Tag Archives: health

A Complicated History of Chocolate and Sugar in the Caribbean (and Abroad)

My Childhood Experience: 

I love chocolate and I love sugar even more. I have loved both since I was a child and will continue to love them well into my old age. The first time I tasted a Snickers chocolate bar on a small Caribbean island where almost all chocolate is imported, I was hooked- no other candy bar could compare. The Snickers bar became my cradle to grave candy bar and even today when I have one decades later, I tend to flash back to the nostalgic time when getting that chocolate (or any chocolate really) for me was a rare and expensive sugar-rush to be savored. In Barbados, the nation’s relationship with chocolate in general and sugar more specifically tends to be complicated by its history of slave labor production and British colonization (Beckles, 2017). Even in present day, conversations around the health of locals and sugar consumption are often linked back to the repercussions of this history.

Planting the sugar cane

Growing up in the Caribbean, there was no Halloween, no teachers that would give out candy to their students as rewards for good work in the classroom, no goodie bags filled with a delightful assortment at parties for me. Chocolate was a coveted treat and one that I was taught to respect as a child as something of value for having done good or been good in order to “deserve” it. While other kids would spend their lunch money on snacks, sweets, and chocolate during break, I was under strict rules not to spend money on such frivolities. Back then I was raised with the idea that chocolate and other sugary food was not money well spent and that the over consumption of sugar was a result of a still colonized mind. Although chocolate was not at the time as much of a staple as it is now, especially compared to the developed West, sugar was everywhere and in almost everything, like America and the UK. Bajans consumed large amounts of sugar regularly and have been since the mid 1600s when Britain relied on the colony for crops and began manufacturing sugar cane for their own consumption (Martin, 2018, slides 2-9).

Moreover, my mother- a professional cook and very health conscious- believed there were more potential health risks to eating chocolate and sugary treats and thought the health benefits were minimal. My grandfather had many theories on sugar’s use for the demise of the black population by the British crown.

Barbados-Slave-Code

He would say that the sugar industry used invasive propaganda and historically colonized slave mentality to keep locals pacified in order to maintain control of the island and keep its people unhealthy- like a drug. I had no idea what he meant by that back then, I was barely 7-8 years old when we would have these talks about the aftermath of sugar plantations in Barbados. Not until I was older did I reflect on these conversations and revisit them again in a class on chocolate culture.

My grandfather’s words resurfaced again when I read Sweetness and Power by Sidney Mintz. He wrote, “the upward climb of both production and consumption within the British Empire must be seen as part of an even larger general movement…We know that sugar consumption in the old sugar colonies…was part always very substantial- indeed, that slaves were given sugar, molasses, and even rum during slavery period as part of their rations” (Mintz, 1985, p. 72). When my grandfather would lecture on the perils of sugar- the cause of painful and expensive cavities, my diabetic relatives (one of which had the bottom part of her leg amputated from too my sugar in her diet), or the root of making people sluggish and less intelligent- did I start to develop a profound fear and wonder about the power of confectionaries. How could something so delicious be so dangerous? It took me many years to realize it was not just chocolate that was the primary concern for him. It was the production of sugar in Barbados by the enslavement of black people under British colonization and the exploitation of the island. The impact in which continues to have adverse risks to its citizens still.

Sugar cane harvest post card

There is a long tradition in Barbados to produce sugar in addition to an impulse to consume large amounts as well, which started with Britain’s obsession with the commodity. In fact, the turning point of British sugar production was the settlement of Barbados and thus both nations were transformed. One nation with the need to consume, the other forced to produce for consumption. Mintz aptly writes:

“England fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fasted in creating a plantation system. The most important product of that system was sugar. Coffee, chocolate (cacao), nutmeg, and coconut were among the other products, but the amount of sugar produced, the numbers of its users, and the range of its uses exceeded the others; and it remained the principal product for centuries” (Mintz p. 38).

Thus, my relationship with chocolate in my formative years was neither abundant nor overindulgent and my view of sugar was entwined with stories of the colonized bodies of my ancestors. Still I was a child and I had a sweet tooth- like many others from the island-, which made my mother wearier of permitting me to have it out of fear I would become gluttonous, overweight, and doltish. With diabetes prevalent on both sides of the family there were lectures on the perils of sugar and my ultimate demise if I consumed too often. This was ingrained into my childhood. However, kids will be kids and I found ways to get chocolate whenever I could and hide it craftily. My morning tea was mostly sugar. This complicated relationship with chocolate and sugar during my childhood in the Caribbean continued into adulthood abroad.

Barbados is not like other islands in Caribbean for many reasons. First, it is a very small island, one of the smallest. Second, it is the most outside of the Caribbean strip of islands and more isolated with a population of less than 300,000 people. What it does have in common with places such as St. Lucia, Tobago, Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent, and Jamaica is that they were also ensnared in European and British colonization of their bodies and land for crop production. Now while many of these islands have transformed this into strong chocolate tourism foundation that has begun to flourish in the recent decades along with traditional crops of the past, Barbados struggles to join this cash crop sector. On other islands everything from haute and terroir chocolate to cheap chocolate are being produced. They were able to embrace the agricultural aftermath of slavery to make cacao and sugar into a moneymaking industry that appeals strongly to Western conception of sophistication and acceptability. In contrast, Barbados in the aftermath as a sugar producing island, chose to set up shop as a strong island tourism base and minimize the sugar industry production along with the dark history that came with it. In addition, the island is simply too small to produce many of its own crops, cacao being one of them. This caused many confectionery and snack factories in Barbados to be purchased and moved to Trinidad and Tobago as demand grew.

Looking back, it seems ironic that I thought cheap chocolate was more of an iconic delicacy than it really was. For instance, a $1 Snickers bar in America cost ~$4 USD in Barbados so its value felt more significant. Hence, it is understandable to me now why such chocolate was considered a special treat, especially in a family that thought it a wasteful. Growing up in Barbados, I had literally never eaten chocolate made on the island or any of the surrounding islands. Some factories used our sugar but that was about it, so it seemed like chocolate was a foreign substance from far off lands.

The only exposure to “fine” chocolate I had in the Caribbean was Cadbury Chocolate, a British multinational confectionery company that dominates the island almost single-handedly. Among locals, it is either loved or hated and can oftentimes be highly political because of its connection to the UK. Many believe that Britain as a nation continues to claw its way into the island’s industry via companies such as Cadbury, thus control by the British crown continues invisibility and from afar. Cadbury Chocolate in an island once dominated by a hugely profitable sugar industry that exploited African slaves is a contentious past still being unpacked.

Cadbury can be found everywhere on the island. Although the price is significantly higher than other candy bars, locals love it and consider it more “high end”. Although in the past 5-10 years more variety and quality chocolate is coming into the island and locals are getting a real taste of what good chocolate can be. It can be more than milk chocolate and chocolate covered candy. It has been a slow process because in Barbados dark chocolate is uncommon and unpopular. That is why one of the calls to action by local Bajans (and already promoted by other surrounding islands) is taking advantage of the blooming interest by tourists to try locally made chocolate and and for locals to reclaim untold histories.

In that respect, the island is now revisiting the history of cacao and sugar and getting more involved with the booming industry. In 2010, Agapey Chocolate was founded in Barbados conveniently located at the capital of Bridgetown. It is the only chocolate company on the island and is the only bean to bar chocolate company in Barbados.

agapey-chocolate-factory

Although the company was not very well known at first, it has grown in popularity among tourist and locals are now also taking advantage of their delicacies. The company has won multiple international awards and went through the process of Fair Trade certification (Agapey 2018). They offer in-depth tours of the factory that explain how their chocolate is made and also the history of chocolate and the role of cacao and sugar in the Caribbean. It is a good example of changing attitudes towards dark chocolate and progress in using local ingredients like rum and coconut to stimulate the economy.

agapey-chocolates

An International Cultural Exploration of Chocolate and Sugar

When I journeyed across the North Atlantic Ocean and set up a new home in Somerville, Ma. I soon learned about the abundance of chocolate and its widespread availability for any and every occasion, or no occasion at all. My mind was blown. Now in this wondrous place, chocolate could be found in almost every store, market, gas station, etc. It is not rare or expensive. It can be very expensive with places like L.A Burdick’s or it can be cheap like a Snickers from CVS. With my mother back in Barbados, I had no restrictions on my chocolate or sugar intake and I swiftly sought to make up for lost time, eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. It was liberating; this was America. I ate so much candy my first months of arrival, I could not get enough. Sugar consumption was even more rampant and readily available in almost everything people consumed.

Retrospectively, Somerville turned out to be one of the best places in the U.S to get a real taste of a multicultural experience, including its cuisine, which made for a great exploration of the candied goods of other lands. There has been a long tradition of community building at the foundation of local revitalization and urban development in Somerville that took a great amount of pride in exposing neighbors to “food from back home”. For many longtime residents, organizing community-building initiatives at the neighborhood and local government level has been a strategic way to promote the city’s rich cultural diversity and mixed-income environment. It also created bridges to parts of the population that might otherwise face isolation from resources aimed to empower them to take agency in improving their own socio-economic condition, particularly immigrants and people of color. Food was used to bridge the divide.

One of the first events I attended to increase exposure to different cultures was an annual international food fair held at Somerville High School where all the food was made by students, staff, or donated by local businesses. My recollection of walking through the school’s gymnasium and sampling different foods from over 100+ countries and cultures represented was a lasting experience. My Brazilian friend took me over to a table where I had my first bon-bon, a chocolate covered wafer with more chocolate inside that is widely popular in Brazil and now internationally. Another friend showed me her homemade milky coconut cardamon treats of India. There was table after table with food that I had never tried before, a whole candy world outside of Snickers and Cadbury.

For my first Halloween, my friends who had been trained in this occasion advised me to ditch the Halloween bucket and grab an old pillowcase. A pillowcase I thought, how much candy could we possibly get? The answer to that was a lot, a pillowcase half way full equating to more than four of the buckets I was going to bring. Every holiday and special occasion involved candy and chocolate. In addition, because of Somerville’s immense international population, there was not just the typical American candy, but treats coming from all over the world. I became seasoned quickly on how, where, and when to get candy and what chocolate came from which country. Chocolate became a constant and a source of comfort as I adjusted to life in America. Chocolate was for sharing between friends, indulging with cousins, and for no occasion at all.

Not until college did I learn the meaning behind fair trade, direct trade, or bean to bar- thus my ignorance of chocolate started to unfold. As Maricel Presilla writes, “to know chocolate, you must know that the candy in the box or the chef’s creation on the plate begins with the bean, the complex genetic profile of different cacao strains” (Presilla, 2009, p. 4). So began my segway into learning about chocolate production and saying goodbye to Snickers for a bit. I wanted to know about chocolate beyond what popular culture had taught me and beyond what my childhood experiences had ingrained.

I became engrossed with learning about the history of chocolate. I went to Madrid, Spain where I drank chocolate for the first time. Discovered theobroma cacao comes from Greek and means “food of the gods”.  I learned that Spanish invaders took the word cacao and their first real knowledge of cacao came from the Maya people of the Yucatan Peninsula. They used the word chokola’j, or ‘to drink together’. (Presilla, 2009, p. 10-12) and chocolate is amount one of the bastardized words created because it was easier for Europeans to pronounce. There I saw that even from the naming of cacao that history of chocolate was written and known mostly from a western-centric point of view and that influence continues today. I needed a different more authentic understanding of chocolate and kept traveling. I visited Tlaxcala, a sovereign state in Mexico with a strong connection to its complex history with cacao. There I used a molinillo for the first time- a whisking device to make cacao frothy- and drank a cup of chocolate that I helped prepare using traditional Mexican tools like the metate.

The story of how cacao developed from a sacred drink to the industrialized food that it is today is a complex history that dates back thousands of years. The story of how sugar production exploded in the Caribbean is also connected to the history of cacao. The bodies of black and brown people were used for European gain as was the land. Today, this history can be very complicated for the generations that followed. My relationship with chocolate and sugar has evolved overtime from a child in Barbados to a teen in America, to a traveler of the world. As my own understanding of these topics continues to expand, I will continue to enjoy these goods the best I can and keep educating myself on the topic.

Work Cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. (1996).  The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, abolition, and forced labor’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 28 Feb. 2018. Class Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin, 1985. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 2009. Print.

“On Barbados, the First Black Slave Society” via AAIHS. Here is the website link: https://www.aaihs.org/on-barbados-the-first-black-slave-society/.

http://www.agapey.com/

https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-ushistory1ay/chapter/consumption-and-trade-in-the-british-atlantic/

Images (in order):

“Planting the sugar-cane” (Credit: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library).

“Slaves Wanted” Advertisement for the Island of Barbados (Credit: Lascelles Slavery Archive)

“Sugar Plantation Barbados, Carting Sugar Canes To The Mill”  W. L. Johnson & Co. Ltd., Barbados. No. 15

Agapey Chocolate Factory Website Photos (Credit: agapey.com)

Destined for Contention: Chocolate’s Place in a “Healthy” World

Chocolate, and what it means to people, differs across time and space. From its inception as the seeds of a fruit tree to the myriad ways in which it is transformed and eventually consumed by humans, chocolate’s potential variety seems limitless. The history of chocolate merits this variety; it is a fascinating story across multiple continents and cultures. What becomes ever more apparent when studying chocolate’s history as a food, and potentially as a healthy food, is that human obsession with food – in general, but more pertinent to this paper as a source of health – is no new phenomenon. The Western diet has undergone huge transformation since the industrial revolution, chocolate was transformed along with it, and both have not slowed in their development. When chocolate was first encountered by Europeans, the scientific reasoning behind food knowledge was based on a 1500-year-old system developed in Ancient Greece and Rome. Today, modern science allows us to measure the nutritional content of anything and everything we can think of ingesting. But, alas, this technological exactitude has not led to uniform consensus when it comes to which foods are healthy and which are not. Diversity, in both our options of foods and the opinions on which of them we should choose to consume, still reigns supreme. This paper will track chocolate, from its birth place to the continents where it is now most widely and voluminously consumed, and attempt to appraise its value as a beneficial dietary supplement. It will also discuss what effect the perception of chocolate as a health food might have on the industry today. What becomes apparent is that, while Galen’s humours may no longer hold sway in the scientific realm, the Hellenic wisdom from Apollo’s temple that prescribes, “Everything in Moderation,” is as true today as it was two thousand years ago.

