Tag Archives: Multimedia Essay 2

The Transforming Use of Sugar

Since the initial introduction of sugar to the world to now, its purpose has changed dramatically. However, if we track the consumptive changes to sugar over Britain’s history, we are able to see that it had more of a use rather than just as a sweetener in desserts and dishes that we often find ourselves gravitating towards. We can track the historical change in sugar’s consumption by juxtaposing it with who it was often used by. Earlier in Europe’s history around 1100 A.D., sugar was associated with spices such as pepper, ginger, saffron, among others because it was not affordable to many (Mintz, 1986). Therefore, it would make sense why it was used sparingly as many spices are used instead of in large amounts as we do now that it is much cheaper and drastically more available. It is interesting to see how sugar was used in the past though, especially when it was used to season oysters (Mintz, 1986). It is a testament to how preferences in taste can change over time, depending on the social customs associated with certain foods and tastes.

By the 16th century, sugar began to be used as decorative material. The whiter sugar was, the more expensive it was seen to be because pure sucrose was white (Mintz, 1986). Because sugar was an indicator of power in these very visual ways and because it was preservable, sugar began to be used to decorate in wealthier households. It would be used to create sculptures that were both preservable and edible; these would be called marzipan (Mintz, 1986). These decorative pieces would not just be applauded because they were edible and beautiful, but also because they made comments on the political environment through its subtleties (Mintz, 1986). While it may seem odd to us that sugar, something we eat in high volume today, was used to create such coveted pieces of art, it may occur to us that those of high status did this because they wanted to use and showcase their wealth. Not only were they able to afford this expensive commodity to eat, but they were able to put it on display and create social meaning out of it as well. This combined effort would have taken a lot of investment, and so it held symbolic importance.

As time passed, sugar became more available to the public and thus lost some of its symbolic importance and became more affordable. Therefore, it began to take on a new role in society as medicine, especially as it gained its medicinal credibility from sources like a ninth-century Arab manuscript from Iraq (Mintz, 1986). Sugar was not used as a medicine just on its own – it was combined with honey, fruits, flowers petals, hot water, among other ingredients (Mintz, 1986). Specifically in Britain in the 13th century, medicinal tonics with sugar began to pave its way in society. While to us this may seem absurd, to people in Europe, they thought it so necessary and common that they developed an expression “like an apothecary without sugar” to refer to something so helpless or useless (Mintz, 1986). Of course, sugar being used medicinally was not met without controversy or backlash, especially later in history in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Its use as a medicine would disappear especially as it began to be used as a sweetener and preservative. We see remnants of sugar’s reference as a medicinal supplement come up in works of popular culture like the famous song “Spoonful of Sugar” where the lyrics propose that it helps the medicine go down. Meanwhile, many of us would not be able to imagine a world today where we would realistically do such a thing.

Sugar began to be used in conjunction with other bitter tasting substances that were introduced to Britain like tea, coffee, and chocolate, although it is not known when this habit began (Highmore, 2011). Among these three, the success of tea and sugar in Britain seemed to be most closely tied, especially because the production of tea was profitable as it was from a British colony and thus powerful (Mintz, 1986). As mentioned before, sugar was on its way to continuously being more affordable and attainable to the greater public, not just to those with wealth. While it could be used to sweeten certain foods and beverages in Britain, it also began to be used as a preservative. For example, the British learned that sugar could be used to preserve fruit, which began to be consumed in high volumes in the English diet (Mintz, 1986). This preservation of food would help society as a whole with its consumption choices especially because it widened the horizons of what people could eat because it would last for longer. In sugar’s purpose as a sweetener and a preservative, it becomes obvious that its usefulness is paired with other goods that were rising in popularity like tea, coffee, and fruits. This idea reinforced the notion that globalization of goods through trade was becoming more prominent and apparent in everyday choices. 

Throughout history until now, sugar has been ever present in British society, although the form in which it presents itself may change. In terms of sugar’s modern day use in Britain, the government made an effort to reduce sugar consumption by putting a “sugar tax” on sweetened drinks in 2016 (Colborne, 2016). The fact that sugar needs to be taxed because of its common usage is testament to its affordability and availability. This plan of action is reminiscent of other countries such as France, Finland, Mexico, and Hungary that have also taxed sugar-sweetened drinks (Colborne, 2016). The motivation for the sugar tax comes from an effort to lower risks of “type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, and common cancers” (Colborne, 2016). Sugar’s role in society may be steady but it is not without efforts to decrease it for health reasons, an interesting development given its previous use as a medicinal property. As we saw throughout Britain’s history, sugar’s value is relative to its social use. It will be important to continue to track the use of goods like sugar because it also serves as a way to gauge society’s current pulse.

Works Cited

Chrisman-Campbell, K. (2015, November 26). Instagramming Your Thanksgiving Dinner: A 16th-Century Tradition. Retrieved March 24, 2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/11/the-16th-century-origins-of-food-porn/417639/

Colborne, M. (2016, May 17). Britain’s “sugar tax” tackles obesity. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4868617/

Highmore, B. (2011). Introduction: Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness – Sugar on the Move. New Formations, 74(74), 5–17. doi: 10.3898/newf.74.introduction.2011

[Jean Belmondo]. (2017, June 23). A Spoonful of Sugar – Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins in 1964 [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_L4qauTiCY4.

Mintz, S. W. (1985). Sweetness and power: the place of sugar in modern history. New York.

Immoral Sin or Luxury Good?: The Ethical History of Chocolate and Marijuana

When goods that were once considered immoral become commonplace, it’s often hard to imagine they were ever socially unacceptable. Tattoos, alcohol, and birth control are all relatively common twenty-first century goods that were far less agreeable two generations ago. Many things we consider normal in contemporary times were once considered wrong—or even illegal. So it is with chocolate and marijuana, two commodities that have throughout history been associated with immorality and unethical users, but today are beginning to be seen as luxury goods in certain settings. The two are sometimes even combined in the form of cannabis edibles, which create a unique way to experience each ingredient and demonstrate a blending of two goods that mirror and echo each other in many ways. Chocolate and marijuana are two goods that have recently emerged in the luxury wellness space. These two unique commodities have experienced parallel paths in social perception from immoral or sinful goods to luxury goods with potential health benefits.

