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A Student Activist with A Chocolate Addiction

At 2AM each morning Harvard student activist and writer Minahil Khan, awakens from her deep sleep. She describes this disruption in her sleep schedule as “inevitable;” no matter how hard she tries, she wakes up each night, reaches to the ground beside her bed, and grabs a piece of chocolate. Minahil’s nightly chocolate routine began about one year ago, while she visited her parents in their home in New York City, NY and suddenly found herself having a mid-night craving for her mom’s famous chocolate mousse. The seemingly random craving quickly became a consistent necessity in her life, and Minahil has now eaten chocolate every night since. While Minahil’s case is quite extreme, many people have experienced some form of her chocolate “addiction.” So, what is it that makes chocolate such a beloved food product? Through my interview with Minahil, I attempt to uncover the various ways cultural, economic, and emotional factors have influenced consumers relationships to chocolate.

Harvard student activist and writer Minahil Khan, awakens from her deep sleep. She describes this disruption in her sleep schedule as “inevitable;” no matter how hard she tries, she wakes up each night, reaches to the ground beside her bed, and grabs a piece of chocolate. Minahil’s nightly chocolate routine began about one year ago, while she visited her parents in their home in New York City, NY and suddenly found herself having a mid-night craving for her mom’s famous chocolate mousse. The seemingly random craving quickly became a consistent necessity in her life, and Minahil has now eaten chocolate every night since. While Minahil’s case is quite extreme, many people have experienced some form of her chocolate “addiction.” So, what is it that makes chocolate such a beloved food product? Through my interview with Minahil, I attempt to uncover the various ways cultural, economic, and emotional factors have influenced consumers relationships to chocolate.

            Minahil’s chocolate dependence begins with its sentimental value, manifested in its preparation process and centrality to her childhood memories. 

LR: Do you remember the first time you ate chocolate?

MK: “I feel like the earliest memory I associate with chocolate is definitely related to birthdays. I’m from Pakistan and when I was younger we lived in this little engineering township, and I remember my mom just always made these chocolate cakes shaped like a gingerbread man. It’s weird because part of those memories only comes from the pictures of those birthdays. I look back at them now and realize, oh ‘that’s when I first had chocolate.’”

Although Minahil does not completely recall the experience of eating chocolate for the first time, she feels as if she remembers the experience, and notes the reconstruction of that early chocolate memory by her family photos. Her earliest chocolate memories were also significant because they revolved around an important event: birthdays. Chocolate has been a fixture of cultural rituals since it’s Mayan and Aztec origins. In A True History of Chocolate, Sophia and Michael Coe discuss the significance of chocolate in the Dresden codex, a Mayan book dating back to the 13th or 14th century. They write that “in several sections of the Dresden which deal with ritual activities tied in to the Maya’s sacred 260-day cycle, seated gods can be seen holding cacao pods, or dishes heaped with cacao beans” (Coe 42). The Maya viewed chocolate as an essential part of various ceremonies, including celebrations of life and death. Minahil’s birthday chocolate memory, therefore, illustrates a much longer history of chocolate as a center piece in ritualistic events. Chocolate has even become the centerpiece of the modern birthday party itself, with many choosing to have chocolate-themed birthday parties. In this video, for example, a woman throws her young daughter a chocolate-themed birthday party where the children excitedly get a behind the scenes look at chocolate production at a local chocolatier.

Drawing of Mayan chocolate drink

For Minahil, a Pakistani woman, chocolate has come to represent not only a symbol of celebration and ritual, but also of foreign or “westernness.”

LR: What’s your favorite kind of chocolate?

MK: “My mom’s chocolate mousse. That’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten. It’s just really airy.

LR: It sounds like a lot of your chocolate memories are associated with your family and childhood. How did chocolate become a part of your food culture in Pakistan? Is chocolate a part of Pakistani cuisine?

MK: “No. Really, not at all. The Pakistani desserts we have are very sugary, but there’s no chocolate involved. I don’t know if I know any dessert that has anything to do with chocolate. It’s the very western side of our upbringing even there.”

LR: Did chocolate represent something foreign to you?

MK: “At the time, no. Now, thinking about it, yeah, the fact that at one point, my mom made a chocolate barbie cake, where the cake was the dress of a barbie doll and she stuck a blonde, white barbie into the middle of it. I hadn’t even ever seen white foreign people in real life.”

As a child, Minahil considered chocolate to be an excited treat because, in addition to its sweet taste, it represented a distant and alluring west. Minahil’s mother paired the chocolate cake with a white barbie doll, demonstrating the consistent association of chocolate with white people and Western society. This association is ironic because, as Professor Martin and Kathryn E. Sampeck discuss in the Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe, the West and Central African nations of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon collectively produce approximately 70% of the world’s cacao today (Martin, Sampeck, 50).  Cacao is then processed in factories and craft chocolatiers in Europe, eventually becoming the recognizable chocolate product. Chocolate is, meanwhile, continuously branded as a luxury product, which is often not intended for consumption by nonwhite people. As Sampeck and Thayne write in Translating Tastes “In some ways, and as part of the colonial protect, chocolate was never meant to be familiar… Europeans maintained the sensory experience of chocolate—sweetness, spices, a simulation of the taste—an embodiment by colonists of Mesoamerican values but framed within the vicissitudes of the humoral scheme” (Sampeck, Thayne, 92). Through effective branding, slow recipe shifts, and colonialism, Europeans managed to construct chocolate as something unattainable to nonwhite people and victims of colonialism, like Pakistanis.

            In his article in Candy Industry, Saif Dewan clarifies the increasing accessibility of chocolate in Pakistan, from a delicacy enjoyed by the English and the wealthy, to a product available to the masses.  He writes that until the mid 1980’s, “chocolates were supposed to be the domain of the upper and upper-middle class segments in Pakistan” (Deiwan 1). In 1983, the chocolate company Mitchell created a product called Jubilee that sold for R.S 3.50 per bar. Its attractive packaging, quality, affordable price and focused media support, gave the brand unprecedented consumer reception, revolutionizing the accessibility of chocolate to the general Pakistani population. It currently exists at varying price points and remains popular in Pakistan. I asked Minahil about her personal chocolate preferences and developing tastes when she immigrated to the US.  

LR: How did your relationship to chocolate change when you came to the U.S.? Or did it at all?

MK: “Oh actually, in Pakistan we used to have Mars bars, but you never find that here. That’s one noticeable difference. Like, I used to remember every time I went to Pakistan, I used to be so excited to see Mars bars. Actually, it’s funny but now I think it’s become more accessible here. I have some Mars bars here in the corner of my room right now. Oh also, dairy… you know that one… dairy cow dairy cream? The purple wrapper? Cadbury! Yes, I had that all the time in Pakistan. I could never find that here. I think Mars is also European? I guess it was more of a British thing, you know, colonialism, so coming here I was more exposed to different brands of chocolates.

LR: What was your favorite chocolate?

MK: Cadbury.

Cadbury Dairy Milk Bar

Minahil is particularly passionate about Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate, one of the most popular chocolates in Pakistan today. Deiwan explains Cadbury’s place within the chocolate market, writing that that in the early 2000s, Cadbury’s introduced products like Dairy Milk at varying price points and marketed it as “making chocolates the choice for everyone.” He adds that “The role of Cadbury in expanding the chocolate market in Pakistan will become a primer on how to penetrate and grow a fledging segment in an underdeveloped economy.” Cadbury is on the cutting edge of popularizing chocolate in Pakistan, with efforts that began when Minahil was a child in the early 2000s. Today, Cadbury still holds a reputation from people like Minahil and other native Pakistanis as being accessible and delicious. In this Cadbury commercial, a young woman, anxious on the day of her wedding, quells both her and her father’s anxieties with Cadbury chocolate. The commercial illustrates how Cadbury chocolate is not only enjoyable, but also contains healing powers, mending the bride and her father’s relationship and giving them a moment of piece in a stressful day. Cadbury’s prevalence illustrates the globalization of chocolate and its shift towards becoming as an accessible and increasingly culturally essential product.

Minahil is also an activist, who has been heavily involved in organizing efforts on campus. However, when it came to her chocolate consumption, Minahil was fairly unacquainted with chocolate’s violent histories and exploitative present.

LR: Where do you get the chocolate from for the chocolate mousse?

MK: They are Nestle chocolate chips.

LR: Do you ever think about where the chocolate you eat comes from?

MK: Yeah sometimes and it makes me really sad, and I hate it. Like Hershey, Nestle, Nestle’s really messed up.

LR: Why is Nestle messed up?

MK: I think they just like take advantage of their workers and are buying lands and not compensating the people where chocolate is coming from fairly. Chocolate wasn’t as accessible in the west but now it’s more accessible because corporations. But with corporations comes exploitation.”

            As a civically engaged person who is immersed in activist circles, Minahil has adopted an understanding of the chocolate industry as problematic. Beyond that initial understanding however, her evaluation stops short. She is correct in saying that Nestle and Hershey most likely utilize exploitative processes, and that a large amount of that does in fact stem from corporate practices. In Bitter Chocolate, Carol Off explains the continuation of slavery far past emancipation in the 19th century on Cacao Plantations. She highlights a 2000 documentary, Slavery: A Global investigation which exposed indentured servitude in Cote d’Ivoire. The young people in the film were purchased by the plantation owners and described experiencing “beatings, starvation diets and foul living conditions” (Off 134).  Off also mentions the continuation of slavery in Sao Tome and Principe of the coast of West Africa. Minahil didn’t seem to know this connection between chocolate or slavery, despite her understanding of chocolate’s complicated reputation.

            After addressing some of chocolate’s unjust history, I was curious to see if Minahil would be willing to become a more conscious consumer.

LR: So, when you think about where your chocolate comes from, does that make you want to buy other types of chocolate? Does it make you choose between different brands based off of ethics?

MK: I haven’t. That’s not an area where I’ve invested that energy. But maybe it’s something worth thinking about. Um, yeah. I feel like in my home, I didn’t buy the chocolate. It’s just there and I eat it. Part of it is that so much of it is just sold by the same company, right? Like so much of it is just Hershey. So, I guess I’m not thinking about it because I know that already. But maybe between the two or three companies we can choose from.

Interestingly enough, the same sentimental connection to chocolate which makes it so significant to her, is also the connections which prevents Minahil from feeling mobilized to become a more conscious consumer. She understands that she could alter her taste to choose companies that use better practices but feels helpless in committing to that direction. She wants to preserve chocolate as something she can enjoy and not have to think about morally or ethically. She also seems to have convinced herself that no one buys the chocolate in her home, that she just arrives there and it’s waiting for her. She prefers to not confront the reality of her chocolate consumption, with its complicated ethical implications.

            As a Pakistani immigrant and student activist, Minahil is a particularly unique consumer of chocolate. She’s culturally conscious and frequently motivated to enact change. However, she is also extremely attached to chocolate for both its emotional and physical benefits. Ideally, my peers and I could mobilize to become conscious and active consumers of chocolate and other foods, but the personal connection and dependency we often feel towards these items calls into question the extent to which true progress can eventually be made.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2007.

Dewan, Saif. “PAKISTAN: Despite Odds, Pakistan’s Confectionery Industry Continues to Grow.” Candy Industry, Mar. 2011, pp. 18–22.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in

Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3, 2015, pp. 37–60., doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New Press,

2008.

Sampeck citing Clarence-Smith, W. G. Cocoa and Chocolate, 1765-1914. Routledge, 2000.

Satre, Lowell J. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. 1st ed., Ohio

University Press, 2005.

Schwartzkopf, Stacey, and Kathryn E. Sampeck. Substance and Seduction: Ingested

Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica. First ed., University of Texas Press, 2017.


Chicano Culture and Chocolate

Chocolate’s presence has been traced throughout ancient Mesoamerica since the time of the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec civilizations. It has sustained impact on Mesoamerican culture to this day, seen through its integral presence in authentic Mexican cuisine by way of dishes like molé, chilaquiles, and champurrado. However, there has been no research whatsoever about chocolate’s impact on Chicano culture, in order to gather some insight on the matter I decided to interview my grandfather, Bulmaro Farias, for the final term paper. Chicano culture is best described as a sub-culture of Mexican-American identifying people whom reside predominately in California and Texas. My grandfather is a first generation immigrant from Michoacan, Mexico. He was a part of the first ever wave of Chicanos to come to the United States. At the age of 11, to escape poverty, he worked in the Northern California grape fields thanks to the Bracero Program of 1942. The program aimed to bolster the agricultural workforce during World War II by granting temporary United States citizenship for cheap Mexican labor. The conversation I had with my grandfather started as a nostalgic trip through my grandfather’s life with chocolate acting as a guide and turned into a potential course of action for the Chicano community to correct some of its ailments. All in all, I believe there were some very compelling contentions derived in our conversation that offer some much needed unveiling of what chocolate means to contemporary Chicano culture.

Group of laborers working in the fields. Bracero Program of 1942 brought cheap Mexican labor to the states, during wartime.

Compared to the days of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations like the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec the functionality of chocolate in Chicano culture has been intensely diluted. Around a thousand years ago, chocolate was a revered commodity in Mesoamerican culture. In Sampeck’s piece, Substance and Seduction, she discusses the integral role chocolate plays in religious, marriage, death, offering, travel, and health rituals (Sampeck 74). The cosmological impact of chocolate has not persisted into the fibers of Chicano culture. I would argue that the lack of chocolate’s presence in Chicano culture is primarily due to their fervent alignment with Catholicism. When I asked my grandfather about what chocolate meant to him, he responded that he viewed it solely as a treat. Never did he have any intimate connection with chocolate, primarily due to his mother’s intense catholic hand ruling the household at a young age. In Mexican and Chicano culture, the family construct is as such, the patriarch of the house operates primarily as the provider whereas the matriarch of the house rears the children, feeds the family, and maintains the household. As a result, Mexican and Chicano adolescents are mostly raised by their mothers and it is an old adage that the mother is the most religious person in every house, my grandfather would wholeheartedly back up that assertion. Catholicism makes no room for chocolate in any sort of prayer or ritual. There is no wonder why we see chocolate less and less in Mesoamerican rituals after the Spaniards introduce Western religious beliefs to the region. Being that Catholicism is such a central immovable pillar of Chicano culture today, I would assert that the Catholic church plays a major part in explaining why we do not see chocolate impacting Chicano rituals today.

Chicano Churches like these are a central and steadfast pillar of the culture.

My grandfather’s relationship with chocolate dates back to his earliest memories, he used to work on a ranch in Mexico with his father. The owner of the ranch had a few cacao trees that my grandfather helped tend to. During the winter he would remember nights where the men of the ranch would come back to the house when the Moon was up and there would be warm champurrado waiting for him when they got back. My favorite part of the entire interview came when he explained his mother’s secret recipe for champurrado. The ranch where my grandfather grew up was meant for horses, cattle, and corn. The cacao trees they had, were more of a passion project than anything. Being that it was just for fun, they did not have all the materials to make the same kind of chocolate that we buy in a store today. My grandmother would break the pods open and grind the cacao beans down with a metate. Then she would boil milk, add the grounded chocolate, add a few sticks of cinnamon, some spices, and pressed sugar cane. My grandfather’s neighbors would gift the family sugar cane every few weeks, so the sugar that was added was not processed or made in a lab somewhere. The mix would sit over the fire until the ingredients properly fused and coagulated. My grandfather says that to this day, he has never consumed champurrado that comes close to what his grandmother would make. He lauded the freshness and lack of preservatives that you find in a typical champurrado recipe today, which leads to the next portion of our interview which dove into chocolate and health in the Chicano culture.

