When an aptly named German chocolate brand “Super Dickmann’s” posted this image of Meghan Markle, some people got upset while others laughed at their sensitivity.
The German employee in charge of the corporate Facebook account was likely not aware that the comparison between African women and chocolate is imbued with historical misogynoir. Misogynoir, a term coined by black feminist Moya Bailey (Anyangwe, 2015), is double discrimination faced by black women where bias is both race and gender-based (Verve Team, 2018).
While women have long been seen as buyers, preparers and religious devotees of chocolate, the earliest depictions associated with chocolate were those of infants such as cupids or angels (Martin, 2020). Later, chocolate became associated with an idealized image of white womanhood, as society women became an important consumer demographic. An 1874 New York Times issue announced that wealthy women were the biggest purchasers of an “elaborate style of French candies.” New ads featured elegant white women and were meant to appeal to both the tastes of upper-class consumers and the aspirations of lower-class ones (Robertson, 2010).
Such ads put white consumers at the forefront and minimized chocolate’s roots in West African agriculture. Romanticized images of white agricultural workers such as of this milkmaid carrying pails attempted to further erase chocolates’ African origins (Robertson, 2010).
These fictionalized images associated the labor required to produce chocolate with “wholesome whiteness” in the minds of consumers (Robertson, 2010). Notably, a 1930 Cadbury ad that does feature African women, shows them as faceless silhouettes balancing baskets brimming with cocoa pods on their heads (Robertson, 2010). While white women associated with chocolate were bestowed with good taste and wholesomeness, black women were dehumanized and fetishized through racist depictions.
In 1947 a new character “Honeybunch” was created to advertise Rowntree’s Cocoa (Robertson, 2010). Honeybunch looked infantile – barefoot and with bows in her hair. In this ad, she is dehumanized through the juxtaposition of her “imagined” character to “real” white people in the ad (Robertson, 2010).
A 1950 ad goes further to depict Honeybunch as a spring bouncing out of tin of cocoa – an example of a common trope of Africans drawn as actual cocoa (Robertson, 2010) This association of a person with an edible object further solidifies the idea that black people are false commodities (Polanyi, 2001). According to Polanyi, labor is one of those fictitious commodities to which the market mechanisms should not apply (2001). According to Polanyi, not only labor but also the laborer can become commodities for sale if the commodity function of labor is prioritized (2001). Commodity function of labor is the low labor cost for the sake of lower prices, and in the case of chocolate, low labor costs help support higher remuneration for cocoa processors and chocolate producers instead of African workers. This problem persists into modernity: according to the Cocoa Barometer, cocoa farmer households earn merely 37% of living income in Côte d’Ivoire, the leader in cocoa bean production supplying 40% of world’s cocoa (2018).
Blackness is also objectified and commodified through the association between black skin and chocolate – a trope that still pervades today. Food-related descriptions have long been used to describe dark skin. While light foundation shades are often called “nude” or “fair,” darker shades are often named after commodities such as cocoa or coffee. This further solidifies the toxic idea that white womanhood is the default, and objectifies black womanhood through comparisons with edible objects.
Even black women of the same status as the white women in chocolate ads are not immune to dehumanizing fetishization. In 1976, a magazine editor described supermodel Iman as “a white woman dipped in chocolate,” (Oliver, 2015). The editor’s baffling comment is akin to Charlie’s question about whether the Oompa Loompas, which were distinctly African in the original book, are made out of chocolate (Robertson, 2010).
The fact that class cannot protect black women from misogynoir sheds critical light on “respectability politics,” an ideology that emphasizes the need for black people to gain respect and “uplift the race” by correcting ‘undesirable” characteristics and embodying desirable ones (Harris, 2014). Racist treatment of Iman despite her social prominence parallels the way companies such as Rowntree or Cadbury used depictions of black girls and women like Honeybunch for their “distinct difference” while dehumanizing them.
Pat McGrath, one of the most prominent makeup artists of the century, also had a cocoa related story that shed light on how designers who hire black models failed to provide them with equal supplies. McGrath often had to use cocoa powder on set because she wasn’t provided with darker makeup shades (Prinzivalli, 2019).
A group of black women has found a way to use the association between dark skin and chocolate for their benefit, creating a food-inspired makeup brand “Beauty Bakerie,” which counts cocoa-flavored powder among its products.
And what about Pat McGrath who had to use food instead of makeup? Her beauty empire is now worth almost a billion dollars – and her dark foundation colors are named Medium Deep and Deep instead of cocoa and chocolate (Mpinja, 2018).
As you have probably discovered when looking through the chocolate display in various retail and grocery stores, five large players dominate the global chocolate market. Their prevalence allows them to dictate the rhetoric and information synthesized by chocolate consumers on a daily basis. However, the industry is fraught with serious issues that these companies are not taking drastic enough steps to solve. Instead, we must look to other companies, although less well known and smaller-scale, that are forging innovative paths to solve these very real problems, in order to learn from them but also recognize where there is room for improvement. One such company is Taza Chocolate.
Taza Chocolate is a bean to bar chocolate company based in Somerville, Massachusetts. It was founded in 2005 by CEO Alex Whitmore, who was inspired by the stone ground chocolate he had tasted on a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. He apprenticed under a molinero in Oaxaca in order to learn how to make and work with traditional Mexican stone mills. The result of these unique mills and minimal processing is chocolate with bolder flavors and a grittier consistency than the smoothness that is usually expected from more mainstream companies.
Taza chocolate can be bought online through its website or at Amazon and can be found at retailers such as Whole Foods. According to the Taza Website, “We do things differently. We do things better. We are chocolate pioneers” (Taza Website: Direct Trade). They are pioneers not just because of their unique production process and flavor, but also because of their commitment to addressing the problems that plague the industry today through supply-chain transparency.
Problems: Slavery, Economics and Gender Inequality
In order to critically analyze Taza’s attempted solutions, it is important to first understand the problems, which unfortunately are not new but rather have plagued the industry for centuries. Slavery was an integral part of chocolate’s history, and can be traced back to the 1500’s when the Spanish Encomienda system forced natives in Mesoamerica to grow cocoa and perform labor without pay. The terrible working conditions and disease spread by the Spaniards ravished the native population, and Africans were brought in to replace them. From 1500-1900, between 10 and 15 million enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas and the Caribbean to grow cocoa and other commodity crops. However, even after slavery was abolished, it continued and continues to plague the industry today, mostly in the form of child labor. The International Labour Organization defines child labor as, “all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery… work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children” (ILO). Carol Off found evidence of such child labor in Cote D’Ivoire, with some farmers or their supervisors “working… young people almost to death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunkhouses that were locked during the night, and were frequently beaten” (Off, 121). A 2009 study by Tulane corroborated Off’s discoveries when it found that more than half a million children in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire were working in conditions that violated ILO guidelines as well as national laws on minimum wage and minimum hours (Berlan).
Another prevalent problem is the poverty that many cocoa farmers face, particularly in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, due to the economics of cocoa farming. Unlike many northern countries where jobs are salaried, wages for day laborers on farms are “neither guaranteed nor generally regulated” (Leissle, 106). Farm owners only receive cash when they sell their crop; thus, they earn 80% of their annual income in the six months of the main growing season, making budgeting for the rest of the year extremely difficult, especially because many inputs are needed at the start of the growing season when farmers are the lowest on cash. This can result in farmers having to take loans or credit, which often have incredibly high interest rates and can be impossible to pay back. The price fluctuations of chocolate also make it difficult to budget, as anything from bad weather to political turmoil can drastically affect chocolate’s price. Lastly, the prices farmers receive are often too low to support their costs. Farmers rarely sell their product directly to the big chocolate companies, instead selling to middlemen who have more negotiating power and can mislead them. Therefore, even if the price paid for chocolate goes up, there is no guarantee that the farmers actually receive this increase. As a result of all of these factors, many farmers struggle to make a living.
Finally, gender inequality is an important problem that is often disregarded, in part because literature has minimized the role of women in chocolate production. Women are thought of as having only light and non-essential tasks, when in reality “female labor play[s] a central role in almost every aspect of cocoa production and sale… statistics undoubtedly underestimate the role of women” (Robertson, 100/104). But the industry is male-dominant, which has negative effects on women. For example, social norms dictate that even if women grow the cocoa, men are the ones that actually sell the crop and receive the cash (Leissle, 122). This means not only that women have no proof they are getting the right amount of money, but also that men of the household have control of the cash, which they often use to pay for needs they find most important before distributing the rest, if any, to women and children. Consequently, even though women contribute greatly to chocolate production, they have very little power.
Taza’s Solution: Direct Trade Model
In order to combat some of these issues, according to Taza it developed, “The first third-party certified direct trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all.” (Taza Website: Direct Trade). Because it is the first of its kind, Taza published five guidelines and commitments for its direct trade system that it holds itself accountable to.