Building on my first blog post, Social Associations and User Ethics of Chocolate Through the Ages, in which I examine the history of ethics and chocolate, I will analyze the shifting ethical history of chocolate alongside another commodity which has transitioned in recent years from a sinful, and even illegal, product to a potentially luxurious product and a lucrative market: marijuana. I will begin by retracing the ethical history of chocolate, focusing specifically on the recent shift towards understanding chocolate as a luxury good associated with health and wellness. Then, I will examine the history of user ethics of marijuana and the way this unique good has transitioned in the eyes of American and global society. Finally, I will consider these two commodities in combination and see what new insights can be revealed when two goods that have so many parallels are baked into a single product.

Ethical History of Chocolate: Elite to Mass to Luxury Again

From its earliest beginnings, chocolate was a luxury good. For Maya and Aztec civilizations, chocolate was a drink accessible only to elites, signaling the ways commodities factored into the complicated social structures of these ancient societies. Below is a photo of a member of Aztec society holding a cacao pod, potentially in preparation to form into chocolate drink and serve to elites.

An ancient Aztec statue depicts a member of Aztec society holding a cacao pod (Wikimedia Commons)

“Our sources unanimously declare that the drinking of chocolate was confined to the Aztec elite,” say Coe and Coe, demonstrating the way chocolate was completely stratified into circles accustomed to luxury (Coe, Coe, 95). The only people with access to chocolate were “the royal house, to the lords and nobility, to the long-distance merchants, and to the warriors” (Coe, Coe, 95). Cacao beans were also sometimes used as currency in these ancient societies, though archaeologist Eleanor Harrison-Buck explains in the Smithsonian Magazine that cacao was more than simply “a form of currency that elites could control and administer as a means of consolidating their power” (Garthwaite, 1). Instead, cacao as a resource was “grounded in social relations”—and confined to elites.

Cacao and the chocolate it created retained its aristocratic implications throughout its expansion to Europe. Across France, Spain, England, and beyond, chocolate continued to be the food and “drink of the elite,” but in luxurious “coffee houses” instead of Aztec or Maya settlements. But as chocolate was made accessible in more and more places, its mass production meant it was also less associated with elitism and luxury. Thanks to technological advancements such as salting, canning, refrigeration, transportation, and retailing that fueled mass production, large conglomerate companies were able to spread chocolate goods across the country and world—for far cheaper prices (Goody). When companies like Hershey, Mars, and Nestlé mass produced chocolate items for low prices, the commodity became associated with lower classes, and at times the stereotypes of sin and immorality that accompanied classist associations. But the primary switch in the social perception of chocolate that this paper is most interested in exploring is a more recent one. The transition from cheap, mass-produced commodity associated with poor user ethics (lack of self-control, sinful desires, disregard for health) to a luxury good tied to health and wellness is a more recent shift that opens up questions about commodity stereotypes, the contemporary wellness space, and the nature of social change.

Chocolate’s Resurgence as a Luxury Good

As the health and wellness trend sweeps the nation, bringing with it crystals, kombucha, and kale, certain chocolate-makers have begun to rebrand their products as a part of a naturally healthy food trend. Below, a screenshot of a webpage from luxury wellness and lifestyle website Goop shows the article “The Good-for-You Chocolate Guide” advertising the health benefits of chocolate “supported by science” and the ways it may fit into a contemporary, health-focused lifestyle. 

An article from the luxury wellness site Goop provides a guide for “Good-for You Chocolate,” claiming the food has benefits related to inflammation, heart health, stress, and more (Goop).

Wellness sources and chocolate companies alike have begun to tout the health benefits of chocolate, especially the antioxidant properties, vitamin compounds, and presence of other ingredients like magnesium and calcium. In 2012, James Howe undertook an investigation into chocolate’s cardiovascular health properties, describing how “assertions of this sort, alleging great health benefits from chocolate, go back a long way in Europe and the Americas” (Howe, 43). In his article, Howe investigates a claim concerning the Kuna people of Panama linking their particularly avid consumption of chocolate to low blood pressure and solid cardiovascular health, though Howe finds this correlation to not indicate causation (Howe, 45). As sources from wellness websites to scientific studies have promoted chocolate as a health food, its social perception has begun to shift—and with it, the product’s price.

Especially as chocolate producers themselves have advocated for chocolate as a healthy food, people have begun to see it as more associated with a luxurious and wellness-focused contemporary lifestyle. This changes the perception of user ethics: if people who eat chocolate do it for their health and wellness, they can no longer be seen as immoral or sinful. But the move towards craft chocolate can also be dangerous for people who cannot afford the price increases that accompany the movement towards better-made, more health-focused chocolate. As Dr. Martin says in her article “Sizing the Craft Chocolate Market,” “Some individuals and companies that identify as part of the craft chocolate movement commit publicly to paying prices substantially above bulk commodity for cacao” (Martin). This is positive for chocolate producers, who may make more money as a part of this willingness to increase in price, yet can also cause problems for consumers with less access to money for food. Groups like the FCCI are working to develop a model for the craft chocolate market—which Martin defines as people who organize their companies and “lives—work, production, consumption—around the pursuit or furtherance of their desires,” indicating a more values-based trade—that includes more stabilized pricing, but this is an understandably difficult task. Thus, in some ways, chocolate becomes another commodity in the long line of goods that cause harm for lower socioeconomic classes by becoming a status symbol for the wealthy. Another of these commodities, in even more complex terms, is marijuana—which I will explore in following sections.

