Chocolate. Chocolate is something that everyone is familiar with. Everyone has some sort of relationship with chocolate. Whether it be someone who loves chocolate more than anything else, someone who feels the opposite, or someone somewhere else in between the spectrum, everyone is familiar with chocolate. However, while chocolate is a common theme across all of our lives, it is not often that we truly think about this personal relationship with chocolate, and how it relates to chocolate in general across the world in addition to its vast history. In an effort to encourage this deeper analysis of chocolate, I conducted an interview with a Harvard undergraduate addressing chocolate to them as well as the more general relationship between chocolate and society. The interview begins with discussion of the personal relationship this person has with chocolate, and then delves into more broad chocolate conversation. The interview helps reveal some typical feelings and uses of chocolate across society, including identifying chocolate being used as a coping mechanism to deal with stressful and uncomfortable events, as well as delving into the relationship between chocolate and gender and discussion about the wide variety of different uses of chocolate from the happiest to the saddest of situations, as well as everything in between.
The interview began with relatively simple questions about the frequency in which this person consumes chocolate. The student answered, “I probably consume chocolate about once every other day in some form. I usually try not to seek out chocolate, and I rarely buy it myself, but if there is chocolate available to me for free, which there frequently is, I will not hesitate to eat it.” While she may not personally purchase chocolate, the fact that chocolate seems to be so frequently available to this student speaks to the high chocolate consumption rates in the United States. In the United States, there are 300 billion pounds of chocolate consumed annually, which equates to about 22 pounds of chocolate per person every year. In comparison, China consumes 146 million pounds of chocolate annually, which equates to only 1.8 ounces per person (Martin, 2019). When asked if her chocolate consumption was consistent year-round, the student answered, “I would say my consumption varies. During Holidays that emphasize chocolate consumption such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day, I consume much more because it is more readily available. During the colder months in the winter, I tend to consume hot chocolate beverages because they are comforting and delicious.” On an individual level, it makes sense for chocolate consumption to vary throughout the year simply because chocolate is more readily available at sometimes more than others. Looking more into the difference in consumption across different countries, chocolate in Western Civilization is often used in forms of celebration and indulgence, such as for Halloween. However, part of the reason Chinese consumption is far less than the United States is due to a difference in consumption and nature of purchases in general. In China, the market is centered more around gifting purchases, while the United States market is centered around self-indulgence purchases.
The next question asked of the student was about what their favorite way to consume chocolate is, to which they answered “My favorite way to consume chocolate is in hot beverages or small bite-sized candy with caramel. Chocolate in hot beverages taste delicious and gives me a sense of warmth at the same time. Sometimes I mix chocolate beverages with coffee to make it taste better.” Throughout history, chocolate has frequently been consumed as a beverage beginning in Mesoamerica. The flavoring of chocolate was different in the Americas as opposed to European flavors. In comparison, the flavors of chocolate beverages for Europeans utilized more diverse spices and produced more diverse flavors (Sampeck and Thayn, 2017). The rise of big chocolate companies today can be rooted back towards developments in chocolate consumption. For example, Cadbury, a popular chocolate company today, was the first company that began to use confections. America’s most iconic chocolate company, Hershey’s, was not founded until 1903. The company initially struggled to create the perfect milk chocolate bar, but upon development the products, such as the iconic Hershey’s Kiss, became extremely popular. In general, the market for chocolate is dominated by three main companies. While there seems to be such a wide range of chocolate selection, Nestle, Mars, and Hershey’s make 99.4% of snack-sized chocolates (Martin, 2019). When asked about her favorite chocolate bars, the Harvard student chose Twix, Snickers, and Kit Kats. Both Twix and Snickers are created by Mars, and Kit Kats are created by Nestle. While all of these chocolate bars have their own brand and are extremely well known, it is not as commonly known that they are often produced by the same company.
Moving forward in the interview, I began to ask the interviewee about the concept of the relationship between gender and chocolate. Upon asking about the perception of chocolate with women, the student said, “I do feel like chocolate is more associated with women in media, from advertisements to female characters in movies.” There is a strong history of the relationship between gender and chocolate. When looking through chocolate advertisements and marketing throughout history, a common theme is the role that women play. Many advertisements attempt to either appeal to women through displaying the chocolate as a feminine, sweet treat, or use images of women to create a sexual appeal with the chocolate in an effort to resonate with men and women (Robertson, 2010). A common perception is that chocolate is for girls because girls are supposed to be sweet and sweet-loving, where chocolate it the perfect food. Additionally, throughout history, chocolate has been advertised for stay at home mothers to use chocolate as a source of energy when tired from taking care of kids. The student had further comments on the relationship between gender and chocolate, saying “I also think it is more typical that chocolate is given as a gift to women in celebration of holidays such as Valentine’s Day. I do see chocolate as a gendered commodity.” It is interesting to consider the role of gender and chocolate with Valentine’s Day, which is traditionally a very gendered holiday. Typically on Valentine’s Day, a man will cater to his significant other and take the day to appreciate her and make her feel good. This often involves chocolate. Given the intimacy of the holiday, chocolate seems to be an appropriate gift, as it is believed to be a food with aphrodisiac qualities, meaning it stimulates sexual desire (Martin, 2019). This contributes to the generalized trend of sexuality and chocolate. Chocolate is often believed to have a sex appeal.