Develop direct relationships with cacao farmers: Taza began by purchasing cocoa from La Red Guaconejo cooperative in the Dominican Republic and shipping it directly to Boston so that there were no middlemen involved. This direct method shrinks, “a commodity chain that is often far-flung, [so that] no step of the trade exchange, from farm to factory, was unknown or untraceable to Taza’s founders” (Leissle, 154). They later expanded their sources to include other producers in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Ghana, all of which they have personal relationships with. Their single origin bars reflect and appreciate the uniqueness of each location.
Pay a price premium to cacao producers: Taza commits to paying at least $500 per MT above market price for its beans
Source the highest quality cacao beans: Taza emphasizes fine flavor beans rather than bulk beans, and directs resources over the long term to assist producers in maintaining high quality output
Require USDA certified organic cacao: As part of its commitment to source only the best cocoa, Taza requires its producers to be organic certified.
Publish an annual transparency report: Taza was the first chocolate company ever to publish such a report. It includes the quantity of beans bought from each individual producer, the price Taza pays for these beans, and an intimate look at the individual producers they partner with.
Pros of Taza’s Direct Trade Model
Taza’s direct trade model has improved the economics of farmers while simultaneously promoting transparency in the industry. In paying a large premium (15-20%), Taza ensures that the farmers do not have to worry about not being able to earn enough to survive fluctuations in cocoa price that are entirely outside of their control. This gives farmers much-needed predictability and visibility into future income and improves their standard of living. Furthermore, by publishing the exact prices they buy the seeds at and having all of their numbers and reports independently verified each year by the Quality Certification Services, Taza guarantees integrity and transparency. This is a stark contrast to the rest of the industry; many companies in recent years have introduced “even more ambiguity into the landscapes of its practice” by relying on internal certification and accountability schemes (Leissle, 147). For example, Cadbury recently stopped fair trade certification and instead initiated an in-house sustainability guarantee, which has decreased transparency because, “when a certification scheme is internal to a company, it is more difficult to assess whether they are rigorous and consistently applied. The only option is to take the company’s words that they are” (Leissle, 147-148). The same can be said for craft chocolate companies, who claim to pay several times the world market price for cocoa, yet there is no way for the consumer to verify. In publishing its prices, Taza has set a new standard for the industry, and others, such as Dandelion Chocolate, are following suit.
Taza’s production process also allows for stronger relationships with producers and greater visibility into the company’s supply chain, ensuring no child labor is used to produce its products. In interacting directly with each of their producers, and visiting at least once a year, Taza can guarantee the use of fair labor. Furthermore, in Ghana, where, as discussed earlier, child labor is especially prevalent, Taza has invested in education programs for children and their family. For example, the local producers Taza partners with coordinate workshops in local schools for students and parents to “educate around age-appropriate farm activities… versus dangerous ones” (2018 transparency report). Additionally, Taza has patterned with the non-profit International Cocoa Initiative and its buyer Tony’s Chocolonely, to “proactively address any instances of unsafe work through a combination of family resources and training that rewards transparency and addresses core issues of poverty and lack of education” (2018 transparency report).
Finally, Taza’s single origin bars promote consumer awareness about the countries where it sources its chocolate. Each bar, according to the website, “is minimally processed to let the bold flavors and unique terroir of our Direct Trade Certified beans shout loud and proud” (Taza website: Origin Bars).
By indicating where the chocolate is grown, these single origin bars can help consumers learn that the taste of chocolate differs from place to place, and “invite shoppers to consider the politics and economics of exporting cocoa… By offering a range of chocolate experiences that can change even day by day, single origin chocolate reminds us that there are real people, institutions, and power structures behind every bar” (Leissle, 170). A more informed consumer is likely to make more informed decisions in the future, which can help promote sustainable, ethical chocolate production by creating demand for such products.
How Taza can Improve
Although the Taza model has many strengths, there are areas where it is still lacking. For example, the prices listed in the transparency reports indicate the amount paid per metric ton to producer organizations, but they do not indicate the farm gate price, or how much the individual farmer receives. The farm gate price is distinctive from the price paid to the producers, but by not including both, the reports can mislead the consumer into thinking the listed price is entirely received by the farmers. In only one year, 2016, Taza reported the price that was actually received by farmers, which ranged from 51-76% of the price that was received by producer organizations (2016 transparency report). However, no other transparency report published these numbers, and this percentage could have changed substantially in the years since, especially because a few of the producer organizations they work with have changed. While Taza is exemplary in its transparency, there is room to be even more transparent by consistently publishing the farm gate price in its reports.
Additionally, even though gender inequality is an important problem in cocoa production, Taza does not explicitly address it in its transparency reports. Photos of women farmers have been featured in some of the past reports, and the number of women farmers is included in each report (ranging from 15% to 45% of each producer organization). These inclusions are important in disproving the misconception that women are not involved in cocoa production. However, there is no reference to the struggles women face due to the power dynamics of the industry. Taza had the opportunity to do so in its 2018 report, when it mentions that its partner in El Majagual, Dominican Republic donated his chocolate factory to an association of local women. However, they do not even name the women’s association or delve into what it does, and it seems as though the sale was a decision made independently by the producer with no help or influence from Taza. This is an area where Taza can really improve and learn from organizations such as Kuapa Kokoo, a Ghana based company that sets gender quotas for elected representation at the community and district levels of governance and organizes conscious-raising women’s groups and women’s literacy programs (Leissle, 149). An essential next step for Taza is to acknowledge the unequal distribution of power and wealth due to gender, because according to field work and research by Kristy Leissle and Stephanie Barrientos , “Apart from explicit, well-directed efforts to empower women, most assistance…[goes] directly or indirectly to men” (Leissle, 173).
In summary, Taza Chocolate is changing the way chocolate is sourced, produced and consumed. In addressing the economic problems farmers face, ensuring its producers do not use forced labor, and investing in programs that combat child labor, Taza is making a positive impact on cocoa production. However, there are many areas where Taza can still learn and grow— the transparency reports would be greatly improved if they included farm gate prices, and just as the company has invested in programs to fight against child labor, it should invest in programs that are actively looking to support women. That being said, Taza’s direct trade program is truly innovative, and its transparency reports are challenging other companies to improve their own practices. Although the direct trade model is not feasible for the larger scale companies that dominate the industry, consumers must demand the same level of commitment to ethical production that Taza demonstrates.
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.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of The World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2006.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: a Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press, 2013.
Dating back to the earliest known origins of chocolate—or rather its characteristic ingredient, cacao—this extraordinary substance has consistently been associated with socially intimate and aphrodisiacal properties. The particular manifestation of these aphrodisiacal properties, however, and how they have taken shape over time tells an interesting story of the power of media and advertising. Much of this early knowledge is situated around the ritual practices and mythology of the Maya civilization in the pre-Columbian period, during which cacao was heavily featured and revered in the context of fertility and marriage rites. In the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Quiché Maya documenting Mayan mythology, “when the gods were creating humans in their final form,” cacao was among the “foods which were to form their bodies” (Coe & Coe 39). This notion of cacao playing a role in the creation of human life is a recurring theme in surviving remnants of Mayan society, bringing to mind a clear connection with procreation and fertility. In much the same way, archeological/anthropological research has indicated the “widespread, perhaps even pan-Maya, use of chocolate in betrothal and marriage ceremonies” (Coe & Coe 60). Similar beliefs and rituals held true for Mixtec and Aztec societies, as we can see in this detail from the Codex Nuttall (Mixtec book) displayed below, or in the Aztec poem that refers to “‘flowering chocolate’ [as] a metaphor for luxuriousness and sensuality” (Coe & Coe 104).
Even more explicit, is the account of Spanish conquistador, Bernal Díaz de Castillo, upon attending a lavish Aztec banquet in which he writes about the emperor, including that “ they brought him some cups of fine gold, with a certain drink made of cacao, which they said was for success with women” (Coe & Coe 96). While this certainly speaks to the Spanish conquistadors’ beliefs and interpretations of cacao, whether there is any actual truth to this testimony is unsubstantiated. However this did not stop the notion of cacao as a sexual stimulant from spreading throughout Europe after it was first introduced in Spain. Almost a century after for instance, Dr. Henry Stubbes (1632-72), a prominent English authority on chocolate, was “convinced, as were most of his contemporaries in England and on the Continent, that chocolate was an aphrodisiac” (Coe & Coe 171).