The Complex Ethical History of America’s Favorite Illegality

Anti-marijuana advertisement targets family stereotypes (Gillespie, Blogspot).

Why has marijuana been illegal in the United States for decades? The answer will help to demonstrate the path marijuana has charted from socially immoral to luxury good. Though marijuana had been present in various forms in the United States far before the twentieth century, it grew in prevalence following the influx of Mexican immigration to the U.S. following the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s. When “hundreds of thousands of brown-skinned migrants [fled] to the U.S. in search of safety and work,” some brought with them a new method of ingesting marijuana through smoking (Lee, 41). Thus the drug was associated with Mexican immigration from the beginning of its rise in American society—and thus tied to racist and xenophobic views about immigration that grew in a “climate of fear and hostility” toward “Spanish-speaking foreigners” (Lee, 41). America’s primary introduction to marijuana was one tainted with social perceptions of immorality and danger, solidifying its spot as a social vice.

As “public officials and newspaper reports depicted marijuana, the Mexican loco weed, as a dangerous vice, an alien instrument into American life,” legislation lined up to ban marijuana and criminalize its possession. Though prior, more minor laws had passed earlier in the twentieth century, the main legislation banning marijuana was the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970. Signed by President Nixon, the CSA placed marijuana and its derivatives in the same tier of categorization (high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, unsafe to use even under supervision) as drugs such as heroin and LSD. Cocaine, fentanyl, and oxycodone were all placed on lists indicating lower risk. This plunged the perception of marijuana even deeper into the waters of immorality: now, it was not only socially frowned upon, but also deeply illegal and dangerous. The following video reiterates these points of historical context and helps to explain why and how marijuana became criminalized as it did.

Lee writes that “marijuana is by far the most popular illicit substance in the United States with 10,000 tons consumed yearly by Americans,” indicating that the drug’s categorization as highly dangerous has been disproven by the general population (3). As is obvious in contemporary times, it has also been disproven by science—marijuana’s recent resurgence has grown out of countless studying indicating its harmlessness and health benefits. Now, marijuana legalization is moving forward at a rapid pace, and today medical marijuana is legal in 33 states and recreational marijuana in 10 (National Conference of State Legislatures.

With this shift in legality has come a shift in perception, and the decriminalization of marijuana in most states means the drug has come to be seen as less dangerous and immoral as it once was. In very recent years, this shift has taken a step further—towards considering marijuana a luxury good or health product. Lee says that, in general, “younger voters were more in favor of ending pot prohibition than other age groups,” and as these younger voters have grown up and made money, they’ve created a sometimes opulent culture around America’s favorite illegality (403). This shift which many commodities, including chocolate, have also experienced, has class-based and racial implications.

Marijuana of Two Worlds: The Shift to Luxury and Health that Excludes a Crucial Population

Marijuana’s recent triumph over public judgment means it is far more widely acceptable across social classes than it was ten years ago, and out of this acceptance has emerged a new space of luxury and health-based marijuana products. The below video features a tour through a luxury marijuana store in Seattle, Washington.

The video demonstrates the wide variety of products that can incorporate marijuana, and the ways the drug has recently come to indicate an expensive—and often mindful and healthy—lifestyle. Barneys New York, a luxury department store with 27 locations in the U.S. and Japan, recently announced plans to launch a specialized cannabis boutique called “The High End.” In an article in The Atlantic detailing the new launch, writer Amanda Mull notes that “Given luxury shoppers’ average demographic—wealthy and white—the launch is a stark reminder of how much the risk of smoking a little weed in America can vary from person to person, and whose interests legalization is primed to serve first.” Mull’s point is important, and demonstrates the way marijuana legalization continues to be racialized. In 2017, 659,700 people were arrested for violating marijuana law (Drug Policy Alliance). In the same year, the percentage of people incarcerated for any drug-related law violation that were Black or Latino was 46.9% (Drug Policy Alliance). The sheer volume of people, especially people of color, behind bars for marijuana possession is devastating—which creates an ever starker comparison for tweets like the one below, when wealthy, well-known, and white members of society show the ease with which they can access and use legal marijuana.

Billy Ray Cyrus’ tweet may have been intended comically, and recreational marijuana has long been legal in his home state of California, but still the tweet sparked backlash for its inability to understand the deeply-rooted injustice of marijuana possession and mass incarceration in America. Thus marijuana traces a similar path as other commodities have in the past: from considered immoral or even illegal to a luxury good associated with higher socioeconomic classes and believed to hold many health benefits.

Conclusion: Chocolate and Marijuana in Combination

It is now clear that the ethical histories chocolate and marijuana have experienced parallel each other in many ways. But the two have also become popular to combine, often in the form of marijuana brownies or other baked goods, in an interesting exploration into their collective power. Popular recipes and videos across the internet describe how to bake “weed brownies,” and online marijuana dispensaries even allow customers to purchase brownies infused with marijuana on their online stores. Dr. Martin describes brownies’ “powerful hold on the American palate and imagination” in her social history of the dessert, including that marijuana brownies have grown in popularity with legality to “become one means of therapeutic oral delivery of the drug” (Martin).

This combination indicates perhaps that the two commodities are simple to mix in a recipe, or are well-suited to be ingested simultaneously. On the other hand, on a more theoretical level, the popularity of the two combined may point to a larger truth. Chocolate and marijuana have both faced complicated pathways as America’s understanding of their ethics has shifted in recent years. Chocolate was once something associated with people who had no self-control or desire for healthful living. It was a cheap snack, a vice for the masses. Marijuana was once classified similarly to life-threatening drugs such as heroin, frowned upon socially and criminalized broadly. It was a danger to society and its possession was a crime worthy of incarceration—especially for people of color. Now, chocolate and marijuana are both featured on every luxury wellness website on the internet. Wealthy Americans pay extreme prices for healthy, craft, antioxidant-rich chocolate and opulent marijuana products of every variety and amount. For $18, someone over 21 years old in a state where marijuana is legalized recreationally could buy a marijuana-infused edible brownie. In taking a bite of this brownie, this person would become part of the complex ethical histories of two of its most important and controversial ingredients. Though they may not recognize the parallels beyond the taste when combined, the broad social implications of the two commodities impact the world around them every day.