Champurrado served in a glossy yet traditional gourd.

My grandfather is an athlete and has been one his whole life. He wakes up every morning at 5:30 am to either play tennis with his friends or workout at the local gym. It is safe to say that he is a bit of a health nut. He tries to stay away from sugars altogether with his new diet so chocolate has not been on his menu for the past few years, however, he remembers a time when he loved chocolate. When he first got to the United States, he was not even a teenager. He came with his older brother and the both of them worked in the fields side-by-side until they could afford their own places. The only chocolate that he had in the United States in his early years came in the form of a candy bar. He wants me to be very clear that he loves chocolate, just cannot eat it anymore. As my grandfather got older and learned the negative externalities of a poor diet he saw a way for him to feel better and cut out the sugar altogether. Our family has a history of diabetes so that also played a role in pushing him to a healthier diet. It makes him sad to see that so many Chicano families have very little nutritional education. Childhood obesity among Mexican-American children is higher than the average rate of childhood obesity for the rest of the United States. Hispanic adolescents ages 12-19 living in United States have a 17.4% obesity rate compared to their non-hispanic counterparts who have an obesity rate of 14.5% (Taylor). My grandfather asserts that one of the largest ailments in Chicano culture is their lack of nutritional education. There was a study that interviewed 20 self-identified morbidly obese Chicano females and found four themes that helped explain the status quo, the two most pertinent being multiple sources of excess calories and the family’s personal struggle especially financial pressures (Taylor). To tackle the diet part first, I asked my grandfather if he ever received any formal education about nutrition or diet, he said yes but when he was 50. A large part of the reason why he said that he did not look too much into diet was because money was such a persistent strain on his food selection. He chose food primarily on the basis of affordability. “How long can I stretch my dollar?” is basically how he explained it to me. He would eat chocolate bars, chips, and sugary drinks and not think twice because it was quick, filling, and all that he could afford. Within this, he believes he could have been a little better finding the healthiest option, but diet seemed trivial in comparison to his other obstacles. I believe extrapolating this sentiment to the greater Chicano community would not be far-fetched whatsoever, but rather resonate close to home for most Mexican-American households. To my grandfather, Chocolate’s role in the Chicano community today is rather pessimistic. He believes that the high caloric, low nutritional value of chocolate bars and other junk foods alike are hurting the Chicano community in ways that will hinder life spans and quality of life. Understanding the impact, food has on your body, would do some great service to the Chicano community at large. 

Ubaldo Alexis Garcia Lopez, a eleven year old Mexican boy, attends a monthly consultation with doctors while being treated for symptoms related to obesity. Chicano children have higher rates of obesity than national average.

As for the money issue in the Chicano diet, that is a little more difficult to tackle. Robert Albritton touches on the history of this problem in his piece, Between Obesity and Hunger. He asserts on the very first line that we live in a world with a capacity to have a healthy diet for all (Albritton 342). We definitely do have the capacity for everyone to be taken care of, but not everybody has the means. Cheap food has become important because it allows wages to be lower and it leaves workers with more disposable income for other things. Our laws have even benefitted cheaply produced food, subsidies are handed out to people with the highest yields (Albritton 342). This has pushed out the mom and pop farms in the United States, much like the one my grandfather grew up on in Mexico. The uptick in production has come at the expense of nutritional value. We are seeing hormones and preservatives added to the crops that deteriorate the nutritional benefit to the body. As a result, the food we find packaged in the store, more often then not, end up being pretty inflammatory and not very healthy. These cheap, unhealthy foods are being purchased for very little because they cost close to nothing to produce. The chocolate of ancient Mesoamerica was high in Theobromine and virtually no preservatives involved whatsoever, making it a potent stimulant (Sampeck 73). Whereas today, the chocolate that the Chicanos are exposed to, very unhealthy. For instance, Abuelita, is a Mexican instant-make champurrado company  is jam packed with high sugar and corn fructose. The champurrado the Chicanos are drinking is actually hurting them health wise compared to traditional champurrado which had some great health benefits. It is a different world now, which makes all the more argument for better nutritional education. 

The last question I asked my grandfather, “Do you see chocolate as a luxury?” This was a question that took him a while to respond to, his answer was finally, “No.” But he did qualify to say that chocolate was a treat and operated as a reward in his eyes. Every occasion where he could consume chocolate he was happy and there was a lot of hard work on his end to reap that reward, or at least that is how he viewed it. If anything, he thought it was a deserved break from the regular diet.  The McNiel and Riello piece about Luxury, if anything, offered an explanation of luxury that my grandfather never had the privilege of experiencing. He was too deep in the happenings of his struggle. I did appreciate the piece’s contention that the line was strict between the haves and have-nots (McNiel 6). Unfortunately, my grandfather was only on the side of have-nots and said he never had the opportunity to feel any “luxury.” Because any sort of privilege or break he got in life, in his mind, was rightfully worked for and earned.

This opportunity to interview my grandfather for a final term paper has been the highlight of my time spent in this class. This allowed me the opportunity to give a perspective to this course that I would have not otherwise received. The issues brought up that are plaguing the Chicano culture today are some I plan to focus on changing in my community after graduation. Having my grandfathers perspective on the matter was motivating and maybe would have never happened without this assignment bringing me to do so. For that, I am very thankful.

Work Cited

1. Taylor, Sharonda Alston, et al. “A Qualitative Study of the Day-to-Day Lives of Obese Mexican-American Adolescent Females.” Pediatrics, vol. 131, no. 6, 2013, pp. 1132–8.

2. Counihan, Carole, and Penny Van Esterik. Food and Culture: a Reader. Routledge 2019.

3. McNeil, Peter, and Giorgio Riello. Luxury a Rich History. Oxford University Press, 2016.

4. Schwartzkopf, Stacey, and Kathryn E. Sampeck. Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica. University of Texas Press, 2017.


Chats over Choco: A Discussion of Chocolate in History, Society, and Industry

Introduction: Why do you like chocolate?

The cafe is cozy and dimly lit, the perfect setting for an interview. Dave and I head to the back and sit at a small wooden table. A few days ago, he had eagerly agreed to be interviewed as soon as I mentioned that the subject of my questions would be chocolate. Of course, he only became more enthusiastic after I mentioned that we would be doing a blind taste test as well. We order a couple of loose leaf teas and two slices of white bread — an odd order at a cafe, but we would need them to cleanse Dave’s palate during the tasting.

I start out by asking Dave how much he likes chocolate, to which he replies, “A pretty large amount.” I then ask him why he likes chocolate, but he seems confused at how to answer. “Well, it has a unique taste,” he says. “It has that melt-in-your-mouth quality. It’s creamy, fragrant, smooth, appealing.” Basically his answer in a few words was that chocolate simply tastes good — it has a good flavor and a good texture.

The question I asked seems simple, but upon closer examination there seems to be no clear answer. Why is the world so crazy about chocolate? In “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving,” author David Benton notes that chocolate is “by far the most common food item that people report that they crave” (205). But is there some scientific reason behind this, or are we just continuing the traditions of ancient civilizations (such as the Aztecs and the Maya) who called chocolate the ‘food of the gods’?

In my interview, I aimed to first look at chocolate from a more historical point of view to examine reasons behind its inherent ‘specialness,’ before comparing this to what we think of chocolate today. I then wanted to examine something a little less black and white — Dave’s general feelings towards chocolate, and why these certain feelings may have developed as a result of pop culture and the media. After this, I wanted to touch on some thoughts about the nature of the chocolate industry and some of the problems in it. And finally, I wanted to try a blind chocolate taste test, to compare my knowledge about chocolate companies with Dave’s blind opinion about the chocolates themselves. I thought it would be interesting to see whether he could taste differences in quality, flavor, and texture.

Chocolate in History vs. Today: What do you associate with chocolate?

“I have fond memories of chocolate from when I was little,” Dave explains. “In a lot of the events I would go to, like performances, they’d have chocolate to give us kids and we’d eat it while watching the performers.”

It might seem rather arbitrary that we associate chocolate with special events and celebrations. However, this has been a pattern throughout history. Going back to the ancient Aztec and Mayan civilizations, chocolate has often appeared in rituals and religious ceremonies. In a sacred Mayan text, the Popol Vuh, cacao appears several times — for example, there are stories about gods being represented by cacao pods (Coe & Coe, 39). Cacao was also linked to marriage rituals (for example, as dowries) and rites of death.

A couple drinking cacao during a marriage

There are many sources that talk about how chocolate has always been special, historically. It has often appeared in religious and spiritual contexts. Such myths about cacao and gods may seem so detached from us now; maybe we are ‘logical’ or ‘scientists’ and no longer widely believe in such tales. But then maybe we are not so far from this mindset as we may initially think. We still romanticize chocolate as being a mystical substance with mysterious powers. Although we may not call it the ‘food of the gods,’ we still hold it with a similar regard. We still serve it at events and special occasions, we still relate it to fertility (it is associated with aphrodisiacs and romance), and yet we cannot easily explain what makes it so special.

For children especially, chocolate is an alluring treat associated with intensity and excitement (as it was to Dave). This may be why marketing to children is such a huge business: children are even more likely to ignore any logical arguments and accept chocolate as being magical. But there is even evidence of adults today thinking of chocolate in this way: for example, in “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered,” James Howe describes a doctor who was trying to scientifically explain the remarkable cardiovascular health of the Kuna people. The doctor notices that they drink a lot of cacao and immediately relates this to their heart health, although he may not have made the same conclusion had they been drinking a common cornmeal drink. And of course, their healthiness turned out to be unrelated to cacao drinking. The doctor had simply been romanticizing cacao, perhaps because it was more mysterious to him.

As for the reason why we are drawn to cacao, it could be scientific: chocolate has been shown to be one of the most complex natural flavors (Brenner, 64), so perhaps we are simply attracted to this multi-dimensionality. Or maybe the fascination of the Aztecs and Mayans with chocolate has carried over to our time. Or as Benton explains in “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving,” it could just be because it tastes good (214). Either way, all we can conclude is that chocolate is mysterious to us and that we still tend to consider it under in mystical context — kind of like how the Aztecs and Mayans did so long ago.

Chocolate and Emotions and Pop culture: How do you feel about chocolate?

“I think of chocolate and happiness,” Dave says fondly. “Yeah, it’s definitely a happy food. I sometimes eat it when I’m stressed, but then I eat a lot when I’m stressed in general.”

It seems that Dave is not the only person who thinks that chocolate encourages happiness. Chocolate is often given as a gift of love or celebration, in order to urge someone to think of you in a fond or romantic way. But because of chocolate’s clear link with improving mood, people often eat it when upset, bored, or stressed. As Benton describes in his essay, there is a link between chocolate and ‘emotional’ eating, and there is  also “consistent evidence that chocolate craving is associated with depression and other disturbances of mood” (206). In other words, because we associate chocolate with happiness, our cravings often occur when we are upset.

Dave doesn’t explicitly mention eating chocolate when he is stressed or sad, but he does describe some of the chocolates he likes best: specifically, those small dark chocolate nuggets wrapped in colorful foil with inspirational messages written on the inside. It seems that the companies manufacturing chocolate are aware of its power to improve mood, and they try to exaggerate this effect as much as possible in order to encourage people to keep coming back. And yet, as Benton describes, there is no convincing evidence of certain constituents in chocolate having special mood-improving powers. This is again part of what makes chocolate so mysterious to us; we can look at its components and try to analyze scientifically, but in the end it’s the chocolate as a whole that is inexplicably stimulating.


A Dove chocolate with a cheerful, inspirational message:
“All you really need is love, and a little chocolate doesn’t hurt!”

But what deeper effects could these emotions have? Chocolate encourages happiness for so many people; how can we see the effects of this in the media and pop culture? I ask Dave how he relates chocolate to pop culture. He leans back in his seat, looking a little wistful.

“Oh, romance for sure,” he says, waving a hand. “And holidays… I always buy the most chocolate during those Christmas, Halloween, and Easter sales. And Valentine’s Day, of course — although I haven’t recently gifted chocolate in a romantic way or anything. But I want to.” He goes on to describe a romantic scene of him standing in a park near a bench with snow on the ground, holding a red box of chocolates and a single rose. “I always think of those little red heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. Dark chocolates. With a bow.”

Confectionery company Cadbury greatly increased sales
by starting to sell their chocolates in a heart-shaped box

It’s surprising how specific these images are; we now seem to inherently relate Valentine’s Day to chocolate without questioning why we would do so. As for the other holidays, they are also important earning opportunities for chocolate-selling companies, especially if those companies take advantage of our associations of chocolate with romance and love. Many a chocolate advertisement will ruthlessly target women, appealing to them as mothers and housewives.

Hershey’s Syrup TV Commercial: https://www.ispot.tv/ad/AfkQ/hersheys-syrup-fairys-chocolate-milk. A Hershey’s chocolate syrup ad appealing to mothers and associating their product with a ‘happy family.’

In terms of romance, Dave’s answer reveals the influence that these advertisements and depictions in the media have on us: he never even considers the possibility of a woman gifting a man chocolate. As a male, he assumes that it is his duty to do the giving. And this is no new concept — as Emma Robertson describes in “Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History,” women have been positioned as consumers since the time of the Aztecs (68). So we see again that there are common themes throughout history that have survived even until today.

Ultimately, we know that we crave chocolate because it tastes ‘good,’ and that we consider it an aphrodisiac and so relate it to fertility. We also know that historically, people have also loved and obsessed over chocolate, and wondered at its unusual powers — so much so that they associated it with divinity and spirituality. But in the end, we marvel at chocolate just as much as them. There are few satisfying or scientific answers as to why we associate chocolate so strongly with love, women, and happiness, rather than some other delicious treat. The fact that chocolate has held such an important position since so early in history just enhances its image in our eyes, and we continue to romanticize and fantasize, as can be seen from the media and its influence on people like Dave. At this point, we are fed so much information about chocolate’s link to romance and happiness that I would be surprised if Dave had not described the exact specific imagery that he had.

The Chocolate Industry: What do you know about the industry?

I knew that when asked about the ‘biggest’ chocolate brands, Dave would most likely name Hershey. But I wasn’t so sure about the others.

“I love Lindt, Godiva. Ferrero,” Dave lists. I was surprised. Lindt is the first one he mentions? “And Hershey’s, of course. Hershey’s is comfortable.”

I ask him why it’s comfortable. He describes how one of his teachers used to give him a big Hershey’s Symphony cookies n’ cream bar on his birthday, how he would split it among his friends, and hide it from his parents. “Well, it’s comfortable but the taste is aggressively sweet. I like dark chocolate, mostly.”

It seems that so many people have fond memories associated with Hershey’s. But is Hershey’s actually good? All of the other brands Dave mentioned suited his preference for dark chocolate; Lindt and Godiva are known for making higher quality, more expensive products (especially better quality dark chocolate). Hershey’s, however, seems to have established itself as a reliable and homely brand. As seen in advertisements such as the one for Hershey’s syrup, they appeal to family and strive to create good memories to associate with themselves. So it would make sense that people such as Dave would remember Hershey’s fondly, even if their preferences lie elsewhere.