If we fast forward to the 19th and early 20th centuries, these themes associated with chocolate seem to not only persist, but become ever-more present. This is likely the consequence of two key changes in the chocolate industry, the first being Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten’s 1828 invention of the hydraulic press, which allowed for the production of chocolate in solid form. The second shift lies in the industrialization of food, which gave way to mass production and, by extension, lower food costs, resulting in the democratization of chocolate (Coe & Coe 234-235). Considering its history as a substance once only available to the elite and wealthy upper echelons of society, this new potential for chocolate to be available and affordable to the masses meant immense economic opportunity—cue mass marketing. Chocolate advertising in its earlier days often featured women providing chocolate to their families, as the ideal wife and mother—roles which were both, at the time, at the forefront of any socially accepted notion of female identity. Kids were also considerably featured in these ads, thus by placing chocolate at the nucleus of the family bond, we are reminded of the original role cacao played in marriage and fertility for the Maya.
In a similar vein, ads in which chocolate is the embodiment of romance soon seem to take center stage—at least for those ads targeted toward males (which speaks to a whole other dimension on the gendering of foods, but I’ll leave that for another discussion). While this notion of chocolate is clearly linked to aphrodisia, it is also convenient for business when it comes to special occasions centered around love and affection, such as Valentine’s Day and anniversaries.
As is hinted at in the ads above, this idea of chocolate as the perfect gift for a girlfriend or wife goes beyond its supposed inherent powers of attraction, to suggest that it’s so irresistible that it could win over any woman. The implication here being that simply a box of chocolates can render a woman so feeble-minded and lacking control over her desires that it removes any sexual resistance. This, again, plays into sexist stereotypes of women as mindless, emotional, pretty, sweet objects, lacking any intelligence, authority, or confidence.
While it would be nice to think this sort of messaging has subsided in recent years, the truth of the matter is that this pattern of perpetuating socially prescribed feminine ideals and stereotypes, particularly in relation to romance and desire is still common practice, only less overtly sexist. A prime example of this is for an Axe commercial in which women uncontrollably lust over a man who, upon spraying Axe Dark Temptation, turns into a walking, talking piece of chocolate. Despite being cloaked in a veil of humor, this message here is no different from that found in earlier advertising.
In a similar vein, while society has changed over time to embrace more progressive values, namely freedom of sexual expression and independence, it’s interesting to see how chocolate advertising has used this to make even more explicit the connection between chocolate, desire, and pleasure—all the while often maintaining their use of female stereotypes and ideals, which only works to delay or set back feminist efforts. That is, women are sexualized, objectified, and interlaced with sexual innuendo in such ads where there is an apparent attempt to blur the lines between chocolate and sex. Oftentimes these advertisements are targeted towards women as a way of “encouraging self indulgence for a food that provides feelings equated to sex and love” (Fahim 7).
It’s quite interesting, or perhaps more than that, it’s rather informative of the power that lies in the hands of media and marketing to perpetuate a notion with little to no basis in fact, as evidenced by numerous studies debunking any real effect of chocolate on libido or as an aphrodisiac (Shamloul 2010, Brent 2018), yet remains at the core—in some way, shape, or form, of chocolate marketing strategy.
In analyzing the way these advertisements have marketed chocolate, we can see the progress of the way society views the female role. In the earlier times, we see how the importance of women in society is closely intertwined with reproduction as well as the simple-minded housewife trope, which was quite clearly reflected in the messaging of chocolate at the time. And, subsequently, as women’s expression of sexuality in media becomes more commonplace, the importance and relevance of chocolate in society comes in large part from overt and subtle references to its purported (yet unsubstantiated) supernatural or aphrodisiacs properties. Specifically, it aims to encourage “ self indulgence for a food that provides feelings equated to sex and love.
All that being said, while this current theme of hypersexuality, desire, and indulgence is unlikely to subside any time soon (especially considering it’s persisted over thousands of years), it will be interesting to see how and if the portrayal of women in ads related to chocolate will change in this new wave of female empowerment as a marketing strategy (e.g. the new Nike and Gillette ads), which still have their issues but show an overall positive progression towards gender equality.
It was early February and Catharine Sweeney and Elaine Hsieh, co-owners of EH Chocolatier, were busy working on their Valentine’s Day orders. Sheet trays and whisks clanked against the steel countertops at a steady rhythm. February is one of the busiest time of the year for a chocolatier. Catharine and Elaine anticipated forty to fifty orders for Valentine’s Day; a modest amount for their three-year-old business, but enough to keep EH Chocolatier very busy. Catharine and Elaine make all of their chocolates by hand, as well as overseeing the packaging and shipping. As Valentine’s Day approached, they were hit with a New England curveball: winter storm Nemo, which would become the fifth largest snowfall in Boston history, was forecast to hit the weekend before Valentine’s Day. All around Boston the news warned of shutting down roads, airports, and subways. Authorities urged residents to prepare for a heavy downfall and warned of potential power outages. Nemo could wreck their biggest sale day and reputation.
However, EH Chocolatier had no idea of the real storm coming. On Tuesday, February 12th, Elaine was surprised to see EH Chocolatier featured in The New York Times day’s “Best in the Box” article. Their salted caramels had been recognized as a top ten best chocolate caramel just in time for Valentine’s Day. Catharine and Elaine said that they did not get their hopes up initially, since EH Chocolatier had previous exposure in major publications like Food and Wine. But at 9:05 AM Elaine’s email sounded off like an alarm, “bing, bing, bing, bing, bing”–the sound of hundreds of online chocolate orders pouring into her inbox. “It was kind of like an Oprah moment,” Elaine says recalling the experience. “We literally got five hundred orders in thirty-six hours.”
Most entrepreneurs could only dream of the success EH Chocolatier experienced with their first New York Times feature. However, waking up in the morning with five hundred orders of handmade chocolates is a daunting task. The article said chocolates could be ordered by Valentine’s Day–giving the team at EH Chocolatier merely four days to accomplish ten times their expected workload. And then there was Nemo. “Oh my God, I don’t think we can handle this,” recalls Elaine of the experience. “But we did it.” With the help of friends and family, EH Chocolatier was able to successfully mail their chocolate orders in time for Valentine’s Day. Since The New York Times feature, Elaine and Catharine say that business has picked up at a steady pace.
Despite the publicity, the economic odds were against two mothers starting a business at the tail-end of a recession. “Micro-Chocolatiers” face tough competition from large manufacturers like Godiva or Lindt, who have extensive shipping networks and long shelf-life products. While EH Chocolatier still has room to grow as a business, there are benefits to staying small. “I think where we stand out is that its fresh,” Catharine says in our interview. “We make very small batches. . . . [T]he flavors [in chocolate] dissipate over time and will dry out a little bit. When you eat them and they’ve been made that week, theres no comparison to eating something that you’ve purchased from a large chocolate manufacturer who has [a shelf life of] maybe six months.”
Not only are EH Chocolatier’s confections fresh, but they offer creative flavor combinations. Inspiration for new chocolate flavors is not limited by the world of dessert. “A lot of it comes from our joy of savory eating,” Catharine says. “I have a friend that’s Thai and she cooks for me all the time. . . . [Y]ou start thinking; I wonder if I can pair these flavors with chocolate? [T]hats where our lemongrass Thai chili bonbon came from.” Beyond chocolate, EH Chocolatier also offers a passion fruit caramel made with passion fruit puree combined with white chocolate.
The heart of EH Chocolatier that keeps the core of the business strong is the bond between Catharine and Elaine. “We knew of and heard of all those horror stories of friends starting businesses together,” says Elaine in the interview. “Catharine and I realized that it wouldn’t really be worth doing business together if we wouldn’t be friends afterwards.” “Because our strengths are very different it really is a match made in heaven,” Catharine says looking to Elaine as they share the kind of unrestrained belly-laugh that can only be had between close friends.
“We’re very ying yang,” says Elaine, who is dressed in a white linen shirt and brushed silver jewelry, with her straight black hair neatly parted down the side. Catharine sits by her side wearing a cherry red sweater with matching red rectangular glasses and red dangle bead earrings. “We are both equal in terms of developing new recipes and creating new ideas and we each sort of come at it from different bends and different palates. We’re equal in terms of strengths,” says Elaine.
Perhaps this strength is ultimately what enables a entrepreneurs to persevere through the difficult initial phases of a new business. After all, a business is fundamentally about relationships between people, whether it’s buyer or seller. The challenges of winter storm Nemo and an unexpected bump in orders due to the Times article showed the EH Chocolatier has the right business model–and people for success.
Catharine and Elaine are helping to define what it means to be a female entrepreneur. In businesses highly dominated by men, women often forced to repress their femininity in order to be taken seriously. Desirable leadership traits are usually associated with male stereotypes of being aggressive, dominant, and individualistic. Women often feel pressure to be a “woman in a man’s world” and are not given the freedom to be a “woman in a woman’s” world because society has often categorized female-dominated industries as being less important, less deserving of respect, less difficult, and less desireable. As two mothers and entrepreneurs in the chocolate industry, an industry that has long been the domain of women, Catharine and Elaine reflect what it means to be a strong, female leader who fully leans into being a “woman in a woman’s” world.