Works Cited:

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

Garthwaite, Josie. 2015. “What We Know About the Earliest History of Chocolate.” Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/archaeology-chocolate-180954243/

Goody, Jack. 2013. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” Food and Culture: A Reader. New York: Routledge.

Goop Wellness, 2018-9. “The Good-for-you Chocolate Guide.” https://goop.com/wellness/health/the-good-for-you-chocolate-guide/

Howe, James. 2012. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies. The University of Califonia.

Lee, Martin A. 2012. Smoke Signals. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Martin, Carla D. 2012. “Brownies: The History of a Classic American Dessert.” http://www.ushistoryscene.com/uncategorized/brownies/

Martin, Carla D. 2017. “Sizing the craft chocolate market.” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (blog). https://chocolateinstitute.org/blog/sizing-the-craft-chocolate-market/

Mull, Amanda. 2019. “Legal Weed Gets a Luxury Makeover.” The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/02/barneys-launches-new-cannabis-department/582772/

National Conference of State Legislatures. 2018. “Marijuana Overview.” http://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/marijuana-overview.aspx

Pellicier, Diego. 2017. “BuzzFeed Bring Me: The World’s Most Luxurious Pot Shop – Diego Pellicer.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VkrHDQ6Lufc&feature=youtu.be

USA Today. 2018. “The surprising history of marijuana and why it’s illegal.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSflkWavOhw

São Tomé & Príncipe: Back to its Roots, But Shifting its Focus

São Tomé, and its sister island Príncipe, were once the biggest producers of cacao in the world. Over the last half century, however, cacao farming there collapsed. Today, the farmers of São Tomé are working to regenerate the country’s reputation, but this time with a focus on quality cacao rather than just quantity.

Visiting São Tomé and Príncipe today, one would find islands of incredible beauty. Yet, one would also see inactive and ruined “roças”, showing an architectural and economic vitality of the past that no longer exists.

Above: Old Portuguese ruins around the island.
Source: unusualtraveler.com

Once the World’s Leading Cacao Producer

Back in 1913, despite being Africa’s second smallest country, São Tomé & Príncipe was the world’s largest producer of cacao, thus nicknamed the “Chocolate Islands”. More than a century has passed since the small West African twin island state held that title. Though a global demand for craft chocolate along with investments from Fair Trade companies have put São Tomé & Príncipe back on the chocolate map, it is rather unlikely that the tiny West African country will ever compete on an international scale again.

Over the last century, global demand for cacao to produce chocolate for global consumption has grown immensely. With a surface area of 1,001 square kilometers and a population of approximately 200,000, the Portuguese-speaking country would not be able to cope with the high volume of cacao needed by the global chocolate industry (World Bank, 2019).

One hundred years ago, when São Tomé & Príncipe emerged as the world’s leading cacao producer, the country had an annual output 36,500 tons per year, representing 12 percent of world production (Schwarz, 1932). Today, the world leading cacao grower is the Ivory Coast, producing around 2 million tons, with global output at over 4 million tons, according to the International Cocoa Organization (2019). Comparing those figures, it is evident that São Tomé & Príncipe has been displaced from the top spot it attained in 1913, predominantly due to the rapid surge in cacao cultivation and output over the last century.

Today’s leading cacao producers, the Ivory Coast and Ghana, not only have more land, but also a higher population with more experienced farmers, more financial resources, as well as international support than São Tomé & Príncipe could ever bring together, thus making it implausible for the country to return to the number one spot in world cacao production.

According to the World Bank (2019), “the limited number of people and workers in the country often prevent the efficient production of goods and services at the scale needed to meet the demand of both local and export markets.” It further states that since the country’s independence in 1975, agriculture production has declined and is no longer the main driver of economic growth. Today, however, agricultural goods, especially cacao, still constitute the bulk of the country’s export (World Bank, 2019).

A Bittersweet History

After 1450, São Tomé & Príncipe was one of the leading suppliers of sugar, however, it was ultimately a different crop that would transform its politics and demographics many centuries later (Mintz, 1986). Cacao trees were first planted in the country around 1822, when José Ferreira Gomes brought cacao seedlings from Brazil, introducing the crop as an ornamental plant (Schwarz, 1932). Approximately 1.5 metric tons of cacao were exported from the main island only twenty years later (Schwarz, 1932). By then, cacao had already replaced sugar cane as the primary crop. A few decades later, by the early 1900s, Portuguese colonizers were reveling in the fact that they had turned the small island into the biggest producer and exporter of cacao. Sending heavy volumes of the crop to Bourneville, London, Liverpool, and Hamburg, São Tomé & Príncipe was clearly transforming the world’s cacao market. With exports bound for major European chocolate manufacturers like Cadbury Brothers, JS Fry & Sons and Rowntrees & Co., the islands became famous in the global market with its cacao and coffee outputs (Schwarz, 1932).

Global demand for cacao was increasing and business was booming – a feat that could only be achieved through the labor of about 20,000 slaves.

Toward the end of the 19th century, William Cadbury, of Cadbury chocolate, began to investigate the supply chain of the cacao his company purchased (Kiesow, 2017). The investigation led by Henry Nevinson happened due to allegations that the British chocolate company was using slave-grown cacao (Higgs, 2013).

With the revelation of slave workers on cacao plantations, Western consumers reacted with shock and disgust and much of the production moved from São Tomé to the plantations of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, which did not make use of slave labor. As Ghana and the Ivory Coast had increased their cacao production to meet demand, many of the plantations in São Tomé were unable to sustain themselves. In 1975, after the country’s eventual independence, the once glorious plantations were completely neglected across the islands and subsequently, the cacao industry fell into disrepair (Leissle, 2018).

