Tag Archives: nutrition

Health and Hyperbole

How Chocolate Companies Contruct and Distort the Public Understanding of Healthy Food

Chocolate in its generic form occupies an archetypal position within the American diet. Complete with a palatable mixture of milk, some type of fat, and sugar – it is appreciated as a classic form of indulgence. And within the healthy/un-healthy binary thinking that permeates the American perception of food, chocolate has traditionally fallen in the latter category. Beginning in the late 20th century, the public became increasingly aware of the role of everyday diet in determining health, and more consumers sought to understand the nutritional value of the food they purchased. Chocolate companies, in order to capitalize on consumer interests, began to look for ways to rebrand their chocolate products as health foods. As what is considered “healthy” has changed over time, chocolate in America has evolved in response. A case study of two brands, Skinny Cow and Righteously Raw, demonstrates how what companies chose to market as “healthy” changed in response to an evolving understanding of health. The marketing strategies of these chocolate companies have generated more conversation about what makes food nutritious and perhaps given chocolate a more complex position within the diet. However, chocolate companies have continually failed to provide the whole truth to consumers, and their marketing claims, which cherry-pick information from scientific studies, fuel public misconceptions about what constitutes healthy food.

Skinny Cow and The War on Fat

When cardiovascular disease became the leading cause of death in America in the 20th century, scientists and health care providers scrambled to find a cause. From their efforts emerged the war on fat. Fat, especially in its saturated form, became the most vilified nutrient as scientific studies warned others about its high caloric density and ability to build up in the form of plaques within the cardiovascular system (Keys et al.). In 1977, a Senate Committee led by George McGovern published the “Dietary Goals for the United States”, which advised Americans to eat less high fat foods and obtain more caloric intake from grains, fruits, and vegetables. Fat was deemed guilty for causing the cardiovascular health epidemic (Oppenheimer and Benrubi).

What transpired in the food industry was the reduction of fat across almost all grocery store items. “Low-fat” labels started to appear on peanut butter jars, potato chip bags, and granola bar boxes. Chocolate was no exception. In 1991, Silhouette Brands Inc. launched Skinny Cow, which produced and sold low-fat, low-calorie ice cream. Soon, Skinny Cow’s product line expanded to include truffle bars and chocolate clusters. One of the brand’s advertisements is shown below.

The premise of this advertisement was that Skinny Cow chocolate tastes just as good as other generic chocolate bars while also being healthier. Throughout the advertisement, Skinny Cow emphasized the low-calorie content of their chocolate. Furthermore, on their boxes, they highlight the calorie and fat content by printing the numbers in bolded font and boxing them in color. While there was not necessarily an explicit heart-healthy claim in how Skinny Cow marketed their chocolate, their chocolate still capitalized on closely related consumer concerns

Skinny Cow, just like many other brands at the time, conflated low-fat and low-calorie with healthy. While the health dangers of excessive consumption of fat and calories have a scientific basis, what transpired in the market presented an oversimplified view of nutrition. Fat is essential for the human development process, especially at an early age, and is crucial for satiety and vitamin absorption. However, consumers pounced at the idea of a healthy chocolate, and Skinny Cow became very successful in the market. In 2004, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Holdings Inc., a subsidiary of Nestle, bought Silhouette Brands Inc. for $70 million (Dreyer’s Purchases Silhouette Brands – LA Times).

Righteously Raw and The War on Sugar

Statistics showed that heart disease rates declined from the 1980s to the 2000s, although at least half of this decrease has been attributed to improvements in medical and surgical treatments rather than risk factors (Ford et al.). Furthermore, heart disease continued to remain the leading cause of death in America, and obesity rates continued to climb at a steady rate.

The war on fat caused Americans to eat more carbohydrates, primarily simple carbohydrates and sugars, in place of fat (Aller et al.). Entering the 21st century, more and more people began to question the supposed “unhealthiness” of fat. Review articles criticized the poor correlation found in many studies between fat consumption and body weight (Tobias et al.). An increasing number of studies started to probe another nutrient, sugar, instead. The public response shifted to focus on reducing sugar consumption. In 2012, New York City’s Board of Health voted to ban restaurants from selling sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 oz. In 2014, an article titled “Ending the War on Fat” and written by Bryan Walsh was published by Time Magazine (Fat Is Good for You | Time.Com).

“New research suggests that it’s the overconsumption of carbohydrates, sugar and sweeteners that is chiefly responsible for the epidemics of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Refined carbohydrates–like those in “wheat” bread, hidden sugar, low-fat crackers and pasta–cause changes in our blood chemistry that encourage the body to store the calories as fat and intensify hunger, making it that much more difficult to lose weight.”