It is important to see female leadership in the chocolate industry for a few reasons. The story of how chocolate rose to global prominence has largely taken place in the unwritten history of women. For example, many believe European colonists were responsible for innovating on cacao recipes taken from the Mesoamericans and transformed to fit European tastes. For example, Spanish Doctor and Military surgeon Antonio Lavedan wrote in 1796 in Tratado de los usos, abusos, propiedades y virtudes del tabaco, cafe, te y chocolate:
“When the Spanish and Portuguese arrived in the Americas, the inhabitants there made a cacao liquor which was diluted in hot water seasoned with pepper and other spices . . . all these ingredients gave this mixture a brutish quality and a very savage taste . . . The Spanish, more industrious than the Savages, procured to correct the bad flavor of this liquor, adding to this cacao paste different fragrances of the East and many spices of this country [Spain]. Of all these ingredients we have maintained only the sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon” (Lavedan, Antonio).
This Eurocentric view is fundamentally flawed but has persisted because historians have routinely overlooked the history of people of color and women. When the Spanish and Portuguese arrived in Mesoamerica, they employed the encomienda system and forced women to perform housework and prepare food. As a result, Mesoamerican women introduced European settlers to the different ways of preparing cacao and rather than the Europeans modifying chocolate to fit their different cultural tastes, Europeans developed a cultural taste for Indian chocolate (Marcy Norton, 2006). Historians have often ignored the role of gender in shaping history and as a result, many people fail to realize that Mesoamerican women are largely responsible for introducing chocolate to the world out of obscurity.
For example, many people believe Europeans were the first to sweeten chocolate, however Mesoamericans had been sweetening chocolate for a while.
Martin, Carla. “Colonial Mesoamerican Cacao Beverage Recipe Ingredients,” Chocolate Expansion, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture. Spring Academic Year, 2017.
Source: Martin, Carla. “Colonial European Chocolate Recipe Ingredients,” Chocolate Expansion, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture. Spring Academic Year, 2017.
As chocolate made its way through Spain, Italy, France, and Britain, recipes were passed down between women from kitchen to kitchen. This played a formative role in discovering new uses for chocolate but scholars and historians have traditionally ignored studying and documenting this because chocolate has long been considered a “women’s” domain. As a result, the early evolution of chocolate throughout Europe is poorly documented and relatively unknown.
As the industry surrounding chocolate developed in the early 1900s, women were excluded participation in the development of chocolate as a business and it wasn’t until 1970s that Mar’s Chocolate hired a woman named Lone Clark to Vice President of HR, an unprecedented move at the time but still a testament to the newness of welcoming women into ownership of an industry that they by and large laid the foundations to.
Furthermore, chocolate has long been a tool for those in power to set the agenda on the wants and desires of women. Advertising is largely dominated by men and has historically had a lack of diversity of women in senior level positions. As a result, the messages connecting women to chocolate have focused on reinforcing highly gendered, heteronormative stereotypes of femininity. It is yet another way men have defined what constitutes women’s spaces and what it means to be a woman.
Catharine and Elaine’s success as chocolatiers represents women taking ownership of “women’s” domains, and paying homage to the unacknowledged labor of women who introduced the world to chocolate.
Hsieh, Elaine, Catharine, Sweeney. Personal Interview about EH Chocolatiers. Conducted March, 2015.
Lavedan, Antonio. “Tratado de los usos, abusos, propiedades y virtudes del tabaco, café, té y chocolate : extractado de los mejores autores que han tratado de esta materia, á fin de que su uso no perjudique á la salud, antes bien pueda servir de alivio y curación de muchos males.” Madrid : En la Imprenta Real, 1796.
Valentine’s Day has not always been associated with love, red hearts, bouquets of roses and a box of chocolates. In fact, the first celebrations of Valentine’s day, which date all the way back to Roman times, were not linked to romance at all (Butler). The initial appearance of gift-exchange occurred during the Medieval Period, when knights would lavish roses upon maidens to express their “courtly love” (Butler). This gift giving practice continued to grow in the following centuries (Henderson). However, the exchange of chocolate and candies was not yet in practice since sugar was still regarded as a highly precious commodity (Butler, Henderson). By the Victorian Era, commercialization of the holiday had begun (Henderson), and the practice of exchanging elaborate and highly decorated gifts had become routine (Butler) .
Richard Cadbury and the Heart-Shaped Box
Richard Cadbury was one of the first entrepreneurs to fully take advantage of the love-crazed commercialized frenzy (Butler). Through industrialization and technological advancements, Cadbury had discovered a cheaper way to produce what was referred to as “eating chocolate” (Butler). Cadbury, being the commercial genius that he was, began to design elaborate heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolates to distribute during Valentine’s Day (Henderson). The boxes were extremely successful that even to this day, Victorian Era Cadbury boxes, such as the one featured below, still exist, are wildly popular, and “are treasured family heirlooms and valuable items prized by collectors” (Butler).
Valentine’s Day is compelling in the ways it reflects changes in Western society regarding the introduction of exchanging sugar and chocolates and a movement towards industrialization and commercialization. Currently, however, it is also most indicative of the ways in which society hasn’t changed, according to the continued gender-biased and heteronormative nature of the holiday.
Advertisements Across Time
Looking among different chocolate advertisements celebrating Valentine’s Day, common themes emerge based on assumed gender roles and heteronormativity that remain constant throughout time and across companies.
Since Cadbury is the founder of the heart-shaped box of chocolates, I thought it only appropriate to look at the content of their advertisements over time.
This vintage Cadbury advertisement really speaks to the roots of heteronormativity associated with Valentine’s Day. The ad is centered around the simple fact that she loves him, he loves her. The assumptions of heteronormativity are all too clear.
This Cadbury Valentine’s Day Commercial from 2017 shares many of the same sentiments as the vintage ad. He loves her. She loves him. And they both love Cadbury chocolate. Although only hands are featured in this commercial, the hands are clearly gender specific. The woman’s hand is feminine, with pink painted nails and of course, hers is the hand that is receiving the chocolate. While there is some playful teasing and banter throughout the commercial, at the very end it is made clear that it is the man who is giving the chocolates by his hand signing the card with a simple “be mine”.
Cadbury, however, is not the only company that has perpetuated gender stereotypes and promoted heteronormativity. The comparison between these two ads from 1943 and 2013 shows that while some aspects of their marketing technique have been updated, fundamental concepts surrounding gender roles and heteronormativity remain the same.
This Whitman’s ad is from 1943 and demonstrates the evident gender biases of that time. The ad implies that all women care very much about being recognized on Valentine’s Day and that men are expected to actually forget Valentine’s Day because they care so little about this particular holiday and receiving a gift. There is also the reoccurring theme that a man is able to win over a woman’s affections by giving her chocolate. In my opinion, this concept somewhat objectifies a woman and implies that her love may be bought with a simple box of chocolates.
This 2013 Whitman’s Valentine’s Day Commercial does not really show many differences from the printed ad from the 1940s. The language may be updated and the message appeals to a more modern man, who is interested in sports (football), but in the end, the message remains relatively the same that, “men, don’t be the forgetful, careless tough guys that you usually are; go out and buy your caring, sensitive ladies some chocolate… that’s all they truly want on Valentines Day”. Not only is this an extremely gender-biased message, it is also a message of heteronormativity. The ad directly addresses men and directs them to buy something for their special woman.
Many other chocolate brands, including Godiva and Ferrara Rocher, have released recent Valentine’s Day ads that continue to reveal how gender bias and heteronormativity are still very much ingrained into American society.
There are some advertisements, like this Dove commercial, that actually change up the narrative a little bit. However, while it does not subscribe to heteronormativity, it also does not actively combat it. Furthermore, while the ad dispenses of some of the assumed gender roles, such as the man always being the giver of chocolate, it still plays into others. It was particularly notable to me that the recipients of the chocolate were all still women. While commercials like this do perhaps show more progress, I do not believe they are up to standards with the claim to dispense of gender stereotypes and support LGBTQ communities. I struggled to find advertisements that included gay couples or advertisements in which a female romantically and earnestly gave a box of chocolates to a man, who is ready to decadently indulge. I really think that this lack of representation on Valentine’s Day may speak to a larger problem that we, as a society, may not be as progressive as we think we are.
