing nothing about their food, but the informational lacuna is filled not by the consumer’s critical observations but by narrative—narrative that takes a literary form but serves the function of advertising. In the remainder of this essay I will engage with three brands of chocolate that participate in modified forms of the Supermarket Pastoral paradigm of advertisement narrative. I will explore the ways in which the narratives constructed by Endangered Species, Divine, and Fearless brand chocolates modify Pollan’s conception of the Supermarket Pastoral by analyzing the rhetoric that they employ and its implications.

I have selected these three companies because they represent excellent examples of three of the most common narrative strains generally found in Supermarket Pastoral. Because of certain unique traits of chocolate as a commodity, however, these strains are far less intermingled than they might be with more conventional products.

Let us begin with Endangered Species chocolate. The narrative presented by Endangered Species focuses primarily on animal welfare and environmental conservation.

ImageImage

 

(Source: http://chocolatebar.com/)

The packaging features various beautiful photos of charismatic at-risk species, with a little banner promising “10% net profit donated to help support species, habitat, and humanity,” or simply, “10% net profits donated.” This video outlines the narrative in more detail:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chsse1OUk4w&feature=youtu.be

The video hits three main points: the environmentally conscious sourcing of ingredients as evidenced by various certifications, promotion of farming practices that “nurture sustainable communities,” and, most importantly, the 10% annual net profit donation to aid species conservation. According to the video, buying an Endangered Species chocolate bar is “promoting true global change.” This narrative even pervades every element of the logo:

Image

(Source: http://chocolatebar.com/)

The company describes itself on its website as follows:

Image

(Source: http://chocolatebar.com/)

The consistent narrative is one of environmental stewardship, with a secondary emphasis on ethical trade (though one notices that there is no certification to give corroborative specifics to the latter claim). Let us move on for a moment to examine Divine chocolate.

In contrast to Endangered Species’ emphasis on animal welfare, Divine chocolate is focused on the human element. Divine touts itself as “the only fairtrade chocolate company which is owned by its cocoa farmers.” The story on the website tells of a Ghana cocoa farmers’ collective which, with the help of fairtrade and charitable organizations, decided to start producing its own chocolate bar in the U.K. (and now the USA as well). The Kuapa Kokoo collective has an ownership stake in the Divine chocolate company, and representatives from the collective serve on the board of directors. Farmers belonging to the collective are shareholders and receive dividends. According to the site, the Kuapa Kokoo collective has been empowered by this relationship to negotiate better working and trade standards and to begin combatting child labor and the impacts of climate change on cacao farming.

ImageImageImageImage

(Source: http://www.divinechocolate.com/us/)

The site is festooned with such happy pictures as these, showing joyous cocoa farmers. The last image pictures the first dividend check being paid to the Kuapa Kokoo collective.

Like Endangered Species, Divine also uses symbolism on their labels:

Image

(Source: http://www.divinechocolate.com/us/)

The Adinkra symbols are clearly meant to display the values of the company, but their use also puts a spin on the narrative of cultural sensitivity and respect. Divine portrays itself as chocolate whose producers are happy and empowered, actually own and help to operate the company, and are living and working within the values of their culture.

Finally, Fearless chocolate, whose narrative seems a bit more scattered. The slogan of the company is “organic+superchocolate.” The latter portmanteau references the low-temperature cooking style that the company uses in order to maintain more of the “superfood” health benefits of chocolate:

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 5.21.33 PM

 

(Source: http://www.fearlesschocolate.com/)

In line with the emphasis on health and purity, Fearless touts a large list of certifications sure to please any hippie food-purist:

OtherLogos

(Source: http://www.fearlesschocolate.com/)

 

Linking the health benefits with the personality the company seems to want to cultivate, the site bills Fearless chocolate as “Inspired Superfood Chocolate bars to fuel your bold lifestyle!” The company’s name is explained as follows:

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 4.09.36 PM

(Source: http://www.fearlesschocolate.com/)

 

The rhetorical casting of the company—and therefore the consumer, if they buy in—as “Fearless” crops up again on the first slide of the fascinating slideshow linked below, which is rich with narrative rhetoric. “Organic Super Chocolate for Super Humans,” reads the slide. The slideshow mostly showcases the organic family farm from which the company sources its chocolate.

http://www.fearlesschocolate.com/source/

http://www.fearlesschocolate.com/source/

The slideshow emphasizes the benefits afforded to the local workers and villages by the presence of the farm, which has a school for children on the grounds. The company has a Direct Trade relationship (much like the one we heard explained at Taza) with the farmers, “founded on mutual respect, fairness, and the alignment of goals.” The last slide of the slideshow again hearkens back to the identity attributes—fearlessness, boldness, the “courage to dream and act”—that the company claims for itself and offers to its consumers.

