Tag Archives: linguistics

Chocolate as a Device for Inequality

It is easy to think of chocolate as a sweet treat that stirs up fond memories of a happy stomach. Yet, there are further issues involving the nature by which we view chocolate as a society. We are going to think critically and assess the inequality and more problematic elements in the production and sales end of chocolate. Chocolate, as a commercialized product, is not only an exploitative product by nature, but it also in several ways serves to exacerbate race and age disparities in our communities through its marketing strategies.

Exploitation

Big chocolate companies present several problematic elements through their exploitation of not only the cacao farmer, but additionally through their exploitive marketing strategies.

Ethically Sourced Cacao

Chocolate has a long history of using forced and coerced labor for its cultivation: “…abuses…have been well-documented for much longer, even if the use of coercion has not been consistent across cocoa production globally and throughout time” (Berlan 1092). However, it is not widely known that our consumption of  chocolate is still based off of the exploitation of others. Even now, big chocolate companies exploit cacao farmers through multiple venues. First, cacao labor is extremely laborious and often farmers are not supplied with the right facilities: “Farm workers often lack: access to bathroom facilities, filtered water, clean spaces for food prep, lesser exposed areas to res/cool down” (Martin Lecture 3/22). Additionally, farming cacao is associated with a very volatile income. Cacao farmers are not paid in wages or salaries, as cacao is a commodity with a fluctuating price in the world economy. This irregular source of income leads to an unstable source of livelihood for cacao farmers and their families: “and yet almost every critic of the industry [chocolate industry] has identified the key problem: poverty among the primary producers” (Off 146). Historically, the exploitation of the laborer exacerbated racial distinctions and categories: “Overall, both Rowntree and Cadbury adverts created a world of white consumers in which the black producers of cocoa beans and the black consumers of chocolate were at best pushed to the margins, if not excluded completely” (Robertson 54). Yet, there is even a further subcategory within the Ivory Coast cacao farmers that is subjected to the chocolate industry’s exploitation. Child labor is often used on cacao farms: In a 2000 report on human rights in Cote d’Ivoire, the US State Department estimated, with startling candor, “‘that 15,000 Malian children work on Ivorian cocoa and coffee plantations…Many are under 12 years of age, sold into indentured servitude…’” (Off 133). The International Labor Organization has explicitly defined the worst forms of child labor. It is universally accepted that not only is child labor unethical, but further, that coerced child labor is morally wrong. Yet, the alarming part is not that child labor is being utilized in cacao farming, but rather, the extent to which children are being exploited: “‘15,000 Malian children work on Ivorian cocoa and coffee plantations…Many are under 12 years of age, sold into indentured servitude…’” (Off 133). Cacao has become a product tainted with coerced and unethically sourced labor. In doing so, chocolate, itself, becomes an exploitative product.


This graph featured above is from Alders Ledge. It shows the primary cacao producing countries in the “Gold Coast” of West Africa. The graph shows that about 71% of the world’s cacao is sourced using child labor and 43% uses forced labor.


Marketing and Advertisement in the Chocolate Industry

Chocolate companies additionally manipulate their consumer base through their marketing strategies. First, chocolate companies have chosen to market specifically to children. Companies target the vulnerabilities of children through specific practices. For example, “until the age of about 8, children do not understand advertising’s persuasive intent” (Martin Lecture 3/29). Chocolate companies manipulate children through advertisements on television, packaging, and social media. Companies are now spending billions of dollars to manipulate children and maximize their profits: “Companies spend about $17 billion annually marketing to children, a staggering increase from the $100 million spent in 1983” (Martin Lecture 3/29).


The advertisement, featured by Kinder, depicts a smiling (happy) young boy on a delicious looking candy bar. The bottom reads “Invented for Kids Approved by Mums”, thereby playing off children’s vulnerabilities and telling them that this bar was specifically made for them.


