With the rise of food media in the modern age, there are countless avenues through which we are exposed to the most avant-garde of gastronomy. From the massive influx of visual information on platforms like Instagram and Facebook to the constant features of shows on Netflix and The Food Network, food has captured attention far beyond its functionality utility of nourishing and sustaining the human populace. This effect has only been reinforced with the globalization of certifications for the most prestigious of restaurants and businesses in the world. The moment that Michelin adjusts its stars, San Pellegrino announces its 50-Best list, or the James Beard Foundation names its honorees, the modern media swarms to cover stories around these businesses to highlight what distinguished each establishment from the huge field of competitors. Given the increased emphasis on food within the modern media age, food occupies an extremely powerful point of influence for pushing specific agendas.
Historically, chocolate has always occupied a controversial space in terms of media representation. Since chocolate first emerged in Europe as a highly sought-after commodity and then became a delicacy appreciated by the masses, there have been a fair share of scandals experienced by chocolate producers, despite the global addiction and appreciation for the product. Given the complex process and numerous entities which chocolate production requires, chocolate producing companies are under incredible scrutiny for the ethics behind their product production, and this sentiment has largely continued into the modern media age. Furthermore, while chocolate has yet to shed its historical baggage in terms of its production process, there are numerous agendas committed to improving upon this practice that aim to shed a more positive image of the product, while bringing about tangible change in the chocolate industry. Therefore, chocolate serves as the perfect case study for an examination on the historical role of media and the development of the practice into the modern age. Despite its immense history, the narrative of chocolate is still being written.
Early Media History of Chocolate
There are limited written records that can commentate on the history of cacao associated with its endemic regions in Latin and South America. However, there are several artifacts that serve as “media” in terms of documenting the significance of the ingredient and the practice. Due to modern archeological techniques, the Rio Azul vessel has been characterized to contain certain compounds present within cacao such as theobromine, while also having the Mayan hieroglyphics for cacao (Stuart 2009, Coe 2013). This piece constitutes historical media as the hieroglyphics displayed on the vessel would be presented for ceremonial events (Stuart 2009). However, as other forms of historical media are still being discovered or were not preserved, it is difficult to assess the extent to which media associated with cacao propagated the indigenous populations, but there was media for the sake of documentation and ceremonial purposes.
While Hernan Cortes is commonly attributed with the movement of cacao and thus chocolate to Europe in the 16th century, there appears to be a lack of media documentation during this time period (Coe 2013). This lack of documentation is likely related to limited accessibility to sources in this time frame and thus cannot be thoroughly examined within this essay. Starting in the mid-17th century, an abundance of media sources became accessible in terms of disturbing the preparation of a wide array of exotic foods such as chocolate, coffee, and tea. Within France and Spain, chocolate consumption appears to have become a ubiquitous practice as it is represented in many texts that were released (Coe 2013). These texts purported the health benefits of cacao and chocolate, while also presenting numerous methods of preparation that would make it more palatable (Colmenero 1640).
As these texts represent early presentations of chocolate within Europe, there is a focus on emphasizing the exoticism of these products through imagery and descriptions of their indigenous use cases (Dufour 1671). Additionally, as the media was intended to encourage further consumption of cacao and chocolate, these articles encourage the literate population to partake in the exotic goods as there are innumerable benefits from coughs to indigestion (Colmenero 1640, Dufour 1671). However, as addressed by Coe, chocolate consumption took substantially longer to become normalized within Great Britain (Coe 2013). This can be clearly observed within the texts are it is clearly indicated the original documents for these media pieces were translated media from Spain and France (Crook 1685). Therefore, through following the translation and distribution of media within the Europe, the popularization of chocolate can be followed in a precise manner.
Drama in Chocolate Paradise
As chocolate became increasingly popular within Europe, there were numerous innovations that allowed for its rising accessibility. With innovations such as the Dutch process by Van Houten, conching by Lindt, and milk chocolate by Peter, chocolate was mass producible and thus while still a luxury, was consumed by a substantial proportional of the population (Coe 2013). Accompanying the rise in chocolate availability, numerous social movements emerged in Europe such as the abolition of slavery, which subsequently resulted in increased awareness on ethical business practices (Satre 2005). Through the increased interest in business morality, cacao farms and chocolate factories became a focal point for media scrutiny.