Realities of Valentine’s Day Chocolate Exchange
These issues of perpetuated gender stereotypes and heteronormativity are not just depicted in the advertisements we see, but are also being played out in real life through the Valentine’s Day chocolate exchange. In 2006, an article entitled “pulse point’ revealed that “while 75 percent of chocolate purchases are made by women all year long, during the days and minutes before Valentine’s Day, 75 percent of the chocolate purchases are made by men. Over $ I billion of chocolate is purchased for Valentine’s Day” (p. 9). Furthermore, a study conducted by Otnes, Cele, Ruth and Milbourne revealed that men are not necessarily buying these chocolates because they want to. Many men expressed an intense pressure to buy chocolates for their significant other and actually stated that on average, they experience much more pleasure from gift-receiving than gift giving. The practices of modern day chocolate exchange during Valentine’s Day still reinforce gender roles that men must be the givers and women must be the receivers and gender bias that women care much more about the gift giving than men. Furthermore Otnes, Cele Ruth and Milbourne discuss the novelty of their study, in that it looks at the opinions and attitudes of men on Valentine’s Day rather than women, who historically and stereotypically claim the holiday; however, I could find no study on LGBTQ groups and their opinions and attitudes towards the holiday. Throughout this exploration, it has become very evident to me that the LGBTQ groups are vastly underrepresented during this holiday. While it is concerning that Valentine’s Day chocolate exchange does not seem to represent the progressive and open-minded society we feel we are a part of, perhaps the holiday is actually an indication that our society as a whole is not as updated and progressive as we ought to be.
Butler, Stephanie. “Celebrating Valentine’s Day With a Box of Chocolates.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 08 Feb. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
Henderson, Amy. “How Chocolate and Valentine’s Day Mated for Life.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
Otnes, Cele, Julie A. Ruth, and Constance C. Milbourne. “The pleasure and pain of being close: men’s mixed feelings about participation in Valentine’s Day gift exchange.” NA-Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21 (1994).
“Pulse Points.” Journal of Property Management, vol. 71, no. 1, jan/feb2006, p. 9. EBSCOhost, ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=19533678&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Block, Tara. “Valentine’s Day.” POPSUGAR Love & Sex. N.p., 07 Apr. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. www.popsugar.com/love/photo-gallery/21966615/image/21966645/Valentine-Day
In today’s society, many people tend to consider themselves progressive and welcoming, whether it be of race, gender, equality or representation. However, when looking at current advertisements, in particular those pertaining to consumer chocolate, and then delving deep into the historical timeline of chocolate and cacao production/consumption, it becomes more evident that in fact, many ads and the products they represent actually have not been progressing in parallel to our current times but in fact harken to historical inequalities. Such a bold phrase will surely be elaborated on further in relation to the following two photos: the first being a true ad for Dove Chocolate, and the second being my pseudo-ad for Twix chocolate, a satire on the first to shed light on the issues the former poses such as objectification and misrepresentation of race.
Real ad for Dove chocolate featuring objectification and issues of misrepresentation of race
In the Dove ad, a black, assumingly-nude male is represented in close-up view of his abdominals posed next to a minute-sized piece of Dove chocolate, followed by a witty double entendre pertaining to six-pack abs and the six-piece bar of chocolate. In this case, the advertisement is objectifying individuals, in this particular case black males, focusing in large part on attractive body parts with only about 5% of the ad devoted to a picture of the product being sold. In fact, as Robertson (2010) points out, for a long time in history, the portrayal of black males in advertisements for cacao products was common to symbolize and flaunt status and luxury. In a sense this ad does something very similar to just that as it flaunts a very attractive and strong body, but also uses a dark-skinned male who is fit which can be implied to be similar to the men who worked on cacao production in history’s past.
But beyond the idea of racism and misrepresentation in chocolate advertisements, it is also to crucial to mention the previous point of objectification. Although finding less racially sensitive ads may be less common in society today, coming across those which objectify and misrepresent genders is more plentiful. In the seventeenth century, chocolate was highly male-dominated, with chocolate and coffee houses for the men while women continued to be represented as housewives through history (Robertson, 2010). Even today, we come across sexist ads, such as the one above, where a man is being objectified as a bar of chocolate, in ads in Africa where women are showcased as exotic figures (Leissle, 2012), or even in a recent Snickers ad in 2014 which implies that hunger strips a man of his masculinity but that Snickers can solve that problem. Therefore, I decided to create a satirical ad as seen below in response to the Dove ad above.
Fake ad in respnose to Dove to show the misportrayal of a human figure but satired by the “objectification” of a candy bar as sensual
In this fake Twix ad, there are a couple of tricks. First and foremost, I wanted to cover the theme of 1. Objectification/misrepresentation of gender, and 2. The idea of focus and size. For this first part, I included a picture of an attractive woman on the beach. But in order to satire the first ad, theme number two came in whereby I enlarged the candy bar to appear as if the bar is being “objectified,” in addition to blurring out the women and scaling up the bar. In this sense, this ad is doing the opposite of the first ad: instead of enlarging the male body and misrepresenting the chocolate, this ad enlarges the body and shows that the real product is right in front of the viewer’s eyes; that the need for a female semi-nude figure is irrelevant and non-pertinent to the product being sold.
This latter point is the most crucial to my case. Many such advertisers as those who produced the Dove ad attempt to tap into a very select set of emotions and somatosensory feelings of the consumers by showing totally irrelevant images of enticing body parts and sensual scenes. However, when one really stops to think about the ad, it appears as false advertisement: sorry but you do not get the abs or the girl, just a bar of 300-calorie chocolate. If advertisers instead moved forward by showing sensual, enlarged, and slow-motion images of melting chocolate and the biological reactions and positive emotions evoked from chocolate itself, then that would be more true to the product and be void of any objectification or race misrepresentation. Therefore the false ad harkens to this last point of attempting to foreground the actual product being sold whilst portraying it in a satirical manner as an “attractive” and “objectified” beach-bod of a chocolate bar modeling on the sand.
That Dove bar may or may not “melt a girl’s heart,” but that Twix will surely melt in the sun on that beach.
Art is closely tied to the culture of a society. Studying changes and patterns in symbolism and representations over time can provide clues to shifting norms and cultural expectations in society. By studying the path of chocolate through art history, we can better understand the shifting associations between chocolate and gender.
Chocolate has been intimately tied to gender since its origins in ancient Mesoamerica. As chocolate spread to new cultures and new continents, practices surrounding the production, serving, and consumption of chocolate changed to reflect the sometimes strict, sometimes contradictory gender norms of these new cultures.
Ancient Mesoamerica: women and production
The women above – on the left, from a Mayan vase ca. 750 CE, and on the right, from the Aztec Codex Tudela ca. 1500 CE – are each pouring chocolate from one vessel to another, a key step in the preparation of ancient Mesoamerican chocolate beverages. The images below illustrate the somewhat different relationship of deities to chocolate.
On the left, from the Dresden Codex, the rain god holds a bowl of cacao in his hands, presumably for consumption; on the right, a high-ranking Mayan man seated on a platform is inspecting a pot containing a frothed cacao beverage – again, he appears to be preparing to drink the chocolate. Though we have access today to only a fraction of the images of chocolate created in the first several hundred years of its consumption, the images that we do have draw a compelling distinction between the relationship of men and women to chocolate. Women produced chocolate, and men consumed it. Aztec and Maya texts, as well as the writings of the European colonists who settled in Mesoamerica, indicate that these earliest consumers of chocolate were well aware of its stimulating effect (Coe and Coe). In Aztec society, the consumption of chocolate was expressly limited to nobles, merchants, and warriors – all, for the most part, male (Coe and Coe). The roles of women in Mesoamerican society were far more restricted – women were primarily involved in the domestic sphere – and far less physically active, meaning they lost the privilege of drinking chocolate.
Chocolate houses, European men, and chaos
By the early 17th century, cacao had officially arrived in Europe. It was first drunk only by royalty, but quickly spread – especially in England – to the masses, aided by the class-defying appeal of London’s coffeehouses (Calhoun). William Hogarth’s engraving, below, shows a raucous crowd of men at White’s Chocolate House, many gambling, smoking, or stabbing at the air with swords.
A somewhat tamer scene is depicted below; again, though, men have come together in great numbers to consume chocolate.
Coffee houses and chocolate houses were generally a space from which women were excluded. There is historical disagreement about whether women were forbidden from frequenting these spaces by decree, as Bramah claims, or merely made unwelcome, as Cowan argues; whatever the means of exclusion, the visual record confirms that chocolate houses were a gendered space. Women were only present in chocolate houses as owners or employees. (Calhoun). A deeper cultural gender divide is clear when we consider the conversations that generally took place in coffeehouses and chocolate houses: historians often acknowledge the role of these spaces in disseminating the intellectual ideals of the Age of Enlightenment to the public sphere (Calhoun). The absence of women from this important sphere where culture and politics were discussed, debated, and shaped reveals the lack of autonomy given to women to change their position in society.
