Chocolate has had a major significance in society over the years. Many events and holidays use chocolate as a major part of their rituals. Chocolate can be traced all the way back to Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Mayans and the Aztecs. These civilizations viewed chocolate as a great luxury item that had many powerful qualities. Chocolate was used in many rituals, spanning from marriage rituals, religious rituals, and even a belief that it could cure illnesses. The view on chocolate has changed over the years, however. Today, people have started to simply associate chocolate as a commodity involving sweetness and romance. Also, people are often unaware how their chocolate is being produced and if the cacao farms that produce it are being run ethically. I took the time to conduct an interview with a friend of mine to understand his view on chocolate and the significance it has to him. Clearly, there are quite a few myths that people have about chocolate and hopefully I am able to shed some light on why people view chocolate in such a different way than it had been looked at before.
While chocolate has spread to many parts of the world today, it was not always so accessible to people. Cacao can be traced all the way back to beginning with the Mesoamerican civilizations. The Mesoamerican people viewed chocolate as a luxury item given to them by the gods. Many documents such as the Dresden Codex and Paris Codex, as seen to the right, allow us to see how big of a role chocolate played in the lives of these people. Cacao was often used in many different rituals and also was used to cure some illnesses. In the Mayan civilization, cacao was used for digestion and as an anti- inflammatory. Eventually, chocolate spread to the Europeans and underwent some hybridization. The Europeans would add ingredients to the chocolate such as cinnamon to enhance the flavor of it. Chocolate influenced many social aspects in Europe such as class, religion, and politics. Eventually, chocolate would spread more globally and although not having great success in parts of Asia, it would be consumed across the world including North America. People in today’s society are often unaware of the roots of chocolate and cacao. In conducting the interview, when I asked my friend where they would consider the roots of chocolate, they responded, “I think of European countries like Switzerland when I think of where chocolate started.” This shows how people are unknowing to the roots that chocolate has and where cacao has been traced back to. Also, while we have many views on chocolate today, with romance being the most common association, people are unaware how significant of a role chocolate played in early civilizations. When asked about the views early civilizations on chocolate, they responded, “I would imagine it was the same as today. Mostly a sweet candy with romantic significance.” I believe this undermines how much of an impact cacao and chocolate had on early civilizations and the important role it played in their everyday lives.
The process of producing chocolate is not the simplest process. There are many labor intensive tasks that must be performed on the cacao farms. Some of the tasks that are required include clearing trees, planting, grafting, applying fertilizers, and transporting items. While these may not seem like hazardous tasks, there many potential risks in completing them. In order to complete the work, workers must walk long distances on uneven and often slippery surfaces, use sharp and heavy objects, and also experience a great deal of sun and heat exposure. Many safety precautions are not put in place in order to ensure safety of the workers. Farm workers also very often lack access to bathrooms, filtered water, and clean spaces to prepare food. In finding out if people are aware of the labor involved in producing cacao and if they are run ethically, I asked my friend about their perception of cacao farms. He said, “Honestly, I don’t know too much about how the farms that produce chocolate are run. I would assume that most of the producers follow standards and the working conditions are secure.” It is quite evident that people are not informed on the standards that cacao farms have and how ethically they are producing their chocolate. Farmers are usually getting volatile income and therefore don’t get paid wages or a salary. As Amanda Berlan states, “Forced labour in cocoa is documented in many regions, ranging from Mesoamerica, South America, to Africa and the Caribbean from as early as the 1650s to the twenty-first century.” (Berlan, 2013) This evidence allows us to see that forced labor on these cacao farms is not a new phenomenon. Child labor is also a big exploitation on West African farms. Children provide cheap labor for cacao farms and are often put into often dangerous conditions for little pay. As you can see by the image on the right, children are put into hazardous situations such as transporting heavy bags of cacao. This is extremely dangerous for the overall well being of the children. However, not all chocolate producers run cacao farms that are unethical. Some companies such as Theo’s pride themselves on making sure everybody in the bean to bar process can thrive. They want to ensure that their cacao farmers are in good working conditions and making a stable amount of income. As their website states, “Every Theo purchase directly supports the livelihoods of over 5,500 cocoa farmers in our supply chain and their 30,000 family members, enabling farmers to send their children to school, feed their families, and reinvest in their communities.” It is important, based on the lack of knowledge of cacao farms from the interview, that we must inform people of how cacao farms run and which take advantage and exploit their farmers.