Chocolate companies responded similarly. In the 2000s, a number of chocolate brands, which marketed their chocolate on cacao content rather than fat or calorie content, sprang up. One of these companies was Righteously Raw, which was independently founded in 2004 by business woman Audrey Darrow. A picture of a packaged Righteously Raw chocolate piece is included below. The “Raw” part of the company’s name refers to how the company attempted makes its chocolate from raw cacao beans to increase the amount of antioxidants in the bar. The company claims that their beans are raw because they are not roasted. The “Righteous” part refers to how the ingredients of the chocolate are ethically sourced, meaning that cacao beans are only purchased from farms and growers who provide ethical working conditions for employees.

Different from how Skinny Cow marketed its chocolate, Righteously Raw, as seen on its packaging, emphasized the cacao content of its chocolate and the absence of refined sugar. From the nutritional information provided by Skinny Cow and Righteously Raw, it is evident that the fat content per serving increased by 3 grams while the sugar content fell by 8 grams.

Nutrition Facts for Skinny Cow Chocolate Bar
Nutrition Facts for Righteously Raw Chocolate Bar

Interestingly, the calorie content when serving sizes are equilibrated does not change significantly, meaning that the energy which was provided by sugar in Skinny Cow chocolate was substituted for by fat in Righteously Raw chocolate. Other components, such as sodium and cholesterol, did not change significantly either. This change in nutrition comes from the change in ingredients used to make chocolate. As shown on the ingredients list for Skinny Cow chocolate, sugar was the highest quantity ingredient in the bar. Looking at the ingredients listed for Righteously Raw’s 83% Pure Dark chocolate, cocoa butter is the highest quantity ingredient followed by cocoa powder.

Righteously Raw has defined “healthy” chocolate to mean chocolate that is dark and minimally processed. They manufactured their chocolate in a way which capitalized on recent popular studies that have explored the antioxidant content of red wine and cacao as having heart protective properties. In the 1990s, antioxidants began to draw public attention as scientific studies suggested they could protect against heart disease by preventing the buildup of free radical species (Antioxidant Vitamins and the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease – American Family Physician). In terms of chocolate, people were led to believe that the darker a chocolate is, the healthier it must be. This claim does have some scientific merit to it. Studies by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have reported that even the small amount of antioxidants present in chocolate have been found to have a heart protective effect in observational studies. However, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has been much more cautious in advising an increase in chocolate, even dark chocolate, consumption (“Study Strengthens Case for Heart Benefit in Chocolate”). Dr. Elizabeth Motofsky reported that

“Eating excessive amounts of chocolate is not recommended because many chocolate products are high in calories from sugar and fat and could lead to weight gain and other metabolic problems. But moderate intake of chocolate with high cocoa content may be a healthy choice.”

Thus, while Righteously Raw seems to correctly assert the benefits of antioxidants, it’s incorrect in its implicit claim that increasing its brand’s chocolate consumption will improve health.

Righteously Raw also runs into trouble in claiming that it has a higher nutritional value from the rawness of its ingredients. By definition, raw food is not heated to temperatures exceeding 118 degrees Fahrenheit in its preparation. The exact “rawness” of its cacao is questionable given that all cacao beans must first be fermented, a process which often exceeds temperatures of 125 degrees Fahrenheit. And whatever the case, farms, not companies themselves, control the bean fermentation process. Righteously Raw claims that roasting the cacao beans destroys many beneficial polyphenols within the beans. However, this claim has not been supported by scientific studies. The roasting process itself does not necessarily destroy antioxidants and in some cases can even make antioxidants more bioavailable (Scapagnini et al.) Furthermore, both the fermentation and roasting process help kill harmful pathogens that would otherwise pose a new, separate problem to consumer health. Overall, Righteously Raw in creating and branding its chocolate selected different parts of scientific studies which fit the company’s story. Despite there being scientific support to some aspects of its claims, its claims in their overall entirety remain problematic.

Beyond Health

Beyond the scope of nutrition, both Skinny Cow and Righteously Raw address and are themselves implicated in different social issues. Skinny Cow, as demonstrated in the video advertisement and as evidenced in their femininely packaged items, specifically markets to women. The cow mascot features a measuring tape around its waist, and the company’s marketing scheme promotes the gender-specific expectation that women need a slim waist to be appealing. Righteously Raw on the other hand has arguably less gendering in its advertisements. However, its unit price is significantly higher than that of Skinny Cow and generic chocolate brands, such as Hershey’s. On the its company website, one bar of chocolate, which is 57 grams, sells for $5.99. By contrast, Skinny Cow costs around $1.85 per 60 grams of chocolate and Hershey’s costs around 80 cents for the same amount. Such a steep price difference, whether justified by ethical practices and ingredient quality or not, raises the issue of who is able to afford to eat healthy. Is healthy chocolate something that everyone has the chance to enjoy, or is it just a fashion statement for America’s well-off? While it would take several more blog posts to explore these issues in depth, these questions serve as a reminder of the limitations beyond having sound scientific studies and transparent marketing in terms of helping people eat healthy.