The final element of the Fearless narrative is physically manifested in the bar’s shape: each bar has a bite-shaped indentation at the top right corner which represents the “bite”—portion of profits—that the company donates to various “champion changemakers” who are publicly nominated. These “changemakers” are individuals or organizations advocating some kind of cause, and there is no unifying theme to what the various causes are other than that they effect some kind of change in the world that Fearless wishes to endorse.

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 4.19.22 PM

This page displays recent nominations:

http://www.fearlesschocolate.com/blog/

http://www.fearlesschocolate.com/blog/

Fearless chocolate sells itself on a multi-faceted narrative linking ethical farming practices, organic production, a foodie-style emphasis on nutrition, a certain nebulous boldness of identity which the company both claims for itself and seems to offer through the consumption of its chocolate, and a very general giving-back/charity aspect which engages in the same identity branding. Overall the company seems to claim a moral, nutritional, and qualitative high ground.

Now that we have explicated the narratives constructed by these three companies, how do they engage with and alter the more typical narratives of the Supermarket Pastoral? What are the implications?

The narrative strain at work in Endangered Species chocolate could be roughly summed up as “animal welfare and environmental conservation.” A typical meat product found in Whole Foods might be accompanied by text emphasizing the humane and kind treatment of the animals, the greater happiness and comfort they enjoy over their factory-raised brethren, and—widening the scope somewhat—the greater happiness and health enjoyed by all animals due to the lesser environmental impact of this style of animal raising. These kinds of meat brands and Endangered Species chocolate both pander to the animal lover in us. This is effective because the part of us that loves animals is in conflict with the part of us that loves animal products. Our concern for the environmental impacts of meat is another, broader manifestation of this same anxiety. By offering a narrative that compares favorably to the “normal,” cruel methods of raising meat, these products help ameliorate some of the guilt and cognitive dissonance we experience due to this conflict—rather than condemn ourselves for eating meat at all, we are permitted to pat ourselves on the back for choosing the more humane and sustainable option. The odd thing at work with Endangered Species’ use of this narrative, however, is that chocolate is not an animal product. The animals that Endangered Species promises to protect and help are entirely tangential to the process of chocolate production. Endangered Species chocolate represents a version of the Supermarket Pastoral which panders not to the consumer’s desire to ameliorate the morally repugnant aspects of their food’s production, but to their desire to be a good, animal-loving, environmentally-conscious person. The narrative operates the same way but extends outside the product’s natural purview.

The narrative at work in Divine chocolate is somewhat a reversal of this—it could be roughly stated as “welfare of beings actually involved in production.” In this case, however, the concern is not for the exploitation and cruelty visited on the animals who constitute the meat, but the exploitation and cruelty visited on the people who produce the chocolate. It is in many ways a version of the typical narrative I have just outlined of ameliorating guilt and anxiety over the inherent and inescapable cruelty of meat agriculture, but meat agriculture has been replaced by the exploitative global capitalist system. Just as we know that cows suffer to produce beef, we know that third-world laborers suffer to produce chocolate, and the narrative at work offers us a more humane and conscientious option. In both cases, the product makes itself more palatable by drawing a comparison to a worse version of itself—Divine does not offer us a chocolate that opts out of exploitative international capitalist cash-crop economic arrangements entirely, but it elevates itself above others of its kind. Furthermore, Divine can appropriate the Adinkra symbols while being shielded from accusations of cultural appropriation because of the greater voice that its workers have in the corporation—but these culturally important symbols are still being used as a marketing ploy, so it can hardly be denied that the culture is being exploited. It is immaterial whether this cultural exploitation is coming in part from within the culture.

Finally, the narrative at work in Fearless chocolate could be summed up as a nonspecific linking of desirable identity traits, high culinary and nutritional quality, and ethical high-ground. This linking is done purely through rhetorical force, and the links hardly stand up under much scrutiny. Fearless, however, ties together the implications these three examples have on the genre of Supermarket Pastoral as a whole. By employing this disjointed narrative, Fearless is selling us the chance to be a certain kind of person. We are the bold, the changemakers, the sort of people with discerning taste in chocolate, the sort of people who prize superfood nutrition, the sort of people who want their food to be ethically traded and free of such trappings of the evil military-industrial complex as GMOs—or we are the sort of people who choose chocolate that doesn’t exploit those poor African laborers (as much), or we are the sort of people who buy themselves chocolate and donate to environmental charities at the same time. And we know that we are this kind of person because we buy this or that product.

I do not mean to totally deny that these companies are doing good or that they are better than most of their peers, but we must always remember why these stories are being told on our chocolate wrappers and egg cartons—to make us buy the product. The sad truth of it is that however much good is tangentially done, companies and the commodities they produce exist to make money, and the storytelling is necessary to make a product that is more expensively produced commercially viable. There is unfortunately a trade-off between doing something cheaply and doing it well in most cases, especially in food production, and those companies which choose to do it well are only privileged to do this because they can sell the story of that goodness along with the product itself.

 

 

Sources:
Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Penguin Press, New York, NY. 2006.