The next topic of conversation in the interview shifted back towards the student’s personal relationship with chocolate. When asked how chocolate has become important to the student, she answered, “Chocolate to me is extremely comforting. I feel like when I consume chocolate it makes me feel more relaxed. When I am stressed out or feeling overwhelmed, I personally feel like I can turn to chocolate to make me feel better.” This use of chocolate as a relaxant is not just applied to this student, as she went on to say, “. I also have a very close friend who went through a significant traumatic experience last year and she relied heavily on a specific type of chocolate as a coping mechanism. I think it did make her feel better.” Chocolate is stereotypically used as a coping mechanism for people dealing with bad situations, such as after a breakup or in mourning a loss. In a study researching the usage of chocolate when dealing with stressful situations, the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that people who eat more chocolate are more likely to be depressed. This is due to the tendency of people to eat chocolate when stressed or depressed in an effort to provide comfort (Flanigan, 2018). Researchers went on to find that eating chocolate actually does have positive short-term effects in easing depressive symptoms, but there is no significant long-term impact. The research actually suggested that consuming chocolate had negative impacts in the long-term. This could be because chocolate provides short-term relief, which is helpful, but may prevent people from seeking real treatment to address their issues (Flanigan, 2018). Because chocolate can make people feel better, but not truly fix their problems, people may feel like they can deal with their problems on their own, which has potential negative consequences. However, chocolate is a source of instant satisfaction, and will provide short term help to make a person feel better. If a person is able to consume chocolate to feel better without suppressing their feelings long-term, chocolate can be a good tool to make people feel better.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about chocolate is how diverse it is in usage and consumption. As we just discussed, chocolate is often used in negative situations by people to help ease stress and negative emotions. On the other hand, chocolate is also used just as frequently in celebrations and positive situations. People often give and consume chocolate in celebration of many different holidays. The most obvious example of this is Halloween, where the entire premise of the holiday is highly related to chocolate consumption and gifting. However, considering other holidays, the presence of chocolate is nearly just as strong. For example, think about Easter. To celebrate Easter, people often host big scavenger hunts for eggs from the Easter bunny, which typically are filled with chocolate. The Easter bunny brings baskets for people too, which is often filled with chocolates. Think about Christmas, a holiday centered around giving. People often receive their stockings filled with chocolates. Even more generally, think about birthday’s, where people celebrate eating chocolate cake, or other sorts of chocolate. I can continue to list the prevalence of chocolate in nearly all celebrations. There are not many foods or things in general that are traditionally used in such diverse situations, from happy celebrations as just discussed or sad situations such as mourning.
For this reason, the use of chocolate on a personal level can often change overtime, where at some point in time a person relies on chocolate as a distraction or coping mechanism but then later the relationship becomes more positive. I asked the interviewee about how their relationship with chocolate has changed overtime, to which she responded, “When I was kid, I craved chocolate a lot more and I would always try to convince my parents to buy it for me. Chocolate would always be associated with happiness. However, I now don’t seek out chocolate as much as I used to, and it is more ordinary to me.” For her, chocolate used to be a big source of excitement. The thought of getting and eating chocolate alone brought her happiness and thrill to the point of where she would beg her parents to replenish her cravings. As she has gotten older, the student no longer sees this excitement from chocolate, and she is much more relaxed and calmer about chocolate consumption. While she still does enjoy consuming chocolate, she no longer feels the necessity to have chocolate to satisfy cravings. Moving forward, who knows how this relationship with chocolate will evolve. It is possible the relationship won’t change, but it just as likely that it will. Perhaps when growing up and having children of her own, the student’s relationship with chocolate will come full circle, where her kids are begging at her mercy to buy chocolate for them. Unlike many other foods and objects, the ability of chocolate to have such diverse usage, in addition to diverse consumption methods from food to beverages, allows for significant changes overtime in the personal relationship that people have with the product.
This interview provides a look at the perception a typical person had about chocolate at both a personal level and more general level. We were able to uncover some of the causes for the high chocolate consumption levels by seeing individual consumption tendencies. More broadly, we were able to look into the relationship between chocolate and gender, and how it is perceived to people. However, perhaps most importantly, this interview allowed us to uncover the usage of chocolate as a coping mechanism to deal with stress and other negative situations, and how the use of chocolate as a crutch may not be good for long-term treatment of problems. Lastly, the interview helped uncover the everchanging relationship people have with chocolate on an individual level, and why it is able to change so drastically.
Scholarly Sources Cited:
D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth,
Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126
Flanigan, Robin. 2018. “The Connection Between Chocolate & Stress Eating.” Esperanza – Hope To Cope.
Martin, Carla D. 2019. The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market.
Martin, Carla D. 2019. Sugar and Cacao.
Martin, Carla D. 2019. Chocolate Expansion.
Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.
Sampeck, Kathryn, and Jonathan Thayn. 2017. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of
Chocolate Colonialism.” pp. 72-99
Multimedia Sources Cited:
Simply Chocolate (https://www.simplychocolate.com/learn-different-types-of-chocolate)
Li-Lac Chocolates (https://www.li-lacchocolates.com/Valentine-Chocolate-Heart-of-Truffles-41-pc)