In addition to chocolate companies’ manipulation of children, their advertisements of chocolate have also been used to dehumanize blackness: “The use of black people in advertising has a long history” (Robertson 36). However, there is some sort of logic to using blackness and black people to represent products like chocolate: “…products made available through the use of slave labor such as coffee and cocoa, often used, and many still use, images of black people to enhance their luxury status” (Robertson 36). Yet, does the logic of its representation make it any less inherently racist? The presentation of blackness and the use of that exploitation of coerced labor to maximize profit is morally incorrect. The imperial history of cacao and slavery make the use of its laborers as an advertising tool even more ethically wrong. Yet, we have historically, and still do, use blackface and such caricatures to represent chocolate products.

dunkin-donuts-blackface-hed-2013


This is an advertisement by Dunkin’ Donuts in Thailand. It features a smiling woman in blackface makeup holding a charcoal (chocolate) flavored donut. The slogan “Break every rule of deliciousness” is featured next to the blackfaced woman. Not only is this an example of linking chocolate to blackness in advertising, but it also links chocolate and subsequently blackness to sin.


Yet, even when companies attempt to manipulate their consumer base by marketing themselves as leaders of fairly sourced cacao, they do not always succeed. In Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in DivineChocolate Advertisements, Kristy Leissle describes Divine Chocolate’s ad, featuring female Ghanan cacao farmers as a “positive contribution” (Leissle 123) to the depictions of Africa in British culture. However the way that Divine Chocolate depicts these women with their products seems detached from reality: “Divine Chocolate expends considerable effort to make Kuapa Kokoo farmers – and Ghana as a cocoa origin site – visible to Britain’s chocolate shoppers…Divine Chocolate and St. Luke’s supplied the women’s outfits and gave them a stipend to have their hair styled for the shoot…” (Leissle 124). I would argue that if Divine Chocolate had really wanted to showcase the cacao farmers, not only would they have included the male farmers, but they wouldn’t have expended resources to change the women’s outward appearances. Further, much like the popular Western chocolate ads, Divine Chocolate’s ads sexual and objectify women. Divine Chocolate is seeking to maximize both sales and profits from the chocolate industry and are playing off of what they think the consumers want to see. Rather than this advertisement being associated with an educational or philanthropic aura, I would argue that this ad, in reality, fetishizes these female, African cacao farmers. Additionally, the advertisement validates and reinforces stereotypes regarding Africans. Thus, because of its manipulative nature, cacao, as a commodity, becomes an exploited commodity.

Linguistic Tool

Chocolate has become a linguistic tool that exacerbates not only racial distinctions but also racial tensions.

Colloquial Context

Chocolate has become a euphemism for sin; while it’s counterpart vanilla has become linked to purity. Through this symbolism, a standard of uncleanliness versus cleanliness is created. This leads one to wonder if the basis for linking chocolate to blackness is purely based on skin color, or rather does it have a deeper, race related background? In Slavery & Capitalism (1940), Eric Williams argues that racism is a byproduct of slavery and not the cause of slavery (Martin Lecture 3/1). Perhaps chocolate is commonly related to black people because of its historical exploitation of forced labor in the “Gold Coast” of West Africa? Or rather, is the fact that chocolate is also associated with dirtiness and sexuality a factor? Are these racist notions of uncleanliness associated with chocolate and blackness because of our inherent racism towards those that we previously subjugated?

Chocolate as associated with blackness becomes marginalized in society. The Western ideals reign supreme: “The commodity chain model is not ideal, then, creating a progress narrative in which western consumption is prioritized as a symbol of economic development and modernity” (Robertson 4). The association comes through the means by which cacao is cultivated. And in part stems from the inequality in the sourcing, in terms of workers: “The history of chocolate corresponds to some extent with the more well-documented histories of tea, coffee and sugar: notably in the early dependence on coerced labor, and in the transformation of the product from luxury to everyday commodity…Chocolate has been invested with specific cultural meanings which are in part connected to such conditions of production” (Robertson 3). Yet, this relation between chocolate as a symbol for black people and vanilla, seen as the opposite, for white people, creates yet another barrier of difference. And in doing so further paints black people as “othered”.