According to Michael and Sophie Coe, in their exhaustively well-researched book, The True History of Chocolate, feelings have been mixed about the legitimacy of chocolate as a health food for a long time. The Aztecs, who did not discover or invent the cacao seed and its most valued product, but were controlling the product across its empire with an iron fist, did not view chocolate as a panacea like some Europeans came to do. For the Aztecs, the chocolate drink, as it was consumed then, was taken chiefly as a preferable option to wine – drunkenness being hugely frowned upon (Coe: 75). There were some supposed benefits, that were reported by the Spanish mendicant friars, including increased “success with women” (Coe: 96), and as a cooling drink that could be taken before hard labour to avoid overheating (Coe: 123). But there were also warnings against chocolate, with a myth purporting that chocolate had made Aztecs fat and weak, distancing them from their superior forebears (Coe: 77). In Europe, chocolate arrived as a medicine (but Coe notes, “it soon became a medicine that was appreciated for its taste, its filling nature, and its stimulation, 126). However, the guise under which it came, the now utterly refuted Galenic humoral system, makes its supposed benefits interesting but not pertinent to this discussion. To sum up briefly, chocolate was claimed to benefit a host of ailments including: angina, constipation, dysentery, dyspepsia, kidney disease, liver disease, breast and stomach illness, asthenia, indigestion, fatigue, gout, haemorrhoids, erectile dysfunction, and the list goes on.1 It was not until modern medical research took root in the 19th century that false claims started to become harder to make (though they have never been completely extinguished).

So what claims can be made about chocolate? Unfortunately, because chocolate in the United States only has to be 10% or more made from cacao, very little can be said uniformly about chocolate.2 So it is important to clarify that the only chocolates that can be said to have possible health benefits (at least benefits that derive from the cacao) must be those produced with a significant cacao content. Much has been said recently about the health benefits of dark chocolate, some of it true, some of it exaggerated, and some of it quite misleading. If one googles, “dark chocolate health,” the vast majority of articles one will find will boast of the “superfood” qualities of high cacao content chocolate or of the benefits of adding raw powdered cacao as a supplement to one’s diet.3 The nutritional properties of cacao most touted are its antioxidants – polyphenols and flavonoids – with claims that they are good for cardiovascular health, protection from disease, anticancer properties, lower cholesterol, cognitive health, and lower blood pressure.4 Antioxidants has become a “buzzword” in the health community, especially the health selling community, and so anything that can be provably claimed to contain antioxidants and can also be produced and sold will appear in advertising before long. However, scientific research results have not proved as exciting as the claims of fitness and holistic-living “experts.” The antioxidant immunity boost from chocolate has showed to be extremely short-lived in humans5 and studies have revealed, like that of red wine’s supposed health benefits, that the amount of chocolate (or wine) that would need to be consumed to enjoy the rewards from the antioxidants contained would be such an enormous amount that the damage caused by the fat and sugar (or alcohol) would far outweigh the goodness done.6 Thus, the health benefits of chocolate, if any, must be attainable from a small amount, as its fat content is so high.

So if the antioxidants in chocolate are too small in number, are there any other benefits to eating dark chocolate? In short, yes. Small amounts of very dark chocolate, approximately 85% cocoa content, do boast three important nutrients that, while less glamorous than immortality-inducing antioxidants, are incredibly important to human health. High cacao content chocolate boasts impressive amounts of fibre, iron, and magnesium. While the numbers are not uniform brand to brand, a comparison of eight brands at a Somerville, Massachusetts convenience store (Perugina, Green and Blacks, Jelina, Scharffen Berger, Newman’s Own, Lindt, Chocolove, and Divine) showed enough correlation to warrant discussion. The average fibre content from the eight brands darkest products (ranging from 72%-85%) was 19% of a person’s recommended daily amount; for iron it was 27.5%. Magnesium is generally not listed on FDA required packaging and so product to product this number is hard to acquire. However, Humana Press’s comprehensive compendium, Chocolate in Health and Nutrition, is not vague when it comes to chocolates magnesium content claiming, “Chocolate has one of the highest magnesium levels reported of all foods.” (Watson 430) Are these facts about chocolate’s nutritional profile important? Possibly. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service claims that 57% of Americans do not have enough magnesium in their diet; it also claims, more dramatically, that 92% of Americans do not get sufficient fibre in their diet.7 Magnesium deficiency is not trivial. The American National Institutes of Health claims:

“Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. It has been recognised as a cofactor for more than 300 enzymatic reactions, where it is crucial for adenosine triphosphate (ATP) metabolism. Magnesium is required for DNA and RNA synthesis, reproduction, and protein synthesis. Moreover, magnesium is essential for the regulation of muscular contraction, blood pressure, insulin metabolism, cardiac excitability, vasomotor tone, nerve transmission and neuromuscular conduction. Imbalances in magnesium status—primarily hypomagnesemia as it is seen more common than hypermagnesemia—might result in unwanted neuromuscular, cardiac or nervous disorders. Based on magnesium’s many functions within the human body, it plays an important role in prevention and treatment of many diseases. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with a number of chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular disease (e.g., stroke), migraine headaches, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”8

 

For anyone living in America, sadly, these diseases and afflictions are not unfamiliar. Fiber deficiency too poses health risk with the Harvard School of Public Health claiming, “Fiber appears to reduce the risk of developing various conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, and constipation.”9 Iron deficiency is not, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, a seriously prevalent issue among Americans with 89.5% getting enough in their diet. Although the risks associated with iron deficiency, for one in ten Americans,

“can delay normal infant motor function (normal activity and movement) or mental function (normal thinking and processing skills… can increase risk for small or early (preterm) babies. Small or early babies are more likely to have health problems or die in the first year of life than infants who are born full term and are not small, … cause fatigue that impairs the ability to do physical work in adults. Iron deficiency may also affect memory or other mental function in teens.”10

Iron deficiency is not a huge issue at the moment, but with the amount of meat being consumed in the American diet coming under attack, alternative sources of iron might be important to a new generation of health and environmentally conscious consumers looking to eat considerably less meat, and with it the iron it provides.

The number not yet mentioned, but most important when discussing the possible benefits or dangers of high cacao content chocolate is that of the fat, and especially saturated fat, content. The average saturated fat content from a single serving of one the eight brands mentioned previously is 58% of the recommended daily amount, according to the FDA packaging. This number is astronomically high. The dangers of saturated have been widely reported for many decades10 but recently there has been contention within the medical community. The British Medical Journal posted a controversial article in 2017 claiming “Saturated fat does not clog the arteries… Despite popular belief among doctors and the public, the conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong.”13 The article came under fire, not for necessarily being outright wrong, but for being misleading.14 Fat is still something that should be monitored, whatever the type is being consumed. So, unlike a food source like a kiwi, which boasts enormous health benefits and can be added to any diet with no known drawbacks (unless one is allergic), chocolate can only be effectively employed as a source of nutrients to a diet low in fat. For many this is bad news. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service reports that only 40% of Americans are staying within the guidelines of consuming 10% or less of their calories from saturated fat.15 Ultimately, this means for a large section of society the only way to employ dark chocolate as a health food is if they restructure their diet to include significantly less saturated fats.

So, if it can be argued that a small amount of high quality dark chocolate can be employed as a nutritious source of food to an already health conscious individual, what could this man for the industry today? One positive effect that has started to occur is that people’s dissatisfaction with the amount of sugar in their diet has caused producers to start making chocolate with much higher cacao content. With cacao content coming under focus, the origin, quality, and ethical standards in production of the cacao have come out of the shadows for mainstream consumers to take a better appreciation of the politics behind what they put in their bodies. Chocolate has a dark past that unfortunately it has not completely shed. But with cacao becoming the star of the show for many selective buyers, attention is increasing, albeit too slowly, to cacaos often third-world origins and the ethics of production in countries like Ghana and The Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, healthy (or at least healthier) chocolate does not mean ethical chocolate. Lindt is a brand that has not exonerated itself with total transparency after accusations of turning a blind eye to the unethical means of production of its chocolate. Yet its 85% bar is a favourite among fitness enthusiasts for its nutritional content and great flavour.16

What is exciting is the recent explosion of craft chocolate in the United States and beyond. Craft chocolatiers are typically willing to pay more for their beans, and as Dr Martin of Harvard University has written, “buyers must pay more for cacao, uncertified and certified. Both practically and morally, consistent cacao farmer poverty in an industry replete with wealth is unacceptable.”17 Craft chocolate is also inherently made from higher quality ingredients, and with an emphasis on a robust amount of cacao per bar. An often reliably healthier option than mass-produced chocolate. The craft chocolate market is still small and producers have for the most part stayed clear of buying beans from West Africa, where the bulk of ethical concerns lie. However, increase in chocolate consumption is rising rapidly according to an article publish recently in Vox, “Chocolate retail sales in the US have risen from $14.2 billion in 2007 to $18.9 billion in 2017, the market research group Euromonitor International found, at a time when candy sales overall have been waning.”18 If demand for craft chocolate increases, perhaps a future where farmers are able to choose to sell their beans to craft chocolatiers over mass-producing corporations is possible.

 

 

Works Cited

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

Watson, RR, Preedy, VR & Zibadi, S 2013, Chocolate in health and nutrition. Humana Press Inc. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-61779-803-0

Interview with a Chocoholic

My informant was chosen due to her self-proclaimed addiction to the product in question, chocolate. The following interview seeks to uncover the role that chocolate has played in her life, her current relationship with chocolate and her perception of chocolate on a global scale (i.e. production, certifications, etc.).

“When did you first find yourself falling in love with chocolate?”

“I started loving chocolate when I was seven years old.”

I started to laugh. “So you’re telling me that you know the exact age that you started to fall in love with chocolate?”

“Yes! I do and the reason I do was because that was how old I was when my mother married my stepfather. He was a New York City police officer and one of his weekend jobs was to work security for a candy factory, so my siblings and I would go along with my stepfather to the candy factory every Saturday. That’s probably why I had cavities.” Now she was the one laughing. “I was always so excited because we would get to drive the go karts around in the candy factory.”

“Go karts? In a candy factory?”

“Yes. It was actually called The Candy Factory and it was over in the Brooklyn Terminal Market. We would all ride around in those carts where you lift up cartons of candy and transport it out to the trucks that delivered them to the store. We would stop at each section in the factory and take whatever candy we wanted home with us for the weekend. It was like my stepfather’s payment for watching the factory. We would take home Reese’s peanut butter cups and Joyva jelly rings, which were chocolate covered raspberry rings, and those were my favorite. I fell in love with chocolate.”

515tM-7M1-L

(Image Retrieved from: http://groceryonlinemarket.com/product/joyva-jell-rings-chocolate-covered-3-ring-pack-1-35-ounces-pack-of-24/)

“Do you think that your love of chocolate came from the way your family felt about chocolate? Did your mother like to eat chocolate as much as you did?”

“Well, my mom likes to eat rasinettes but she mostly eats jelly donuts, so, no. I’m the chocaholic of the family and I turned my husband into one. When I met him 35 years ago he hated chocolate. He hated it! And then he lived with me and now he absolutely loves chocolate and he always wants to eat it. He got addicted to it because sugar is very addicting. He just didn’t like the taste of it before. You know how some people just like salty versus sweet? Well, he was just eating salty things. After living together for a while I noticed he would put chocolate on his sundaes or make chocolate covered strawberries. Pretty soon after that he was ordering chocolate cake at restaurants for dessert instead of cheesecake. He started drinking hot chocolate and mochas also. Oh god, I want a chocolate bar now.”

“Speaking of chocolate bars, what is your chocolate preference? How much cacao do you prefer in a chocolate bar?”

“70% because I love dark chocolate and it’s not too bitter at that point. Once you get past 70% though it is really bitter. My favorite brand of chocolate is See’s candies. When I walk into a See’s store I always say, “You should make perfume out of this!” It’s like aromatherapy. I love See’s and I like Lindt, which I think is Swiss. I know Belgium and Swiss chocolate is really delicious. It’s just creamy and it’s rich tasting. I love chocolate. It’s healthy and it’s an antioxidant. It’s also an anti-inflammatory I found out! I read that on the internet. Oh! And chocolate has endorphins, it gives you a feeling of happiness.”

Sees_Candies.jpg

(Image Retrieved from: https://www.riceepicurean.com/sees-candies/)

As it turns out, my informant was correct. Chocolate contains flavanols which act as an anti-inflammatory in the body, however, Goya et al. points out that flavanol concentrations vary among chocolate products (Goya et al. 2016, 212). A study conducted by Melchior et al. in 1991 also confirms that chocolate increases beta-endorphins after consuming chocolate beverages (Melchior et al. 1991, 941).

I figured this would be the perfect time to dive into the health aspects of chocolate. “Are there any reasons you would consider chocolate to be unhealthy?”

“Cholesterol. Chocolate increases your cholesterol, which is not heart healthy, although they say that chocolate does have antioxidants in it which are good for you! Also, there is too much sugar in it which just isn’t good for you when you are worried about diabetes! You have to be careful too because chocolate is an addiction so once you start eating chocolate you crave it. I did. I do. I still crave it. I can’t imagine life without chocolate. It’s totally my vice. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink much. If I had to be on an island, I would bring chocolate.”

The popular belief that chocolate increases cholesterol is no doubt derived from the common misconception that follows the meaning behind HDL’s, high-density lipoproteins, and LDL’s, low-density lipoproteins. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, LDL’s are considered to be the “bad” form of cholesterol, with high levels raising risk for heart disease and stroke. HDL’s are considered to be the “good” form of cholesterol, lowering the risk for heart disease and stroke (CDC 2017). It is recognized that the anti-oxidant activity that follows the consumption of chocolate actually helps decrease ones low-density lipoprotein cholesterol activity while increasing ones high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (Wilson 2015, 17). Therefore, certain types of chocolate are considered to be heart healthy as they delay the progression of diseases such as atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis (Wilson 2015, 17).

The notion that chocolate, which contains a lot of sugar, is a danger to those who have diabetes, seems like a completely rational statement. However, a study conducted in 2015 by Mellor et al. suggests that this may not be entirely true. As it turns out, small amounts of polyphenol rich chocolate, up to about 20-45g per day, can be safely added to the diets of those who have diabetes (Mellor et al. 2015, 9917). Unfortunately, it is not common for the level of polyphenol’s in chocolate to be labeled on products. As more research in this area continues, this may be expected to change (Mellor et al. 2015, 9917). After explaining the relationship between chocolate and cholesterol as well as chocolate with diabetes to my informant, we were able to continue the interview.