There is a stark difference, in fact, between what American consumers and other consumers think of Hershey’s. Americans, having grown up on it and having forged many good memories with a Hershey’s bar in hand, are more likely to say that Hershey’s tastes ‘like home.’ However, other consumers have commonly remarked that Hershey’s tastes rather ‘like vomit.’ In his chocolate-making process, Hershey unintentionally added the side effect of milk fat fermentation, which creates a sour note in his milk chocolate (D’Antonio, 108). Since the milk is partially soured, it creates an acid that is found in substances such as baby spit-up — but American consumers are now too accustomed to the taste, or perhaps swayed by their pleasant memories of Hershey’s, to notice or complain (Metz).

One other surprising aspect of Dave’s comment was that he failed to mention Mars, indisputably one of the most influential chocolate snack manufacturers. When I tried to bring up candies Twix and Snickers, he commented that he had had a vague idea that such candies were produced by the same umbrella company, but that he hadn’t heard much about it. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Mars has always been a secretive company — Forrest Mars had cared about quality and his empire vision and little else. Others had always agree that “Mars’s intelligence operations [were] infamous… they tried to pump information out of… anybody they could” (Brenner, 62). It is clear, then, that the nature of the company also largely impacts what the general public thinks of their brand and products.

Mars, Inc — familiar candies, unfamiliar company

I then asked Dave what he knew about unethical labor in the industry, just to gauge his awareness. He commented that he was aware of problems such as child labor in the system. “Consumers are definitely implicated in these problems, though,” he says, almost uncomfortably. “But if I saw a normal chocolate bar and a more expensive one labeled ‘ethically sourced,’ I’d probably go with the normal one. Nowadays it seems like labeling your candy as being ‘ethically sourced’ is more of a gimmick to squeeze more profit out of consumers. If I’m shopping and looking for a few items, I often don’t have the motivation to research the brand then and there.”

In other words, Dave was able to tell that the problem was complex enough that there could be no simple solution. He knew that just adding labels would not be enough to motivate consumers like himself to do research themselves and to start acting upon their new knowledge. As is true in many other situations, complex lives require holistic responses.

Tasting: what do you taste?

I had Dave close his eyes and taste test three different brands of dark chocolate (with a palate cleansing in between each): Cadbury, then Hershey’s, then Lindt. I was interested to see how his opinions might match up with the information I had about each brand.

On Cadbury: “This smells like dark chocolate! It is nutty, quite smooth, not too sweet, and melts nicely. But the taste is rather straightforward. It doesn’t linger.” Rated: 8/10

On Hershey’s: “This has a very odd odor. I’m not sure how to describe it. It melts incredible fast, is very sweet, and tastes a bit like coffee. It tastes lighter than the other one… maybe milk chocolate?” Rated: 7/10

On Lindt: “This smells very chocolatey; no odd scent here. It seems to melt slower though, and it tastes both very sweet and not so sweet at the same time. It does have some astringent notes and it seems to make my tongue dry. It’s very rich.” Rated: 5/10

Dave’s comments surprisingly matched up with what I predicted. He sensed that Hershey’s uses a lower percentage of actual cacao (by guessing that it was milk). He even smelled the sour note in the Hershey’s chocolate. However, he didn’t seem to like the texture of the Lindt chocolate as much, which was unexpected to me since Lindt was the one who invented the conching process. But in the end, he seemed to enjoy all three samples of chocolate (and continued eating them after the interview had ended).

Conclusion

After a closer examination, it becomes clear that chocolate has a complex and rich history, a controversial and influential role in society, and is the center of a competitive and powerful industry. The whole world is obsessed with this single characteristic flavor; so many people are constantly craving it, giving and receiving it, and talking about it. But is this such a surprise? The biggest conclusion at the end of the day is that chocolate is mysteriously delicious — and that perhaps we are not so different from those ancient civilizations and their myths about the ‘food of the gods.’

References

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain, by Astrid Nehlig, CRC Press, 2004.

Brenner Joël Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: inside the Secret World on Hershey & Mars. Broadway Books, 2000.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019.

“‘Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.’” Hershey: Milton’s S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D’Antonio, Simon & Schuster Paperback, 2006.

Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, doi:10.1525/gfc.2012.12.1.cover.

Metz, Elle. “Does Cadbury Chocolate Taste Different in Different Countries?” BBC News, BBC, 18 Mar. 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31924912.
“’The Romance of the Cocoa Bean’: Imperial and Colonial Histories.” Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History, by Emma Robertson, University of York, 2004.

Multimedia Sources

“Cadbury Heart Shape Box – For My Valentine.” Cadbury Joy Deliveries, http://www.cadburystore.com.au/media/catalog/product/cache/image/700×560/e9c3970ab036de70892d86c6d221abfe/v/a/valentine_box_open_box_1600x1600_03_new_1_.jpg

“A Couple Drinking Cacao during a Marriage.” Mexicolore, http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/images-ans/ans_21_06_2.jpg.

“A Dove Chocolate with a Cheerful, Inspirational Message.” Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice, http://www.cinnamonspiceandeverythingnice.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Dove-Dark-Chocolate-Mint-Swirl-Promises.jpg.

“Hershey’s Syrup TV Commercial, ‘Fairy’s Chocolate Milk’.” ISpot.tv, http://www.ispot.tv/ad/AfkQ/hersheys-syrup-fairys-chocolate-milk

“Mars, Inc — Familiar Candies, Unfamiliar Company.” WOWT 6 News, http://www.wowt.com/home/headlines/Mars-candy-products-recalled-369811351.html.

Chocolate from an Outside Perspective: An Interview with a Person Not Studying Chocolate

Chocolate. Chocolate is something that everyone is familiar with. Everyone has some sort of relationship with chocolate. Whether it be someone who loves chocolate more than anything else, someone who feels the opposite, or someone somewhere else in between the spectrum, everyone is familiar with chocolate. However, while chocolate is a common theme across all of our lives, it is not often that we truly think about this personal relationship with chocolate, and how it relates to chocolate in general across the world in addition to its vast history. In an effort to encourage this deeper analysis of chocolate, I conducted an interview with a Harvard undergraduate addressing chocolate to them as well as the more general relationship between chocolate and society. The interview begins with discussion of the personal relationship this person has with chocolate, and then delves into more broad chocolate conversation. The interview helps reveal some typical feelings and uses of chocolate across society, including identifying chocolate being used as a coping mechanism to deal with stressful and uncomfortable events, as well as delving into the relationship between chocolate and gender and discussion about the wide variety of different uses of chocolate from the happiest to the saddest of situations, as well as everything in between.

Chocolate is widely consumed around the world

The interview began with relatively simple questions about the frequency in which this person consumes chocolate. The student answered, “I probably consume chocolate about once every other day in some form. I usually try not to seek out chocolate, and I rarely buy it myself, but if there is chocolate available to me for free, which there frequently is, I will not hesitate to eat it.” While she may not personally purchase chocolate, the fact that chocolate seems to be so frequently available to this student speaks to the high chocolate consumption rates in the United States. In the United States, there are 300 billion pounds of chocolate consumed annually, which equates to about 22 pounds of chocolate per person every year. In comparison, China consumes 146 million pounds of chocolate annually, which equates to only 1.8 ounces per person (Martin, 2019). When asked if her chocolate consumption was consistent year-round, the student answered, “I would say my consumption varies. During Holidays that emphasize chocolate consumption such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day, I consume much more because it is more readily available. During the colder months in the winter, I tend to consume hot chocolate beverages because they are comforting and delicious.” On an individual level, it makes sense for chocolate consumption to vary throughout the year simply because chocolate is more readily available at sometimes more than others. Looking more into the difference in consumption across different countries, chocolate in Western Civilization is often used in forms of celebration and indulgence, such as for Halloween. However, part of the reason Chinese consumption is far less than the United States is due to a difference in consumption and nature of purchases in general. In China, the market is centered more around gifting purchases, while the United States market is centered around self-indulgence purchases.

To celebrate Halloween, people eat and give chocolate

The next question asked of the student was about what their favorite way to consume chocolate is, to which they answered “My favorite way to consume chocolate is in hot beverages or small bite-sized candy with caramel. Chocolate in hot beverages taste delicious and gives me a sense of warmth at the same time. Sometimes I mix chocolate beverages with coffee to make it taste better.” Throughout history, chocolate has frequently been consumed as a beverage beginning in Mesoamerica. The flavoring of chocolate was different in the Americas as opposed to European flavors. In comparison, the flavors of chocolate beverages for Europeans utilized more diverse spices and produced more diverse flavors (Sampeck and Thayn, 2017). The rise of big chocolate companies today can be rooted back towards developments in chocolate consumption. For example, Cadbury, a popular chocolate company today, was the first company that began to use confections. America’s most iconic chocolate company, Hershey’s, was not founded until 1903. The company initially struggled to create the perfect milk chocolate bar, but upon development the products, such as the iconic Hershey’s Kiss, became extremely popular. In general, the market for chocolate is dominated by three main companies. While there seems to be such a wide range of chocolate selection, Nestle, Mars, and Hershey’s make 99.4% of snack-sized chocolates (Martin, 2019). When asked about her favorite chocolate bars, the Harvard student chose Twix, Snickers, and Kit Kats. Both Twix and Snickers are created by Mars, and Kit Kats are created by Nestle. While all of these chocolate bars have their own brand and are extremely well known, it is not as commonly known that they are often produced by the same company.

Many recognizable brands are owned by the same parent company

Moving forward in the interview, I began to ask the interviewee about the concept of the relationship between gender and chocolate. Upon asking about the perception of chocolate with women, the student said, “I do feel like chocolate is more associated with women in media, from advertisements to female characters in movies.” There is a strong history of the relationship between gender and chocolate. When looking through chocolate advertisements and marketing throughout history, a common theme is the role that women play. Many advertisements attempt to either appeal to women through displaying the chocolate as a feminine, sweet treat, or use images of women to create a sexual appeal with the chocolate in an effort to resonate with men and women (Robertson, 2010). A common perception is that chocolate is for girls because girls are supposed to be sweet and sweet-loving, where chocolate it the perfect food. Additionally, throughout history, chocolate has been advertised for stay at home mothers to use chocolate as a source of energy when tired from taking care of kids. The student had further comments on the relationship between gender and chocolate, saying “I also think it is more typical that chocolate is given as a gift to women in celebration of holidays such as Valentine’s Day. I do see chocolate as a gendered commodity.” It is interesting to consider the role of gender and chocolate with Valentine’s Day, which is traditionally a very gendered holiday. Typically on Valentine’s Day, a man will cater to his significant other and take the day to appreciate her and make her feel good. This often involves chocolate. Given the intimacy of the holiday, chocolate seems to be an appropriate gift, as it is believed to be a food with aphrodisiac qualities, meaning it stimulates sexual desire (Martin, 2019). This contributes to the generalized trend of sexuality and chocolate. Chocolate is often believed to have a sex appeal.

Valentine’s Day Chocolates

The next topic of conversation in the interview shifted back towards the student’s personal relationship with chocolate. When asked how chocolate has become important to the student, she answered, “Chocolate to me is extremely comforting. I feel like when I consume chocolate it makes me feel more relaxed. When I am stressed out or feeling overwhelmed, I personally feel like I can turn to chocolate to make me feel better.” This use of chocolate as a relaxant is not just applied to this student, as she went on to say, “. I also have a very close friend who went through a significant traumatic experience last year and she relied heavily on a specific type of chocolate as a coping mechanism. I think it did make her feel better.” Chocolate is stereotypically used as a coping mechanism for people dealing with bad situations, such as after a breakup or in mourning a loss. In a study researching the usage of chocolate when dealing with stressful situations, the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that people who eat more chocolate are more likely to be depressed. This is due to the tendency of people to eat chocolate when stressed or depressed in an effort to provide comfort (Flanigan, 2018). Researchers went on to find that eating chocolate actually does have positive short-term effects in easing depressive symptoms, but there is no significant long-term impact. The research actually suggested that consuming chocolate had negative impacts in the long-term. This could be because chocolate provides short-term relief, which is helpful, but may prevent people from seeking real treatment to address their issues (Flanigan, 2018). Because chocolate can make people feel better, but not truly fix their problems, people may feel like they can deal with their problems on their own, which has potential negative consequences. However, chocolate is a source of instant satisfaction, and will provide short term help to make a person feel better. If a person is able to consume chocolate to feel better without suppressing their feelings long-term, chocolate can be a good tool to make people feel better.

Stress eating chocolate is very common

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about chocolate is how diverse it is in usage and consumption. As we just discussed, chocolate is often used in negative situations by people to help ease stress and negative emotions. On the other hand, chocolate is also used just as frequently in celebrations and positive situations. People often give and consume chocolate in celebration of many different holidays. The most obvious example of this is Halloween, where the entire premise of the holiday is highly related to chocolate consumption and gifting. However, considering other holidays, the presence of chocolate is nearly just as strong. For example, think about Easter. To celebrate Easter, people often host big scavenger hunts for eggs from the Easter bunny, which typically are filled with chocolate. The Easter bunny brings baskets for people too, which is often filled with chocolates. Think about Christmas, a holiday centered around giving. People often receive their stockings filled with chocolates. Even more generally, think about birthday’s, where people celebrate eating chocolate cake, or other sorts of chocolate. I can continue to list the prevalence of chocolate in nearly all celebrations. There are not many foods or things in general that are traditionally used in such diverse situations, from happy celebrations as just discussed or sad situations such as mourning.

For this reason, the use of chocolate on a personal level can often change overtime, where at some point in time a person relies on chocolate as a distraction or coping mechanism but then later the relationship becomes more positive. I asked the interviewee about how their relationship with chocolate has changed overtime, to which she responded, “When I was kid, I craved chocolate a lot more and I would always try to convince my parents to buy it for me. Chocolate would always be associated with happiness. However, I now don’t seek out chocolate as much as I used to, and it is more ordinary to me.” For her, chocolate used to be a big source of excitement. The thought of getting and eating chocolate alone brought her happiness and thrill to the point of where she would beg her parents to replenish her cravings. As she has gotten older, the student no longer sees this excitement from chocolate, and she is much more relaxed and calmer about chocolate consumption. While she still does enjoy consuming chocolate, she no longer feels the necessity to have chocolate to satisfy cravings. Moving forward, who knows how this relationship with chocolate will evolve. It is possible the relationship won’t change, but it just as likely that it will. Perhaps when growing up and having children of her own, the student’s relationship with chocolate will come full circle, where her kids are begging at her mercy to buy chocolate for them. Unlike many other foods and objects, the ability of chocolate to have such diverse usage, in addition to diverse consumption methods from food to beverages, allows for significant changes overtime in the personal relationship that people have with the product.

This interview provides a look at the perception a typical person had about chocolate at both a personal level and more general level. We were able to uncover some of the causes for the high chocolate consumption levels by seeing individual consumption tendencies. More broadly, we were able to look into the relationship between chocolate and gender, and how it is perceived to people. However, perhaps most importantly, this interview allowed us to uncover the usage of chocolate as a coping mechanism to deal with stress and other negative situations, and how the use of chocolate as a crutch may not be good for long-term treatment of problems. Lastly, the interview helped uncover the everchanging relationship people have with chocolate on an individual level, and why it is able to change so drastically.