Wealthy women, working women
European women may have been excluded from chocolate houses, but they certainly were not excluded from consuming chocolate.
For the first time in our visual journey, female consumption is central. Men certainly continued to consume chocolate, but women appear far more frequently in paintings of domestic consumption. The paintings to the right and below are from the mid-18th century. All the women pictured are upper-class: their clothing and surroundings clearly demonstrate wealth, and the paintings appear to be posed – typical of portraiture in the period, but also an indicator of wealth, as only the elite could afford to commission portraits.
Wealthy men tend only to appear as consumers of chocolate when a woman is at the center of the painting, as in the Penthièvre family portrait above and Longhi’s painting to the left, where men literally surround a woman reclining in a tulle dress.
Women were painted with chocolate to demonstrate their wealth. Chocolate was a less powerful symbol of wealth for men: men had always been allowed to consume chocolate, and so a painting of a man drinking it was unsurprising.
While wealthy women began to be depicted as consumers, servants and lower-class women were still confined to the production and serving of chocolate. The painting below inspired advertising campaigns for both Droste and Baker’s chocolate.
For many middle-class women, the packaging on cocoa powder was the closest interaction they would have with chocolate and art.
Non-elite women did consume chocolate, and were often depicted consuming it, especially by the Impressionists. Renoir painted three portraits, each titled “The Cup of Chocolate,” in rapid succession around the turn of the 20th century.
Globalization and new gender roles
Though women of lower social status were now able to consume chocolate, they were also responsible for preparing it and serving it. The massive shifts in production that came with global industrialization meant that society became strictly stratified, and gender roles were not necessarily consistent across the strata.
In fact, images of men preparing and serving chocolate – traditionally a responsibility reserved for women – begin to appear around this time, especially in advertisements (such as the Fry’s chocolate advertisement above, where a man working at a drugstore is selling chocolate) and shop signs (the chocolatier sign depicts a man stirring a pot of chocolate).
Domestic food preparation was an almost entirely female arena in ancient Mesoamerica; surviving Mayan and Aztec art depicts women preparing chocolate and men preparing to consume it. Industrialization led to the increased stratification of European society, and brought new gender roles for the elite and for the working class. Wealthy women were no longer responsible for preparing food: they had servants to cook for them. The woman’s role in domestic management was displaced by the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor. Meanwhile, the globalization of food and food production meant that more men became responsible for food production somewhere along the supply line: harvesting cacao, grinding and conching and pressing chocolate, and handling the financial side of large chocolate businesses were all primarily male occupations.
Food production, for a large part of human history, took place almost exclusively within the home. Industrialization shifted production outside of the home, and created stratified gender roles. Art provides clues to the changing structure of human societies by giving us a glimpse of the prototypical figures of men and women over time. Continued consideration of how accurate a picture those glimpses paint is crucial – not all members of society are portrayed in art, and not all the images we see are accurate portrayals.
Image of Rain God and Opossum God: Artist unknown (ca. 12th century). Dresden Codex Maya Hieroglyphic Text of Almanac: 25-28. Image courtesy of The Maya Codices Database, Version 4.1. Source: http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/maya/chocolate/cacao-money.
Image of 17th-century London Chocolate House. Artist unknown (date unknown). Image source: http://now-here-this.timeout.com/2013/12/10/london-chocolate-festival-take-a-choco-tour-of-london.
Liotard, J. E. (1744). A Lady Pouring Chocolate. London: National Gallery. Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Liotard-Lady_Pouring_Chocolate.jpg.
Charpentier, J. B. (1768). La famille du duc de Penthièvre(“La Tasse de Chocolat”). Versailles: Musée National du Château. Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_famille_du_Duc_de_Penthi%C3%A8vre_dit_la_tasse_de_chocolat.jpg.
Longhi, P. (1774-1780). La cioccolata di mattino. Venice: Ca ‘Rezzonico. Image source: http://www.exibart.com/profilo/eventiV2.asp?idelemento=58655
Liotard, J. E. (1743-44). La Belle Chocolatière. Dresden: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister. Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chocolate_Girl#/media/File:Jean-Etienne_Liotard_-_The_Chocolate_Girl_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
Musset, J. (ca. 1900). Droste cocoa packaging. Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Droste.
Baker’s Cocoa (1919). Baker’s Cocoa Advertisement in Overland Monthly, January 1919. Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Baker_%26_Company.
Renoir, P. A. (1878). The cup of chocolate. Private collection. Image source: http://www.wikiart.org/en/pierre-auguste-renoir/the-cup-of-chocolate-1878.
Renoir, P. A. (1912). Cup of chocolate (Femme prenant du chocolat). Philadelphia: Barnes Foundation. Image source: http://www.barnesfoundation.org/collections/art-collection/object/7007/cup-of-chocolate-femme-prenant-du-chocolat.
Renoir, P. A. (1914). Cup of chocolate (La tasse de chocolat). Philadelphia: Barnes Foundation. Image source: http://www.barnesfoundation.org/collections/art-collection/object/5068/cup-of-chocolate-la-tasse-de-chocolat.
In an episode on the TV show, Mad Men, ad executive Don Draper is sitting across the table from Rachel Menken, a woman he is dating and talking to her about the meaning of love. He says to her, much to her chagrin, “Love doesn’t exist. What you call love was invented by people like me to sell Nylons.”
While Rachel might disagree with him and even be right in pointing out that his is a pessimistic way go through life, there is a certain truth in Don’s words. Today, like in Don Draper’s 1950s when the modern age of advertising began, advertisements wield an unparalleled amount of power over how we feel, think, and perceive ourselves (Monbiot 2011). At its core, an advertisement makes a promise. That promise makes us think that by buying a product we can be transformed, we can become the “ideal woman,” the “sexy husband,” the carelessly laughing beauty taking a vacation in the sun. All we need to do is mimic the person on the television screen. And this is Don’s point. While advertisements might be influenced by culture, they have an immensely powerful role in in creating culture: in influencing tastes, preferences, and identities, and in doing so creating people who are “ideal” modern consumers.
Chocolate advertisements are one area in which this influence is particularly clear. Today, we associate chocolate with women, sex, femininity, and love. In fact, while women are generally underrepresented in advertisements, in almost all cases where they are present, they act out their femininity exclusively as wives, mothers, and sexual gatekeepers (Collins 2011). Often, they are shown wearing provocative clothing and rarely portrayed as professionals (Collins 2011). Images like those below, for example, are found in nearly all chocolate advertisements, centering on women divulging in chocolate, looking oddly sensual, and deeply satisfied by what they are eating.
In fact, most chocolate advertisements today either present an idealized woman, who is most often white, skinny, with perfect hair and makeup, consuming chocolate (either entirely happy or entirely sexualized while doing so) or focus on how all women cannot resist the powers of chocolate, a treat that somehow singularly calls out to them, that they need for their emotional well-being in a way that men do not. In an example of the former, the commercial below not only shows chocolate as being inextricably tied to female sexuality, it draws a distinct link between chocolate production and sex (which is separately problematic because of the realities of chocolate production, though there is not enough space to delve into that here). The woman in this ad is portrayed as being flawless: she has flowing hair and perfect skin, and she is supposed to be everything one might want to be in a woman.
In another ad, it is similarly only women who are consuming the chocolate product, though they are no longer sexualized, but have voracious, unbridled appetites instead. The ad shows hordes of women who are running and screaming to get their hands on the low calorie chocolate product. Instead of linking chocolate with sex, this ad portrays chocolate consumption as a distinctly feminine activity and one that is irresistible – the thought of the chocolate product makes all of the women almost irrational. The female appetite as presented here can only be satiated by chocolate, though of course, chocolate that is low in calories because the ideal woman is also obsessively concerned about her weight.
These associations are so deeply embedded in our cultural imagination that we have come to see them as biological fact: we have come to believe that there is something physically different about women that draws them to chocolate. These theories, such as one that posits that menstruation causes a chocolate craving, have been, unsurprisingly, debunked (Bratskeir 2014). In fact, other research has shown that while 60 percent of American women surveyed crave chocolate pre-menstruation, only about 24 percent of Spanish women do, showing that “chocolate cravings” are culturally constructed, and in our culture, it is almost exclusively women who are shown to consume chocolate, though often men who buy it for them. (Zelner et al 2004; Osman 2006).
While it may be no great surprise that advertisements have shaped how we think about chocolate, what is surprising is that chocolate was not always a distinctly feminine product in the American psyche. In fact, before the 1950s chocolate was not shown to be consumed by women any moreso than men. In this ad from 1901, the woman is actually feeding the man a piece of chocolate as a sort of peace offering. While chocolate is still associated with pleasure and intimacy here, it is a role reversal from what we see in advertisements today.