“How often would you say that you eat chocolate?”

“I used to eat chocolate at least three times a week but now I’ve cut my sugar down due to the cancer so I try to have it maybe once every two weeks. I would have a whole bar at a time, I couldn’t stop.”

“How did your consumption of chocolate change when you were diagnosed with breast cancer?”

“I got depressed. I still eat a little bit, not too much now. I modified my diet but I still can’t resist it every couple of weeks. They say to cut back on sugar because sugar feeds cancer so I don’t eat as much sugar in my diet but if I do eat sugar it is usually saved for dark chocolate. Last time I had a bag of dark chocolate peanut butter cups.

I became curious as to what exactly the relationship was between chocolate and cancer. According to a study in the European Journal of Cancer Care, dark chocolate contains catcehins which act as an anti-cancer compound or as a preventative for the development of cancer (European Journal of Cancer Care 2000, 131). However, it is also recognized that sugar fuels cancer. Receptors associated with cell survival in tumors are maintained through intracellular glucose levels and SGLT1’s, or the stabilization of the sodium glucose transporter 1 (Penson 2009, 918). It is then no wonder that those who have cancer are more likely to consume their catechins through less sugary products such as tea.

“When was your last chocolate binge?”

She started giggling again, as if I had caught her red handed doing something she was not supposed to be doing. “Honestly, it was yesterday. They were on sale! It was $4.99 for the bag and I wound up eating the whole thing in two days. That’s why I’m so happy right now. But I did gain back a pound that I had lost so I do seem to gain weight right away after I eat the chocolate.”

When my informant mentioned she had gained weight after eating chocolate, I decided to investigate the relationship between chocolate and obesity. This led me to a study conducted in 2013 by Gu et al. who conducted animal trials in an attempt to identify the positive effects of cocoa. The introduction of cocoa in mice was said to reduce obesity after just a ten week period (Grace et al. 2014, 795). While it is unclear whether or not certain levels of flavinols in cocoa, or in dark chocolate, are responsible for an anti-obesity effect in humans, the results from a variety of animal studies seems to point in that direction. However, more research in humans must be conducted before there can be any confirmation that this is the case. Dark chocolate, the product that my informant had consumed before her weight gain, contains “more cocoa butter and fat” than cocoa powder, which was analyzed in comparison with dark chocolate during the trials mentioned above (Grace et al. 2014, 793).

“Where do you usually buy your chocolate? For example, would you ever buy chocolate at a gas station?”

“Not unless I’m on Highway 5 for a long time and I’m dying for it. I used to buy the Mexican chocolate bars at the supermarket, melt them and make hot chocolate. Those bars have cinnamon in them, I don’t even have to add anything. They come in these round, circular containers that are yellow with red writing. I forget the name of the brand. I could look it up online!”

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(Image Retrieved from: http://kitchenencounters.typepad.com/blog/2010/12/-mexican-chocolate-cinnamon-orange-brownies-.html)

“No, that’s alright. Thank you. So, which grocery stores do you go to when you purchase chocolate?”

“I like Whole Foods because they have a variety of different countries the chocolate comes from. I can easily find the Swiss chocolate or the Belgium chocolate in that store versus a Safeway. Also, Cost Plus Imports is a great place to buy chocolate.”

I decided to switch gears here a little bit and discuss the ways in which chocolate is processed. “What do you consider the term processed to mean?”

“Processed? I think that means adding substances to the food that isn’t naturally organic. It’s when you add chemicals and fats that are unhealthy so that it tastes better.”

This brings up another common misconception. Many people associate the term processed with the term unhealthy. As it turns out, that is not always the case. “According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) processed food is defined as any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to washing, cleaning, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, blanching, cooking, canning, freezing, drying, dehydrating, mixing, packaging, or other procedures that alter the food from its natural state (MSU 2014). Chocolate actually undergoes many of these processes.

“Were you aware that chocolate is a processed food?”

“No, but at Trader Joes they have organic chocolate and I buy their organic 70% cacao dark chocolate.”

I could sense here that my informant believed that because the product was organic, it must not be processed. I decided to explore this idea further. “How do you feel about food that is marked organic?”

“I prefer it because I don’t want chemicals, pesticides and unnatural products in my food. I want to eat clean , especially after the remission of my cancer.”

The USDA claims that the term organic may be used on labels for raw or processed agricultural products (USDA 2018). Were you aware that processed products could be labeled as organic?

“No I wasn’t aware of that. I wish these labels would be more specific as far as letting us know exactly what is in the food or what has happened to the food.”

“Now that you know chocolate is processed, what steps do you think are involved in its’ production?”

“I have never thought about that. I actually never knew that it was processed. I assume they have to take it out of the pod, clean it, grind it, probably add sugar or some sweetener to it and put it in a mold. That’s all I can think of.”

My informant was correct, however, there were a few steps missing from her list. According to Dr. Martin (2018), the steps involved in processing chocolate are as follows: the harvesting of cacao pods, the extraction of seeds, fermentation, drying (in sun or over fire), sorting and bagging of beans, roasting, winnowing (aka deshelling, husking), Grinding in a metate, pressing in a hydraulic press, and finally, conching (Martin 2018, Lecture). I repeated this list to my informant and proceeded to ask her more questions.

I wanted to make sure she understood the steps that I had previously addressed. “What do you think winnowing means?”

“Widowing? Winn-o-wing? Can I look it up on google? Winnowing…winnowing…what do I think it means? I have no idea to be quite honest.”

“Winnowing, in this sense, means to de-shell or husk the cacao.”

“I would have never thought that. I winnow pistachio nuts, walnuts, I’ve winnowed! Yeah, winnow, I do that all the time. I never knew I was winnowing.”

The-Chocolate-Tree-Winnowing.jpg

(Image Retrieved from: http://www.chocablog.com/features/the-chocolate-tree-a-scottish-bean-to-bar-story/)

“Given the complex process involved in creating the chocolate that you see at the supermarket, how much would you say is a reasonable price to pay for a chocolate bar?”

“That depends on how much I’m buying but I usually won’t spend more than seven dollars on chocolate. I’ll either buy a really great chocolate bar or buy a bag of chocolate with peanut butter in it. If it’s over seven dollars though in one store visit I’ll say, forget it. I will only spend more than that if I am buying gifts for other people.”

By the end of this interview it had become clear that while chocolate as a product is readily available for consumption, the information concerning its’ production is not. Many people do not realize the complexity involved in creating the chocolate bar or fully understand the labels that are associated with the food that they consume. This experience as a whole was very eye-opening for my informant and acted as a reminder of what my own conceptions were surrounding chocolate when I had first began Dr. Martin’s course, “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.”

Works Cited:

2017. “LDL and HDL Cholesterol: “Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), May 9. https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/ldl_hdl.htm

2018. “Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.” E-CFR, May 9. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=c4e0df8f46a4f4b6f56d80be31f95ed3&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.9.32.4&idno=7#se7.3.205_1300

Farhat, G., Drummond, S., Fyfe, L., & Al‐Dujaili, E. (2014). Dark Chocolate: An Obesity Paradox or a Culprit for Weight Gain? Phytotherapy Research, 28(6), 791-797.

Goya, L., Martín, M., Sarria, B., Ramos, S., Mateos, R., & Bravo, L. (2016). Effect of Cocoa and Its Flavonoids on Biomarkers of Inflammation: Studies of Cell Culture, Animals and Humans. Nutrients, 8(4), 212.

Melchior, Rigaud, Colas-Linhart, Petiet, Girard, & Apfelbaum. (1991). Immunoreactive beta-endorphin increases after an aspartame chocolate drink in healthy human subjects. Physiology & Behavior, 50(5), 941-944.

Mellor, D., Sathyapalan, T., Kilpatrick, E., & Atkin, S. (2015). Diabetes and chocolate: Friend or foe? Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 63(45), 9910-8.

Parrish, Ashley. 2014. “What is a processed food?” Michigan State University (MSU), May 9. http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/what_is_a_processed_food

Penson, R. (2009). Sugar fuels cancer. Cancer, 115(5), 918-921.

Wilson, Wilson, Philip K., Hurst, W. Jeffrey, & Royal Society of Chemistry. (2015). Chocolate and health : Chemistry, nutrition and therapy. Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry.

 

Chocolate: Good for the soul, but good for your health?

 

Introduction

For many people, including myself, chocolate is the ultimate treat. Like most other treats, however, I try to enjoy in moderation because although it would increase my happiness, it would probably increase my waistline as well. Sometimes, I am able to justify it because I see studies in the news saying that dark chocolate can be good for you, or that by buying this fair trade, ethically sourced, organic, and environmentally conscious chocolate will help save the world! There’s a lot of conflicting information for consumers about whether or not chocolate is healthy for you. And after taking this class, I have realized that chocolate’s relationship with health has shifted and changed since chocolate has been consumed. From early Mesoamerican medicinal uses of chocolate and Baroque Europe’s interpretation of chocolate and humors, to modern industrialization of chocolate, scientific research on chocolate, and confusing and conflicting marketing for chocolate, our understanding and use of chocolate as medicine and as a health food has evolved over time. As different societies and cultures discovered cacao over time, they had to ask themselves if “chocolate good, bad, or indifferent for one’s health” (Coe 122)? Even though we have made enormous strides in understanding medicine and health, this question is still relevant for all chocolate consumers today as we try and navigate science, research, and our own desire for justifying our chocolate consumption. Chocolate has completely morphed from a highly regarded medicinal tool to a mostly over-processed commonplace treat whose deceptive marketing confuses consumers and clouds their judgement in making healthy decisions and takes away from the health benefits that can come from consuming high quality chocolate in moderation.

 

Early History

Cacao has been seen as a medicinal tool since the beginning of its consumption with the Mesoamericans. Cacao at this time was a powerful substance that not only had “economic and gastronomic value […] but deep symbolic meaning as well” (Coe 101). Cacao had immense value in many aspects of Mesoamerican life besides just basic sustenance. The Popol Vuh, an old Mayan text depicting traditional Mayan myths, often references cacao in its various tales and sheds light on how highly valued cacao was for their culture.  Because of this immense value placed on cacao, cacao infiltrated their understanding of religion, sustenance, class, and rituals. This deep relationship with chocolate also manifested itself in their medicine, and cacao was used to help cure ailments that ranged anywhere from digestive issues to skin issues to seizures (Martin, Lecture). Chilam Balam, an eighteenth century manuscript copied from Mesoamerican

6915898057_9c7c1af15a_b.jpg
Chilam Balam

codices, highlights the various ailments that cacao can treat and helps to demonstrate how highly valued it was in curing people from a massive range of health issues. Unlike much of modern medicine, medicine at this time was much more holistic and cacao was just botanical piece of a much larger of a health puzzle that incorporated religion, rituals, class, and botany. Like many treasured and cherished substances, cacao was often reserved for the elite and was not fully accessible to all walks of life (Lippi). Although modern medicine and science would suggest that cacao would not necessarily be a powerful medicine with lots of healing success, Maya “royal rulers consumed vast quantities of it in their banquets, and archaeology has proved that they were in better health and lived far longer than their chocolate-deprived subjects” (Coe 32). The Mesoamericans were some of the first people to value and consume cacao, and truly believed in its powers to help heal.

 

 

Cacao started to take on a new cultural and medicinal meaning once it arrived in

File:4 body fluids.PNG
Diagram of the four humor and how they balance each other 

Baroque Europe. One of the biggest changes was that “the Spaniards… stripped it of the spiritual meaning which it had for the Mesoamericans, and imbued it with qualities altogether absent among the Aztecs and Maya: for the invaders, it was a drug, medicine, in the humoral system to which they all adhered” (Coe 126). For the Mesoamericans, cacao had cultural, religious, ritualistic, and medicinal uses, whereas when it made its way over to Europe it was just used for sustenance and medicine. Further, the way in which the Spaniards used it for medicine was completely different than the way that the Mesoamericans used it. The Galenic theory of humors, which was a large driving force for understanding health and medicine at this time, suggests that the body contains four humors: hot or cold, and dry or moist (Coe 127). A healthy body must have all four humors balanced, and the Spaniards used cacao as a tool to find balance within their bodies. Philip II’s Rolyan Physician Francisco Hernandez after learning more about cacao, found it to be a powerful medicinal tool because “The cacao seed is ‘temperate in nature,’ but leaning to the ‘cold and humid’; on the whole, it is very nourishing” (Coe 122). Because cacao on its own was considered cool, it was believed at the time that drinking cacao could help cure someone when they were too hot or had a fever. However, because it was considered relatively neutral, it could be manipulated to cure other ailments but adding different spices. For example, adding a spice like mecaxochitl would make the cacao ‘hotter’ and therefore could be used to cure other ailments associated with being too cool (Coe 122). The Europeans during this period interpreted cacao as medicine in a completely different way than their cacao consuming predecessors did; by dropping the religious significance and viewing cacao as a tool to balance out the body they morphed cacao’s medical use and significance to something of their own.

 

 

Modern Day

As history progressed, cacao’s role in medicine became less and less prominent. With the development and advancement of medicine, cacao was no longer used as medicine. Further, with the widespread accessibility to chocolate due to manufacturing, chocolate completely morphed from the days of sugarless cacao beverages to the chocolate that we know and love today. Chocolate’s cultural significance slowly changed and morphed into a more commonplace, everyday treat because of various factors like accessibility, change in the way its produced, and change in what ingredients go into it. Before modern medicine developed, it made sense that cacao was used as a medicinal tool. Now, however, our society thinks about chocolate more holistically in terms of how it affects our overall health rather than a cure for an ailment.