Scholarly Sources Cited:

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

Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126

Flanigan, Robin. 2018. “The Connection Between Chocolate & Stress Eating.” Esperanza – Hope To Cope.

Martin, Carla D. 2019. The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market.

Martin, Carla D. 2019. Sugar and Cacao.

Martin, Carla D. 2019. Chocolate Expansion.

Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.

pp. 1-131

Sampeck, Kathryn, and Jonathan Thayn. 2017. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of

Chocolate Colonialism.” pp. 72-99

Multimedia Sources Cited:

Simply Chocolate (https://www.simplychocolate.com/learn-different-types-of-chocolate)

Chocolate Pizza (https://www.chocolatepizza.com/product/happy-halloween-chocolate-pizza-2/)

OXFAM (https://firstperson.oxfamamerica.org/2013/03/10-everyday-food-brands-and-the-few-giant-companies-that-own-them/)

Li-Lac Chocolates (https://www.li-lacchocolates.com/Valentine-Chocolate-Heart-of-Truffles-41-pc)

Women Working (https://www.womenworking.com/stress-eating-5-signs-youre-eating-feelings/)

Ethnography on Chocolate: Socioeconomic Visual Culture, Mesoamerican Origins, & Contemporary Perspectives

The purpose of this small-scale ethnography is to examine the social significance of chocolate from a cross-cultural perspective. Through interviewing various members of my local community that were born in different regions of Mexico and Central America, I document here their experiences and observances of chocolate.

Experienced through consumption or non-consumption, and observed through their emic perspective, there are underscoring themes exposed amongst the roles in which chocolate has played throughout each of their own lives. Within the context of those personal relationships with chocolate, an interaction between social and economic functions of their state and country may be contemporaneous to their outlook. Although this simultaneity is not always the circumstance, motifs emerge as their uniqueness transpires. Effectually, their contributed insight has actualized a microcosm of chocolates’ socio-cultural diversity and likenesses.

While conducting the interviews with members of my community, the aim was to first listen to their observances, and to then ask questions of clarification to assist in their thought process. The framework of my Q&A was designed this way to acquire a qualitative study, so that this retelling would reflect the individual perspectives of each subject, synchronously providing a glimpse into the societal experience. To depict those experiences through a cultural historical lens, that of which illustrated itself during most of the interviews already, I asked questions about their culture as a whole and how they thought chocolate was generally regarded in their own communities.

This study is not meant to define those relationships, but to highlight multiplicities within these individual cross- cultural accounts. Over reflections of my own and of the human subjects in this ethnographic study, I hope to provide sufficient ­imagery of historic milieu within the functional roles chocolate has played in personal experience and in society.

Origins

Theobroma Cacao, or the Food-of-the-God’s Cacao, is widely accepted by botanists and scholars as indigenous to Mesoamerica. Evidence of its cultivation is indicative of the role it played in ancient civilizations like the Mixe-Zoquean-speaking Olmecs (1500 BCE – 400 BCE). At the famed Olmec archaeological site in San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, evidence has been found of the term “Kakawa” used by the Olmec as early as 1000 BCE (Coe & Coe, 1996). See on the map below, San Lorenzo is west of present day Guatemala, and north of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.

 

San Lorenzo on the map 2
San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán is a famed archaeological site, well known for the massive Olmec stone heads excavated there

 

We find in the archaeological record, the ways in which early civilizations illustrated cacao, or “Kakawa” on their pottery. This being a significant attribute to understand the role chocolate played in their livelihoods and rituals. According to Maricel Presilla in her book, The New Taste of Chocolate, “it was the Maya who brought chocolate making to a high art… building on the foundation left behind by other Mesoamerican cultures”, like that of the Olmecs and other sibling tribes (2009).

 

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Buenavista vase, Buenavista del Cayo, Belize

 

See this Classic Maya vase from the seventh century portraying the Maize God in an “unending dance, symbolizing both the creation of the universe and also his cycle of death and rebirth” (Takushi, Pioneer Press).

Maya Classic period (250 – 900 CE) vessels show quite literally the function of cacao as it was for drinking, as well as the relative role it played in Mayan life though various representations of the divine.

This is one of the many Classic period vessels that was found to contain cacao residues inside. We know it was used to hold chocolate because cacao is the only plant in the region with both the compounds Theobromine and Caffeine, “a unique marker for the presence of cacao in pre-Columbian artifacts” (Cheong, 2011). To verify the vessels were used to hold chocolate was an important piece to the archaeological record. It provided contextual knowledge when deciphering the imagery or glyphs depicted on the vessels.

Affirmed in the glyphs of drinking vessels from this period, there is evidence of “well established cacao-chocolate terminology”. On the Buenavista vase shown above, we see “tree-fresh cacao” inscribed.  From the Primary Standard Sequence (PSS) of the glyphs you see banded around the top of the vessel, the characters that make the Maya name for cacao, “Ka-Ka-Wa” were deciphered. What strikes me the most about this piece is the seemingly relative “tree-fresh cacao” to the Maize God’s cyclical existence. (Presilla, 2009)

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Buenavista vase closeup: Maya glyphs depicted translate to “tree-fresh cacao”, “Ta-Tsih-Te’el Kakawa” (Prescilla)

I particularly find this vessel so interesting when we look at the role of chocolate in culture because it reflects a cyclical ideology of their ecological relationship to their land; in the sustenance it provides, the concept of time through death and rebirth, and their Gods all-encompassing role within those cycles.

Field Study

A few years ago in 2013 I came to know a few young men and women from the northern Mexican state of Sonora – (follow the link to read a brief history of Seri Indians of Sonora). They were working and studying here on visa’s while we were employed at a busy restaurant in the heart of downtown Boston. What better place than behind the bar to nose around and pick into people’s lives for cultural insights! Just kidding on the nose-picking… but seriously, even minute conversations with guests created thought-provoking observations. During their multiple terms of residency in Boston over the years, these talented intellectual Sonoran natives and I connected on Mexican – American culture alike, and apart. Upon reaching out to ask if anyone would be interested in participating in this modest ethnographic study, my request was received most graciously. They have all elected to omit fully identifying information, so for the purposes of this study, I will refer to them by their first name only. Below I have included their perspectives on the role chocolate has played throughout their lives.

Andrés began by explaining Mexico as a large country where the culture is full of diversity. “Every state has their own culture about everything – food, traditional parties, our dialect and slang”. With that being said, in the state of Sonora where he lives he doesn’t use chocolate and cacao the way he knows it is used in the southern states of the country like Oaxaca, Guerrero, Chiapas, and Tabasco. Andrés has observed the influence of cacao beans in southern Mexico because the cacao growing region produces a lot of recipes that involve cacao and chocolate.

When I asked what he knows about Mesoamerican uses for cacao, he remembers learning from childhood that they used it as currency, and he understood they sometimes would use it in beauty treatments. On that note, I recollect a fortuitous conversation about skin care had between myself and a female of Mexican ancestry I met while servicing wedding hair and makeup to her cousin’s bridal party, circa summer 2015 in East Boston – Indeed, I am not only an aspiring Anthropologist, also a Cosmetologist. My thoughts are usually occupied by anthropological inquiry on a daily basis, which inevitably grants unique opportunity for cultural discussions with the people I meet. Although not a part of this ethnography, she let me know back then about her family recipe for a skin care regimen that contains cacao. Her grandmother and her aunts would grind down cacao beans into a powder, “cocoa powder” minus the hydraulic press. They would mix the antioxidant rich powder with other grinded down local herbs, add water to create a paste-like texture and apply generously to the skin.

“Lather. Dry. Rinse. Repeat.” – she persisted. Yum.

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The Spa At Hotel Hershey seems to know just how to indulge all the senses with chocolate

 

For the purposes of this study, I was curious about chocolate in spa treatments, as I have heard echoes of the luxury before. Take a look at The Spa At The Hotel Hershey or examples of just a few contemporary accommodations created for chocolate in the beauty industry.

Andrés expressed to me that Sonora being just below Arizona, his culture is more- so “American” than the way Mexicans live in the south. It is in his experience and observation the misconception of Mexican culture as being one. I think any educated person understands culture, language, economy, etc. vary across spaces of human population. Yet, for those who generalize a nation’s people by its borders, Andrés and his community experience the bias. He grew up with a collection of influences “by the things Americans do”. For example, one of his earliest memories of eating chocolate was during Halloween. They’re also heavily influenced by “spring break madness”, as he defined the season. He grew up consuming chocolate predominantly made by the big corporations, like Mars. His notable favorites being the Snicker and M&Ms. “In the south they don’t have that influence, they don’t experience American Halloween as we do”.

Carlos V chocolate bars are the Nestlé- proclaimed “# 1 chocolate brand in Mexico with over 70 years in the market!… Because of its unique and mild flavor, it is considered the reference of chocolate for Mexicans.” The Aztec stylized imagery first designed to brand the chocolate before it was bought by Nestlé sometime in the 1980’s was created by Fabrica de Chocolates La Azteca, S.A. de C.V. Jason Liebig on his blog, Collecting Candy chronicles his findings in the L.M. Kallok Confectioners Collection of antique packaging. Most notable about the evolution of the branding is first the Aztec styling alongside the “Imperial Coat of Arms” for “by the grace of God, Carolus V Imperator (emporer)”. Then with the English labeling introduced we see a change in the ingredients as well (which was apparent of each label seen in Leibig’s compilation from the beginning to the end. “A tie-in with the film Toy Story, which tells us La Azteca was still the brand’s sole owner as late as 1995″ is interesting where we see Quaker Oats leaving its insignia on the label by the late 1990’s.

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Not one of the Sonoran’s I interviewed has tried a Carlos V chocolate bar but they have all heard of it at some point in their life through advertisements. Eduardo attests to Andrés’ personal account of diversity from the southern regions in Mexico. Dia de los Muertos is “not celebrated as much as the south, but we do things like going to the cemetery”, Andrés says. Eduardo told me that they celebrate Dia de los Muertos on November 2. “We celebrate in memory of the people who are no longer with us and usually at the tombstones we put special things they liked when they were alive. Chocolates is usually one of them”. Both Andrés and Eduardo did not have a definitive sense of the historical reason for chocolate being placed on gravesites, but they both know it as a long- standing tradition and ritual in celebrating their deceased ancestors. Fernanda, another Sonoran native, added some insight to this practice of memorial. She told me that usually the graveyards are managed by local churches or publicly owned so in contrast to the majority of graveyards that are privately owned in the US, the families play a greater role in gravesite maintenance of their deceased. In this way, chocolate serves a social function in their celebrations.

Interpretations

Shown below, Dr. Martin presented in class this semester some of the ways Maya and Mixtec society visually depicted the functions that cacao played within their cultural practices and belief systems. Royal marriages necessitated the use of currency in the negotiation, so we see in the Codex Nuttall how cacao was a part of the price for the bride. Eduardo remembers learning in school that Mayans used to used the cacao “as a coin to buy everything, from goods to wives”. A relative topic for further study would be in the ways chocolate was introduced to the elite. Diffused out of Mesoamerica first by the Spanish, the Europeans assimilated to its royal regard and used chocolate in the women’s dowry through royal inter-marriages – that of which played a great role in spreading chocolate throughout Europe.

Another example (seen below) comes from the Madrid Codex where we see cacao being exchanged, portraying a give-and-take linkage between their concepts of cyclical time (lunar goddess) and their environment (rain god). I find this imagery especially expressive to their belief of the divine relationship to their human existence and sustenance on earth. Lastly, from the Codex Nuttall we see a royal funerary procession in “Twelve Movements”. Within the tomb depicted at the bottom right of the artwork lies a “vessel of foaming cacao beverage… to ease the soul’s journey to the underworld”. (Martin)

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Eduardo recounts drinking cups of hot chocolate since he can remember. While traveling south to Puebla state he tried their “typical meal, mole, and it’s made of cacao”. What he knows about the Maya and cacao is how they used to prepare beverages and meals like the Puebla “mole”. “We have different tribes and culture but we learned about it in school and I experiences it myself while traveling south. Cacao is still a huge deal in south Mexico.”

 

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“Mole” Ingredients. Presilla, 2009

 

See the dozen or more ingredients to make the traditional “thick, baroque sauce, mole” from Xalapa, Veracruz (Presilla), north of Puebla state in Mexico. Presilla notes that each ingredient is “processed in sequence, each at its own time” (2009).

As the mole is diverse in ingredients, and rich in unique Mesoamerican culture, so too – as these contemporary perspectives have illustrated, are the people of the region diversely interwoven with it’s history and unique place on Earth’s sphere.

***

 

Sources:

Campbell, Lyle & Kaufman, Terrence. 1976. A Linguistic Look at the Olmecs: American Antiquity, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan., 1976), pp. 80-89 Published by: Society for American Archaeology http://www2.hawaii.edu/~lylecamp/LC%20Lx%20look%20at%20Olmecs%20JSTOR.pdf

Cheong, Kong (Powis, T.; Cyphers, A.; Gaikwad, T.W.; Grivetti, L.) 2011. Cacao use and the San Lorenzo Olmec: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 108(21):8595-600 · May 2011 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51110764_Cacao_Use_and_the_San_Lorenzo_Olmec

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013 [1996] The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson

Johnston, Bernice. 1997. The Seri Indians of Sonora Mexico. The University of Arizona Press http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/onlinebks/SERIS/HISTORY.HTM

Liebig, Jason. 2012. Carlos V – Building a history for the King of Chocolate Bars http://www.collectingcandy.com/wordpress/?p=2958

Martin, Carla. 2017 AAAS E-119 Lecture Slides. February 1st, pp.23, 47, 53, 57

Mintz, Sidney. 1986 [1985] Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books

Morton, Marcia and Frederic. 1986 Chocolate, An Illustrated History Crown Publishers, Inc. New York, NY

Nestlé. 2017. https://www.nestle.com.mx/brands/carlos-v

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology: Harvard University. 2017. https://www.peabody.harvard.edu/node/287

Presilla, Maricel. 2009 The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Smithsonian Institute. 2017. Olmec Stone Heads photo: http://anthropology.si.edu/olmec/english/sites/sanLorenzo.htm

Takushi, Scott (Pioneer Press). 2013, December 17. Museum of Belize and House of Culture: NEWSEUM Blog Spot: Belize’s Maya Collection on Displayhttps://mobnmoc.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/belizes-maya-collection-on-display/mayaex1/

Unknown photographer; featured image. 2016, October – November. Nexos. https://americanwaymagazine.com/cacao-route

Unknown photographer; chocolate as beauty regimen image. 2017. The Spa At The Hotel Hershey. http://www.chocolatespa.com/treatments/signature/chocolate.php

The Nostalgia of Chocolate

Most middle class Americans have grown up with chocolate and chocolate candy being a companion of sorts throughout their childhood and then into their adult years. For most of them, chocolate has always been a food that has always been perceived as a flavorful treat with pleasant connotations.