However, it is important to note, that the relation between chocolate and race is not entirely detrimental. In several contexts, the link and its subsequent meaning have been reappropriated to carry a more positive connotation. For example, “chocolate city”, referring to cities with a very large black population, has become more of a term of empowerment, rather than one of subjugation. Additionally, the book featured below, I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla, uses blackness as related to chocolate as merely a term to describe two halves of the same being, just different flavors. Thus, while the initial linking of blackness to chocolate may or may not come from racist and subjugated origins, the term is not entirely negative.


The book by Marguerite Wright, I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla is meant as a teaching tool to help parents guide their children as a minority in the community. In this context, chocolate as a euphemism for blackness is not necessarily racist nor prejudice. However, the fact that the parallel between race and chocolate exists at all, and the connotations of the parallel are inherently racist.


But…

One Could Argue that Free Trade is the Issue

However, one could argue that the problem of exploitation is not applicable just to the chocolate industry; rather, it is an issue with free trade and the laissez-faire economy itself. One could argue that the exploitative nature of the commodity and the exploitation by which it is cultivated is really a break down of fair trade. Fair trade is supposed to regulate the working conditions yet, in The Fair Trade Scandal, Ndongo Sylla argues that “…Fair Trade is but the most recent example of another sophisticated ‘scam’ by the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market” (Sylla 18). Sylla would argue that the system itself is at fault for the worker’s exploitation, rather than the companies employing them: “In the West African context where I worked, Fair Trade was barely keeping its promises. For older producer organizations, there were initially significant benefits; then, hardly anything followed. Newcomers to the system were still waiting for promises to come true. For those who wanted to join the movement, it was sometimes an obstacle course” (Sylla 19). One could also use Marx’s notion of the exploited worked and the systematic oppression involved in capitalism as the issue at hand. One could use Marx’s theory that the sole purpose of capitalism is to exploit the worker and estrange him from not only the commodity that he produces, but further from the capitalist and the land itself. Thereby showing that the exploitation involved in the chocolate industry is not only applicable to other commodities, but this exploitation is also a natural progression in a capitalistic society. The argument that the system is, in actuality, at fault for the exploitative nature of the product is valid. However, this still does not discount the racialized slurs that are a product of this estrangement and exploitation. The free market itself is problematic; but my argument here, is that chocolate is an exploitative product and it can be improved, even if the market is inherently compromised. This is a critique of the system and the mindset that this exploitation creates in society; rather than an essay that provides the means by which we can implement a long-term systemic change.

Conclusion

Chocolate through its advertisement and forms of cultivation becomes an exploitative commodity. Further, the means by which it is cultivated leads society to provide specific and racialized associations with chocolate. Thereby allowing chocolate to exacerbate race and age gaps in society.

Work Cited

Academic Sources

Berlan, Amanda. 2013. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An AnthropologicalPerspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.”

Leissle, Kristy. 2012. “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in DivineChocolate advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24 (2): 121139

Martin, Carla. Lectures (3/1, 3/22, 3/29).

Off, Carol. 2008. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet.

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

Sylla, Ndongo. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal.

Multimedia

Beaut.ie. “Maeve and Her Tiny Babies: Ads That Drive Me Crazy!” Beaut.ie. Beaut.ie, 12 May 2013. Web. 04 May 2017.
Jones, Jane. “The Taste of Inequality: Chocolate Is Too Expensive for Many Cocoa Farmers to Eat.” Ravishly. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017.
Lee, Jack. “Alders Ledge.” Guilt Free Chocolate. N.p., 30 Oct. 2013. Web. 04 May 2017.
Stanley, T. L. “Dunkin’ Donuts Apologizes for Blackface Ad, but Not Everyone Is Sorry.” – Adweek. Adweek, n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.
Wright, Marguerite A. I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-conscious World. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000. Print.