 

One of the biggest changes for chocolate that made it more accessible was the commodification and industrialization of chocolate. It was not until the late nineteenth century that the food industry became industrialized with the development of preservation, mechanization, retailing, and transportation (Goody 72). Foods were now able to be preserved for longer with canning and refrigeration, could be standardized and have easier, consistent packaging with mechanization, were sold in closed stores instead of open markets, and could be transported all across the country for more accessibility to the masses (Martin, Lecture). These changes not only made food much more accessible to the masses, but also made it significantly cheaper and “in 1898 in the United States a dollar bought forty-two percent more milk, fifty-one percent more coffee, a third more beef, twice as much sugar, and twice as much flour as in 1872” (Laudan 41). For example, Milton Hershey’s Hershey’s chocolate was able to grow into the brand that it is today because of industrialization. After Hershey was able to find their perfect recipe that differed greatly from traditional European chocolate, they worked on “refining the process and adapting it for large scale production. By the winter, the new factory building alongside Spring Creek was covered by a roof and workers were quickly outfitting the interior. Two railroad spurs were being built to connect the plant to Philadelphia and Reading Railroad” (D’Antonio 108). Industrialization gave Hershey the ability to produce and distribute its chocolate quickly and cheaper; however, this did sacrifice the quality. Chocolate products tried to figure out how to minimize the amount of actual cacao that was in them, and the result was that “these hyperpalatable products get the bulk of their calories from a few cheap commodities (corn, soy, wheat) flavored with cheap fats and cheap sweeteners” (Kawash 26). Rather than consuming high quality chocolate with a high percentage of cacao, it was easier and cheaper to load up these products with sugar and transform much of chocolate into candy. By decreasing the cacao and increasing the sugar and fat, mass produced big chocolate has become unhealthy.

 

Chocolate’s popularity began to shift in the mid twentieth century and people began to view chocolate as unhealthy and dangerous. For most of chocolate’s history it was thought to be medicinal, healing, or simply neutral/not having much influence on one’s health, but for the first time it was viewed as unhealthy and bad for you. The temperance movement, which was very anti-alcohol and intoxication slowly began to include chocolate and people believed that chocolate could act as a gateway to other dangerous habits like drinking and gambling (Martin, Lecture). Although believing that consuming chocolate and candy would lead to a life of sin seems dramatic today, chocolate and candy have maintained a somewhat of negative reputation since. Today, eating too much chocolate or candy can be seen as a slippery slope toward obesity rather than other bad habits like drinking. Ever since people began to view chocolate as unhealthy, whether it is because of its connection to the the temperance movement or to obesity, the conversation has shifted about how to enjoy in moderation.  

 

Is chocolate healthy?

Today, however, there is a lot of conflicting information about whether or not chocolate contributes to health. I asked some of my peers and family members whether they not they thought chocolate was healthy, and there were conflicting answers. A lot of them followed up by asking what kind of chocolate was I talking about? My mom, for example, said that “it’s good if you stay away from the Hershey’s crap, but dark chocolate is good for you!” When I pressed and asked her to elaborate on how it’s good for you, she sheepishly admitted that she didn’t actually know and had just “read stuff.” Before taking this class, I would likely have said the same answer, however, there are various studies that confidently show that consuming some chocolate can have health benefits. For example, chocolate can improve cardiovascular health since there is an inverse association between chocolate flavonoid intake and coronary heart disease mortality in men and women by several studies over many countries” (Albritton 345). These kinds of studies are common, and there is no shortage of research sharing chocolate’s health  benefits. Harvard this past month even cited an article on the Harvard Medical School Harvard Health Blog suggesting that chocolate can help with vision because the “cocoa flavanols enhance availability of oxygen and nutrients to the blood vessels of the eye and brain” (Tello 2018). It is important to note that most of these studies are looking at dark chocolate, rather than the chocolate candy that comes to mind when we think of chocolate. The early consumers of chocolate clearly had the right idea in mind when consuming chocolate as medicine, and now we have scientific studies that do demonstrate chocolate’s health benefits.

 

Even though chocolate has many great health benefits, most of the chocolate that Americans consume is detrimental for their health. Marketers take advantage of these studies on dark chocolate in moderation and hope that consumers assume that it applies to the kinds of candy bars that line the aisles of supermarkets, gas stations, and vending machines. By placing chocolate in these highly visible areas, marketers are taking advantage of “impulse marketing” that “deliberately encourage consumption” (New England Medical Journal 8). Candy and chocolate manufacturers are putting consumers at risk for over consuming highly processed chocolate and not giving them the full understanding of the potential health risks of overconsumption.

Image result for nutella healthy ad
This advertisement from Nutella is deceptive and not totally honest about its healthiness.

For example, this advertisement from Nutella, a chocolate hazelnut spread, suggests to consumers that Nutella is a healthy food that kids can eat for balanced and nutritious breakfast. They even list the ingredients and tell the consumers that it’s mostly hazelnuts with just “a hint of cocoa.” However, if you look at the nutrition facts and do a little more digging, like this particular video did, it becomes apparent that Nutella is not the kind of balanced breakfast you would want your children to eat. Although chocolate does have some health benefits, consumers are more often consuming too much of the bad kind of chocolate because they’re overwhelmed with misinformation.

 

Conclusion

Overall, chocolate and cacao have had an interesting relationship with health since the beginning of its consumption. Early cacao lovers had deep cultural and ritualistic ties to cacao, and truly believed in its ability to heal and act as medicine. As time progressed, chocolate lost much of its cultural and medicinal significance and when it became industrialized it completely changed chocolate. This new chocolate was cheaper, accessible, and contained less chocolate and more sugar and fat. This lead to an increase in skepticism of chocolate’s health, and people believed that over consuming chocolate had dangerous risks for both one’s health and one’s lifestyle. Even though consuming chocolate in moderation is still a good rule of thumb for healthy chocolate consumption, modern science now shows that there are positive health benefits to consuming chocolate. However, most chocolate consumers are over consuming the over processed chocolate because of the deceptive marketing from chocolate companies. Chocolate’s relationship to health has been complicated since the beginning, and that still rings true for today. However, even though modern chocolate can have some health issues, it is a relief to know that chocolate can benefit the body just as it benefits the soul.

 

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” 2012. pp.

342-354.

Bodily Fluids” Wikimedia Commons. Web. 22 November 2010.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:4_body_fluids.PNG.

“Chilam Balam de Chumayel” Web. 26 August 2010. Melinda Stuart.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/melystu/6915898057.

“Chocolate at the check out is a risk for public health” New England Medical Journal, BMJ

2012;345:e6921.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third Edition.

Thames & Hudson Ltd: London, 2013. Print.

D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth,

Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” Cooking,

Cuisine and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1982, pp. 154–174. Themes in the Social Sciences.

Kawash, Samira. Candy: a Century of Panic and Pleasure. Faber & Faber, 2013.

Laudan, Rachel. “A Plea for Culinary Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast,

Processed Food.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, University of California Press

Lippi, Donatella. “Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food.” Nutrients5.5 (2013):

1573–1584. PMC. Web. 8 May 2018.

Martin, Carla. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods”. Harvard University, AAAS

E-119. Cambridge, MA. Lecture.

Martin, Carla “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market.” Harvard

University, AAAS E-119. Cambridge, MA. Lecture.

“Nutella 2010 Ad” Web. 1 October 2013

http://frenzyadvertisement.blogspot.com/2013/10/is-food-advertising-linked-with.html

“Surprise, Nutella is more unhealthy than you might think.” Tech Insider, 8 June 2017,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hnDviQyJFA

Tello, Monique. “Can dark chocolate improve vision?” Harvard Health Publishing,

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-dark-chocolate-improve-vision-2018050313767.

So, is chocolate REALLY good for you or is it all a hoax?

TO BEGIN…

People love chocolate. Three words that may not *technically* be a proven scientific fact, but are, at least in my own opinion, pretty valid for those living in today’s society. It is a line that I know I hear, and even find myself saying, quite often: someone is sad or feeling down and the response comes to “get them some chocolate and they will definitely feel so much better!” What I think people often forget is that chocolate truly does have a number of health benefits, dating back to its start and discovery and leading its way into the current society that we live in. Of the many health benefits that the consumption of chocolate has been linked to in both the past and present, I would like to briefly examine its use as a positive health benefit in the past and then relate that to my main focus on our current society, where chocolate has certainly taken the name to have medical benefits that continue to grow and become more supported through scientific evidence and research.

While discussing the past and present findings and beliefs on the medical benefits of chocolate, I also hope to draw conclusions of my own on the matter based on the evidence and research that is currently available. I think this topic is certainly one where all the facts and pieces of evidence need to be considered before a conclusion can be drawn.

THE PAST

Chocolate consumption has been associated with medicinal benefits for several years. In an article written by Donatella Lippi, she talks about how the evidence of cacao that was used for medicinal purposes dates far back to Mesoamerican civilizations (Lippi).  Looking back to the past, there were notions presented on how chocolate refreshes and satisfies the body (Coe and Coe, p. 110). The Coes also talk about how texts dating back to the 1500’s showed how the Emperor had a process of keeping botanical plants to experiment with, having the hopes of finding some sort of medical connection among them. Eventually, cacao appeared as one of the successful ones, showing that it could cure infections, control cough, and lower fevers among other things (Coe and Coe). The Mesoamericans spoke of chocolate as if it were a “food of the Gods” (Martin, Lecture).  For this reason, chocolate was often times included in traditional Mesoamerican rituals. Mayan documents, often written in Dresden Codex, showed cacao being depicted by Gods during ritual activities, including marriage and death rituals (Coe and Coe, 41). Additionally, Donatella Lippi went on to talk about

 

chocolate as a Mesoamerican medicine and stated that it dates back to Montezuma and his high levels of chocolate beverage consumption in the hopes that he would remain as masculine as possible (Lippi, 2017). In general, Mesoamericans certainly recognized how cacao was a medical benefit, often believing that those who consumed chocolate would be able to live longer than those who were deprived of consuming the treat (Coe and Coe).

 

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Cacao as a “bean of the Gods”

Through the readings and lectures we have gone over in class, we have also seen how the Spaniards and Europeans believed in chocolate and its overall positive effects on mood. In The True History of Chocolate, authors Sophie and Michael Coe state that the Spaniards thought that chocolate was a “a drug, a medicine” (Coe and Coe, p. 126). This idea focused on the fact that once the Europeans brought chocolate overseas, they linked it to humoral medicine as a drug and medicine (Coe and Coe).

The link between chocolate and its effects on health started in fairly general terms; however, eventually this evolved into a long stretch of scientific studies and research that really tried to examine the specifics between chocolate and its physical and mental health benefits. In the article “Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food”, Donatella Lippi opens up by talking about how “throughout history, chocolate has been used to treat a wide variety of ailments, and in recent years, multiple studies have found that chocolate can have positive health effects, providing evidence to a centuries-long established use” (Lippi, 2013). She then goes on to talk about how simply the belief of chocolate being linked to health was not enough; breaking it down to the properties of chocolate that allowed it to have positive health effects was key in understanding (Lippi, 2013). For example, dark chocolate is known to be rich in iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and flavanols (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health). The flavanols are most important when it comes to the health benefits.

THE PRESENT

To open up and introduce this section, I would like to start off by proposing a question. I hope to draw some sort of conclusion on this question by the end of this blog post. Because the debate about chocolate’s actual health benefits continue to go back and forth and are still not completely determined, I think it is rather important to consider the following matters:

Is the idea that chocolate bars have positive health benefits for a person’s health really supported by actual research or is this just a bunch of hear-say with no scientific evidence to back it up? Is this claim something that people just have an idea about or is there actual proof to support its validity? What kinds of chocolate are best to consume in order to obtain these positive health benefits?

In today’s society, one thing that is essential to remember is that the link of chocolate to medical and health benefits primarily focuses on the dark chocolate variety, which contains at least sixty percent pure cacao and high levels of flavanol content, though it is noted that consumption for the purpose of health benefits should be focused on chocolate that has at least seventy percent pure cacao. Often times, this high level of flavanol content does cause the chocolate to be more bitter in taste (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health). In an article written by Dr. Robert Shmerling, Faculty Editor at Harvard Health Publishing, he brings up this key point and notes that not all chocolate is the same. Dark chocolate is high in flavanol content while milk chocolate and white chocolate have much lower levels of flavanol (Shmerling, 2017). Additionally, it is important to note that “even a chocolate bar that is 70% cacao can have varying levels of flavonoid compounds, depending on how it was processed” (Storrs, 2017). Furthermore, author Carina Storrs comments that any kind of chocolate that goes through a chemical process known as “dutching” would basically lose all traces of flavonoid compounds; this frequently happens in Dutch chocolate (Storrs, 2017).

As seen in both of the figures above, “raw” chocolate decreases blood pressure and assists in the improvement of blood circulation in a person’s body. The graphic to the right lists out health benefits of dark chocolate, some of them including slowing signs of aging, reducing the risk of diabetes, and reducing stress levels. Additionally, Sophie and Michael Coe state that “dark chocolate does not cause diabetes, cavities, or acne”, which is something that people often times believe and is part of what allows people to link dark chocolate to having health benefits in general (Coe and Coe, 31). Furthermore, Sophie and Michael Coe say that there has been no direct correlation between developing heart disease and consuming chocolate (Coe and Coe, 30).

When considering the link between chocolate consumption and, specifically, brain health Dr. Robert Shmerling talks about how both short-term and long-term consumption of chocolate can be beneficial. In various completed research studies, it showed that adults who consumed dark chocolate with high flavanol content had better performances on tests of memory and reaction time (Shmerling). Studies have also found that chocolate can be a key provider of antioxidants that are beneficial for the body. Another article posted on the pros and cons of chocolate also states that “a team of researchers at Harvard Medical School found that older adults who drank two cups of liquid chocolate a day for 30 days had improved blood flow to the parts of their brain needed for memory and thinking” (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2014). It seems that chocolate’s link to brain health mainly focuses on the ability of flavonoids to improve mental function and speaking ability. It is important to note, however, that there has not been any proven scientific research that shows that chocolate consumption can prevent dementia or other diseases that bring about a “mental decline”. Dr. Owais Khawaja, a cardiology fellow at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Ohio, says that “chocolate is a good antioxidant. It has a good effect on inflammation” (Storrs, 2017). Dr. Khawaja also states that some additional benefits as a result of chocolate’s anti-inflammatory properties include that it might help to reduce the risk of cancer and dementia.

In the video attached here, we can see a listing of the top ten benefits of dark chocolate on a person’s health and well-being. The video touches on the positive effects of dark chocolate on cardiovascular health, weight loss, and lowering levels of blood pressure, to name a few. In general from sources that are widely available, it does seem that dark chocolate has links to perhaps living a healthier lifestyle. Self-medication and stress relief are two additional items that dark chocolate has a link to when it comes to levels of improvement. Score!