While we are able to conclude that the history of chocolate and how it is produced is quite unknown to people, I want to investigate the modern view on chocolate and how advertisers and producers capitalize on this view. Over the years chocolate has developed the stigma for being used in romance and aroma. As noted by my friend in the interview, “For me, chocolate is one of those items I get when I want to reward myself or a friend. I feel it has that romantic vibe to it” Chocolate has been advertised to people as having the ability, especially on women, to entice an excessively aroused feeling. As you can see by the image to the right, women are constantly being depicted as being seduced by chocolate. Men, on the other hand, are often seen as of higher status in these commercials. Men get depicted as the ones who are constantly attempting to seduce the female and seen for their appearance, not brains. Advertisers are constantly picking up on the stigmas and perceptions that people associate with chocolate and then implement them into their commercials or advertisements. While it may not seem important that we are aware of how advertisers are showing chocolate, there are many implications that result from these marketing strategies. One of the main factors in the childhood obesity epidemic is the marketing directly to children. In today’s society of technology and social media, it is nearly impossible to monitor everything children see. Therefore, it is important that we don’t allow big chocolate producers to have marketing ploys that result in false stereotypes and ideas. In the chocolate industry, there has already been a shift in how we view race in chocolate. As professor Martin has stated in her lectures, chocolate and vanilla have become cultural metaphors for race. These metaphors insinuate that chocolate is to blackness and vanilla is to whiteness. These metaphors expand far beyond simply color. They have even developed their own associations as whiteness is purity and cleanliness, while blackness is sin and dirtiness. Another important note that Dr. Martin has made is how chocolate can reveal mainstream cultural blind spots in relation to racism and inequality. Due to this, it is important to educate people as opposed to exploiting stereotypes.
While we know that chocolate has been considered extremely beneficial in early civilizations, as it was often used therapeutically, people now may have a false sense of health in regards to chocolate. Many chocolate recipes were developed for what their creators believed to be maximal health benefit. However, people began to associate chocolate with health problems. In my interview, I asked my friend how they viewed chocolate and the benefits of eating chocolate and they replied, “I don’t know how beneficial it is to eating chocolate all the time, but I don’t think it hurts to have it sometimes as a snack.” While there are some risks in eating chocolate that range from toxins in the cacao shells to high amounts of sugar and saturated fat, chocolate has many beneficial qualities in being consumed. One benefit is the high amount of antioxidants received from eating chocolate. Also, chocolate has many cardioprotective qualities. This has been seen in cases such as the Kuna Case Study. In this study, they found that the Kuna people had better cardiovascular health than others due to the consumption of chocolate. Although some findings pose that this a potential complication due to the Kuna people also having a fish diet, chocolate clearly can have a positive impact on overall health. (Howe, 2012). According to Francene Steinberg, the effects of cacao flavonoids on cardiovascular health have been seen to reduce platelet reactivity, which then reduces the risk for clot formation. (Steinberg, 219) Chocolate also has the ability to work as an anti inflammatory and have anti tumoral properties. As seen by the image on the right, dark chocolate has been noted as a food that can help prevent cancer. As Watson states, Although in vitro studies have shown that cocoa flavonoids exert anti-tumoral effects, further studies are needed.” (Watson et al., 2013) However, the stigma that people have towards the benefits of eating chocolate often promote that there are very few and eating chocolate only causes health problems. People have found that the ideal chocolate to eat is 70% cacao and also limits cocoa butter content. It is also important to consider that the chocolate came from a cacao farm that avoided chemicals while being in a safe environment. Although chocolate has become seen as an unhealthy snack to some people, there are still many beneficial qualities to consuming chocolate.
Clearly, it is important to understand that there are many people who are unaware about the many facets of chocolate and the production of it. When looking at the origins of chocolate, many people do not know where it truly originated and how important it was to those people. The Mesoamerican civilizations regarded chocolate as one of the highest luxuries and used it in many different rituals. Also, it is evident that people are not very educated on the process in which their chocolate is produced. Many cacao farms, especially in West Africa, exploit adults and children in order to make more of a profit. With education and awareness of these poor conditions, people can understand how their chocolate is being made and if that company is upholding ethical standards. Not only may people not understand where their chocolate is being produced, they are often unaware of the potential benefits to consuming chocolate. Studies have found that chocolate provides key antioxidants and also improves cardiovascular health. Also, it is important to understand the myths and stereotypes associated with chocolate. Chocolate is constantly being shown as this sexual arousing item for females with men using it to seduce these women. Advertisements and companies capitalize on these stereotypes and use them in order to sell their product. After conducting this interview with my friend, I have began to get a better understand of how chocolate is viewed in most people’s eyes. Chocolate has played a major role in society for many years and it is important to inform people of the truths to consuming chocolate rather than keeping different myths and stereotypes about it alive.
Steinberg, Francene M, et al. “Cocoa and Chocolate Flavonoids: Implications for Cardiovascular Health.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, vol. 103, no. 2, 2003, pp. 215–223., doi:10.1053/jada.2003.50028
Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.”Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies, University of California Press Journals, 1 Feb. 2012, gcfs.ucpress.edu/content/12/1/43.
Watson, Ronald R., et al. Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Humana, 2013.
Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088–1100., doi:10.1080/00220388.2013.780041.