This interview was with a university-educated, retired interior designer and author. A Caucasian American female who grew up in a middle class suburb of New York City in the late 1950s and 1960s. To say that she is a “Baby Boomer” is an understatement. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy Assassination, the Beatles Invasion, Woodstock and the Vietnam War were the backdrop of her youth. Back then, candy was quite inexpensive and heavily advertised in print and media. Sugar and chocolate were very cheap compared to today. Food costs made up a much smaller percentage of Americans’ household budgets than today. Children had many favorites in brands, styles and flavors. Here are the reminiscences and recollections of one such chocolate aficionado as she was then and as she is now.

Chocolate candy in the 1950s and  ’60s was not just candy, it was something much bigger . It was part of everyone’s life. From marketing advertisements, something everyone liked,  would consume and enjoyed socially to economic supply a demand bringing all kinds of chocolate to the consumer. America was just hooked on chocolate.

What are your earliest recollections of chocolate and chocolate candies and snacks?

“My first memory and the beginning of my love affair with chocolate began at the age of 4.   My earliest memory of chocolate is very clear. I was sitting on the front steps of my suburban family home eating a square of Hershey’s Chocolate. Soft, creamy, sweet and delicious. It gave me that warm fuzzy feeling of well being. I was hooked. Because I had trouble eating lolly pops (I would make them come off the stick) and more than once caused a choking hazard for myself. My mother thought it was much safer for me to have chocolate candy.”

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Did you have a favorite chocolate candy?

“One of my favorite chocolate candies came in  a small brown bag.  The small bag filled with an array of colors. The name was easy to remember M & Ms. The best part of these candies were that they didn’t melt in your hands just in your mouth –  like it was advertised. The chocolate is smooth and creamy covered by that hard candy shell. Colors were limited to brown, yellow, green, orange and red, with red being my favorite, even though color didn’t affect taste, I believed it did and each kid in the neighbor hood had their own favorite.”

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What do you remember about going to stores to buy chocolate?

“Trips to our small grocery store brought further delights when I was introduced to Chocolate Snaps. These were small chocolate cookie wafers. The box was not put in the bag and I was allowed to carry the box home. Even though the store was a block away, it seemed like an eternity before we would get home and I could open the box. My mother also bought extra large Hershey bars and chocolate pudding (a big favorite of my dad.) Both my parents had a sweet tooth especially for anything chocolate.”

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Was chocolate available in school?

“My first day of the 1st grade brought me to the school lunchroom . To my surprise I could get an ice cream sandwich – covered with that soft chocolate cookie, a chocolate dipped ice cream pop or a Dixie cup with chocolate ice cream. Ten cents would buy any of these treats. Wow, school wasn’t so bad after all. Some schools sold chocolate candy for fund raisers and we would have an extra supply of chocolate indulgence in our house.”

What do you remember about television commercials for chocolate?

“With more families having TV in their households in the 1950s, children started to watch more TV. Advertisements for candy, especially chocolate, bombarded the air waves. Advertisements for Hershey’s , Nestles, Chunky (a chunk of chocolate) Mounds, Almond Joy were among the most popular. The advertisements were cartoon like and had catchy jingles. They are still engraved in the minds of baby boomers anxious to find that retro chocolate candy and wrapper. Nestles had a really catchy tune. Sung by two puppets. Nestles (is spelled out) nestles makes the very best. The last word Chocolate coming from a basset hound puppet named Farfel. They were definitely aimed at children.”

 

Was chocolate syrup popular?

“There were Nutrition ads for chocolate  which fortified  and amplified milk. Advertised to contain lots of vitamins and minerals were commercials run on every children’s programs. Bosco, Coco Marsh,  Ovaltine, Nestles’ Quik and the brown metal can of Hershey syrup were the most popular. Hot chocolate drinks were for cold weather. Nothing like a hot chocolate Ovaltine or Quik after walking home from school on a cold snowy day.”

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“I was not a milk drinker so my mother served us Bosco twice a day until I was almost a teenager. Bosco came in a large glass jar with a pump so the chocolate syrup would easily go into your glass of milk. Give it a stir and it turned into chocolate milk.”

“The cost of a chocolate candy bar during the 1950s & 60s was very affordable for most families. Going to the  store with five or ten cents would allow you to get a few chocolate bars. One to eat on the way home & another for later. If you had a quarter, it would bring you a weeks supply of chocolate goodies. No one ever had a dollar! We saved our pennies for chocolate.”

“Chocolate was everywhere. There was even chocolate laxative medicine like chocolate X-Lax, which is still on the market today. It was heavily advertised on television in Prime Time. My husband remembers that the factory in Brooklyn where it was made was painted entirely brown.”

 

“Chocolate cigarettes for children were very popular. Many adults still smoked back then. You could pretend you were an adult with your own “cigarettes” and after the pretend was over the chocolate was nice and melted, ready to eat.  Can you imagine the uproar that would happened if such things were sold to children today? No wonder so many of my generation took up smoking. Chocolate cigarettes were enough for me.”

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When did you first learn anything about cooking with chocolate?

“My very first home economics class in high school taught us to properly make hot cocoa from scratch using warm milk, cocoa and sugar. It was fun!”

“As a child going to a movie was a big treat either with my parents or friends. We were given money to get some kind of a treat at the movies. After seeing all the pre- movie black & white ads for chocolate on the large screen, we were all running to get our favorite chocolate candy before the movie started. Some of my friends liked Malted milk balls (chocolate covered malt flavor filling). Others like chocolate covered raisins called goobers. Also, a favorite was Milk Duds. They were packed in small boxes, perfect for a chocolate fix.”

“There was always a place to get your chocolate candy.”

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How accessible was it to buy chocolate?

“Candy stores were on every busy street corner and shopping center.  Trying to outsell their competition with stocking every chocolate candy made. Rows and rows of all kinds of chocolate candy all in their crisp colorful wrappers were stocked neatly. Displayed right there at the counter. It seem to say – buy now! A kids temptation! It was hard to choose.  As you entered these stores, the smell of sweet sensations filled the air. Going to the candy store with my father was a regular trip on Sunday. My father would buy the Sunday newspapers and let me pick a candy bar, There were lots of candy displayed in the store, but my choice was always some kind of chocolate. Nothing else could compare.”

How about chocolate in cakes and cookies?

“Besides the candy stores neighborhood bakeries were close by -another wonderful source for chocolate. It was a visit made by my parents very often.  Again the smell of sweet sensations lingered in the air. The show cases filled with all kinds of goodies beautifully displayed. There were butter cookies dipped in chocolate, huge chocolate layer cakes, black and white cookies – half chocolate iced and half vanilla, chocolate eclairs, chocolate cream pie. All mouth watering. If we were well behaved and smiled at the lady behind the counter, she would give us each a free butter cookie, dipped in chocolate, to eat on the way home. I remember being extremely disappointed when the bakery was very busy and I didn’t get my chocolate dipped cookie.”

“My favorite birthday parties were ones that served large chocolate bakery cupcakes and I remember bringing half home along with a plastic basket containing a variety of chocolate candy.”

“Even  5 & 10 cent variety stores like Woolworth’s & McCrory’s had wonderful fancy candy counters. The cases had very large chunks of chocolate, chocolate babies, Nonpareils (small chocolate candy with sugar beads on top) all ready to be scooped with a small shovel into small paper bags. My mother could not pass this counter without buying chocolate babies. I liked the Nonpareils much better.” 

How about chocolate ice cream?

“There were the Familiar bells of the ice cream truck that came down your street everyday on warm summer days. We listened for the approaching bells all day.”

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“Children from every home, heedless of traffic,  would run out to buy their ice cream. My parents would give us money & we would run down the street & stand on the long line. Good humor displayed a chocolate dipped bar on their truck. For years I wasn’t interested in anything inside the frosty truck except that chocolate dipped bar. Mr. Softee and Bungalow Bar were other trucks that offered delicious chocolate ice cream. Mr. Softee served the best chocolate dipped soft ice cream  cone. I still long for one today. Small Carvel stores were also in the neighborhood and I can almost taste the large soft (best chocolate ever) ice cream cone that dripped all over my small hands.” 

Was chocolate important during holidays?

“Many of my memories of chocolate come from the Holidays. Halloween when we collected large bags of candy. Hoping to get the most popular chocolate candy and being extremely disappointed when we got an apple or something that wasn’t sweet. After dragging our bags home, we separated all the chocolate candy, trading for our favorites and then eating much too much of a good thing.”

“Our Easter baskets were filled with chocolate bunnies – solid or hollow – who cared- they were chocolate brought by the Easter Bunny. I remember I got a large chocolate egg which was beautifully decorated. It had a hole that I could look into and see a bunny. It was so pretty I really didn’t want to eat it. I held out for a few days and then gave in. Cracked  it into several pieces. The milk chocolate was creamy and velvety.”

“Valentine’s Day brought small milk chocolate hearts on a stick. My father would always bring my mother a heart filled with chocolate & my father brought us mini hearts filled with about six chocolates. Always special.”

“Halloween was shopping bags full of candy collected from every home we could walk to in our scary costumes.”

“There was always a large Whitman sampler on the coffee table during Christmas. It was a kids paradise. All of these small chocolate candies filled with all sorts of treats. We would never read the box to find out what was in them instead biting off a small piece to test what was in them and if we would decide to eat the full candy or just pretend we didn’t know what happened to the corner of the candy when asked.”

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Did chocolate play a social role in your youth?

“As I got older, I looked forward to going to the candy store after school. I would meet my two girlfriends who attended different schools. We indulged in Devil Dogs (Devil Cremes), Hostess brand filled chocolate cup cakes and Ring Dings (Ding Dongs). All delicious chocolate cakes filled with sweet vanilla cream. We drank chocolate egg creams, malteds, milk shakes and chocolate ice cream sodas while we giggled a lot and talked about boys.”

How about cooking with chocolate at home?

“As we moved into the 60s, chocolate grew & became more sophisticated. My mother made her first chocolate souffle, which fell immediately after leaving the oven. No worry, we ate it anyway. We enjoyed chocolate fondue where we dunked strawberries & bananas. Chocolate parfaits were fun to make and it was great to open the fridge and see all these glasses lined up with a mouth watering dessert.”

“Chocolate was used to enforce behavior. I have seen chocolate turn tears into smiles. It was given by parents as a snack, treat or to just keep kids occupied. It was given or sent as gifts. Given to your loved ones. A box of chocolate can smooth over differences & boost spirits when you weren’t feeling well. It always accompanied a bunch of flowers. It was acceptable for any celebration – birthdays, anniversaries, weddings (as my own) and a new baby. My husband gave out chocolate cigars when our son was born.”

How did your tastes for chocolate change over the years?

“As the years passes and the focus became more on health, especially for the baby boomers – many suffering from obesity and diabetes. I tried to cut my consumption of chocolate. I don’t think a chocolate lover could ever eliminate chocolate from their diet.”

What kinds of chocolate do you eat today?

“Chocolate also grew through the years. A new approach to indulge with new options such as a high percentage of cocoa & lower sugar. Chocolate from Europe, the Rain Forest & Africa are all on the market. The healthier dark chocolate is now my new favorite.  I have come to love 85% to 90% dark chocolate from Germany and Africa. A small square a day as my after dinner dessert. Dark chocolate covered fruit covering blueberries or strawberries are also a favorite.”

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“I substitute lunch for a high protein drink. Of course it’s chocolate flavor with very little sugar. It is frothy, chocolaty and delicious. It reminds me of that great chocolate shake I had during my childhood.”

“Although I try to take a more healthier approach, it is impossible for me to pass up the occasional chocolate molten cake, a snicker bar, any kind of chocolate ice cream, chocolate soda or just plain chocolate!” 

“My life long love affair with chocolate is a bond never broken. I suspect and hope my last meal on this earth will contain my beloved chocolate.”

The Truest Chocolate Lover

“Chocolate is a physical incarnation of happiness for me”, said my sophomore friend, when I casually asked her what role chocolate plays in her life. I laughed at her response and figured she was just the typical avid chocolate lover, the kind that jumps up and yells “I’ll eat it!!” to any mention of chocolate. Little did I know that this friend of mine would be the perfect candidate for an interview for my chocolate class because of her “bougie” opinion of chocolate but ignorance, for lack of a better word, of the issues surrounding this sweet. She embodies a true chocolate-lover who strictly buys chocolate because she loves the taste, and doesn’t buy into marketing strategies.

Memories created around chocolate:

Anytime she eats chocolate, my interviewee is reminded a lot of her family at home who also loves chocolate. Every single holiday, she and her siblings buy their mom chocolate as a gift. Every year on her dad’s birthday, her family makes a “really rich chocolate mousse cake”. Every single day, her parents eat a square of chocolate after lunch for dessert. Even while in college, her mom sends her chocolate in care packages.

It is not uncommon for a sweet like chocolate to mean so much to a group of people. In fact, throughout history, chocolate has had great significance in social settings. In ancient Mayan society, the word “chokola’j” meant “to drink chocolate together” (Martin). When chocolate was introduced in England in the 1650s, the act of drinking chocolate in chocolate and coffee houses while socializing and talking about politics and playing games quickly became popular (Coe 165). Chocolate-house-london-c1708

A chocolate house in London, 1708

Chocolate evidently still has a social nature, as it is a common snack at get-togethers or holiday events. Even while writing this, my friend brought us chocolate to enjoy while studying together. My interviewee clearly also enjoys eating chocolate with others, like her family, and chocolate, therefore, has become a special part of her life.

This family doesn’t just enjoy any chocolate, however. To my surprise, my interviewee knew the exact percentage of cacao that she and her parents like best. She told me that her parents always buy 72% Ghirardelli bars and that she, specifically, prefers bars with 85-88% cacao, but “the percentage has been increasing over the last three years”. She went on to explain that in high school, she “was super down with 72” but then started eating 77 and found that she liked it better, and so “kept trying darker chocolate and kept really liking it”.

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Ghirardelli chocolates with different cacao percentages

When I asked if that’s because she prefers the bitter taste usually associated with darker chocolate over the sweet and dairy taste associated with milk chocolate, she answered, “No, I actually feel like it gets sweeter as it gets darker and I love it”. I found this opinion interesting, especially coming from someone who knows the exact percentages of cacao she prefers, and should then know that milk chocolate contains more sugar than dark. One look at the ingredients for milk chocolate compared to dark would show this fact. For instance, the top ingredients for a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Kiss are “sugar, milk, and chocolate”, while the top ingredients for a Lindt’s 90% Excellence Bar are “chocolate, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder” (Martin). Although my friend could be considered “dumb” for thinking that the darker the chocolate the sweeter, I consider her a true chocolate lover who could care less about the ingredients and just wants to enjoy the taste.

 

Health effects:

It seemed fitting to ask if my interviewee cares at all about the health effects. I, too, prefer dark chocolate over milk or white but one of the main reasons is because I know it’s less unhealthy for me. Not only is there less sugar, but there are studies that show that dark chocolate, specifically, can reduce heart attack risk and blood pressure (Watson). But when I asked my interviewee if she ever considers the nutritional or health effects, she yelled, “oh, hell no!”. She said that she sometimes eats chocolate in small amounts to not feel guilty, but when she’s purchasing chocolate, she never thinks about the fat and sugar content. Instead, she bases her decisions solely off what taste she prefers. She told me, “If I’m choosing between two different chocolates, I would never go for the one with less sugar content”. She added that she convinces herself that the sugar and caffeine in one square of chocolate is “enough to perk her up” so she uses it as an “award” when studying.