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As seen in the figure to the right, dark chocolate is the form of chocolate that is known to have health benefits. As noted in the figure (and stated previously), the pattern appears to be that a cacao content of over at least sixty percent in a given chocolate item is most beneficial for a person’s health. Additionally, I believe it is accurate to conclude that heart health seems to be the most commonly affected aspect of a person’s health benefits from chocolate consumption.

In an article published in Harvard Women’s Health Watch, it was stated that ingredients in chocolate can be healthy, but “the high-calorie chocolate bars that contain it aren’t necessarily good for you” (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2014). The three flavonoid compounds in chocolate that are known to help improve cardiovascular functions in the body are catechin, epicatechin, and procyanidin (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2014). These flavonoid compounds assist with lowering cholesterol rates, reducing inflammation that may be present in the body, and preventing blood clots from occurring at all. Dr. Eric Ding, a scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has completed 24 studies on the effects of flavonoids in chocolate on cardiovascular risks. In his findings, it was reported that flavonoids in chocolate reduced blood pressure rates and levels of unhealthy LDL cholesterol. Additionally, rates of healthy HDL cholesterol increased, while improved levels of blood flow and and lower levels of insulin resistance were also displayed (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2014).

OKAY SO, WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS ACTUALLY MEAN?

After researching and seeing the scientific evidence that is available regarding chocolate and its effects on health, it is definitely shown that consuming the right kind of chocolate with the proper characteristics can have positive health benefits for a consumer. As with anything, intake moderation is definitely significant and rates of consumption should be exercised with caution. Monitoring levels of sugar intake (i.e. selecting chocolate bars with lower levels of sugar added) is certainly important in order to limit any adverse health effects from taking place on the body. Additionally, people should proceed with caution when depending on chocolate (of the dark variety, of course!) to lower health risks. The public should recognize that researchers have been able to confirm that chocolate does have short-term benefits on heart health and other health issues but, for example, as stated by Dr. Eric Ding, “the jury is still out in terms of actual direct heart attack prevention” (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2014).

THE FINAL VERDICT…

So, what do I think as a result of all of this? I do believe that chocolate can have positive health effects on the body. It is important to limit intake (eating ten chocolate bars a day is still not a good idea, sorry!) and mainly consuming dark chocolate is best due to the fact that it contains the highest percentages of pure cacao. Additionally, choosing chocolate bars that are also low in sugar and fats is very important, as these two things can actually cause adverse health effects as I am sure we all know.

 

 

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100% support for this claim! 

Some scientists have recommended that the best way to get the health advantages of the flavonoids in chocolate without consuming all the negative elements as well is to purchase chocolate products that are more concentrated, such as cocoa supplements.

 

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Dark chocolate and its positive effects on health

If consumed properly, and in moderate levels, chocolate, specifically dark chocolate, does have positive health effects on a person’s health including the improvement of cardiovascular health, decreased levels of stress, and more. I know I will definitely continue eating chocolate – it is just time that I make the switch over to dark chocolate more often.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

“Chocolate: Pros and Cons of This Sweet Treat – Harvard Health.” Harvard Health Blog,

Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Feb. 2014. Web.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames

and Hudson, 2013. Print.

“Dark Chocolate.” The Nutrition Source, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Lippi, Donatella. “Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food.” Nutrients, 5 May

2013, pp. 1573-1584., doi: 10.3390/nu5051573. Web.

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food”. Lecture 7: Modern Day

Slavery. 2018.

Martin, Carla. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods”. Harvard University, AAAS

E-119. Cambridge, MA. Lecture.

Schmerling, Robert H. “Your Brain on Chocolate.” Harvard Health Publishing. 16 Aug.

2017, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/your-brain-on-chocolate-2017081612179. Web.

Storrs, Carina. “Is Chocolate Good or Bad for Health?” CNN, Cable News Network, 25 May

2017, http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/10/health/chocolate-health-benefits/index.html. Web.

 

KISS your health goodbye! How Big Chocolate influences Obesity and Diabetes in Low Income Americans

Chocolate is everywhere. From grocery stores to gas stations, this sweet tasting, divine bar of goodness is inescapable in normal American life, especially if you’re in poverty. While Americans consume 12 pounds of chocolate each year, Americans categorized as “in or near poverty” consume more chocolate than individuals who are not in poverty (O’Neil et al.), and given that nearly 32% of the U.S. population is at or near poverty (Aulls), it is important to study their eating habits. The chocolate consumption habits of the poor, both in terms of quality and quantity, has consequences for both their health and ethical chocolate production. A study of the chocolate selection at the Dollar Tree shows that the chocolate marketed towards low income individuals is of the cheaper, unhealthier variety, produced without concern for human rights or the environment. The prevalence of Big, cheap chocolate is indicative of both the obesity and diabetes epidemic facing low income Americans today and the severe human rights violations and ethical concerns surrounding chocolate production.

Visiting the Dollar Tree

To get a concrete sense of the chocolate selection low income Americans often have and its implications for health and ethical concerns, I took a trip to the Dollar tree in Somerville. While there, I looked at several factors such as price point, types of chocolates available, the number of chocolates that were advertised as ethically certified through Utz or Fair Trade, and finally, the nutritional value of these types of chocolates. In this observation, only bars of chocolate or an amalgamation of chocolate and other ingredients (such as peanut butter or wafers) were studied.

A Dollar Tree was chosen as a case study to represent the shopping experience of a low income American because of its prevalence in food deserts and “because the American economy of late has pushed so many middle-class people into poverty, and poverty is what pushes people to line up at the cash registers of…Dollar stores” (Griffin-Nolan). Food deserts “are areas where people have limited access to a variety of healthy and affordable food” (Dutko) and usually contain “households with low incomes, inadequate access to transportation, and a limited number of food retailers providing fresh produce” (Dutko). Since these individuals cannot afford cars, they rely on places such as convenience stores and dollar stores such as the Dollar Tree. In fact, “three chains, Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree, made up two-thirds of new stores in food deserts” (Schneider) because large grocery stores don’t want to risk lower profit margins. While obviously not all lower income Americans live in food deserts, nearly “23.5 million people” (Dutko) do. In addition, dollar stores offer individuals food products and other items at a fraction of other stores’ prices, making them the natural choice if you’re on a budget. Given that these stores also accept some form of EBT, or foods stamps, a Dollar Tree store is a good sample of a typical low income American’s shopping experience.

Food Deserts
A visual map showing where food deserts are located in the United States. Food deserts are areas that do not have grocery stores in close vicinity that carry fresh produce. This is why the map highlights the populations that do not have access to fresh food via grocery stores with darker colors. Notice how food deserts are concentrated in the southern part of the United States.

There are however 3 primary issues with selecting a Dollar Tree. First, with some exceptions, everything in the store is $1, which may imply that craft chocolates or chocolates that were created ethically may be absent from the store due to their traditionally higher prices. Second, Dollar Trees are usually small, meaning the chocolate selection might be limited. Thirdly, low income Americans don’t always shop at the Dollar Tree, and may instead opt to visit a Walmart which might have a much larger chocolate selection. However, given that the closest Walmart in the Boston Metro area is over an hour and a half away on public transit while Dollar Trees are typically no more than 15 minutes away on transit anywhere in the city, studying a Dollar Tree might accurately represent where a low income person living in Boston may shop.

Observations

The findings at the Dollar Tree were not surprising. Of the 37 different types of chocolate bars present, all but one of them were produced by either Mars, Nestle, or Hershey’s. The lone chocolate bar not created by the companies mentioned was created by Russell Stover. None of the chocolate bars were craft chocolate bars or produced by small companies. In addition, none of the chocolates were Fair Trade or Utz certified, or certified as organic. The only chocolate bar that was close to having a label marking it as ethical was Crunch, which had the Nestle Cocoa Plan label. According to Nestle’s website, the Cocoa Plan “aims to improve the lives of cocoa farmers and the quality of their products” (“The Nestle Cocoa Plan”); however, upon closer inspection of their website, it is unclear how this plan improves the livelihood of farmers or reduces child labor. Furthermore, the only chocolates without fillings were a Hershey’s Chocolate bar, the Russell Stover solid chocolate bar, the Dove Milk Chocolate bar, and Kisses. Other chocolates had a combination of nuts, peanut butter, caramel, mint, or wafer filling. In addition, there was only one white chocolate option, which was the Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme Bar. There were no dark chocolate options available.

Chocolate Supply at the Dollar Tree
A picture of a chocolate bar selection at a Dollar Tree in Somerville (not all chocolate selections are pictured). As you can see, all the chocolates (or candies) present were produced by large corporations. Notice how Hershey’s has 9 chocolate cases on the stand and M&M’s has 5, suggesting that these are the most popular chocolates sold at this particular Dollar Tree.

Health Claims

Most chocolate bars made some health claims, though their actual nutritional value was questionable. Hershey’s chocolate bar had “Made with Farm Fresh Milk” on the bar, and the 3 Musketeers proudly wrote “45% less fat than the leading Chocolate Brands.” While the 3 Musketeers bar contains 5 grams of saturated fat and Hershey’s bar contains 8g (which is indeed close to 45% less), a Hershey’s bar only has 24g of sugar, while a 3 Musketeers bar has nearly twice as much at 40g of sugar. Another claim on the “Crunch” bar was that it was made with “100% Real Chocolate” and that it had “No artificial Flavors or Colors.”

Price

The price point was the same across all chocolates, which was $1. The Dollar Tree also had a value pack which included 6 smaller “fun size” chocolate bars of the same type in a packet for $1. The weight of the fun sized packet of chocolates was 75g or $.013/gram, while a normal chocolate bar was 1.55 oz, or about 44g, costing twice as much at $.022/gram. Only the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar, Crunch, Snickers, Kit Kat, Reeses, 100 Grand, and Butterfingers bars were sold in fun sized packets, making them the cheapest chocolate options.

Crunch Value Pack vs. Normal Bar
A picture of the two sizes of chocolates sold (minus the candies in boxes). Chocolate was either sold in bar form (1.55 oz) or in fun sized packets (6/0.45oz, or 2.7oz total). Since each were a dollar, the fun sized packet is more economical, which encourages shoppers to buy more chocolate. Notice on the fun sized packet the “Nestle Cocoa Plan” Label, which is actually absent on the normal sized bar, and how the “100% Real Chocolate” claim on the normal bar was not on the fun sized packets; however, both had “No artificial Flavors of Colors” on the wrappers. Choosing to place different labels (an ethical one vs. a health conscience one) says something about who buys what, or who the company is trying to target with these two sizes.

Actual Nutrition

In terms of actual nutrition, the worst chocolate bar for saturated fat was a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar, with 8g of saturated fat and 13g of total fat, and the best bar for saturated fat was the York Peppermint Patty, with 1.5 grams of saturated fat and 2.5 grams of total fat. The worst bar in terms of sugar was a Three Musketeers, with 40g of sugar, and the best in terms of sugar content was the Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme bar, which contained 19g of sugar. For reference, a healthy adult should consume between 25 and 37 grams of sugar each day and around 16g of saturated fat per day.

Discussion

The chocolate selection at the Dollar Tree has three worrisome implications: Big Chocolate takes advantage of gross human rights violations present in the chocolate supply chain to sell at low prices; Big Chocolate pumps chocolate bars with cheap alternatives such as sugar and other ingredients to even further lower the price of their chocolate bars; finally, because of the two reasons mentioned, the cheapest chocolate on the market (the one that low income Americans will buy) is filled with inordinate amounts of sugar and fat, fueling the diabetes and obesity epidemic plaguing low income Americans today. In the next section, I will substantiate these claims and explain how they feed into one another and result in unhealthy Americans and abused workers and farmers.

Cheap Cacao

The cheapest chocolate available at the Dollar Tree was produced by Big Chocolate companies, Mars, Nestle, and The Hershey Company. These companies typically get their cacao beans from West African farms or plantations by interacting with complicated systems involving national, government, and local powers (Martin); however, human rights violations run rampant on these farms. More often than not, these farms are pressured to lower their cost of production by these large chocolate corporations, which results in child labor, abuse, slavery, and extremely unsafe working conditions. Slavery and child labor are the most salient problems, which exposes nearly “half million to 1.5 million child workers” (ACI Group) to dangerous work conditions, with “more than half reporting injury at work” (Martin). Some individuals, including children, “are trafficked and forced to labor without or with little pay on cocoa farms” (Martin), but these human rights violations are often overlooked in favor of cheaper cacao prices.

Cheap Ingredients

While human right violations in the chocolate supply chain decrease the price Big Chocolate pays for their cacao, their inclusion of insane amounts of sugar, milk, and other ingredients further pushes down the price of their chocolate. Let’s take a look at a normal Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar. According to the Nutrition Label, the ingredients are Milk Chocolate (Sugar; Milk; Chocolate; cocoa butter; Lactose; Milk Fat; Soy lecithin; PGPR, Emulsifier, Vanillin, Artificial Flavors). According to the FDA, “ingredients are listed in order of predominance, with the ingredients used in the greatest amount first, followed in descending order by those in smaller amounts” (FDA). Sugar is the first listed ingredient, which is vastly cheaper than cacao as sugar is about $0.26/lb. Assuming that “chocolate” is made of cacao beans, this is the most expensive ingredient used, since the ICCO price was around $1.35/lb on May 3, 2018, which is over 5 times the cost of sugar. It is clear that chocolate manufacturers inject their products with incredible amounts of sugar because it is the cheapest ingredient. But it wasn’t just Hershey’s; of the 37 bars I observed, all of them had sugar listed as the very first ingredient on the nutrition label, meaning these bars are no more than a hint of chocolate and a heap of sugar. In addition, most bars weren’t pure chocolate, but instead contained peanuts, caramel, nougat, and other cheaper costing ingredients that further increase the sugar content and decrease the cost to make the bar.

Hershey's bar
Nutrition bar for a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar. Note the high saturated fat and sugar content. In addition, the first ingredient listed on the ingredients list in the parenthesis is sugar, implying that sugar comprises most of the bar, not milk or even cacao.

Health Implications

Knowing that nearly all the candy bars had more sugar content than the recommended daily allowance, it’s apparent why the US population, especially the lower income one, is so incredibly unhealthy. The average amount of sugar present in these bars was 29 grams, while it is recommended that children consume no more than 25 grams of sugar daily, and adults between 25 and 37.