Sugar, Semantics, and Sexuality

If you ask any girl or woman raised in America, “what are little girls made of?,” she will almost surely sing back to you, “sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of” (Delamar). From before they can remember, women are indoctrinated by this traditional English nursery rhyme, which plants in their minds the socially sanctioned stereotype that femininity is synonymous with “sweetness.” Throughout the course of their lives, this notion is nurtured, reinforced, and ultimately sexualized by the frequent and widespread textual constructions of the saccharine quality of women. While the strict denotations of such labels as “sweetheart,” “honey bun,” “sugar,” or “sweetie pie” do not betray any trace of gender associations, they were born of a problematic history that has come to define their connotations. Such representations are deeply entrenched in relevant cultural mores, which define the nature of this disparity between linguistic denotation and connotation. Language thus becomes vulnerable to exploitation by its particular social, political, and economic context, a vehicle for covert “attitudes and values that are seldom explicitly articulated,” even those that have “long since been rejected at a conscious level” (Bucholtz, Liang, & Sutton 146). Despite the conscious acknowledgment of gender equality in this day and age, a long history of gendered power imbalance remains integrated in this subliminal vehicle of linguistic chauvinism. These sex differences in language do not just passively reflect gender inequality in society, but serve to actively reinforce it, ultimately serving to further derogate women and perpetuate negative stereotypes that threaten to subvert the modern crusade for equality of the sexes.

The gendered nature of saccharine words in the English language can be traced back to the 19th century, when social and technological innovations of the Industrial Revolution allowed sugar to transform from a luxury of the aristocracy to a staple of the masses. By the 1850s, sugar had become a ubiquitous presence in all walks of Western life, its consumption associated most intimately with women and children, whose life in the domestic sphere did not demand the heartier ingredients that characterized the workingman’s diet (Mintz 110). This historical moment likely provided the backdrop for the inception of the metaphorical association of women with sugar, which subsequently exploited industrialization and advertisement for its rapid dissemination. The textual construction of “woman-as-sugar” thus became intimately tied to a commercial one, evident in a 1924 advertisement for Whitman’s “Pleasure Island” boxed chocolates. This advertisement promises that a “visit to Pleasure Island is best when made by a man and a maid,” who can together “enjoy the plunder from this wonderful chest of chocolates” (“1924 Advertisement for Whitman’s Pleasure Island Chocolate Beach Palms”).

"1924 Advertisement for Whitman’s Pleasure Island Chocolate Beach Palms," Period Paper
Advertisement for Whitman’s Pleasure Island Chocolate, 1924 (Period Paper)

This evident eroticization of sugar likely arose through the assimilation of chocolate and its celebrated aphrodisiac properties, manifest in Whitman’s affirmation that a “passport to Pleasure Island” is available to anyone who has not lost the “youthful keen taste for good things” and a “love of romance.” Whitman’s thus proclaims the primacy of the heterosexual relationship in 20th century western society and provides an explicit link between sexuality, romance, and sugary confections. In this way, consumption of their sugary confections effectively serves as a euphemism for some idealized sexual encounter, a man’s indulgence in a “sweet” woman, which is here commodified into a transaction of sorts. The saccharine woman is thus reduced to a decadent romantic and sexual object that can be sold, bought, and consumed, rendering her powerless and controlled by the whims of men.

During the 1967 “Summer of Love,” a time marked by the embrace of gender equality and “free love,” advertisers in the candy industry sought to adapt their marketing strategies to cater to this more open-minded audience. That year, Brach’s candy company advertised a heart shaped box of chocolates guaranteeing “free kisses with every box of Brach’s Valentine’s Chocolates you give to her” (“Brach’s Valentines Candy Advertisement Circa 1967″).

Brach’s Valentines Candy Advertisement, 1967 (Candy Favorites)
Advertisement for Brach’s Valentines Candy, 1967 (Candy Favorites)

This saccharine representation of women is clearly problematic, exploiting the female sexual liberalization movement and undermining its foundation, which lay in the rejection of traditional social and sexual mores. Just as women had claimed ownership of their sexuality as a means by which to overthrow traditionally oppressive, male-dominated institutions and double standards, the further sexualization of their “sweet” quality snatched it right back from their hands. Female sexuality became perverted into promiscuity, subject once again to the will of men, as easy to procure and consume as a box of bonbons.