The origins:

I asked her if she ever thinks about where the cacao in the chocolate she eats comes from and she answered that she sometimes does, but “actually has no idea” how chocolate is made. She continued to say that she knows there are such things as cacao nibs and has always wanted to know more, but from the way she was talking, I could tell she was more interested in the machinery and technology aspect and less of what actual cacao farmers in places like Ivory Coast do. When I threw in the word Africa, my interviewee started reminiscing on a “chocolate passport” that her aunt once gave her that had different South American and African countries on it, but then quickly said, “I feel like a lot of chocolate bars have information on them about what country it’s from but it doesn’t really influence what I buy”. She proceeded to say that she sometimes buys Endangered Species chocolate because it makes her feel “better” about herself but she knows in her heart that it’s just a marketing strategy.

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Endangered Species ad

I asked her if she knew about the child labor issues surrounding chocolate, to which she responded that she figured there were labor issues but not child labor, in particular. She told me that she knows chocolate is the “biggest thing that’s fair trade-oriented” and that she always notices the Fair Trade symbol. But when I asked her if that affects her in anyway, she said it doesn’t because she feels “so removed” from the issues at hand and that she thinks the label was “made for elites to feel better about our choices, as if we’re actually making a difference”. When purchasing chocolate, the Fair Trade label Fair_Trade_Certified_Logo-CMYKdoes nothing to sway my friend in any direction. The organization that claims to “improve an entire community’s day-to-day lives” with “day-to-day purchases” of products with their label has failed to influence the decisions of customers like my friend, who comes from a social class that may be more likely to spend the money in the first place (“What is Fair Trade?”).

 

My interviewee is actually quite correct in saying that the label just makes customers “feel good”. Ndongo Sylla explains in The Fair Trade Scandal that in theory, through the Fair Trade strategy of pricing some goods made from raw materials produced in the South at a slightly higher price, the living conditions of workers in the South should be improved. Sylla writes that although Fair Trade products have gone up dramatically in sales, the actual economic gains are low, especially for the poorest developing countries – the minority producers which Fair Trade USA seemingly favor most. The countries ranked by the World Bank as upper middle-income countries account for 54 percent of the producer organizations that have received Fair Trade certification, while only 21 percent are low-income countries. This means that from a marketing standpoint, Fair Trade has been successful. Sylla concludes that “whatever definition of poverty and economic vulnerability used, the conclusion is the same: Fair Trade tends to exclude the poorest countries”, and yet, its “Fair Trade” label gives consumers a false confidence (as shown in the video below). Thankfully, there are people like my interviewee who aren’t completely fooled.

Chocolate as a luxury:

I then asked my friend how she chooses her chocolate: What’s the most important detail to her? And does she choose some brands over others? She immediately answered that she looks at the percentage of cacao first, then the price. Her cutoff price is around five or six dollars, since she doesn’t like the texture and taste of some really expensive chocolate (her example was Taza chocolate that makes her feel as if she is eating “chocolate sawdust”) but also “won’t buy sh*tty chocolate”. I, of course, asked her what she defines as “sh*tty chocolate” to which she responded, “like Hershey’s dark chocolate, like the kind that says extra dark and it’s not even that dark”. Another friend overhearing our conversation commented that my interviewee sounded like a “chocolate elitist”, and I honestly couldn’t disagree because I felt a tad offended. Sure, I don’t think Hershey’s chocolate is the best of the best, but I do love Hershey’s extra dark and it was a low blow to my heart. She added that she doesn’t like salted or flavored chocolate (like added orange flavoring) and that Ghiradelli is her favorite because it’s “perfectly good and on the cheap end”.

Next, I asked her if she thinks everyone can afford to and has the liberty to be this picky when it comes to a simple snack like chocolate. To my relief, she replied that “it’s definitely a bougie thing” and “definitely a luxury, not an essential” but she’s willing to spend the money for her contentment. My interviewee explained that when she was younger, her family considered themselves in the upper middle class and although they may be lower in economic status now, she said with a laugh, “I developed my tastes while we had more money and I refuse to back down now”. Whenever she eats chocolate, she said she refuses to chew it like others might, and instead breaks the bar into small pieces and sucks on each piece individually to get the full taste. Being in college, she said she doesn’t eat as much as she does at home with her family, but sometimes gets “some good chocolate” for “pretty cheap” at Trader Joe’s. She added, now more than before, if I’m buying myself chocolate, I know I’m indulging myself so I’m willing to spend more”.

It’s certainly true that better-quality chocolate is a “luxury” for some economic classes, and chocolate has been linked to notions of class since its origin. From Mesoamerica to Baroque Europe, chocolate was solely associated with the elite class. The chocolate houses mentioned earlier were only used by the upper class, and in France, chocolatières were prized by the nobility (Coe). Since then, chocolate has certainly become more widespread and is consumed by all economic classes. Some products of brands like Hershey’s and Mars are even considered a “cheap commodity” that is available in almost every convenience store. This doesn’t change, however, the stigma that still exists around “good” chocolate and “sh*tty” chocolate. As there continues to be a wide gap between “Fair Trade”, “better quality”, “saving animals”, or “higher percentage of cacao” chocolate and the cheapest Hershey’s bar, chocolate will always be associated with different classes. If more consumers are like my interviewee, however, maybe we’d have less conflict. In a perfect world, all consumers would have the freedom to ignore marketing strategies or sugar content or price and solely buy chocolate based off of preference of taste. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic and not everyone can afford to do this or wants to. But props to my interviewee and friend for being the truest chocolate lover I have ever met!

Works Cited:

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

Martin, Carla. “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization”. Harvard University, CGIS, AAS 119x. 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao”. Harvard University, CGIS, AAS 119x. 2017.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal, Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2014.

Watson, et al. Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Vol. 7. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press, 2013.

“What is Fair Trade?”. Fair Trade USA. Web. 2016.

 

Chocolate and Social Class Identity in the United States

From the earliest uses of cacao in Mesoamerican empires, to the globalized chocolate of the 21st century, chocolate recipes and methods of consumption have mirrored the wealth and status of consumers. However, in America today, these differences are generally less pronounced than they have been throughout history. Chocolate is widely available and consumed in the US, with over $18 billion worth purchased each year.[1] That is slightly less than one-fifth of all chocolate consumed worldwide, as shown in the pie graph below. Yet most Americans consume mass-produced chocolate, with Hershey and Mars owning roughly 75% of the US chocolate market,[2] while craft and “premium chocolate” controls less than 12% of the market.[3] Given the dominance of cheaper, mass-produced chocolate in the US, and the relative rarity of finer and more artisanal chocolate products, I am interested in the question of how US chocolate consumption is affected by social class. This question became a major theme of an interview I conducted of a close friend. My interviewee is in her 50s, and throughout her life has changed social class significantly. She described how chocolate has changed meaning to her as she moved from lower-middle class to upper-middle class, and how chocolate was perceived differently by people she met. By placing her experiences within the greater context of research presented throughout this course, I aim to show how the experience of chocolate consumption among American consumers still reflects social hierarchies, though often with more subtlety than chocolate-based hierarchies throughout history.

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The US represents roughly 18.1% of global chocolate consumption.[4]

Though chocolate consumption has become normalized in the United States today, chocolate has not always been available to people of lower social classes, and even today global chocolate consumption is skewed heavily toward Europe and the United States. Therefore, before I address the stories I learned from my interviewee, and the insights these stories provide, I will first briefly cover the history of how social class and chocolate consumption have been linked from the Maya and Aztec, to the U.S. and other countries in the present day.

The Maya and Aztec empires treated cacao beverages as foods of the Gods, and thus gave these foods a high position in societal hierarchies and religious worldview. Cacao beans were used as currency by the Aztecs, were fed to elite soldiers, and were often consumed by kings and other rulers.[5] Yet it is important to note that though cacao was expensive and prized, from as early as the Maya civilization there were versions of the beverage that were accessible to citizens of lower social classes.[6] These beverages were often mixed with corn or other add-in ingredients, using a lower concentration of cacao than what was found in the more religiously-important beverages.[7]

Though chocolate consumption changed forms when it was brought to Europe by colonizing powers, it remained linked to social hierarchies. Cacao beans were even used as currency by the Spanish, and the British used chocolate to symbolize wealth as well.[8] At first, Europeans continued to consume cacao as a drink, though they adapted all the materials necessary for doing so, using metal cups, molinillos, and metal tea pots.[9] The 1800s were a period of massive change as the system of corporate mass-produced chocolate that we are familiar with today first emerged.[10] By the end of this century, chocolate in Europe and the United States was a food available to people of all economic classes.[11]

Though chocolate was available to a greater range of social classes in Europe, there were (and today still are) huge class disparities between those who produce chocolate ingredients and those who consume the finished product. Sugar, a necessary component of European chocolate, as well as cacao, both relied on slaves shipped in crowded, dangerous, and dehumanizing conditions from Africa to South America and the Caribbean.[12] Once on sugar plantations, slaves were forced to complete dangerous and relentless labor on plantations that resembled factories in terms of their organization and output.[13] Even after the formal abolition of slavery, cacao plantations in Sao Tome and Principe were found to employ slave labor during the early 1900s.[14] These abuses are not just a thing of the past – even today there have been scandals unveiling the use of child labor on certain cacao plantations in Cote d’Ivoire and other major cacao-producing nations in Africa.[15] There is also huge economic and material disparity between the farmers who produce the majority of the world’s cacao in West Africa, and the European and American consumers who purchase the processed result of this labor.

Chocolate and social class have been linked throughout history, but the experience of my interviewee points to a type of consumption-class connection that has been little explored in the U.S. Though Americans of all classes consume chocolate in relatively large quantities, my interviewee shows how her understanding of chocolate and her patterns of consumption reflected her social class and differed from those of people she met who came from higher social classes.

My interviewee grew up as one of five children in a small, crowded, three-bedroom house. Her family lived on Long Island, in a town that served as a far suburb of New York City. Her parents both worked, and members of the family often didn’t see each other all together until the weekends. It was a busy existence and money was often tight.

One tradition that brought together my interviewee’s family was their weekend trips to visit their grandparents in Queens. The five kids and their parents would all load into the family station wagon and make the short drive over, stopping at a drugstore to pick up some snacks along the way. My interviewee distinctly remembers that each weekend they would buy a Whitman’s Sampler: a box of small chocolates of assorted flavors. Each weekend, the family would sit together and share the chocolates, guessing at the flavors and fillings that each would contain and comparing their favorites. It was a tradition that brought the family together and became a memorable part of my interviewee’s childhood.

The Sampler brought the family together and contributed to enjoyable weekend memories, yet there was another reason why it was the family’s choice each week. Whitman’s Sampler each week was a form of chocolate that could easily be afforded by my interviewee’s lower-middle class family, and easily purchased at pharmacies and other stores in the area. It was a bit of a luxury, a comforting food that they all enjoyed, but did not carry the exorbitant price tag that is often associated with craft and high-cacao chocolate today. The presentation of the chocolates in a Whitman’s Sampler is more elegant than the typical candy bars available as impulse-buys near the checkouts of convenience stores and supermarkets, but the price is still affordable for the average American family. Since 1907, Whitman’s Samplers have been available in convenience stores, and the product has consistently been one of the best-selling chocolate boxes in the country since 1915.[16]

choc2

Whitman’s Sampler[17]

My interviewee was accepted to an elite college and began her freshman year eager to meet her roommates and classmates. One week early in the year, she thought it would be fun to buy a Whitman’s Sampler to share with her new friends – to recreate the fun memories of her childhood. The friends, who were from wealthier families, laughed at her when she showed up with the chocolates – they could only assume that she had purchased the cheap chocolate as a joke. Their families did not buy convenience store chocolate. My interviewee recalled trying to play along, playing off the friend’s jokes that the chocolate tasted waxy and gross, or that the fillings were terrible. But the damage was lasting – the pain of the memory was easily apparent when I interviewed her well over 30 years after the experience.

Though her friends’ rejection of her most enjoyed childhood candy was painful, it wasn’t to be the only bad experience my interviewee recalled that associated social class with chocolate. A few years later in college, her roommate, who came from a very wealthy family, invited my interviewee to dinner with her family. The restaurant was so fancy that the menus did not list prices, and the family ordered multiple courses for each person. It was a shocking and intimidating environment, but my interviewee said a brief moment of calm came when, after the intro and main courses were finished, waiters brought plates with fancy chocolates to each diner. Finally confronted by a food she recognized and knew she enjoyed, my interviewee recalled having the thought of eating the chocolate at once, but quickly decided to follow the lead of her roommate. The roommate went to pick up the piece of chocolate, but caught a sharp glance from her mother, who said “remember, a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips” – a phrase which shocked my interviewee and chilled any thought she had of enjoying the chocolate before her. 30 years later, my interviewee still remembered how alien that comment sounded – her own parents would never comment on the nutritional value or aesthetic consequences of eating chocolate, especially a small piece like this dessert. To their family, chocolate was a delicious luxury that, when purchased, should be enjoyed guilt-free, and the nutritional value was of little consequence.

One lens through which to understand my interviewee’s experience is the perspective provided in the documentary Fed Up.[18] In this documentary, many middle-class and working-class families struggle with losing weight and find themselves making little progress, despite working out and trying to limit fatty foods in their diets. Their progress is limited because they do not recognize how damaging the high sugar content of their foods can be. Sugar is seen as the enemy of health, and is blamed for the obesity epidemic in the United States. The lower-income families that suffer from sugary diets are not educated about the potential harms about sugar – which could contribute to attitudes towards sugar, candy, and chocolate similar to the perspective that my interviewee’s family held. These health concerns are often quite severe – as Robert Albritton writes, “The addictive quality of sugar can be compared to that of cigarettes… but the so called ‘obesity pandemic’ with its frequent sugar fix may end up damaging more lives than the rapid spread of smoking cigarettes amongst the youth of developing and post-communist societies.”[19]

Yet this explanation does not fit with the experience conveyed by my interviewee. It was not that my interviewee’s family did not care about health, but rather that they saw chocolate as something different – as a way of coming closer together and having some enjoyment even in difficult times. Health was of concern during normal meals, but the consumption of chocolate during the weekends was a time to enjoy delicious food and spend uninterrupted time with family – health did not factor into the equation. The chocolate was special because it accompanied joyous social gatherings, not because it was a rare or lavish product. As such, no one at these family gatherings would discourage other members of the family from having another piece of chocolate – my interviewee perceived that type of behavior as restrictive and judgmental, rather than loving and accepting.

Ultimately, the interactions that my interviewee had with peers in college showed different interpretations of chocolate, largely based on different social positions. The richer students could not have imagined their families joining together over cheap chocolates, both because of their perceived taste and health effects. The richer students also did not value chocolate as much as my interviewee did – to them chocolate was easily acquired and was unhealthy. Chocolate consumption was economically easier for these students, yet they considered the vast majority of American chocolate to be inferior and not worth consuming. This divide was the main reason my interviewee associated chocolate with such positive memories in her childhood, yet such negative memories when confronted with class differences between herself and her friends in college.