Sweet Lies

But why is consuming so much sugar, which low income people disproportionately do, such a problem? Sugar has been identified as the leading cause for the obesity and diabetes outbreak in modern American. Although some experts argue that fat, not sugar, is the main proponent of diabetes and obesity, seeing who has funded sugar research is alarming. Multiple corporations such as Coca-Cola, Hershey’s, and Nabisco have given millions to the Sugar Association, or ISRF, to exonerate sugar. The ISRF attempted to shift the blame of obesity and diabetes to fat intake and create multiple research panels to argue that any research that points sugar to negative health claims is inconclusive. They have funded researchers such as Edward Biernan, who claimed that diabetics “need not pay strict attention to their sugar intake,” and Ancel Keys who claimed “Cholesterol and dietary fat—especially saturated fat—were the likely causes of heart disease” (Taubes). The FDA even subcontracted a committee “led by biochemist George W. Irving Jr., who had previously served two years as chairman” (Taubes) of the ISRF to determine if sugar was harmful, which has caused uncertainty of sugar’s effect on health for decades.

However, while the ISRF and Big Chocolate tried to hide the truth about sugar, the verdict is out. New research suggests that not only is sugar “addictive in much the same way as cigarettes and alcohol,” but the “overconsumption of them is driving worldwide epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes” (Taubes). No wonder “obesity rates in the United States have more than doubled, while the incidence of diabetes has more than tripled” (Taubes). Regarding diabetes, “long term consumption of sucrose can result in a functional change in the capacity to metabolize carbohydrates and thus lead to diabetes mellitus” (Taubes).

Obesity and Diabetes in Low Income Americans

Rates of diabetes and obesity are even more startling among low income individuals and children. “Those live in the most poverty-dense counties are those most prone to obesity. Counties with poverty rates of >35% have obesity rates 145% greater than wealthy counties” (Levine). In addition, “diabetes may be up to two times more prevalent in low income populations compared to wealthy populations” (Rabi, Doreen M et al.). This is believed to the case because “that individuals who live in impoverished regions have poor access to fresh food,” (Levine) and are instead bombarded with food items that are loaded in sugar. This is consistent with the unhealthy and sugary chocolate selection at the Dollar Tree.

ObesityDiabetes
Two maps indicating Obesity (Top) and Diabetes (Bottom) occurrences in the United States, with darker shades of blue indicating a higher percent of obese/diabetic people. Notice how these two maps are similar in that areas with higher rates obesity are the same ones with higher rates of diabetes, suggesting that there is a correlation between the two. In addition, there seems to be higher percentages of both obesity and diabetes in the South, which coincidentally homes more food deserts. In fact, the food desert map above shows a correlation between food deserts and obesity/diabetes since the areas that have a higher percentages of obesity/diabetes also have more food deserts.

In regards to children, the “number of overweight children in the US has tripled since 1980” (Albritton 344), and low income children “were more likely to be overweight than higher income children (7 percent vs. 4 percent)” (Lin). Companies, such as Hershey’s, specifically target children to develop a lifetime loyalty of their products, and it’s working. Research shows that sugar is addicting, almost as addicting as tobacco (Albritton 344), and when children and even adults consume these products, they will desire their products throughout their life and continue to consume them with disastrous results. “Overweight children often become overweight adults, and overweight in adulthood increases the risk of developing many diseases, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, and…cancer” (Lin). 

The Big Takeaway

By understanding how Big Chocolate reduces the price of its chocolate, we can see how cheap chocolate has crippled the low income population in the United States. But a question still remains: given all this information on how terrible sugar and cheap chocolate are for you and the world, why do low income individuals continue to consume it? Do low income customers just not care the people who make their chocolate, or even their own health? Or is it that don’t have a choice, or the proper education to understand how sugar will affect them?

Packaging and propaganda have made it incredibly difficult for low-income individuals to choose the products that match their values. They are bombarded with misleading information on bars that contain supposedly 45% less fat when in fact it contains twice the amount of recommended daily sugar, they are told that bars bought through the “Nestle Cocoa Plan” will help farmers and eliminate child labor when in reality no one understands how these organizations impact the lives of farmers, and lastly, they are told by their doctors and schools to reduce their saturated fats intake when it is in fact sugar that is killing them. While it may be true that some low income consumers just don’t care about what they buy, the widespread misinformation and the products available renders them almost helpless in choosing products that are good for them and the world. It’s on us to give not only these individuals, but everyone the power to know what we put into our bodies and its effect on the world around us. Perhaps it’s time to take the power out of Big Chocolate and Sugar’s hands and place it into where it belongs—the consumer’s.

 

Works Cited:

ACI Group. “Is Your Favorite Chocolate the Product of Child Labor?” Edited by The Nation Blogs, The Nation’s Blogs, ACI Information Group, 22 Dec. 2014, scholar.aci.info/view/1464ec3e2ee6b730146/14a738db750000f00b2.

Albritton, Robert. 2012[2010]. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.”

Dutko, Paula., et al. Characteristics and Influential Factors of Food Deserts. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2012.

Griffin-Nolan, Ed. “DOLLAR STORES MAKE A BUCK ON POVERTY.” Syracuse New Times, 6 Aug. 2014, p. 43.

Levine, James. “Poverty and Obesity in the U.S.” American Diabetes Association. 01 May, 2018, http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/60/11/2667

Lin, Biing-Hwan, and United States. Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service, issuing body. Nutrition and Health Characteristics of Low-Income Populations. Body Weight Status. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2005.

Martin, Carla. AAAS 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food .Lecture 7: Modern Day Slavery. 2018.

O’Neil, Carol E., Victor L. Fulgoni, and Theresa A. Nicklas. “Association of Candy Consumption with Body Weight Measures, Other Health Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease, and Diet Quality in US Children and Adolescents: NHANES 1999–2004.” Food & Nutrition Research 55 (2011): 10.3402/fnr.v55i0.5794. PMC. Web. 3 May 2018.

“Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives & Colors.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 01 May, 2018, https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/ucm094211.htm  

Rabi, Doreen M et al. “Association of Socio-Economic Status with Diabetes Prevalence and Utilization of Diabetes Care Services.” BMC Health Services Research 6 (2006): 124. PMC. Web. 4 May 2018.

Schneider, Mike. “Grocery Chains Leave Food Deserts Barren.” The Epoch Times, 7 Dec. 2015, pp. A4–A5.

Taubes, Gary and Christin Kearns Couzens. “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies.” http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/10/sugar-industry-lies-campaign

“The Nestle Cocoa Plan” Nestle, 01 May. 2018, http://www.nestlecocoaplan.com.

Chocolate Tasting: Creating Conscientious Consumers Through Increased Awareness

After spending a semester studying the history, culture and politics of chocolate at Harvard University with Professor Carla D. Martin, I decided to host a chocolate tasting to put to test what had been presented in class and in our readings. My invitation to the tasting was enthusiastically accepted by several friends who love, of course, all things chocolate. My goal was threefold: to educate them about the anatomy of a chocolate bar, to explore some of the issues facing the chocolate industry today, and to examine the packaging and significance of certifications.  By increasing their awareness of these topics, I hoped to inspire them to become more conscientious consumers.

THE TASTING

The challenge quickly became which chocolate bars to include in my taste test.  Walking down the aisles of a few local grocery and convenience stores proved daunting.  There were just so many bars to choose from.  In The New Taste of Chocolate, Maricel E. Presilla writes, “the face of chocolate has changed fantastically in the last few years in that shoppers now find themselves confronted with some bewildering choices” (p 126).  And bewildered I was. When surveying the multitude of labels, I considered ingredients, certifications, and messaging. Ultimately, I arrived at a sample of seventeen bars including three different milk chocolates, a few dark chocolates with varying amounts of cocoa, and a selection of bars with additional ingredients such as almonds, mint, caramels, and sugar substitutes.  I also included one raw cacao bar to see how it would fare.  In addition, I selected several bars that had specific certifications and messaging on their packaging to prompt discussion about the issues in the chocolate industry today.

I elected to host a blind taste test so that my friends could judge each chocolate free from pre-conceived notions, preferences, and packaging information.  I assigned each bar a letter and created a spreadsheet which the participants used to record their results.  I instructed them to use all of their senses to fully experience each chocolate bar.  First, they looked at each sample for color and sheen.  They then smelled the chocolate to enjoy the aroma.  After breaking each sample to experience the “snap”, they tasted them.  My group proved to be very enthusiastic and shared their findings with great description using terms such as “sweet,” “too sweet,” “artificial,” “chalky,” “salty,” “milky,” “creamy,” “delicious,” “nutty,” “fruity,” “bleh” and “awful.”

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 4.38.53 PM.png

The general consensus among this group was that they preferred dark chocolate to milk, and favored a bar with a cocoa content of around 70%, finding a bar with 85% cocoa too bitter. As a group of mostly affluent, educated and health conscious women, they liked bars with natural and organic ingredients rather than artificial flavors and soy lecithin.  In her article “Fresh off The Farm”, Patricia Unterman explains, “when you choose to eat organic and sustainably raised produce, a little karma rubs off on you and makes everything taste better,” which resonated with this group. I found it interesting that they all readily identified the Hershey’s milk chocolate bar and agreed it reminded them of their childhoods. Though they admitted they don’t regularly consume Hershey’s, they still enjoy it as a key ingredient in s’mores.  Most of them enjoyed chocolate bars with nuts, few liked fruit additives, and only one liked the raw bar.  Some were pleasantly surprised by the bars with the artificial sweetener Stevia. They considered them to be “less guilty” treats having no sugar and fewer calories.

BEYOND THE BAR

I concluded the tasting with an analysis of the packaging of the different bars. We looked at the manufacturer, their messaging, list of ingredients, bean origination and certifications. While some of the participants were familiar with the various certifications, most were not and only one was familiar with the issues present in the chocolate industry today. The group expressed a desire to gain a broader understanding of these issues so that they could be more discriminating in their choices and use their purchasing power to support the causes they felt most strongly about.  In Eating Out: Social Differentiation, Consumption and Pleasure, Warde and Martens note “consumption practices are driven by a conscious reflexivity such that people monitor, reflect upon and adapt their personal conduct in light of its perceived consequences.”

The industry today is fraught with many interrelated challenges including the worst forms of child labor, poverty, and sustainability to name a few, and certifications allow consumers to learn which chocolate companies support ethical and sustainable practices.  Worst forms of child labor include slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and any work by its nature that is harmful to the health, safety and morals of children (Martin, April 21). In The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich , Ndogo Sylla explains child labor is extensively utilized in cacao harvesting and estimates that 2 million children work in the West African countries of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.  Cacao farmers labor under difficult circumstances and are subject to physical injury and exposure to toxic pesticides while earning on average $.50 to $.80 per day per capita making it virtually impossible to support a paid labor force or sustainable farming practices (Warde and Martens, p 497).

CERTIFICATIONS

The idea of fair trade dates back to the late 1940’s and has evolved over the past 70 years with the goal to reduce poverty through everyday shopping.  A multitude of organizations strive to tackle poverty in the poorest countries by improving workers’ social, economic and environmental conditions.  Others raise awareness and work to protect endangered species and the planet.  The images and links below represent some of the different certifications we discussed:

 

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 4.39.12 PM.png:

Fairtrade International(FI) is a multi-stakeholder, non-profit organization focusing on the empowerment of producers and workers in developing countries through trade. Fairtrade International provides leadership, tools and services needed to connect producers and consumers, promote fairer trading conditions and work towards sustainable livelihoods. https://www.flocert.net/glossary/fairtrade-international-fairtrade-labelling-organizations-international-e-v/

Fair Trade Certified enables sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, fishermen, consumers, industry, and the earth. We achieve our mission by certifying and promoting Fair Trade products. https://www.fairtradecertified.org

Equal Exchange Equal Exchange’s mission is to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers and to demonstrate, through our success, the contribution of worker co-operatives and Fair Trade to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world. http://equalexchange.coop/about

UTZ Certified shows UTZ stands for sustainable farming and better opportunities for farmers, their families and our planet. The UTZ program enables farmers to learn better farming methods, improve working conditions and take better care of their children and the environment.Through the UTZ program farmers grow better crops, generate more income and create better opportunities while safeguarding the environment and securing the earth’s natural resources.  Now and in the future, consumers that products have been sourced, from farm to shop shelf, in a sustainable manner. To become certified, all UTZ suppliers have to follow our Code of Conduct, which offers expert guidance on better farming methods, working conditions and care for nature. https://utz.org

Rainforest Alliance Our green frog certification seal indicates that a farm, forest, or tourism enterprise has been audited to meet standards that require environmental, social, and economic sustainability. It is a non-governmental organization (NGO) working to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land- use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/faqs/what-does-rainforest-alliance-certified-mean

AND THE WINNER IS

After much deliberation, considering aroma, color, sheen, snap, flavor and texture, the group unanimously agreed the Hachez Cocoa D’Arriba 77% Classic was their favorite. One taster exclaimed, “It’s so creamy and the flavor is so rich.”

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THE HACHEZ STORY

Joseph Emile Hachez, a chocolatier of Belgian origin, established The Bremer HACHEZ Chocolade GmbH & Co. KG in 1890 in Bremen, Germany. Though the company has changed hands several times over the past century, Hachez remains one of the most well-regarded producers of superior chocolates in Germany. As highlighted on their packaging, “Hachez offers authentic chocolates of superior quality and craftsmanship-from the cocoa bean to the chocolate bar.”

“Still using the original recipes, they are one of the few German chocolate manufacturers to do everything in one location – from cleaning the cocoa beans to roasting them, molding the chocolate and packaging them. This allows them to oversee each stage of manufacturing to ensure every last piece of chocolate meets their high standards” (Chocoversum.de).