The lasting impact of this semantic pejoration, by which a reference to a woman begins with “neutral or even positive connotations” but “gradually acquires negative implications” is still very much felt in the modern day, in spite of the many strides that have been made in the name of gender equality (Schulz 65). Over the past decade, Godiva Chocolatier released their “Go DIVA” campaign, one advertisement for which proclaims that “every woman is one part diva, much to the dismay of every man” (“Godiva: ‘EVERYWOMAN’ Print Ad”).

Advertisement from Godiva's "GoDIVA" campaign, 2004 (Coloribus)
Advertisement from Godiva’s “GoDIVA” campaign, 2004 (Coloribus)

At first glance, it appears that the intended audience has shifted from men to women–the depiction of the woman with a Godiva truffle halfway to her mouth perhaps a concerted effort to transform the act of chocolate consumption from one of male courtship to one of female self-indulgence. However, upon closer inspection, it is clear that the portrayal of women within this saccharine context has yet to break free from male appeasement. Sultry lighting sets the mood, as she seductively makes direct eye contact with her audience, her sweater falling from her shoulder to reveal her bare arm. In the heteronormative world of advertisement, this provocative image would almost certainly rouse a more pronounced response in the appetite and consumption patterns of a male subject. As such, even today, it is clear that the denotative significance of sugar continues to compete with its derogatory connotative significance.

While the objectification of women may no longer be explicit in 21st century society, it is still implicitly articulated by the continued and widespread notion of the saccharine woman and her commodified femininity. The impact of such notions go beyond emotional hurt; rather, this derogatory portrayal imposes boundaries on both the space that she occupies in the collective social consciousness as well as her ability to construct her own identity and conceive of her full potential. As such, it is important to acknowledge the continued existence of these subconscious representations of women in the public and private spheres in order to bring them into explicit awareness. Only in this way can the woman finally emancipate herself from the shackles of this pejorative textual construction and expunge the legacy of chauvinism that has long plagued her gender perception and identity.


1924 Ad Whitman’s Pleasure Island Chocolate Beach Palms. Digital image. Period Paper, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

Brach’s Valentines Candy Advertisement Circa 1967. Digital image. Candy Favorites, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

Bucholtz, Mary, A. C. Liang, and Laurel A. Sutton. Reinventing Identities: The Gendered Self in Discourse. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.

Delamar, Gloria T. “What Folks Are Made Of.” Mother Goose: From Nursery to Literature. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1987. N. pag. Web.

Godiva: “EVERYWOMAN” Print Ad. Digital image. Coloribus. Margeotes Fertitta & Partners, Oct. 2004. Web. 10 Mar. 15.

Schulz, Muriel R. “The semantic derogation of women.” In Barrie Thorne & Nancy Henley, Language and sex: Difference and dominance. Rowley, MA: Newbury House, 64-75. 1975. Digital.

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

How Cacahuatl Became Chocolate

Many modern-day chocolate enthusiasts are surprised to learn that when the Spaniards first encountered Mesoamerica they were repulsed by the cacao-beverage of the native Aztecs. Due to its gritty texture and bitter taste, some even said it was more of a drink for pigs than humans and even barbaric, due to the sight of Aztecs with red-stained mouths as if they had been drinking blood due to their achiote-laced chocolate. Spanish aversion to drinking cacao eventually dissipated, partly due to the filling, nonalcoholic nature of the beverage and out of necessity. Having palates familiar with Old World flavors, the new settlers imported livestock such as cows and sheep as well as crops such as wheat, sugar cane, and peaches. The Maya and Aztecs used honey as a sweetener but had nothing close to the sweet tooth cravings of the Europeans. Not surprisingly, hybridization began to occur between the two cultures. An entire generation of Spanish Creoles born, and this was the context in which chocolate was eventually transplanted to Old Spain and the rest of Europe, which led to the introduction of chocolate to the European colonies in North America, the Caribbean, and around the world through trade. If the original Mesoamerican cacao beverage had not undergone extensive hybridization with European customs such as taste modification and linguistic changes, then chocolate as we know it probably would have never existed.

choco1

Imaginary scene of Aztecs creating chocolate, from John Ogillby’s America, of 1671. The artist has misunderstood the use of the metate, and has incorrectly included the post-Conquest molinillo. (Coe 113).