Though chocolate is a widely-enjoyed food, one that Americans consume frequently, my interviewee’s lasting memories relating to chocolate showed me that there were notable class differences among Americans in the experience of consuming chocolate. Though it can be easy to focus on how chocolate has never in history been more available to a general population than it is in Europe and the U.S. today, it is worth analyzing how the experiences of consumers differ based on their socioeconomic backgrounds. If there is one lesson that can be taken from my interviewee’s experience, it is that among American consumers, social class and personal wealth have great effects on how chocolate is perceived, and even this widely available dessert can bear subtle signals of class status.

Bibliography

Multimedia Sources

Daniels, Jeff. “US Chocolatiers Looking for New Sweet Spot.” CNBC. April 7, 2016. http://www.cnbc.com/2016/04/07/us-chocolatiers-looking-for-new-sweet-spot.html

Khan, Lina. “Why So Little Candy Variety? Blame the Chocolate Oligopoly.” Time. November 1, 2013. http://ideas.time.com/2013/11/01/why-so-little-candy-variety-blame-the-chocolate-oligopoly/

Satioquia-Tan, Janine. “Americans Eat How Much Chocolate?” CNBC. July 23, 2015. http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/23/americans-eat-how-much-chocolate.html

“The History of Whitman’s Candies.” http://www.russellstover.com/whitmans-history

Academic Sources

Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” 2012. 342-254.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Fed Up. Directed by Stephanie Soechtig. 2014. Atlas Films. Film.

Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” 2016. 37-60.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York: Penguin Books, 1985.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: The New Press, 2006.

[1] Janine Satioquia-Tan, “Americans Eat How Much Chocolate?” CNBC, July 23, 2015, http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/23/americans-eat-how-much-chocolate.html

[2] Lina Khan, “Why So Little Candy Variety? Blame the Chocolate Oligopoly,” Time, November 1, 2013, http://ideas.time.com/2013/11/01/why-so-little-candy-variety-blame-the-chocolate-oligopoly/

[3] Jeff Daniels, “US Chocolatiers Looking for New Sweet Spot,” CNBC, April 7, 2016, http://www.cnbc.com/2016/04/07/us-chocolatiers-looking-for-new-sweet-spot.html

[4] Image from Satioquia-Tan, “Americans Eat How Much Chocolate?”

[5] Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 3rd ed. (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013), 81-82.

[6] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 62-63.

[7] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 62-63.

[8] Carla Martin and Kathryn Sampeck, “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe,” 2016, 41.

[9] Martin and Sampeck, “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe,” 42-43.

[10] Ibid, 49.

[11] Ibid, 49-50.

[12] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 192-196.

[13] Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), 47-51.

[14] Martin and Sampeck, “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe,” 49.

[15] Carol Off, Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet (New York: The New Press, 2006), 120-127.

[16] “The History of Whitman’s Candies,” http://www.russellstover.com/whitmans-history

[17] Image from “The History of Whitman’s Candies.”

[18] Fed Up, directed by Stephanie Soechtig (2014; Atlas Films), film.

[19] Robert Albritton, “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry,” 2012, 344.

An Interview with a Chocolate Lover: Issues within the Chocolate Industry Revealed

Curious about people’s relationship with chocolate, I interviewed a young female adult about how her relationship with chocolate has changed from childhood into adulthood. The interviewee has never learned about chocolate, but she alludes to various historical, economical, and social issues within the chocolate industry throughout the interview. Specifically, she raises ethical issues about cacao farming practices, and explicates how business transactions harm chocolate producers. The interviewee is a college-educated individual, and demonstrates significant knowledge about these issues presumably because of her enrollment in a course about the sociology of food. Based on her responses in the interview, it is clear that this course changed her relationship with food and influences her current food decisions. Through the interview, the interviewee illuminates glaring issues within the chocolate industry related to the production of cacao, exploitation of cacao farmers, and chocolate advertising. First, she raises issues that about the production of cacao by demonstrating awareness about the economic difficulties cacao farmers face, and by discussing logistical issues about certifications that attempt to combat those economic issues. Second, in describing her chocolate preferences and perceptions, she alludes to issues regarding chocolate marketing strategies, and demonstrates the immense influence that chocolate advertisements hold over consumer purchasing decisions.

Before evaluating the historical, economic, and social issues within the chocolate industry revealed by the interviewee, it is necessary to explain the similarities between cacao and coffee bean production. The interviewee learned about coffee production in a course at a prestigious university, so this section purposes to provide legitimacy to the issues she raises about cacao production by emphasizing that the coffee and cacao industries experience the same problems, thereby qualifying her arguments about coffee production as applicable to cacao production as well. First, the working and economic conditions of coffee and cacao farmers are almost identical. Most coffee farmers produce beans on small, family-owned farms, and live in poverty.[1] Coffee farmers typically rely on bean sales as their primary source of income, but it is extremely volatile because it responds to any fluctuation in bean market prices and sales.[2] Second, coffee farmers can obtain Fair Trade and Organic Certification. Fair Trade promises the same benefits to coffee farmers as it does to cacao farmers, including minimum price premiums, social development, better labor rights, and long-term trading partnership.[3] Third, a large gap exists between coffee producers’ farming practices and coffee consumers’ purchasing decisions. There are stark differences between farmers that produce specialty coffee, and farmers that produce conventional, non-certified coffee. Demand for specialty coffee is on the rise because consumers, particularly those that identify with the ethical eating, Slow Food Movement, are willing to pay more for certified, eco-friendly coffee.[4] Higher quality coffee beans are sold at a higher price in the market, but most coffee consumers are unaware of the implications of their coffee-purchasing decisions.[5] Lastly, similar to the chocolate industry, a few select big coffee companies – less than 10 – control more than half of the coffee market.[6] These similarities are important to recognize, as the interviewee recalls this knowledge in the interview, and subsequently reveals that the economic and social issues afflicting coffee farmers and production are the same issues that exist in relation to cacao farming and production.

coffee beancacao bean

Image 1: Coffee Bean                                                                             Image 2: Cacao Bean

The interviewee brings attention to the importance of the raw coffee bean product to the existence of the entire coffee industry. Through this observation, she emphasizes the complete disconnect between coffee production and coffee consumption, revealing that the same issue exists within the chocolate industry. The interviewee comments, “without the farmers, you wouldn’t have the product. They’re the ones creating the base product to make coffee. They’re often the most forgotten. That’s like with any food product.”[7] This remark deserves close evaluation, as it perfectly describes the fragmented functioning and separateness of the different sectors of the coffee industry, also applicable to the chocolate industry. With that remark, the interviewee astutely explains that these complex industries rely wholly on the raw product, the bean, and without which, coffee and chocolate might not exist. This comment is interesting because it offers a simplistic vision that connects the necessity of the raw product to the consumer industry miles and miles away. This perception also illuminates how coffee and chocolate consumers are highly unaware of the implications of their purchasing decisions on the economic livelihood of the producers. Pictured in images 1 and 2 are a coffee and cacao bean, respectively (Image 1 and 2). These visuals purpose as a reminder to consumers that the coffee they drink from Starbucks, or Lindt chocolate they eat from their local supermarket, are products that begin with coffee and cacao beans, harvested and cultivated by farmers. Production and consumption are inherently connected, however, farmers are often naïve about the final product and consumers are often uneducated about the raw product process, both of which exacerbate the separateness between different players within the coffee and chocolate systems.

USDA organic labelImage 3: USDA Organic Certification Label

The interviewee discusses logistical issues with the Fair Trade and Organic Certification protocols, revealing that these labels harm rather than benefit cacao farmers and production. Fair Trade, Organic, and Direct Trade certifications share a common goal to compensate cacao farmers that produce their beans in adherence to specific environmental and social standards at a higher price than the conventional market offers.[8] The United States Department of Agriculture divides organic products into three categories, “100% organic,” “organic,” and “made with organic ingredients,” where each category is defined based on strict agricultural practice regulations.[9] Agricultural products that adhere to these standards are labeled with the “USDA Organic” logo, pictured in Image 3 (Image 3). In viewing this image, it is apparent that the USDA Organic label is not informative, as the certification seal does not specify whether the product is made with 100%, 95%, or at least 70% organic ingredients. The lack of information on this label raises questions about the authenticity of these certifications, and how organic certification guidelines are monitored. In probing about her knowledge regarding Organic Certification, the interviewee says “there are requirements…You can still use pesticides, but [the farmers] use “organic” or “natural” pesticides that are “better” for the environment…I know there are loopholes in the organic certification process.”[10] Here, the interviewee identifies the major criticisms of the USDA Organic Certification process in relation to cacao farming and production practices, alluding to claims of product quality issues and loose surveillance of organically certified cacao farmers’ adherence to USDA guidelines.[11] As revealed through her remarks, the vagueness of this label generates confusion among consumers. Furthermore, these observations illuminate the need for tighter institutional regulation of USDA Organic protocols, both for the benefit of consumers – ensuring that cacao farmers are following certification standards, guaranteeing that consumers are purchasing actual organic cacao – and for the benefit of the producers – that they are properly compensated for producing cacao beans using environmentally-friendly farming practices.

The interviewee circles the debate about the effectiveness of Fair Trade certification’s impact on cacao farmers’ economic situation through her advocacy for Fair Trade coffee bean farming and production. Similar to organic certification, Fair Trade certification encourages sustainable farming practices, while also promoting social welfare and establishing long-term trading partnerships.[12] In explaining the benefits of Fair Trade for coffee farmers, the interviewee says, “the farmers work long, laborious hours and they don’t get paid very well unless they are in the Fair Trade system…more money goes to the farmer when it’s a Fair Trade transaction.”[13] Through this comment, the interviewee reveals two similarities between coffee bean and cacao production that are problematic for the farmers. First, she describes the difficult working conditions that coffee bean farmers endure, such as long and physically fatiguing hours, and subsequently suggests that the farmers are underpaid considering their strenuous working conditions. She alludes to a prominent issue that cacao farmers face in that they are not properly compensated for their grueling laborious efforts, and that their contributions to the chocolate industry are severely under-valued. Second, she asserts that Fair Trade certified coffee farmers are more economically stable than non-certified coffee farmers, referencing minimum price premiums and prompt payments promised by Fair Trade to certified farmers. This suggests that consumers perceive Fair Trade as an impactful certification that improves farmers’ economic situation. However, in reality, there is no strong evidence that the Fair Trade system is effective in combatting farmers’ economic crises, particularly that of cacao farmers.[14] This misconception is problematic, as consumers’ might purchase Fair Trade products hoping to improve farmers’ income situation, unbeknownst to the faults of Fair Trade.

The interviewee explicates that some of her food decisions are based on the ethicality of food production practices, but names high prices of Fair Trade and Organic products as a barrier that prevents her from always purchasing certified products. In regards to the cacao industry, attempts to improve the ethicality of cacao farmers’ working conditions by consumer advocacy groups more often than not fail.[15] Chocolate consumers are often uneducated about the complexities of the chocolate industry, making it difficult for consumers to grasp how their purchasing decisions impact the economic and/or social situation of cacao farmers. Therefore, consumers cannot be responsible for initiating change of the exploitative economic and social conditions endured by cacao farmers. Surprisingly, the interviewee demonstrates a deep consciousness about the relationship between production and consumption, explaining that she became a vegetarian because “I don’t like the treatment of farm animals on conventional farms…Also, I don’t like the growth hormones and antibiotics.”[16] This reasoning suggests that she chooses the type of food she consumes based on the ethicality of food production practices. She further explains that she prefers to consume organic food, as “It’s more environmentally friendly.”[17] Again, she adopts an ethical argument to support her preference to consume organic over conventional farm products. However, she subsequently mentions that she does not always purchase certified Organic or Fair Trade products because they are “more expensive.”[18] This confession reveals a common misconception among consumers that certified products are always more expensive, which is false, as Organic and Fair Trade farming practices can actually cost the same or less than conventional farming practices.[19] Through her remarks, it is clear that the interviewee is a conscious consumer, as she chose to become a vegetarian because of inhumane treatment of animals on conventional farms, indicating her care for ethical farming and production practices. However, her perception that Organic, Fair Trade, and Direct Trade products are more expensive than non-certified products alludes to major critiques of certification organizations, commonly accused of corrupt practices and falsely promising cacao farmers fair payment. Through the interviewee’s comments, she illuminates a significant issue that Organic, Fair Trade, and Direct Trade are actually more harmful than beneficial to cacao farmers’ economic and social conditions.

woman eating chocolate     Image 4: Gender in Chocolate Advertisement

Through the interviewee’s description of her chocolate perceptions and preferences, she reveals an issue rarely addressed, that of the immense control chocolate advertisements exercise over consumer choice. Chocolate advertisements commonly portray chocolate as an aphrodisiac, and as a luxurious product, through women’s sexuality.[20] Image 4 exemplifies this theme, as it pictures a woman, seemingly wearing no clothes, holding a piece of chocolate to her lips, with a seductive facial expression (Image 4). The image portrays chocolate as a desirable food through the sexual presentation and nature of the woman. The brightly colored lipstick brings focus to her lips, and accompanied by the sensual facial expression, the ad attempts to associate chocolate with love and romance. Furthermore, the woman is highly manicured, adorned with extravagant accessories, which contributes to the depiction of chocolate as a decadent and highly valuable product. Several times throughout the interview, the interviewee references chocolate as a “luxurious item.”[21] This association of chocolate with luxury precisely demonstrates the strong influence of chocolate advertisements, such as image 4, on consumers’ perceptions of chocolate. When prompted to reflect about chocolate advertisements, the interviewee pauses and appears puzzled, admitting a moment later that she only notices chocolate ads around Valentine’s Day.[22] Again, this emphasizes the effectiveness of chocolate marketing strategies to portray the product as an aphrodisiac, as consumers evidently associate chocolate with romance and love. The combination of a presumably seduced woman and a chocolate product, exampled in Image 4, contribute to this representation of chocolate as desirable. Most importantly, the interviewee illuminates that consumers are highly unaware of two issues related to chocolate marketing. First, the strong influence chocolate ads possess in forming their perceptions of chocolate, and second, the exploitation of female sexuality to deliver this specific representation of chocolate products. Based on the interviewee’s susceptibility to the impact of chocolate advertisements on her perceptions, and her unawareness of gender exploitation that litters these ads, it suggests that the chocolate industry should be taking action to enforce regulations that will reduce the influence of chocolate marketing on consumer perceptions and regulate chocolate marketing content.