Under Portuguese colonial rule, production on the islands was dominated by a system of plantations known as roças (estates). A hundred years later, the colonial buildings still stand, but like the cacao industry, they are a far cry from what they once were.

After independence, in 1975, collapsing global prices and a lack of investment saw the pinnacle of São Tomé’s cacao-coated boom slowly melt away. Today, the roças lie in atmospheric ruins, with the jungle having now reclaimed many of the former plantations.

Above: Surrounded by forrest and mountains in the middle of São Tomé, lies the former Portuguese cacao plantation roça Bombaim.
Source: trekearth.com

Nationalization of Cacao Plantations

With the revelation of slave workers on cocoa plantations, which caused uproar in Europe and elsewhere, the cacao industry in São Tomé & Príncipe began to go under. The two world wars also affected the revitalization of plantations for cacao and coffee in São Tomé & Príncipe. Shortly after its independence in 1975, the government of the tiny West African country announced the nationalization of the cacao plantation complex, which allowed previous workers to own pieces of land in the plantation and harvest their own subsistence. Soon, however, it became clear that this was not the solution. Some would harvest, others would sell the land, and some would use the property for purposes other than harvesting.

Above: The entrance to roça Bombaim, now a rural hotel.
Source: waymarking.com

Today, many plantations and their surroundings are home to squatters. This makes it obvious that the phenomenon of the houses being occupied is a direct result of people’s lack of means right after the independence and the nationalization of the cacao plantations by the Saotomeans. It was clearly a solution stemming from the lack of housing.

At the time of independence, about 90% of the cultivated area was occupied by Portuguese-owned plantations (International Business Publications, 2013). The boom of high cacao prices in the late 1970s boosted earnings by São Tomé & Príncipe. However, when the high prices collapsed, the country’s export earnings fell by over 70% between 1979 and 1981 (International Business Publications, 2013). Due to the sharp decline in cacao prices from the 1980s onward, the country’s cacao industry completely crumbled.

The government created state enterprises at the time of independence, in order to manage the nationalized cacao plantations abandoned by the Portuguese. Those enterprises, however, had a variety of problems causing the decline in cacao output and productivity. Weak management, lack of qualified manpower and investments, drought and falling global prices of cacao were some key issues. These problems caused the eventual collapse of the state-owned plantations virtually ending the island’s dependence on cacao.

In theory, even if the colonizers and other foreign companies invested in the country’s cacao sector and prevented its collapse, the island would not have been able to remain as the world`s largest cacao producer because of its tiny population and small land size.

Above: The story of cacao and coffee in São Tomé & Príncipe
Source: coffeemuseum.com

Intervention by the United Nations

The collapse of the cacao industry on the islands remained until 2009 when the United Nation`s International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD) and Cafédirect started working with farmers on the island to produce Fair Trade cacao beans using a co-operative model (IFAD, n.d.)

The National Statistics Institute (INE) of the country stated that its cacao sales accounted for 93.5% of all agricultural exports. The remaining 6.5% of the list of agricultural exports was mostly made up of coconut, flowers, coffee, and pepper. Cacao exports rose from 2,794 tons in 2015 to 3,000 tons in 2017, according to the INE. Today, several farmers are growing organic or fair-trade certified cacao for the international chocolate industry, followed by a positive intervention by IFAD and its partners.

Leading French organic chocolate producer Kaoka, undertook a quick assessment of the country’s cacao sector in 2000 and concluded that the rich genetic origin of São Tomé cacao varieties could produce superior aromatic cocoa beans that would fetch higher and more stable prices than ordinary cocoa (IFAD, n.d.)

The results gathered by IFAD clearly show that by combining organic production and fair trade principles, Saotomean cacao farmers can greatly boost their income.

Chocolate (Factory) in a Box

Though cacao cultivation in São Tomé is over 100 years old, it is interesting to note that at no time was chocolate ever made on the islands. It has, in fact, only just gotten its first-ever chocolate factory, which resulted from a cooperation between a South African and a British business. The enterprises are HBD Venture Capital, an enterprise of IT billionaire and astronaut Mark Shuttleworth, and Coeur de Xocolat, a venture of British chef and master chocolatier David Greenwood-Haigh.

HBD has been investing in sustainable tourism on the island of Príncipe, by setting up a small chain of hotels and stimulating local agriculture. Given the historical circumstances, the obvious focus was on the revival of cacao production. The island has the ability to produce, limited-yield, single origin, superior-grade cacao of the highest quality. Since the land has never had pesticides or other chemicals applied to it, the island’s cacao production is naturally organic. The revival of commercial cacao production created the possibility of making chocolate locally on the islands. “HBD invited me to visit the island to advise and train a team of locals to make chocolate on Príncipe for the first time, keeping as much of the value on the island as possible (raise trade),” Greenwood-Haigh wrote in his blog. “We discovered that Príncipe volcanic soil produces rich-tasting chocolate with flavor peaks of red and yellow fruits, has a very intense and complex taste, rich in roasted cacao, and with lots of refreshing fruity notes, including apricot, red fruits, citrus” (Greenwood-Haigh, n.d.) One of the company’s services, which was also provided in São Tomé, is a so-called “chocolate factory in a box”. It supplied a shipping container that holds all the equipment necessary to launch a chocolate factory.

Thanks to this project, the chocolate facility can now produce natural cacao powder, cacao butter, cacao vinegar, roasted cacao nibs, and couverture, ready for conversion into bars, with all products being organic (Greenwood-Haigh, n.d.). Just like with the explosion of barista-made coffee, as well as craft beer, a similar trend has emerged in the chocolate industry. As consumers are becoming more interested in premium chocolate, they are also increasingly conscious of where their chocolate comes from. This makes it an exciting time for São Tomé & Príncipe and its local chocolate industry.