 

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About 100 hours of work are put into every cocoa bean which leaves the factory in Bremen as chocolate. The CHOCOVERSUM shows the tradition and the attention to detail, which is practiced in the HACHEZ chocolate factory in Bremen by over 350 employees on a daily basis. (Chocoversum.de)

 

Though their packaging displays no certifications or social, political or environmental messaging, Hachez belongs to both BDSI, the Association of German Confectionary, and GISCO, the German Institute on Sustainable Cocoa, which aim to address some of the issues facing the cacao industry today. The BDSI works to improve the standard of living for cocoa farmers and their families by promoting sustainable farming and education, and by offering loans to farmers to fund investments to increase productivity, quality and efficiency.  They find exploitive child labor practices unacceptable and are working with local communities to eliminate it through education and schooling. BDSI intends to boost the percent of sustainable cocoa in manufacturing to 50% by 2020 and to 70% by 2025 and to increase the share of responsibly produced cocoa in chocolate and confections sold in Germany.  Similarly, GISCO’s focus is to improve the living conditions of cocoa farmers and their families and to conserve natural resources and biodiversity in cocoa producing countries.

THE ANATOMY OF A HACHEZ BAR

To understand the anatomy of any chocolate bar, it is essential to consider all of the ingredients and workers that contribute to the final product. The basis for chocolate is cacao, which is derived from the seed of the tree, Theobroma cacao, or “food-of-the-gods cacao.” These trees grow in a band around the world, hugging the equator, and thriving only where there are perfect temperatures and plentiful moisture (Off, p 10). Approximately 70% of the worlds cocoa comes from West African, in particular, Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana.  Latin America accounts for 16% of cocoa production and Asia and Oceana account for another 12%.  Over 10% of the global harvest is processed in Germany where Hachez is based.

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Farmers gently separate the cacao pods from the trees and crack them open to remove the pulp which encases the precious beans.  Once cleaned of debris, the beans and surrounding pulp are covered in banana leaves to begin the important process of fermentation which develops the flavor of the beans. The fermentation process can take between two and six days.  When fermentation is complete, the beans are dried, sorted and bagged for shipment.

At Hachez, they claim to use only the finest cocoa varieties from farmers whom they consider to be socially responsible, environmentally friendly and practice sustainable farming. The unique flavor characteristics of the variety of beans they use reflect their terroir, “loosely translated as ‘a sense of place,’ which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment and people have had on the production of the product” (Martin, April 18).

Upon receiving the beans, Hachez’s chocolatiers sort them and run them through a machine to remove stones, sticks, and other foreign substances.  Next, the beans are “roasted in traditional drums using hot air currents to extract the optimal development of flavor and aroma” (Chocoverse.de). After a winnower separates the husks from the nibs, Hachez grinds the nibs specifically to a granular diameter of .0014 mm to produce a more delicate texture. Next, the chocolate is put through a conche for up to 72 hours to reduce the size of the particles in order to fully refine the aroma and to enhance the smoothness and delicate consistency. The chocolate is then tempered: “the temperature of the mass is raised, then carefully lowered so that the crystal structure of the fat may be destroyed to prevent the bar from becoming blotchy and granular, with a poor color.  Tempering remains a vital step in the manufacture of the finest quality chocolate” (Coe and Coe, p 248). The end result is a chocolate bar with great aroma, sheen, snap, flavor and texture.  As one taster exclaimed, “This bar is amazing.  The rich flavor and creamy texture make it the best one by far.”

CONCLUSION

Near the end of the tasting, we explored the health benefits of chocolate when consumed responsibly.  Chocolate with the greatest health benefits has a minimum 70% cacao, is organic, has limited amounts of cocoa butter and added fats, and is enjoyed in small amounts of about 2 oz. per day (Martin, April 11). Scientists have identified in cacao antioxidant properties which reduce disease causing free radicals. Antioxidants like this help ward off cancer, repair damaged cells, and impact the effects of aging.  Dark chocolate in particular is high in polyphenols and flavonoids providing a large dose of antioxidants per serving.  Flavanols, the main type of flavonoid found in dark chocolate, also are known to positively affect heart health because they help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow.

The tasters left feeling much smarter about the bean to bar process, more aware of the issues facing the chocolate industry today, enlightened about the health benefits of dark chocolate, and most important, empowered as shoppers.  I would argue I succeeded in turning them into conscientious consumers.

 

Works Cited

Coe, Sphie D. and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2006 (3rd Edition).

Mintz, Sydney W., Sweetness and Power. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1985.

Off, Carol, Bitter Chocolate, Anatomy of an Industry. New York: The New Press, 2014.

Martin, Carla D.  “Modern Day Slavery”, Harvard University, AAS E119, March 21, 2018.

Martin, Carla D. “Health, Nutrition, and Politics of Food”, Harvard University, AAS E119, April 11, 2018.

Martin, Carla D. “Psychology, Terroir and Taste”, Harvard University, AAS E119,  April 18, 2018.

Presilla, Maricel E., The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2001.

Unterman, Patricia, “Fresh off the Farm”, SF Examiner, Aug 20, 2000.

Warde, A. and I. Martens, Eating Out: Social Differentiation, Consumption and Pleasure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich. 1st ed. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University, 2014.

Chocoversum by Hachez. https://www.chocoversum.de/en/

Association of the German Confectionary Industry. https://www.bdsi.de

German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa. https://www.kakaoforum.de/en/

 

 

 

 

 

“Chocolate Makes Strong Men Stronger:” A Materialist Interpretation of Chocolate and Health

Until very recently, chocolate had a reputation as a health food. In pre-colonial Mesoamerica and early modern Europe, chocolate was associated with the divine and with material wealth. As chocolate became an industrially-produced and widely-available commodity in the 19th century, chocolate was seen as “healthy” because it was a calorically dense and affordable luxury — fuel for an ever-expanding working class. While Americans and Europeans largely stopped associating chocolate with health by the late 20th century, chocolate’s reputation is being rehabilitated in the 21st century. We now see chocolate — particularly dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa products — as cancer-fighting antioxidants, as components of a “balanced, natural” diet, as indulgent and curative superfoods. These shifting narratives around chocolate and health reflect broader historical narratives about what it meant to be healthy and who deserved access to healthy foods. In the age of wellness culture, perhaps we can see our newest “chocolate as superfood” narrative as a return to the centuries-old notion of chocolate as an elite luxury.

Long before Spain, Portugal, and France colonized Mesoamerica, the Aztecs understood cacao as a divine and invigorating food. Cacao’s caffeine energized laborers and cacao was mixed with hearty ingredients like corn to create a filling meal replacement (Coe, Chapter 2).  While cacao was available to common people in limited quantities, it was most commonly consumed by priests and the nobility (Coe, Chapter 2). It was both an expensive luxury food and a key element in religious rituals and myths. For example, in this pre-Columbian Aztec document, the cacao tree is depicted as the “tree of life,” a sort of divine bridge connecting the heavens, the Earth, and the underworld (Coe, Chapter 2). These conceptions of cacao as a divine, life-giving substance and a very healthy food were inextricably linked in Aztec culture. In this way, cacao represented access to both health and wealth.

In the age of colonialism, early modern Europeans also understood cacao and chocolate through this paradigm of health, wealth, and divinity. Because it was novel, delicious, and relatively rare (especially as cacao production dropped under the encomienda system), Europeans came to see chocolate as an otherworldly and medicinal luxury. Chocolate initially challenged European ideas about religion and medicine. For example, there was much debate over whether Catholics should be allowed to consume such a rich and exotic substance during Lent, and Pope Alexander VII had to issue an edict declaring chocolate permissible in the 17th century to put this debate to rest (Ball, 2000). However, Europeans quickly came to see chocolate as a health food. Like newly-available stimulants coffee and tea, chocolate provided quick energy. European doctors prescribed chocolate to treat a variety of ailments, ranging from malnutrition to smallpox (Lippi, 2013). In this period, thinness and disease were associated with poverty, and poverty was associated with moral inferiority (Himmelfarb, 1984). Therefore, a fattening, energizing, and expensive food like chocolate easily fit into early modern Europe’s understanding of what it meant to be healthy.

In contrast, the industrial age democratized chocolate and millions of working class Europeans and Americans could enjoy chocolate’s “health benefits” for the first time. Instead of a luxurious health food, chocolate was now fuel for blue collar workers. For example, in this turn-of-the-century advertisement, chocolate is depicted as a quick snack for burly factory workers. In declaring that their chocolate “[made] strong men stronger,” Cadbury positioned chocolate as a utilitarian health food, not just a sweet treat.

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Fig. 1: Aldin, Cecil. Cadbury’s Cocoa Makes Strong Men Stronger. Cadbury.com, c. 1900. https://tinyurl.com/ycw95smb

Cadbury also employed images of rosy-cheeked children and glowing women to encourage consumers of every gender and socioeconomic class to use chocolate to improve their health. In this mid-twentieth century advertisement, women are advised to consume the chocolate drink Ovaltine for “restful sleep,” “vitality,” and “morning freshness.”

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Fig 2: Ovaltine Advertisement. Flickr.com, c. 1940. https://tinyurl.com/y7djkts3

Chocolate’s position as a widely-available health elixir in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries represented a radical reimagining of who chocolate was for — and in many ways, a reimagining of who health was for. As western economies increasingly relied on industrial labor, the governments of these newly-industrialized countries subsidized and encouraged the consumption of “invigorating” and “healthy” foods, including chocolate (Ludlow, 2012). This reorientation of westerners’ attitude toward chocolate and health can be best understood as a shift in the means of production and the construction of value. When wealth was produced through land (e.g. agriculture and rents), aristocrats could afford to maintain their health through chocolate consumption and their health was prioritized. However, when western economies industrialized, labor created wealth more directly, and individual consumers and governments had both the means and incentive to prioritize workers’ health.

In the past few decades, chocolate lost its reputation as a healthy food. After World War II, malnutrition and contagious diseases no longer plagued wealthy western countries as they had in the early modern or industrial periods. Instead, consumers’ health anxieties centered around diet-related lifestyle diseases like heart disease. Fewer and fewer people in these wealthy countries performed manual labor, so calorie-dense, “invigorating” foods were no longer a necessity. Sugary, fatty foods like chocolate were no longer healthy. In fact, chocolate was blamed for a range of health problems, including acne and diabetes (“Global Health Risks” 2009). Chocolate has only been redeemed as part of the “whole foods” movement of the past few years. This movement can be understood as a cultural shift toward an organic, “natural” diet. In the era of cold pressed juice and quinoa, lightly sweetened and “unprocessed” chocolate products have been reframed as life-prolonging foods. Chocolate’s antioxidants, “healthy fats,” and origins as a hand-harvested and fermented crop make it an attractive choice for health-conscious consumers (Beluz, 2017). Of course, these “healthy” chocolate products don’t come cheap. As we see below, Amazon.com sells bags of raw, organic cacao nibs for over $20 per bag.

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Fig. 3: Screenshot. Amazon.com, accessed Mar 21, 2018. https://tinyurl.com/ya3jdcka

These chocolate products are largely inaccessible to poor and working class people, even in wealthy western countries. This modern association of chocolate, health, and wealth more closely resembles early modern Europe’s conception of chocolate as an exotic health tonic for the wealthy, rather than the industrial era’s understanding of chocolate as humble fuel for the working class. We must consider whether our reimagining of the association between chocolate and health is symptomatic of a broader late-capitalist turn away from the interests of the working class.

Works Cited

Ball, Ann. “When the Church Said ‘No’ to Chocolate.” Mexconnect.com, Jan 1 2000. http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/1469-when-the-church-said-no-to-chocolate

Belluz, Julia. “Dark Chocolate is Now a Health Food. Here’s How That Happened.” Vox.com, Oct 18, 2017. https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/10/18/15995478/chocolate-health-benefits-heart-disease

Coe, Sophie and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 1996.

“Global Health Risks: Mortality and Burden of Disease Attributable to Selected Major Risks.” World Health Organization, 2009. http://www.who.int/healthinfo/global_burden_disease/GlobalHealthRisks_report_full.pdf

Himmelfarb, Gertrude. “The Idea of Poverty.” History Today, vol. 34, no. 4, Apr 1984. https://www.historytoday.com/gertrude-himmelfarb/idea-poverty

Lippi, Donatella. “Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, and Medi-Food.” Nutrients, vol. 5, no. 5, 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3708337/

Ludlow, Helen. “Ghana, Cocoa, Colonialism, and Globalisation: Introducing Historiography.” Yesterday and Today no. 8, Dec 2012. http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S2223-03862012000200002

 

 

From Producers and Consumers to Producing Consumers: Nestlé and the Weaponization of Brazilian Women

In a dense Rio favela or small Amazonian village at current day, you might meet someone much like Celene da Silva, who at 29 manages her own small business. This is no small feat for a woman from one of the most impoverished areas in the world. Armed with only a pushcart, da Silva travels door to door, selling infant milk products, candy bars, puddings, and cereals to her many clients.[i]

In the small town of Vevey, Germany (now Switzerland) at the turn of the 20th century, you might have stumbled upon Henri Nestlé, also a small business owner. Using his pharmaceutical background, Nestlé invented a milk alternative known as infant formula by combining cow’s milk, flour, and sugar.[ii] What, then, links a modern-day Brazilian entrepreneur to small-town German pharmacist? What if I told you they worked for the same company?

Da Silva, along with thousands of other Brazilian women, has been recruited and trained as a door-to-door vendor for Nestlé–the world’s largest food conglomerate with some of the most aggressive marketing practices in history. Vendors are dispatched throughout Brazilian cities and countrysides, offering “nutrient-rich” processed foods from a selection of over 800 products.[iii] Even in hard to reach areas, where geography or social stigma prevent women from vending, Nestlé has found a strategy. Pictured below is a Nestlé-sponsored boat, which travels remote Amazonian tributaries as a floating supermarket offering products to “isolated” consumers.[iv] Clients are often only interested in a handful of these products, however, with foods like Kit Kat bars, Nescau 2.0 (a sugary chocolate powder), chocolate pudding, and cookies being ordered the most.[v]

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What complicates matters is Brazil’s tortured history with chocolate–once one of the top producers of cacao, the country has faced severe drought in recent years.[vi] Look at the country’s historic disconnect between production and consumption, namely due to slavery, and Nestlé’s door-to-door program appears particularly menacing. The anthropologist Sidney Mintz most accurately encapsulates this divide in his 1985 seminal work Sweetness and Power, writing of 20th century “It is not ironical to point out that the white migrants would soon be eating more sugar, produced by the nonwhite migrants at lower wages, and producing finished goods at higher wages to be consumed by the nonwhite migrants.”[vii] Many of these “finished goods” are now sold by Nestlé, who while relying on the labor of cacao farmers in countries like Brazil then dilutes products with sugar and milk to sell them at a profit. While Nestle’s door-to-door vendor program has disrupted the feminization of poverty, its attempt to turn sites of production into sites of consumption has come with devastating health effects.