Similarly in this ad from 1913 while the main focus is on an image of a woman, she is not indulging in the chocolate herself, rather she is presenting it to others, completely counter to today’s association between chocolate and feminine consumption.
Another advertisement from the early 1920s shows what is presumably a couple looking longingly at a box of chocolates. While the image is somewhat sexualized, with both of them standing close and implying a certain sort of intimacy, it does not single out the woman as the center of sexual attention as we might see today.
Even in 1927, chocolate was not shown as being uniquely feminine. On the contrary, as can be seen in this ad, it was advertised as a post-workout treat which, although serving to reinforce the notion of woman as homemaker, did not focus on woman as chocolate consumer.
So how did we get from this :
The answer: Valentine’s Day. Specifically, the commercialization and transformation of Valentine’s Day from an ancient fertility festival to a day in which men shower women with gifts (namely flowers and chocolates) as a token of their love, in exchange for physical and emotional affection. Some scholars posit that Valentine’s Day first started as an Ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia where naked men would “swat women with raw hides to increase their fertility” (Reese 2015; Seipel 2011). Though these ancient origins are somewhat contested, the transformation of Valentine’s day into a celebration of love in the late 18th century as a result of the mass production of Valentine’s cards is not (Reese 2015). These greeting cards entirely catalyzed the commercialization of Valentine’s Day making it a holiday that carried tremendous profit potential for companies, though it was not until the 1950s that Valentine’s Day had been fully transformed into a gendered holiday – where men were, and are, expected to show women affection in a sort of one-way relationship. The greeting cards and advertisement show below, for example, are from the early 20th century and capture the relatively gender-neutral focus of Valentine’s Day at that time. The flower advertisement, in fact, actually shows a woman purchasing flowers.
In the post-war era, however, as men returned home from war, women were relegated to domestic tasks (PBS, The American Experience). Advertisements in this era, like the one shown below, perpetuated the idea of the woman as a homemaker and her husband as the only person who held the key to her happiness.
It was in this sociocultural environment, where women were expected to raise children and take care of the home and men expected to provide them with physical and emotional satisfaction, that Valentine’s Day acquired a new meaning. This advertisement, unlike the one shown above, targets men who are presumably traveling on business, reassuring them that they can still make their wives happy with the gift of flowers.
It was in this era of female domesticity and idealized masculinity that chocolate came to be associated with Valentine’s Day and this association forever changed the lens through which Americans view chocolate consumption. While the first heart-shaped chocolate box was created by Richard Cadbury in Great Britain 1861, it was not until the consumerist post-war era that the idea gained popularity in the United States (Henderson 2015). During that time, companies like Russell Stover (which owned Whitman’s) began to market their chocolate as a Valentine’s Day gift, like flowers, that husbands could (and should) buy for their wives. The link between chocolate and Valentine’s Day necessarily centered on female consumption of the chocolates because women were the consumers of all things Valentine’s Day that their husbands bought for them.
Advertisements like the one below tapped into this domestic relationship between spouses, where women rarely worked, and instead were provided for. The advertisement here makes a promise to men, that by buying chocolate they will be able to “remember the way to her heart,” because female happiness and love is tied entirely to chocolate consumption.
In another post-war advertisement we see one of the first instances in which a woman is eating chocolate alone and has a huge smile on her face as she indulges herself, an image that has been since duplicated hundreds, if not thousands of times.
This image of the woman who enjoys the gift of chocolate slowly led to the development of the image of the woman who was constantly craving it and could not resist it when offered to her. In the 1960s, chocolate was advertised as not only the path to female happiness but also the path to sexual satisfaction for men. In 1967, Brach’s advertised, “Free kisses with every box of Brach’s Valentine Chocolates you give to her” (LeBesco and Naccarato 2012). In these ads, chocolate is shown as a sort of investment for men, as Kathleen Parkin, author of the book, Food is Love, explained in a recent Slate interview, because it carries with it the promise of sex (Anderson 2012). Women, simultaneously, were shown as giving themselves or being given permission by others to indulge in the chocolate (partially because in the 1970s Americans grew more health consciousness and chocolate was seen as unhealthy), whereas men do not require that same sort of permission (LeBesco and Naccarato 2012).
While in its origin, this link between chocolate and love was influenced by the culture of the historical era, over time, it also played a substantial role in cementing and perpetuating notions of idealized femininity. All advertisement campaigns rely on repetition and pervasiveness because through these methods they become embedded in culture and are no longer questioned by audiences (Monbiot 2011). The pervasiveness of advertisements which pair chocolate with female sexuality and appetite have triggered our expectation that all woman want chocolate and cannot control themselves if it is given to them. This pattern has acted, and continues to act, as a positive feedback loop, whereby the more we see women associated with chocolate on TV the more we associate chocolate with certain types of femininity and the stronger that association, the more likely advertising agencies are to run ads affirming that notion.
While our modern era has complicated this image in some ways, as the rise of feminism has called certain representations of women in the media into question, and women entering the workforce has allowed them to purchase gifts, not only receive them, in many respects the traditions surrounding Valentine’s Day, borne out of post-1950s domesticity, have not changed. This ad below, for example, aired just 4 years ago on Valentine’s Day. The ad’s focus on women wanting to be gifted chocolate by men (as opposed to buying it for themselves or buying chocolate for their partners) is nearly identical to those from the 1950s.
It is not unusual today to hear people talk about how much women love chocolate or to see this association shown on TV shows and in advertisements. The association however, is based on a deep-seated history of sexism which idealized a certain type of woman who acted out her feminity in accordance with prevailing gender expectations. As shown above, chocolate advertisements continue to present women in this unequal way today and in doing so contribute to a wider culture of gender stereotyping and the unnecessary feminization of chocolate.
Works Cited (Including both multimedia and scholarly sources)
“1950s Ads/commercials Aimed at Women.” Technologies of the Family. N.p., 31 July 2011. Web. 06 May 2015.
The American Experience. “Women and Work After World War II.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.
Anderson, L.V. “What’s Up with the Stereotype That Women Love Chocolate?” Slate. N.p., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 06 May 2015.
“Be Mine over Time.” Hallmark. N.p., n.d. Web.
Bratskeir, Kate. “This Is Why Women Crave Chocolate, Men Want A Burger.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 10 Nov. 2014. Web.
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The chocolate chip cookie is now a staple of almost every American home. From the original recipe to cookie dough to pre-made cookies, they surround us in a multitude of forms. The invention of the chocolate chip cookie has revolutionized the chocolate industry, and the treatment of chocolate chip cookies over time illuminates key aspects of traditional gender roles in American society.
Within the context of chocolate, chocolate chip cookies were invented and rose to fame relatively recently. While forms of chocolate have been consumed since the Aztecs and Mayan civilizations, and solid chocolate was adapted by Europeans, chocolate was not used in cookies in America until the mid-1800s (Stef). The chocolate chip cookie does not play a role in the chocolate industry until one hundred years later, when it was invented in 1937 (Moore). During this time, chocolate became more industrialized and readily accessible to the American public.
A common tale for the invention of chocolate chip cookies is that Ruth Wakefield, the owner of the restaurant Toll House in Massachusetts, ran out of baker’s chocolate to put in cookies and instead put chunks of bittersweet chocolate (Michaud). However, this story has been contested multiple times with claims of Wakefield’s expertise in baking. Wakefield would never have allowed her famous bakers to run out of key ingredients for cookies, so she must have deliberately worked to create the chocolate chip cookie (Michaud). One author debunks the claim that Wakefield was simply adding chocolate to a drop do cookie recipe by investigating the recipe: there is no brown sugar or vanilla in the recipe, which are necessary ingredients for chocolate chip cookies (Cooper). These theories seem to give Wakefeld that credibility that she deserves, but the fact that the more common origin story of the chocolate chip cookie is that she discovered the recipe by accident demonstrates how society can easily discount qualifications and instead simply follow the popular version of events.
Nestlé bought the rights to Wakefield’s recipe and the name “Toll House” in 1939, giving rise to the commercialization and spread of the chocolate chip cookie (Michaud). (Interestingly, the story says Wakefield was paid for the recipe with a lifetime of free chocolate!) The accidental creation of chocolate chip cookies may be the most popular origin story to boost Nestlé’s ability to advertise chocolate chips, or for Nestlé to more easily take ownership of the concept of chocolate chip cookies. In fact, chocolate chips themselves were created as an item in response to the invention of chocolate chip cookies, and did not exist before then (Moore). Estimates of Nestlé’s net sales from a chocolate chip cookie-themed cafe in 2011 range between 35 and 40 million dollars, portraying the large financial impact chocolate chip cookies have had on the industry even recently (Dishman). Nestlé even still prints the original recipe for chocolate chip cookies on its bags of semi-sweet chocolate morsels, emphasizing Nestlé’s branding as a symbol of expertise and tradition.