Quality over Quantity

Though it lost its title as the biggest producer of cacao in the world a long time ago, the people of São Tomé are slowly regenerating the country’s reputation. This time, however, with a focus on quality cacao rather than just quantity.

Over the past decades, the global chocolate industry has seen growing consumer demand for high quality products with clear origins. There has been a real shift away from the packaged, processed foods seen since the 1950s (Leissle, 2018). With that shift in consumer demand, craft chocolate, like beer and coffee before it, has gone mainstream.

Artisan craft chocolate, i.e. chocolate that differentiates itself by the type of bean, origin of the ingredients, flavor, and cacao content in the bar, has become a growing business. “Cocoa beans, like wine grapes, produce distinct flavors depending on strain and terroir, and showcasing that flavor is the goal of single origin chocolate” (Leissle, 2013, p.23). In the current decade, there are now more than 230 bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers, as well as a growing movement of fine chocolatiers (Martin, 2019).

Above: The craft chocolate revolution – from bean to bar.
Source: TEDx Wellington (Gabe Davidson)

Craft makers are traveling to new parts of the world, as they seek out new flavors in order to diversify their options. With its productive co-op schemes and historic cacao plantations, São Tomé seems to have been the perfect place to be rediscovered.

One of the first people to put São Tomé & Príncipe back on the chocolate map was Claudio Corallo. In 1997, the Italian coffee businessman purchased a disused plantation on the island and brought it back to life. For two decades, Corallo has been championing the island and its cacao produce, used in his dark chocolate bars, which he sells for a steep price of €16.50 each.

Above: Chocolate bars sold online by Claudio Corallo.
Source: Claudio Corallo

While Corallo owns Nova Moca, the biggest producer of coffee on São Tomé, he also owns Terreiro Velho on Príncipe, a plantation that produces the island’s best cacao. Corallo, who is famously known as the Chocolate King of West Africa, runs his empire from the islands and exports the bulk of what he describes as “the best chocolate in the world” to France, Italy, Portugal, and the U.S. This makes him one of just a few bean-to-bar chocolate makers working in Africa, rather than exporting the cacao beans to Europe, like his bigger competitors, where both the end product and real profit is made.

Above: Map of the islands showing both of Corallo’s plantations.
Source: saotomeislands.com

Unlike many of his competitors, Corallo does not believe in adding many things to his cacao, especially milk and vanilla.

Above: Chocolate revival in Sao Tomé.
Source: CNN (Sao Tome and Principe’s chocolate revival)

Another famous chocolatier drawing attention to São Tomé & Príncipe is François Pralus, who produces the “Sao Tomé bar” featuring a map of the country on the front of the wrapper. The bar is advertised according to its “intense and distinct flavor”.

Above: The Sao Tomé bar sold by François Pralus
Source: François Pralus

In 2014, the Kennyson group, known for its interest in the rural development of Africa, helped the revival of the century-old plantation of Diogo Vaz on São Tomé. Dating back to 1880, the plantation has produced organic certified cacao since it was taken over.

The plantation ensures the entire production process from the manual harvesting of the pod until it is molded into a chocolate bar (calling their process “Tree to Bar”) and wrapped in a delicate paper cover. This allows the plantation to guarantee traceability and an exceptional manufacturing quality.

Above: The Diogo Vaz roça, which today, supports approx. 1,000 people.
Source: diogovazchocolate.com

Though it is doubtful that São Tomé will ever regain its title as the world’s largest producer of cacao, I believe the future of the country’s cacao industry is bright, particularly because of the work farmers on the island have done to engage a new generation in the industry.

Thanks to chocolatiers like Claudio Corallo, the country will continue to produce chocolate bars that allow its consumers to taste more than just its bittersweet notes. Biting into an artisanal product such as Corallo’s 100% cacao mass bar, one will taste earthy volcanic soil, sweet African sunshine, and, hopefully, a brighter, chocolate-inspired future for these divine islands after decades of neglect.

Multimedia Sources Cited








Scholarly Sources Cited

Greenwood-Haigh, D. (n.d.). Chocolate safari to Sao Tome & Principe. Retrieved from https://www.coeurdexocolat.com/chocolate-safari-to-sao-tome–principe

Higgs, C. (2013). Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, slavery, and colonialism. London, UK: Penguin Books.

International Business Publications, USA. (2013). Sao Tome & Principe: Business Intelligence Report Vol. 1, Strategic Information and Opportunities. Washington DC, USA – Sao Tome

International Cocoa Organization. (2019). ICCO Quarterly Bulletin of Cocoa Statistics, Vol. XLV, No.1, Cocoa year 2018/19. Retrieved from https://www.icco.org/component/search/?searchword=sao%20tome&searchphrase=all&Itemid=101

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ifad.org/en/home

Kiesow, S. (2017). Cocoa culture on São Tomé and Príncipe: The rise and fall of cocoa on the islands in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Agricultural History, 91(1), 55-77.

Leissle, K. (2013). Invisible West Africa: The politics of single origin chocolate. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, 13(3), 22-31.

Leissle, K. (2018). Cocoa. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Martin, C. (2019). Lecture 12: Haute patisserie, artisan chocolate, and food justice: the future? Harvard University, May 1, 2019.

Mintz, S. (1986). Sweetness and power. London, UK: Penguin Books.