There is much debate concerning the origins of the word “chocolate”. In many old documents and letters chocolate is referred to as “cacahuatl”, (“cacao water”). One compelling reason for the linguistic switch among its white consumers is the reality that words and word roots in one language can become awkward and even offensive once transferred to a foreign cultural and linguistic setting. In most Roman languages, the word “caca” is a vulgar term for feces. (The term cacafuego—“shitfire” even appears in an early 18th century Spanish-English dictionary.) It is understandable why Spaniards would be uncomfortable with a word beginning with “caca” to describe a thick, brown drink they wanted to introduce to Europeans back home. One popular theory of where “chocolate” came from is the Maya word “chocol” and the Aztec word for water “atl”. It is safe to say if this name change had not happened, then the drink would have probably never become popular back in Europe, and without introducing the new methods of preparing and serving the drink, (i.e. the introduction of sugar), then chocolate would have remained a local delicacy of Central and South America among the native elites, not eventually a global phenomenon consumed by all social classes.

The chocolate drink was originally served as a cold, bitter, unsweetened beverage, probably in part due to the warm climate of Central America. The Spanish insisted on drinking their chocolate hot and regularly sweetening it with cane sugar, as well as replacing spices such as “ear flower” and the foreign chili pepper with more familiar flavors such as cinnamon, anise seed, and black pepper. Europeans also needed to figure out a way that they could transport chocolate across the ocean on long voyages back to Spain; chocolate was too perishable. The Spaniards manufactured the finished beverage from a dried wafer or tablet of ground cacao that just needed hot water and sugar added to it. Guatemalan nuns may have invented this method, but Aztec warriors were also issued similar “instant chocolate” for sustenance during military campaigns. The Spaniards used these wafers as a convenient way to store and ship the cacao as a dried product, not unlike the instant hot cocoa we continue to drink today.

choco2

 

Image from nationwidecandy.com (2015)

And finally, the last change required in order for chocolate to become popular in Europe was its marketing. Unlike the sacredness and spirituality of chocolate in the Aztec context, in Europe it was marketed as medicine beneficial for all humoral temperaments (a desirable trait in the Baroque medical terminology of the time). Similar to other common drugs of the time (i.e. tea and coffee) the medicine became recreational, not unlike the Coca Cola phenomenon in the Americna South. All of these drinks engendered a craving for them by those who drank them, (due to their stimulant nature) and chocolate became a mainstream component of the European diet.

choco3

The Family of the Duke of Penthievre or The Cup of Chocolate by Jean-Baptiste Chapentier. (mystudios.com)

Ultimately, at the time Europe had the most widespread access to the majority of the globe through colonization. In order for the Europeans to have spread chocolate to their territories, they would have to had developed a craving for the beverage, which would not have happened if hybridization of the Mesoamerican beverage had not occurred through taste, language, and initial branding as a health food.

 

Citations:

Coe, Sophia D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson. 2007. Print. Chapter 4: Encounters and Transformation, Chapter 5: Chocolate Encounter Europe, pp.106-176.  

Chapentier, Jean-Baptiste. The Family of the Duke of Penthievre (The Cup of Chocolate). 1768. http://www.mystudios.com 20 Feb 2015

Dakin, Karen and Wichmann, Soren. Ancient Mesoamerica. Vol 11 Issue 1. Jan 2000, pp. 55-75.  http://dx.doi.org  08 September 2000. WEb. 20 Feb 2015. Abstract. 

Ogillby, John. America. 1671. Engraving. The True History of Chocolate. Coe, Sophie D., Coe, Michael D. 2nd ed. 2007. 113. Print.

Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows. online posting for sale. http://www.nationwidecandy.com. 20 Feb 2015