Nestlé’s strict hiring quotas have allowed it to conceal its aggressive marketing efforts under the guise of gender equity. By employing over 7,000 saleswomen and 200 microdistributors,[viii] all women with little to no previous job experience, Nestlé has established a strong relationship with the Brazilian government and managed relatively little international oversight. In fact, in 2014 alone food companies donated a total of $158 million to Brazil’s National Congress.[ix] For women on the ground like Celene da Silva, the program has also brought much-needed economic empowerment. As the New York Times details, “With an expanding roster of customers, Mrs. da Silva has set her sights on a new goal, one she says will increase business even more…’I want to buy a bigger refrigerator.’”[x] Da Silva’s strong relationship with the women in her neighborhood, coupled with Nestlé’s one-month layaway plan timed to match the government-funded food stipend program, has stabilized her income.[xi] Despite the fact that she herself is 200 overweight with high blood pressure, da Silva, like many vendors, believes in her employer’s commitment to health. The question then becomes, however, the limit to employing women whose life spans will be shortened by their own products.

Nestlé’s marketing practices rely on notions of their products as healthy in order to attract the support of governments and consumers alike. Along with lobbying and employing women as door-to-door vendors, the company aligns its brand with nutrition and exercise to garner attention. As consumers in the U.S. have given up sugary chocolate products in favor of healthier foods, Nestlé has moved to introduce these same products to even the most remote parts of the Amazon by adding commonly deficient vitamins and minerals. The chocolate powder Nescau 2.0, for example, claims to be “packed with calcium and niacin.”[xii] As Professor Susan George writes in “The Limits to Public Relations,” Nestle is one of the only companies to so publically document these efforts. She says, “Very rarely do multinational corporations provide details of their activities in underdeveloped countries. Nestle is an exception.”[xiii] This distinct tactic is what has strengthened the trust between vendors and their company. As da Silva explains, “Everyone here knows that Nestlé products are good for you.”

Brazil serves as a case study in the transformation of a country from cacao producer to chocolate product consumer. The public health effects of Nestlé’s aggressive marketing campaigns are only beginning to be studied, as are alternatives. As one Nestlé consultant points out, “If I ask 100 Brazilian families to stop eating processed food, I have to ask myself: What will they eat? Who will feed them? How much will it cost?”[xiv] Processed foods have undoubtedly provided a solution to the issue of overpopulation, but have failed to nutritionally benefit consumers. The story of Nestlé and Brazil has often been one of deceit, in which sugar-laden chocolate products are billed as nutritional through women’s empowerment programs in an effort to target communities with poor records on gender equity and public health. The question then becomes how to balance demand with accessibility, affordability, and nutrition–without exploiting vulnerable populations.

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Jacobs, Andrew. “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” The New York Times, September 16, 2017, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html.

[ii] Owles, Eric. “How Nestlé Expanded Beyond the Kitchen.” The New York Times, June 27, 2017, sec. DealBook. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/27/business/dealbook/nestle-chocolate-milk-coffee-history.html.

[iii] Jacobs, Andrew. “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” The New York Times, September 16, 2017, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html.

[iv] Garfield, Leanna. “Nestlé Sponsored a River Barge to Create a ‘floating Supermarket’ That Sold Candy and Chocolate Pudding to the Backwoods of Brazil.” Business Insider. Accessed March 20, 2018. http://www.businessinsider.com/nestl-expands-brazil-river-barge-2017-9.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] “Chocolate Has New Latin King as Ecuador Overtakes Brazil.” Bloomberg.Com, January 21, 2014. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-01-20/cocoa-has-new-latin-america-king-as-ecuador-beats-brazil.

[vii] Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. Penguin, 1986.

[viii] “Door-to-Door Sales of Fortified Products.” https://www.nestle.com. Accessed March 19, 2018. https://www.nestle.com/csv/case-studies/allcasestudies/door-to-doorsalesoffortifiedproducts,brazil.

[ix] Jacobs, Andrew. “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” The New York Times, September 16, 2017, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] George, Susan. “Nestle Alimentana SA: the limits to public relations.” Economic and Political Weekly (1978): 1591-1602.

[xiv] Jacobs, Andrew. “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” The New York Times, September 16, 2017, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html.

“Is Chocolate Good for your Health?” – A Historical Study of Chocolate in Japan

 

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Image 1: A photo of Aztec Chocolate
Source: Photo by Brian Hagiwara Studio, Inc. posted on Smithsonian Museum (2008), “A Brief History of Chocolate”. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-21860917/ .[Accessed: March 18th, 2018].
Chocolate was once medicine. This is a great way to justify your love for this indulging sweet.  However, you need to know the whole history behind this mysterious product in order to use this as your argument. We will do this by exploring the historical trajectory of chocolate products as healthy food in Japan.

First of all, what is chocolate?  As it could be seen from the origin of the word- “chacau haa” meaning hot water or hot chocolate, chocolate that was born in Mesoamerica around 1500 BC in a form of liquid (Coe & Coe 2013, 180). In other words, chocolate was not candy to begin with, rather more like cacao juice.

According to Coe & Coe (2013, 108), in Ancient Maya civilization, the drink was considered as a stimulant, almost like an energy drink for warriors. After the Spanish colonized Mesoamerica, they brought back the product to their homeland. While there were heated debates over whether chocolate was good for people’s health or not, in general, the positive view persisted and spread amongst Europe. For example, in 1704, a French food writer Louis Lemery wrote that chocolate was strengthening, restorative, good for digestion, and enhances venery (Coe & Coe 2013, 208).

Such view in favor of chocolate as “healthy” is still alive today. However, the main focus is on the benefits of cacao, in particular that of the substances such as Theobromine and Catechin- an antioxidant (Benton et al., 1998; Arts et al., 2001 cited in Storrs 2017). So, the question here is, is the candy chocolate that we commonly know of, good for our health or not?

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Image 2: “Morinaga Miruku Chokorēto” (Morinaga Milk Chocolate)
(Source: Morinaga Seika Kabushiki Kaisha 1918, December 18th, Tokyo Asahi Shinbun, 6)
Introducing chocolate as kami no kate (god’s food), the nutritional benefits of coco beans are explained in detail, such as improving digestion, and therefore contributing to longer lifespan.

The history of solid chocolate is quite recent. Around mid-20th century, the energy drink was turned into a bar to take it for hiking. Concurrently, the sugar content of chocolate rose up, making it into a sweet. Following the Industrial Revolution, chocolate became a cheap product, available to everyone. However, people’s understanding of health also changed around the same time and the belief in chocolate as panacea gradually diminished (Coe & Coe 2013, 241).

Now let’s take a look at Japan. In contrast to Europe where chocolate as a beverage spread amongst the elite class and then to the mass in the form of solid sweet, chocolate was welcomed in Japan after it had established its form as candy. Morinaga Confectionary corporation was the first company to produce chocolate bars from cacao beans in 1910. Around this time, advertisements were filled with health benefits (Image 2).

 

Particularly interesting about the advertisements in the pre-war era is the notion of calories. Concerned with diseases such as diabetes, we often refrain from eating things with high energy content these days. However, the advertisement published on a mainstream Japanese newspaper called Asahi Shinbun on February 8th, 1920 states that the main reason why chocolate consumption is encouraged is because of its “heat giving power”, in short- calories. The small chart also shows the comparison of calories in food products ranging from white radish, bread, and beef to that of Morinaga’s chocolate products written in bold, emphasizing the high calories of chocolate. Based on the assumption that cacao was the main product that was thought to be nutritious in Mesoamerica and Europe, it is possible that such was also the case with Japan. Yet, we should not overlook the power of sugar. Kushner (2012, 138) notes that sugar, at that time when staple food prices were increasing, was seen as an affordable way of acquiring calories.

This was inextricably linked to war. Triggered by the threat of Western nations, Japan, since the Meiji restoration in 1868, expanded its territory in East Asia, colonizing places such as Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria. In such context, gaining calories was seen as the way to form strong bodies, thus contribution to the nation. In this sense, chocolate was for everyone- men, women, and children (Image 4).

 

From the Left, Image 3“Morinaga Miruku Chokorēto” (Morinaga Milk Chocolate) (Source: Morinaga Seika Kabushiki Kaisha 1920, February 8th, Tokyo Asahi Shinbun, 6);  Image 4: “Tatakau katsuryoku, Morinaga Miruku Chokorēto” (Power to Fight, Morinaga Milk Chocolate) (Source: Morinaga Seika Kabushiki Kaisha 1920, February 8th, Tokyo Asahi Shinbun, 6); Image 5: Morinaga Chocolate Advertisements in the 1980s targeting women (Source: P-interest (n.d.)  https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/745768019518428795/ [Accessed: March 18th, 2018].

 

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Graph1: Graph showing the growth of healthy chocolate market from 2014 to 2017 (unit: one hundred million yen)
Source: Meiji Con., (n.d.) “Chokoreto koka”.
https://www.meiji.co.jp/sweets/chocolate/chocokoka/ [Accessed: March 18th, 2018].
What awaited the burst of the bubble economy in the 1991, was the so-called the Lost Decades. Japan faced prolonged economic stagnation and serious social issues such as stress-society. After the economy recovered, with the phenomenon of ageing-population and declining birth rate, people started to become more aware of seikatsu shukan-byo (life-style related diseases), namely diabetes, high blood-pressure, and obesity. In other words, people came to view their life in the long-term, desiring a healthy life. According to a survey on people’s attitude towards food conducted by the Japan Finance Corporation in 2017, the main trend in people’s choice of food was healthy food with 44.6%, showing a steady rise for the past seven years. In the contrary, the second prominent factor money (31.4%) has been showing continuous decline, possibly indicating that people are prioritizing health over cost. This reflects the “health boom” which could be seen from the exponential growth of “healthy chocolate” market (Graph 1) (Meiji Co., n.d.).

Chocolates in this genre could be categorized into two groups: one, marketing special nutrients in cacao, and two, adding particular substances to chocolate. An example of group one chocolate is GABA, manufactured by Glico confectionary corporation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9bmMwvUelA ). As the name says, containing high amounts of a substance called Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid (GABA) understood to be useful in controlling stress, the chocolate targets working people, men in particular, calling itself a “mental balance chocolate” (Glico Co., n.d.). Chocolate Koka (Chocolate Effect) by Meiji Co., – the best seller in the healthy chocolate market is known for high content of cacao ranging from 72% to 95% (Image 6). The packaging even indicates the amount of cocoa polyphenol content and claims to be beneficial for people’s health and beauty (Meiji Co., n.d.)

Image 5.jpg
Image 6: Chocolate Koka Product Series with the Amount of Cacao content and Polyphenol per piece
Source: Meiji Con., (n.d.) “Chokoreto koka”. https://www.meiji.co.jp/sweets/chocolate/chocokoka/ [Accessed: March 18th, 2018].
Moving onto the second group of chocolate. For those who are concerned about the calories of chocolate there is Libera. Glico confectionary corporation created this product which contains Indigestible dextrin- a type of fiber that prevents the intake of fat and glucose (Glico Co., n.d.). It is assigned as a “Function Claim”- “foods submitted to the Secretary-General of the Consumer Affairs Agency as products whose labels bear function claims based on scientific evidence, under the responsibility of food business operators”. Lotte corporation has also produced “Lactobacillus Chocolate” (Nyusankin shokora). Coating Lactobacillus brevis NTT001, a plant derived lactic acid bacterium, this product helps improve the condition of people’s intestines (Lotte Co., n.d.). These two are more targeted towards women.

These trends show how chocolate in Japan has reemerged as a magical health food. Although chocolate has been receiving a similar kind of attention in US and possibly in other parts of the worlds, it is mainly the high content of cocoa that is the primary focus of attention. Japan’s follows a similar trend but with a different strategy. It is by specializing in specific nutritional benefits of chocolate that they do so. Furthermore, it also contains nutrients foreign from cacao to provide a different type of benefit that chocolate previous did not have or could not have achieved. From this, we may be able to say that the Japanese consumers are wanting to health benefits from chocolate and perhaps food in general. Taste is not enough and chocolate is not just candy.

 

Works Cited:

Arts, I. C., Hollman, P. C., Bueno de Mesquita, H. B., Feskens, E. J., & Kromhout, D. (2001). Dietary catechins and epithelial cancer incidence: the Zutphen elderly study. International journal of cancer, 92(2), 298-302. Cited in Storrs, C. (May 25, 2017).

Benton, D., Greenfield, K., & Morgan, M. (1998). The development of the attitudes to chocolate questionnaire. Personality and Individual Differences24(4), 513-520. Cited in Storrs, C. (May 25, 2017).

Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson.

Consumer Affairs Agenecy, Government of Japan (2015). “What are Food with ‘Function Claims’?” https://www.e-expo.net/pdf/news2015/20151228_caa01.pdf [Accessed: March 17th, 2018].

Glico Co., (n.d.). “Gaba”. http://cp.glico.jp/gaba/index.html. [Accessed: March 17th, 2018].

“Libera”. https://www.glico.com/jp/product/chocolate/libera/. [Accessed:                                                   March 17th, 2018].

Kushner, B. (2012). Sweetness and empire: sugar consumption in imperial Japan. In The Historical Consumer (pp. 127-150). Palgrave Macmillan, London, 138.

Lotte Co., (n.d.). “Nyusankin shokora”. https://www.lotte.co.jp/products/brand/nyusankin-chocolat/ . [Accessed: March 17th, 2018].

Storrs, C. (May 25, 2017).  “Is chocolate good or bad for health?” CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2016/02/10/health/chocolate-health-benefits/index.html [Accessed: March 17th, 2018].

Japan Finance Corporation (2017). “Survey on Consumer’s Attitude on Food”. https://www.jfc.go.jp/n/findings/pdf/topics_170915a.pdf [Accessed: March 17th, 2018].

Meiji Co., (n.d.). “Chokoreto koka”. https://www.meiji.co.jp/sweets/chocolate/chocokoka/ [Accessed: March 18th, 2018].

Morinaga Seika Kabushiki Kaisha (ed.) (2000) Morinaga hyakunenshi (100 years of History of Morinaga Confectionary Company), Tokyo: Morinaga Co..