Schwarz, L. (1932). Cocoa in São Tomé and Príncipe. Retrieved April 25, 2019 from https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiug.30112101553680;view=1up;seq=1

The World Bank. (2019). The World Bank in Sao Tome and Principe. Retrieved from http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/saotome/overview

Sugar as a Gateway to Energy and Employment: The Benefits of Increased Sugar Consumption in England

Although added sugars make up about 13 percent of the typical American’s caloric intake, the prevalence of sugary foods and drinks in the human diet is a relatively recent phenomenon in human history (Ervin). In fact, around 150 years ago, around 85 percent of Englishmen lived on a diet of a single starch supplemented by a small selection of other foods and lived with the constant threat of hunger (Mintz 13). The increase in sugar supply from the British colonies to England beginning in the mid 17th century gave the nation a taste for sugar, caused sugar consumption to explode, meal preparation time to decrease drastically and allowed for women to more easily enter the workforce.

Human beings have always had an innate taste for sweetness, which was satisfied by products other than sugar cane and sugar beets before their introduction to the masses (Allsop 513). Before sugar plantation proprietors began to heavily import their products from the New World back to Europe, the English people consumed honey as a means to thwart their craving for sweetness (Counihan 92). Honey was so popular that the intake level of this sweetener, “at various times during history may well have rivaled our current consumption of refined sugar” (Allsop 513). Thus, sugar was not always a major component in the typical British diet, but was transplanted into the diet by first making its way into the preferences of the wealthy and elite.

Before sugar’s astronomical rise in popularity, honey was the main source of sweetness in England

While honey was the ubiquitous sweetener before the 18th century, those in power sought the status of gaining access, paying high prices and displaying sugar in their homes, a process subsequently emulated by those in lower classes, eventually making sugar an essential good of the entire population (Mintz 154). Sugar began to infiltrate the ranks of the common man as prices fell 70 percent between 1645 and 1680 C.E., giving rise to a nation fueled by simple sugars (Mintz 160). The demand for sugar was high, and the plantation owners in the British colonies artificially created this demand with their continuous influx of supply. Although prices fluctuated throughout the 18th century, the driving demand of those back in England kept production levels on the rise, and expanded the regions where sugar was grown (Mintz 160). According to Mintz, “the popularization of sucrose, barely begun in 1650, brought some of it into the hands of even the very poor within a century; then between 1750 and 1850, it…became a necessity” (Mintz 161). In other words, as the common man sought the luxury of sugar originally reserved for the elite, those in charge of production used this opportunity to deliver their product to individuals from every walk of life within society.

This is an illustration of the Richmond Estate in Jamaica. The British proprietor of the land, John Shelton, made a great deal of money by exporting sugar back to the people in England. Proprietors, like Shelton, aided in giving England a taste for sugar

The increases in the supply and the decreases in price of sugar during both the 17th and 19th  centuries led to subsequent increases in the number of ways sugar was consumed in England. Throughout the history of western cuisine, those with money tended to eat protein-rich foods like meat, fish and poultry (Mintz 193). These foods took a great deal of time to prepare and were not calorically dense (Mintz 193). Sucrose, on the other hand, was extremely high in calories and required little to no preparation. Sweetened preserves, for example, did not spoil easily and were considered pleasing to children’s tastes (Mintz 130). This increased the appeal of sugar as a food, especially for the working classes, who had little time to eat in their industrial society and sought foods with a high energy–to–cost ratio (Mintz 130). Because of this shorter preparation time, women, traditionally in charge of cooking for their household, could then enter the labor force and provide financially for their families (Mintz 130). This coincided with the advent of industrial technologies and an increased demand for female workers throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Sugar offered a cheap and satisfying meal to the British people, without the need to sacrifice hours of time during the cooking process.

Jams and preserves, made possible through the use of sugar, allowed for quick meals for all members of the family unit. These preserves also made it possible for the female head of household to work longer hours and provide a second source of income.

Works Cited:

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

Counihan, Carole and Penny Van Esterik, eds. Food and Cuisine. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2013. Print.

Ervin, R. Bethene and Cynthia L. Ogden. “Consumption of Added Sugars Among U.S. Adults, 2005-2010”. CDC, May 2013. Web. 12 March 2015.

Allsop, Karen A. and Janette Brand Miller. “Honey Revisited: a reappraisal of honey in preindustrial diets”. British Journal of Nutrition (1996): 513-520. Web. 12 March 2015.

Photo 1: http://www.healthcentral.com/sites/www.healthcentral.com/files/honey.jpg

Photo 2: http://www.richmondjamaica.com/images/i_plantation_b_w.jpg

Photo 3: http://bed56888308e93972c04-0dfc23b7b97881dee012a129d9518bae.r34.cf1.rackcdn.com/sites/default/files/jam_technique.jpg

“Never mix business with religion, or you might end up losing your testimony when the business agreement is no longer something you or Christ would put up with.”: The Cadbury Business Model

A business model bound by religious beliefs can create a restrictive ability for companies to meet both aims – success in commerce and successful reflection of religious value. Challenges faced by the Cadbury company, an early entry into the chocolate industry in the 19th century of Great Britain (Britain) greatly reflect this assertion. As will be shared below, within Britain societal measures were in place to advance a Cadbury/Quaker model of business. However, once the company faced ethical issues in production, this model was challenged. Within São Tomé, the reverse occurred. There were no societal structures to support the Cadbury/Quaker model of business, which led to violations of the religious tenets of the Cadbury’s, which in turn, impacted their business identity back in Britain.

The Cadbury company was established in 1824 by John Cadbury in Birmingham, England as a grocers shop that included providing ‘healthier’ alternatives to imbibing alcohol. These alternatives were tea, chocolate/cocoa, and coffee. The family was Quaker, a religious group founded in the 17th century, who believed in self-reliance and there being “God in every man” (Quakers, 2015). In 1831, Cadbury rescaled his business from ‘mom and pop’ to more commercial; greater production, however it wasn’t until the 1860’s that cocoa became more than ¼ of production with improved pressing techniques (Coe & Coe, p. 242) which allowed greater production and selling chocolate drinks as powder.