The most infamous case of media involvement was introduced by Henry Nevinson through an article and subsequent book on slavery-like conditions observed in São Tomé and Príncipe on cacao farms (Nevinson 1906). These cacao farms were primarily managed by the Cadbury chocolate company, which was founded on morale Quaker values, so the cries of possible slavery on their farms was incredibly problematic. As the article and book by Nevinson circulated throughout Great Britain, where Cadbury was headquartered, there were countless cries for Cadbury to stop sourcing their chocolate from São Tomé and Príncipe or risk being boycotted by the general populace (Satre 2005). To exacerbate the issue, Portugal which owned São Tomé and Príncipe had banned slavery in the islands earlier and therefore insisted that the report did not accurately reflect the conditions labeled on the island (Higgs 2012). In response to these circumstances, Cadbury deployed their own reporter, Joseph Burtt, to assess the situation, under slightly different pretenses as he was instructed to amicably engage with plantation owners (Satre 2005, Higgs 2012). As this scandal increased in intensity, Cadbury sued newspapers such as The Standard for libel but ultimately did stop importing cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe (Satre 2005). Regardless of the actual reason Cadbury decided to boycott this cacao, it demonstrates the immense power of media and chocolate on a national and international scale.
While media played a role in terms of maintaining accountability of the Cadbury cacao farms within São Tomé and Príncipe, there were additional instances of media playing a supplementary role in facilitating advertising and sales for chocolate purveyors. The rigid but benevolent life of Milton Hershey and the Hershey chocolate company demonstrates the possibility of positive media reinforcing the narrative behind a product. Hershey was a disciplined and compassionate individual who sought to provide for those less fortunate in his environment (D’Antonio 2007). As part of his personal quest, a model town was constructed in Hershey, Pennsylvania to accommodate the needs of the factory and provide a safe and hospitable environment for the local community. Furthermore, when Hershey expanded sugar facilities into Cuba, the company was praised immensely for the quality of the development and the sustainable business practices (The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer 1920). Through features in numerous periodicals, the model town in Hershey, Pennsylvania and the Hershey’s chocolate factory became nationally and internationally recognized as the gold-standard for effective operations (Young 1923, Times 1928, Times 1933). The success of this positive media campaign can be observed during the peak of the Great Depression as demonstrated by an increase in profit margins, due to the unique advertising strategy of relying on word of mouth and media coverage (Allen 1932). Essentially, this indicates that through leveraging the media, the Hershey’s Chocolate company was able to forego substantial advertising, while retaining premium status of its products. The media played a crucial role not only in maintaining business ethics but also in establishing positive agendas within the chocolate industry during its development.
Chocolate in the Modern Media
Moving into the modern age, there is almost an overabundance of media that is available, which presents a unique challenge as the user can curate their own opinions regarding products like chocolate. Therefore, the utilization of media must be strategic and diverse to appeal to specific interests of users but also be sufficiently applicable that a wide array of viewers could be drawn in. Despite the excessive number of media options, chocolate remains at the focal point of food media as numerous individuals within the field are leveraging their positions to improve the state of the cacao and chocolate production.
Chocolate Smudges on Pen and Keyboard
Following in the footsteps of Nevinson and other chocolate journalists, cacao and chocolate have remained at the forefront of food writing. Articles that feature chocolate and cacao are often highlighted on major media outlets such as The New York Times and Washington Post, which demonstrates a continued interest for a broad audience. Furthermore, the creation of boutique food magazines such as The Lucky Peach and online food platforms like Eater have made accessing musings about the guilty pleasure even easier. However, that is not to say that the issues surrounding chocolate and cacao have deviated immensely from the past.
Given the global nature of the chocolate industry, historically, it was difficult for journalists to fully engage with every party involved. Therefore, while certain situations such as the Cadbury situation in São Tomé and Príncipe were exposed, many others likely slipped beneath the radar. As the world has become more interconnected and accessible, many of the problems that plague cacao and chocolate production have come to light. Starting from the beginning of chocolate production on the cacao farms, numerous media outlets have exposed that horrific conditions that workers often experience alongside issues with child labor (Romero 2009, O’Keefe 2016). Despite numerous instances that have raised these problems in the past, the chocolate industry has yet to address these problems in a constitutive manner. However, through raising awareness of these issues on a broader scale, the hope within media is to inspire groups to act and address these problems.