Trader Joe's dark chocolate bar     Image 5: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Product

The interviewee’s description of her chocolate preferences further demonstrates consumer susceptibility to the influences of chocolate advertisements. The interviewee reveals she favors dark chocolate, offering “I buy it at Trader Joe’s…I like the pure flavor of their products.”[23] First, Trader Joe’s is a grocery store that advertises the sale of organic, natural, fresh food at low prices. Second, recall that the interviewee prefers organic food, but high prices prevent her from purchasing organic products. Keeping these two pieces of information in mind, the interviewee’s comment suggests that she purchases chocolate at Trader Joe’s because it is both organic and affordable. In addition to these conscious reasons, the packaging of the chocolate may also contribute to the interviewee’s decision to purchase dark chocolate bars from Trader Joe’s, though she is unconscious of this influence. Image 5 exemplifies a dark chocolate bar product sold at Trader Joe’s, one that the interviewee might encounter (Image 5). This package exercises marketing strategies to influence consumer choice by emphasizing a high cacao content of “61%,” indicative of pure chocolate. Additionally, printing “Imported from Belgium” carries connotations associated with Europe, such as fantasy and romance. Lastly, the package pictures a crown, presumably representative of chocolate’s historical association with royalty in Europe. This suggests to the consumer that the chocolate is luxurious and highly valuably, and implies that the chocolate will taste rich and pure. All of these elements on the package impact the consumer’s decision to purchase that product by manipulating her perceptions, thereby prompting the consumer to imagine the chocolate will taste special over other chocolate products. Similar to an issue already discussed, the interviewee reveals that consumers are naïve to chocolate marketing strategies, and make unconscious purchasing decisions based on the effectiveness of chocolate ads and their ability to influence consumers’ perceptions and taste preferences of chocolate.

The interviewee reveals major historical, economic, and social issues that persist within the chocolate industry through her comments about coffee production, and in describing her chocolate perceptions and taste preferences. Historical issues, such as the under-recognized efforts of cacao farmers and their contributions that permit the existence of the chocolate industry – i.e. they provide the raw product to make chocolate – are evidently issues that exist within the coffee industry as well. Economic issues, such as volatile income and impoverished livelihoods, partially the fault of certification organizations like Organic and Fair Trade, are also issues within both the cacao and coffee industries. Lastly, social issues related to the use of sexualized images of women to control consumers’ perceptions and taste preferences of chocolate are seemingly unnoticed by consumers. This is problematic in that consumers are unaware that these ads contribute to the proliferation of stereotypical gender roles, and in that consumers are also unaware that they possess little agency in their chocolate purchasing decisions.
[1] Christopher Bacon, “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffees Reduce Small-scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?,” World Development 33 (2005): 497-511.
[2] Joni Valkila, “Fair Trade Organic Coffee Production in Nicaragua – Sustainable Development or a Poverty Trap,” Ecological Economics 68 (2009): 3018-3025.
[3] Valkila, “Fair Trade organic coffee.”
[4] Julie Guthman, “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow,” in Food and Culture, ed. by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik (New York: Routledge, 2013), 496-509.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Bacon, “Confronting the Coffee Crisis.”
[7] Anonymous, interview by Ashlee Korsberg, April 24, 2017.
[8] Carla Martin, “Alternative trade and virtuous/localization/globalization” (lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017).
[9] “USDA Organic Labeling Regulations,” USDA, accessed April 30, 2017, 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.
[10] Anonymous.
[11] Martin, “Alternative trade.”
[12] Ibid.
[13] Anonymous.
[14] Ndongo Samba Sylla, “On the Inequalities of the International Trade System” and “The Fair Trade Universe,” in The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, translated by David Clement Leye (London: Pluto Press, 2014).
[15] Carla Martin, “Modern day slavery” (lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 22, 2017).
[16] Anonymous.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Martin, “Alternative Trade.”
[20] Emma Robertson, “A deep physical reason’: gender, race and the nation in chocolate consumption,” in Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history (Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2009), 18-63.
[21] Anonymous
[22] Anonymous.
[23] Anonymous.

References

Anonymous. Interview by Ashlee Korsberg, April 24, 2017.

Bacon, Christopher. “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffees Reduce Small-scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?.” World Development 33 (2005): 497-511.

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow.” In Food and Culture, edited by Carole Counihan, and Penny Van Esterik, 496-509, New York: Routledge, 2013.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative trade and virtuous/localization/globalization.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Modern day slavery.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 22, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 29, 2017.

Robertson, Emma. “A deep physical reason’: gender, race and the nation in chocolate consumption.” In Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history, 18-63, Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2009.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. “On the Inequalities of the International Trade System” and “The Fair Trade Universe.” In The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, translated by David Clement Leye, London: Pluto Press, 2014.

U.S. Government Publishing Office. “USDA Organic Labeling Regulations.” Accessed April 30, 2017. 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.

Valkila, Joni. “Fair Trade Organic Coffee Production in Nicaragua – Sustainable Development or a Poverty Trap.” Ecological Economics 68 (2009): 3018-3025.

Image sources

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coffee_Beans_Photographed_in_Macro.jpg

Image 2: https://pixabay.com/en/photos/cocoa/

Image 3: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USDA_organic_seal.svg

Image 4: https://www.flickr.com/photos/orofacial/8219609037

Image 5: https://chocolateihaveknown.wordpress.com/category/acquired/trader-joes/

 

 

How Can Awareness Affect Chocolate Consumption?

INTRODUCTION

Chocolate is a unique consumer’s item because it has exhaustive social and historical significance.  Chocolate is created in similar ways but the background of one chocolate bar can vary immensely when compared to that of another chocolate bar. Chocolate bars vary in cacao percentage, sugar amount, cacao origination, labor laws, and so many more complicated factors. When you walk into a store, chocolate seems like another typical food available for purchase, but it is much more complicated than that. The average American consumed almost ten pounds of chocolate in 2015 and that number continues to rise over the years (Satioquia-Tan, 2015). It is very clear that there has been a rise in chocolate consumption that does not appear to be ending anytime soon. In fact, chocolate production and sells bring in billions of dollars per year to many countries (Figure 1), making production a top profitable market (statistica, 2016). The appeal of chocolate is strong and there is no doubt about this.

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Figure 1: Consumption of chocolate in dollars in different countries.

THESIS

It is evident that this rise in chocolate consumption is due to increased advertisement and mass production (Martin, 2016) and the increase of the sugar market (Mintz, 1986). Of course, all of this seems clear because I have taken AfAm119X. I learned firsthand about the joys and perils of the chocolate market. With all the new information I learned about the chocolate industry, I am more skeptical with purchases. I question the fundamentals of where a chocolate originated and the labor laws in place for its production. Unfortunately, not much information is readily available to consumers so they do not have the necessary information to understand the social impacts behind chocolate consumption. If there are no problems associated with the chocolate industry, then new information should not change views on chocolate consumption. This is not the case, however. The easy accessibility of popular brands, constant advertising, and lack of information about exploitation and health consequences all promote chocolate consumption. If people were made more aware of problems in the chocolate industry, then there could be a decline in chocolate consumption which could push industries to better their practices and have more conscious efforts in production. In an interview with a Harvard senior, it was noticed that new information of the problems of the chocolate industry influenced her chocolate consumption.

INTERVIEW

The woman interviewed for this blog is a Harvard senior who considers herself to be an avid chocolate lover. She agreed to sit down twice for the interview because there were two parts assigned for the interview. Part one of this interview has general questions about chocolate consumption. Part one ended with the interviewee being shown new information, videos, and advertisements intended to bring awareness of some problems of the chocolate industry. Part two of this interview was conducted five days later and was intended to find whether or not the negative information influenced her chocolate consumption. After the entire interview had been conducted, the interviewer was awarded with chocolate of her choosing and her answers were analyzed. It was found that the interviewer lacked background information about chocolate and the new information did influence her choices.

 PART ONE OF INTERVIEW: GENERAL QUESTIONS

Interviewer: “When I say the word chocolate, what are some of your first thoughts?”

Friend: “Delicious. Chocolate is delicious and I love it. It’s a great dessert and there are so many different chocolates to choose from. You can give it to people as presents or buy it for yourself.”

Interviewer: “How often would you say you buy chocolate?”

Friend: “A few times a week. I usually buy it on the weekends.”

Interviewer: “Is there any particular type that you buy more often?

Friend: “I usually buy Hershey’s or Almond Joy. Sometimes I’ll get Snickers or Kit-Kat.”

Interviewer: “Why these? What do you consider when you buy these?”

Friend: “It’s really easy to get it. It’s in the aisles but usually it is also at the register so it’s very tempting. Also, it is pretty cheap so I can usually get a lot of chocolate for a few dollars.”.

Interviewer: “How much would you say you know about chocolate?”

Friend: “I would say that I know a lot about the types of chocolate and what they have in them.”

Interviewer: “Would you say you know a lot about how they are made or where their products come from?”

Friend: “Probably not. I honestly just know about the chocolate brands that you find at like CVS. I know they are produced in factories and there is a lot of chocolate out there.”

Interviewer: “Would you say that chocolate is healthy?”

Friend” I have heard that dark chocolate is healthy so I think chocolate can have benefits.”

ANALYSIS

From the interviewee’s responses, it is very clear that she is a frequent consumer, yet she does not know very much information about chocolate production. The majority of her chocolate experiences come from the Big Five because they control 80% of the chocolate market (Martin, 2016). These companies have made buying their chocolate easily accessible and affordable. With their mass production success, they can continue to supply at such a demand. Not only do these chocolate companies mass produce their chocolate, but they also monopolize stores to market their chocolate as much as possible. For example, the interviewee mentioned the convenience of chocolate found at checkout (Figure 2). Consumers are advertised chocolate throughout the store in the aisles, but then they are advertised again at checkout to solidify the sell. This convenience is content merchandising (Blumenfeld, 2015).

chocolate-bar-checkout
Figure 2: Chocolate found at checkout register.

As one would predict, the exploitative side and influential advertising of chocolate production is hidden from the consumer. Chocolate making has a rich process behind it from cacao bean to bar but the consumer is hidden from this. The consumer is only advertised chocolate as a luxurious, desirable good that can only positively affect the consumer.

PART TWO OF INTERVIEW: NEW INFORMATION

At this point in the interview, I informed the interviewee that I would give her new information about chocolate that I had learned in AfAm119X. I would proceed to ask her follow up questions and I would take notes of any reactions that she had to the information. I presented the information in the following order:

1. I showed her different advertisements from popular chocolate companies. I told her about how some of these advertisements were often hyper-sexualized women and advertisements were different for men or women audiences (Farhim, 2010). Or some ads were used to promote chocolate to children from a very young age (Fed Up, 2014). chocolate-ad-two       flakeaa0209_468x355

maxresdefault2. I gave her a chart of the benefits of cacao and advised her that popular chocolate bars, such as Hershey’s, were only made of 20% chocolate (Martin, 2016). I presented her with a nutrition label chart of a Snicker’s bar and pointed out that there was no daily value percentage assigned to the sugar information.

raw-cacao-health-benefits

snickers_brownie_bars

3. I told her the statistic that every metric cacao has only a $200 premium most of the profit does not go directly to the farmer (Martin, 2016).

4. I showed her some clips from the documentary “Fed Up”. The clips showed the major control that the sugar industry has on food today and its negative impact on health. I explained that many efforts to control this industry have been denied due to profit concerns (Fed Up, 2014).

 

Interviewer: “With this new information about chocolate behind-the-scenes, how do you feel about chocolate or what are some thoughts you are having?”

Friend: “I feel like I’ve been lied to before. I didn’t know that a chocolate bar was more sugar than actual chocolate. I also never really considered how much farmers were exploited and overworked just so that I could eat a chocolate bar. All of this information makes me believe that there is a bad side to the chocolate industry that I didn’t know about.”

Interviewer: “Which of these would you say is sticking with you more?”

Friend: “I’m actually quite upset with the Fed Up clips that you showed me. I can’t believe that there is such a monopoly in advertisements. They influence children and adults and work to stop change from happening. I almost feel responsible like I should only buy chocolate that is more socially conscious.”

Interviewer: “Who would you say is responsible for these problems?”

Friend: “The chocolate companies and politics. It is unfair that we don’t know this information because they are afraid that their sales will decrease. It is my fault as well though for not questioning the production of chocolate.”

ANALYSIS

The interviewee had a very negative reaction to the new information. She was angered by the lack of information available to the consumer. Even though this information is not available to consumers, it affects them indirectly or directly when they consume chocolate. When consumers increase their demand for chocolate, chocolate companies must increase their demand of cacao. This could cause more exploitation of farmers to meet the demand, which is an indirect effect. Directly, chocolate is about 80% sugar so one chocolate bar could exceed the recommended daily consumption amount (Martin, 2016).

A particularly interesting finding of this interview was that the interviewee was mostly offended by the advertising efforts of companies. Many companies target children from very young ages because if they can accustom them to the consumption of their product when young, at older ages they will continue to buy the products (Fed Up, 2014). Children are much more impressionable to such advertisements and companies monopolize on that fact. The advertising efforts begin at home when children watch television and they continue elsewhere. The interviewee’s reaction to this shows that people would be angered if they had the necessary information. Chocolate companies have mastered the act of hiding their problems and promoting the taste of their chocolate.

PART TWO OF INTERVIEW

Interviewer: “How did this new information affect you?”

Friend: “I feel like it prevented me from buying as much chocolate as I normally would. I also bought some different type of chocolate that advertised that it had higher percentages of cacao. I considered buying chocolate that had more of a story on its label. It made me more aware of my purchases.”

Interviewer: “What were your overall feelings when you bought the new chocolate and what did you consider?”

Friend: “When I tried to buy the popular chocolate brands, I felt guilty. I didn’t want to know that I was being a part of the manipulation of the sugar industry. Plus, the other chocolate is healthier and still tastes somewhat good.”

ANALYSIS

Even though this was only one person, a bit of new information about the problems in the chocolate industry were influential. The information from part one affected what the interviewee considered when buying chocolate. In fact, she no longer considered easy accessibly and cheap cost. Instead, she was more conscious about the background of the chocolate bar and its health benefits. It has been known that chocolate can cause feelings of guilt because there is a false dichotomy (Martin, 2016). However, the feelings of guilt that the interviewee felt were due to her lack of information about exploitation and advertising. After learning the new information, the interviewee made an active change to her consumerism. She avoided Big Five chocolate companies and attempted to buy more socially conscious chocolate.

It is important to acknowledge the social issues that were presented to the interviewee. Sugar consumption is at a high and chocolate companies monopolize on this. Mass production of chocolate leads to high demand which can increase exploitation. Advertisement efforts often target children and women. Each of these issues alone is problematic but they persist anyhow. People are not aware of these issues so there is increasing success of major chocolate companies. One interviewee’s consumption practices were changed with some new information which signals that more awareness about the problems in the chocolate industry could influence many more people.

CONCLUSION

Chocolate industries have manipulated information available to their consumers. They manipulate country taxes to exploit countries’ cacao profits (Sylla, 2014). They manipulate the health information known about chocolate. Their success in advertisements, mass production, and low cost mask the problems of chocolate production. Even though this is true, a bit of awareness could influence consumers. The interviewee made changes in her consumption and others could too. Next time, buy a Taza Chocolate bar!

Works Cited

Blumenfeld, J. (2015). The art of chocolate: Woo customers with craft, story and health. New Hope Network.

Farhim, J. (2010). Beyond cravings: Gender and class desires in chocolate marketing. Occidental College; OxyScholar.

Fed Up, documentary. (2014). Film.

Martin, C. (2016). Introduction to chocolate, culture, and the politics of food. Harvard College, Lecture.

Mintz, S. (1986). Sweetness and Power.

Satioquia-Tan, J. (2015). Americans Eat HOW MUCH chocolate?. CNBC.

Statista.com. (2016). Statistics and facts on the chocolate industry.

Sylla, N. (2014). The fair trade scandal.