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The company was founded on a mix of ethics, business acumen and the family’s religious ideals. As Quakers, the Cadbury’s believed in ‘truth and integrity’, to be honest in their communications and transactions and to have integrity in the guiding principle used personally and in public; and in ‘justice, equality and community’, recognizing the equal worth of everyone and included an active stance to change the systems that cause injustice and hinder true community and working for the rights of disadvantaged (Quakers, 2015). Because of their adherence to truth and integrity, the Cadbury family was one of a few companies that had a reputation for honesty and reliability which complemented Quaker beliefs in pushing for justice, equality and social reform. Buyers could trust that the selling price for their chocolate was as stated; no hidden fees – and that the cocoa was unadulterated (no added red brick, oils, or flours), a process which the British Government later made illegal (Coe and Coe, p. 244).

The company’s principles were exemplified in a variety of ways, the greatest of which, was the creation of Bournville. Having a vision for greener spaces and greater investment in production, in the late 1870’s George Cadbury pushed to build a place where workers could thrive away from the industrial city (History, Cadbury company).

Bournville portrait

Bournville was one of the earliest ‘industrial villages’ that provided workers the opportunity to have access to education, home ownership, medical benefits, etc. that would normally be outside of their class (Smith et. al, pp. 53-57). Though a seemingly ideal model, there were challenges to the Cadbury company business’ ethics in Britain. Among them, is that Cadbury’s preference to walk a fine line within workers’ rights disputes and insulated themselves from allying with unions or employers labor groups. The Cadburys also employed higher numbers of women, who were paid ‘competitive’ wages within that industry, though still lower than men and women were still treated in a paternalistic fashion (Smith et. al, pp. 65-71). These policies also caused competition between the Cadbury’s and both their Quaker allies (friendly competition) and non-Quaker chocolate confectioners, who looked for any opportunity to discredit the Cadburys or lessen their standing within the chocolate industry. One such opportunity, would soon occur.

Bournville advert

In the Caribbean, a region that was inundated with African slave labor, and who then made up the majority of the worker demographic that was the producer of their key product – cacao- had a different experience. In São Tomé, in particular, slaves were transported from the Angola, under the presumption of ‘contracted work’, for unspecified amounts of time for contracts, that they had truly, not given their consent (Satre, pp. 115-117). In 1901, the Cadbury family became aware of potential abuses within their labor chain, however they did not remove forward with this information until 1909, almost 10 years later. Throughout this period, reports were shared that the work force, though called ‘contract labor’ was truly glorified slave labor. Part of their rationale, was that from the outset, they wanted to keep the family name away from any hint of wrongdoing, a wish to be able to resolve conflict (Satre, 124). This willful ignorance was one of the greatest challenges to their business model in São Tomé, as it effectively made them hypocrites to their values.

Coffle of Slaves

After the rights abuses/use of slave labor became widely known, Cadbury family experienced a protracted lawsuit against English paper “The Standard”, which had printed copies of journalist Henry Nevinson’s report of slavery and rights abuses in the cacao supply, to which the Cadbury’s were party and of their ignorance in resolving these issues. The Cadbury’s sued “The Standard” for libel and though they won the case; the judgment in their favor was for a pithy amount and the family and Company suffered losses of prestige, of some business relationships, and of profit. However the greatest loss, was to their platform of combining Quaker ideals with business (Satre, 2005).

Shackles in Angola

To rectify this misstep, the Cadbury company proposed a boycott of cacao purchases from São Tomé, in the hopes of ending the trade routes there. This was a lacksadaiscal approach to resolving a grave human rights issue, and a further indicator that the Cadbury family decided to put their commercial interests before their religious values; proving the difficulties of mixing two endeavors with such disparate ideologies. (Satre, 2005)

Finally, it is interesting to note that in the 1800’s Quakers were less than 2% of Britain’s population, yet they established firm holds in a variety of business. Due to their ostracization from full participation in public life, their business community reflected their religious community – small knit, supportive, and familiar – and the action (or inaction) of a company to address breaks in their ethos, which guided ethics, could have had reverberations for others (Cadbury, 2003). This is possibly among the reasons that the Cadbury company hesitated in reforming their supply chain.


Cadbury, Adrian. Beliefs and Business: The experience of Quaker Companies. May 2003. St. Mary’s Church Christian Resources Library. Web. 11 March 2015. <http://www.leveson.org.uk/stmarys/resources/cadbury0503.htm>

Coe, Sophie and Coe, Michael. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, New York. 2013. Print.

Quakers in Britain. Religious Society of Friends. N.D. Web. 11 March 2015. < http://www.quaker.org.uk/>

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio University Press. 2005. Print.

Smith, Chris, Child, John, and Rowlinson, Michael. Reshaping Work: The Cadbury Experience. Cambridge University Press. 1990. Print.

The History of Chocolate. The Story: 1850-1900. Cadbury Company website. N.D. Web. 13 March 2015. <https://www.cadbury.co.uk/the-story>

Multimedia resources:

Bournville photos: The History of Chocolate. The Story: 1850-1900. Cadbury Company website. N.D. Web. 13 March 2015. <https://www.cadbury.co.uk/the-story>

Coffle of slaves coming from the interior, Senegambia, 1814. < http://slaveryandremembrance.org/articles/article/?id=A0003> Web. 13 March 2015.

Discarded slave collars in Angola. < https://hughcrosfield.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/introducing-the-dog-that-didnt-bark-in-the-night-time-quaker-chocolate-and-the-sao-tome-cocoa-scandal-1902-9/> Originally posted on blog from a reproduction: from Charles Swan, The Slavery of To-day, Glasgow: Pickering & Inglis (1909). Web. 13 March 2015.

Quaker tapestry: The Port Arts Festival, 2014. Quaker Tapestry. < https://theportartsfestival.wordpress.com/quaker-tapestry/> Tapestries originally housed at the Meeting House Exhibition Centre & Café, Quaker Tapestry, Kendal in Cumbria < http://www.quaker-tapestry.co.uk/the-exhibition>