Alongside the continued discussion on labor concerns within the chocolate industry, another vestige of the chocolate past is discussions on the purported health benefits associated with chocolate. The healthy discussion surrounding chocolate has continued in the modern age as various “experts” with the field attempt to leverage their authority for the sake of pushing their respective agendas. Media outlets basically constantly contradict themselves through the slew of articles published in both support and dissent for the health benefits associated with chocolate (Oaklander 2014, Drayer 2018). Therefore, while the narrative has shifted from the historical perspective that cacao and chocolate having almost magical therapeutic properties, the jury is out on the current state of the field. Due to the immense amount of media content that is available, there is the unfortunate consequence that the true nature of chocolate is diluted. While each viewer has the privilege of establishing their own opinion towards chocolate and cacao, it becomes increasingly more challenging to distill the truth.
Ready, Set, Chocolate!
While traditional forms of media such as newspapers and journals remain influential, newer forms of visual media have become increasingly prominent and preferred to primarily text-based articles. From TV shows to documentaries and from Youtube series to Netflix features, the number of video-based chocolate media has also reached incredible levels with the profound advantage of providing a glimpse into the reality behind situations beyond words. Even after disregarding the innumerable recipes and delectable showcases of chocolate, videos and visual representations play a pivotal role in highlighting the production process and issues that surround the chocolate market.
In line with written media, video content has been utilized extensively to challenge the chocolate industry and condemn problematic practices of cacao farming. Numerous documentaries have been released that demonstrate instances of child labor and abuse on cacao plantations, but also reveal the context for why the practice occurs. In Brazil, while cacao farming is relatively smaller in scale, it is apparent that the use of underage labor stagnates the progression of youth within the state (Papel Social 2019). Within numerous African countries, the child labor problem within the cacao industry is even more rampart as there are further indications of abused and forced labor (Romano 2010, O’Keefe 2016). However, this issue presents a conundrum because child labor is almost necessitated in both of these situations to provide sufficient income for the families at large. As these pieces of videography highlight the labor issues surrounding the chocolate industry, it demonstrates the prominence of this issue, while providing a more visually compelling argument for the viewer.
While many negative aspects of chocolate production have been revealed through video media, through visualizing the whole process of cacao farming, there are numerous movements by leading chefs and food personalities within the world that aim to inspire change through chocolate.On Parts Unknown, the enigmatic chef, Anthony Bourdain, explored the reaches of indigenous Peru and was inspired by the discovery of white cacao beans (Bourdain 2013).
By engaging with these local purveyors, Bourdain and Eric Ripert, head chef of Le Bernadin, collaborated with Eclat chocolate to create the “Good and Evil” chocolate bar, based on sustainable production of a unique ingredient (Eclat Chocolate 2013). Other prominent chefs have taken advantage of their media opportunities to promise similar movements for the chocolate industry.
Joan Roca, the head chef of El Celler de Can Roca, spoke regarding compassionate cooking and mentioned his goal to build a sustainable chocolate company within Spain (Roca 2017). As his family restaurant remains number one in the world on San Pellegrino’s 50-best List, Roca is leveraging his position at the pinnacle of food to improve the chocolate industry further (Jenkins 2018). Given the profound interest in food video media, it is reassuring that numerous prominent figures chose chocolate as their method of instigating change within the world.
Chocolate in Focus
Chocolate is one of the world’s most intriguing topics for media coverage due to the complex nature of its production and ubiquitous appreciation around the world. Through a historical and modern examination of media representations of chocolate, it is apparent that chocolate serves as a controversial platform for raising awareness to sociopolitical issues. Despite its ambivalent history and problematic present, chocolate will always be in the media spotlight. In this modern media age, there is a surplus of information for each user to establish their individual stances on chocolate, but effective media efforts have pushed the narrative towards making the chocolate industry more ethical and sustainable.
Allen, E. E. (1932). Hershey Chocolate’s Success: Turning Smaller Volume Into Increasing Profits–This Year’s First Quarter Not So Good. Barron’s (1921-1942); Boston, Mass., p. 22.