This display of the recipe showcases how chocolate chip cookies have changed the face of chocolate. The primary purpose of chocolate chips is to create these chocolate chip cookies; thus, by having the recipe on the back of the bag, Nestlé is able to market the use of chocolate chips even more and show directly how to use the chocolate chips. The ownership of the recipe gave Nestlé a unique advantage over other chocolate companies to market the recipe as its own:
This advertisement from 1942, the early days of chocolate chip cookies, mentions the ease of the recipe on the back of the morsels package. The morsels were made specifically for chocolate chip cookies to be made. In this way, Nestlé was able to use the recipe and the concept of the chocolate chip cookie to its advantage.
The chocolate chip cookie gave comfort to Americans right after the Great Depression (Michaud). The rise of the chocolate chip cookie was propelled even further during World War II (Michaud). During the war, gender roles were especially perpetuated.
An article from 1945, during the war, https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=WLhRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=wWkDAAAAIBAJ&dq=chocolate%20chip%20cookie&pg=6507%2C5325447 , demonstrates how soldiers loved to have chocolate chip cookies sent to them by their loving wife or mother. The article also extends the reach of chocolate chip cookies to the home as well as to soldiers, claiming “it will be just as welcome to the home folks who frequent the table two or three times daily”. Thus, chocolate chip cookies were portrayed to American society as the perfect item for housewives to send abroad as well as bake at home, adding pressure on women to stay in the home.
This advertisement further exemplifies how chocolate chip cookies and World War II interacted to reinforce traditional gender roles. It speaks directly to the housewife, directing her to send chocolate chip cookies to the soldier. Although chocolate needed to be rationed during the war, these ads still encouraged women to use chocolate to make chocolate chip cookies—thus showcasing the importance and popularity of chocolate chip cookies in wartime. The bottom right-hand corner of the advertisement, “Back the Attack with War Bonds”, solidifies the relationship between chocolate chip cookies and support for the war.
After the war, chocolate chip cookies continued to be an iconic American figure. The chocolate chip cookie remained a symbol of the home and by extension, of the woman baking the cookies. Advertisements continued to support this concept. This Pillsbury television advertisement is a fitting example:
In this video from the 1980s, Drew Barrymore acts as the daughter who needs chocolate chip cookies to improve her mood. The telling aspect of the commercial is that her mother is baking the cookies for her, showcasing a mother-daughter relationship that is built on the mother’s responsibilities in the kitchen and for her kids. There is no father present in the advertisement at all, suggesting that the father is not required to be involved in the kitchen or with the children. Thus, the role of a woman as the caretaker has persisted through the marketing of the chocolate chip cookie.
While advertisements with direct declarations of the woman as a housewife have declined in recent years, the chocolate chip cookie remains emblematic of the traditional American family and the woman in the kitchen. This video is posted on Nestlé Toll House’s current Facebook page:
This video, although contemporary, still showcases the women and children in the kitchen baking the cookies. The first family is the mother and two kids baking the cookies together, portraying a stereotypical happy American family baking together. The father is not present in the first clip, but later appears when the cookies are finished to eat some—this perpetuates yet again the idea that women simply serve their husbands. The second couple in the video also has the same mentality, since the video shows the woman zipping up the cookie dough package and subsequently the man smiling at her ability to make delicious cookies. There are other aspects of the video that encourage inclusivity, with different ages and races portrayed in the video eating cookies, but the traditional housewife aspect has remained attached to the chocolate chip cookie.
Overall, chocolate chip cookies have made an impact on how our society views the household. The chocolate chip cookie has become a symbol of the doting housewife and companies have perpetuated this idea through advertising and marketing. Chocolate has always played a large role in society, and the fairly recent advent of the chocolate chip cookie has added to our perception of baking as a necessary part of the woman’s role in the family.
Avakian, Arlene Voski., and Haber, Barbara. From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical Perspectives on Women and Food. Amherst: U of Massachusetts, 2005. Print.
The market for chocolate is extremely large and growing, with a projected $98.3 billion dollars in global sales for 2016, leaving chocolate companies in a competition for dominance (Omar). In today’s society, chocolate bars are often considered delicacies to be consumed as a tool of escape and pleasure, helping to increase chocolate’s popularity. Often individuals claim that their consumption of chocolate comes from an insatiable craving (Benton). In a Canadian study, around 97% of women, compared to 68% of men, reported cravings for chocolate either as a source of distraction from everyday life or as a result of weakness stemming from emotional distress (Benton). Most chocolate companies advertise their products to a female audience as a way to capitalize on the stereotypical belief that women are more helpless to the allure of chocolate than men, allowing Yorkie to take the opposite approach and target the male segment of society with advertisements that promote traditional gender stereotypes of female inadequacy and weakness.
The following video shows women giving into their guilty pleasures, or insatiable cravings of chocolate, while promoting the idea that these cravings are ‘only human’ as they are intrinsic to females across the globe. While the narrator admits that women try to be perfect, she concedes that they also need to “cut themselves some slack” and give into the temptation of chocolate from time to time.
While many chocolate advertisements strive to utilize the common female chocolate craving, Yorkie, a British chocolate bar founded in 1976 and owned by Nestle, chose to approach chocolate advertising in a unique manner (“Yorkie”). While the Yorkie was originally championed as “the chunkier alternative to the slimmed down Dairy Milk bars,” beginning in 2001, the company began to target a solely male consumer base through the use of print ads barring women from their product (Omar). In the advertisement provided to the right, Yorkie features their chocolate bar covered in blue, a traditionally male color, with bold, yellow and uppercase lettering. This lettering, both in the brand name and in the wording surrounding, symbolizes the robustness of the brand and the power associated with eating the product. It also serves as a warning for women to not approach the candy. The statement, “DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS” perpetuates the long-standing stereotype of feebleness in women compared to men, while “SAVE YOUR MONEY FOR DRIVING LESSONS” serves to invalidate female ability and agency. The O of the Yorkie and the tagline beneath serve to reveal that the candy bar is “NOT FOR GIRLS,” providing proof that only ‘strong men’ can handle eating the product. Each element of the packaging and wording serves to alienate the chocolate product from the female consumer in an attempt to make men comfortable with consuming chocolate themselves. It feeds the masculine stereotype that men want to be perceived as tougher and stronger than their female counterpart.
Our ad seeks to remove the overt messages banning female consumption of the Yorkie, while still allowing the Yorkie brand to cater to the male segment of the chocolate market. Thus our ad still maintains the blue wrapping of the bar and the bold, yellow lettering. On the other hand, the ad we have created seeks to dispel the need for sexism to sell a product. By using the phrase, “DO NOT FEED THE SEXISM” our ad encourages both men and women to purchase a product that does not ostracize 50 percent of the global population. In the new ad, the tagline, “It’s for everyone” opens the consumer base up to the women of the world. Additionally, the phrase, “SPEND YOUR MONEY HOW YOU WANT” embraces the western ideals of choice and individuality that are important to both men and women alike. This phrase also speaks to the male working class population that the Yorkie was originally intended for (Omar). Previous to the sexist ads employed today, commercial segments for the brand featured truck drivers enjoying a moment in their busy schedules with the candy bar (Omar).
While Yorkie’s advertising campaign may seem shocking, the ads have stood the test of time for the past fourteen years. In fact, research shows that Yorkie sales increased by 30% just 12 weeks following the launch of the campaign in 2001 (Omar). In many ways, women are left to choose between two extremes in regard to the ads. While some women may laugh at the ads, they could be construed as buying into sexism (Mills). On the other hand, if women are offended by Yorkie’s ads, they may be seen as humorless and cynical (Mills). The real problem with the campaign is that the attempts at humor fail due to gender inequality. The fact remains that men and women are not considered equal in society, as seen by the wage gap, causing Yorkie advertisements to leave a sour taste in many people’s mouths. As Yorkie continues production, those in charge of branding may want to think about re-strategizing their print ads so as to attract more women to their brand, and grow in sales.
Omar, Zain. “How Sexism Increased Sales for Yorkie”. Evidence Based Marketing. 12 June 2011. Web. 9 April 2015.
Mills, Sarah. “Third Wave Feminist Linguistics and the Analysis of Sexism”. Sheffield Hallam University. n.d. Web. 9 April 2015.
Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving”. Coffee, Tea, Chocolate and the Brain. Ed. Astrid Nehlig. Boca Raton: CRC Press LLC, 2004. Print.
“Yorkie”. Nestle. n.d. April 9 2015.
DoveChocolateTV. “DOVE Chocolate “Only Human” TV Commercial”. Online Video Clip. YOUTUBE. Youtube, 23 July 2010. Web. 9 April 2015.