Boudain, Anthony and CNN. (2013). Peru: Anthony Bourdain sees source of rare white cacao beans (Parts Unknown). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v064HmUSJNg
Central Hershey. (1920). The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer (1888-1924); New Orleans, 64(7), 108–111.
Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate (Third edition). London: Thames & Hudson.
Colmenero de Ledesma, A. (1640). A curious treatise of the nature and quality of chocolate. VVritten in Spanish by Antonio Colmenero, doctor in physicke and chirurgery. And put into English by Don Diego de Vades-forte. Imprinted at London : By I. Okes, dwelling in Little St. Bartholomewes, 1640.
Colmenero de Ledesma, A. (1652). Chocolate: or, An Indian drinke. By the wise and moderate use whereof, health is preserved, sicknesse diverted, and cured, especially the plague of the guts; vulgarly called the new disease; fluxes, consumptions, & coughs of the lungs, with sundry other desperate diseases. By it also, conception is caused, the birth hastened and facilitated, beauty gain’d and continued. / Written originally in Spanish, by Antonio Colminero of Ledesma, Doctor in Physicke, and faithfully rendred in the English, by Capt. James Wadsworth. London, : Printed by J.G. for Iohn Dakins, dwelling neare the Vine Taverne in Holborne, where this tract, together with the chocolate it selfe, may be had at reasonable rates., 165.
D’Antonio, M. (2007). Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s extraordinary life of wealth, empire, and utopian dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.
Dufour, P. S., Colmenero de Ledesma, A., & Chamberlayne, J. (1685). The manner of making coffee, tea, and chocolate as it is used in most parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America / newly done out of French and Spanish. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/6km558
Dufour, P. S., Dufour, P. S., Colmenero de Ledesma, A., & Marradon, B. (1685). Traitez nouveaux & curieux du café, du thé, et du chocolate. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/9ToUT7
Eclat Chocolate (2013). Anthony Bourdain & Eric Ripert discuss Good & Evil Chocolate Bar. Retrieved May 3, 2019, from Vimeo website: https://vimeo.com/54406874
Higgs, C. (2013). Chocolate islands: cocoa, slavery, and colonial Africa.
Jenkins T. (2018). Take a Look at the Roca Brothers’ New Chocolate Factory. (n.d.). Retrieved May 3, 2019, from Fine Dining Lovers website: https://www.finedininglovers.com/blog/news-trends/casa-cacao-girona-roca
Mathon, M. (1911). Angola-San Thomé Labour. The African Mail, p. 263. Retrieved from Nineteenth Century Collections Online.
McNeil, C. L. (Ed.). (2006). Chocolate in Mesoamerica: a cultural history of cacao. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
Oaklander, M (2014). Should I Eat Dark Chocolate? Retrieved May 3, 2019, from Time website: http://time.com/3593624/benefits-of-dark-chocolate/
O’Keefe, B. (2016). Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem. Retrieved May 3, 2019, from Fortune website: http://fortune.com/big-chocolate-child-labor/
Papel Social (2019). The Cocoa Route. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/332509945
Romano, Robin. (2010). Documentary. The Dark Side Of Chocolate. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Vfbv6hNeng
Roca, J. (2017). The World’s 50 Best Restaurants & 50 Best Bars. Joan Roca on why cooking is caring at #50BestTalks. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOp5PkVMt4c
Romero, S. (2009, July 28). In Venezuela, Plantations of Cacao Stir Bitterness. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/29/world/americas/29cacao.html
Satre, L. J. (2005). Chocolate on trial: slavery, politics, and the ethics of business (1st ed). Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.
Times, S. C. to T. N. Y. (1933). CUBA HONORS HERSHEY.: Machado Bestows Highest Honor on Chocolate Manufacturer. New York Times, p. 15.
Times, S. to T. N. Y. (1928). Hershey Gives $2,000,000 Community Centre To Pennsylvania Village He Has Built Up. New York Times, p. 1.
Young, J. C. (1923). HERSHEY, UNIQUE PHILANTHROPIST: His Munificent Gift to Orphan Boys a Long Cherished Idea. New York Times, p. XX4.