A Grain of Salt

America continues to have a health problem, and consumers, especially those endowed with the time and financial resources to do so, have demonstrated interest in how they can adjust their diets based on recommendations from public health officials. In the midst of massive cardiovascular health concern, there has been a dream that there exists food which consumers can eat the same way they might take pills as a cure. Chocolate, in its indulgent splendor, was and continues to be an especially appealing target for a miracle food. Companies have tried to sell this dream of a healthy, guilt-free chocolate. However, as with almost all food fads, this chocolate dream falls prey to common sense and the moderation mindset. Ultimately, while companies have been pushed by nutrition regulations and consumer interest to report more on their nutritional content, they have also cherry picked from studies and fueled misconceptions about what constitutes healthy food. Their explanations often suffer from oversimplification and generate misconceptions about nutrients, such as sugar and fat. Perhaps one good thing that this discordant conversation has produced is a more complex understanding of chocolate and its health value in the diet. For chocolate lovers and companies alike, it is likely for the better that chocolate is not strictly in the unhealthy category of food. And as for when and how much to consume of chocolate, it seems wisest with the current body of knowledge to continue to enjoy it as an occasional snack or dessert.

References

Aller, Erik E. J. G., et al. “Starches, Sugars and Obesity.” Nutrients, vol. 3, no. 3, Mar. 2011, pp. 341–69. PubMed Central, doi:10.3390/nu3030341.

Antioxidant Vitamins and the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease – American Family Physician. https://www.aafp.org/afp/1999/0901/p895.html. Accessed 3 May 2019.

Dreyer’s Purchases Silhouette Brands – LA Times. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2004-jul-27-fi-dreyers27-story.html. Accessed 3 May 2019.

Fat Is Good for You | Time.Com. http://time.com/2863227/ending-the-war-on-fat/. Accessed 3 May 2019.

Ford, Earl S., et al. “Explaining the Decrease in U.S. Deaths from Coronary Disease, 1980–2000.” New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 356, no. 23, June 2007, pp. 2388–98. Taylor and Francis+NEJM, doi:10.1056/NEJMsa053935.

Keys, A., et al. “The Seven Countries Study: 2,289 Deaths in 15 Years.” Preventive Medicine, vol. 13, no. 2, Mar. 1984, pp. 141–54.

Oppenheimer, Gerald M., and I. Daniel Benrubi. “McGovern’s Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs Versus the: Meat Industry on the Diet-Heart Question (1976–1977).” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 104, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 59–69. PubMed Central, doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301464.

Scapagnini, Giovanni, et al. “Cocoa Bioactive Compounds: Significance and Potential for the Maintenance of Skin Health.” Nutrients, vol. 6, no. 8, Aug. 2014, pp. 3202–13. PubMed Central, doi:10.3390/nu6083202.

“Study Strengthens Case for Heart Benefit in Chocolate.” Harvard Gazette, 23 June 2017, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/06/study-strengthens-case-for-heart-benefit-in-chocolate/.

Tobias, Deirdre K., et al. “Effect of Low-Fat vs. Other Diet Interventions on Long-Term Weight Change in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” The Lancet. Diabetes & Endocrinology, vol. 3, no. 12, Dec. 2015, pp. 968–79. PubMed Central, doi:10.1016/S2213-8587(15)00367-8.

The Relationship Between Class and Nutrition as Evidenced by Chocolate

Cambridge, Massachusetts presents consumers with a number of different retailers from whom to buy chocolate. And within and across these retailers, consumers are presented with a number of different options of flavors and brands of chocolate. I visited four stores in the Cambridge area that sell chocolate: CVS, Cardullos, Cambridge Naturals, and Formaggio Kitchen. After my visit to each of these stores, as well as spending time on each one’s respective website, I noticed an interesting dynamic surrounding the implied social class of each expected consumer base created through the selection of chocolate within each store. Helping to situate these findings are a number of academic sources that aided my discovery of this dynamic. By looking at the varying role of chocolate across markets, as evidenced by price and quantity, packaging and marketing, and surrounding retail items, one is able to use chocolate to determine the underlying social dynamics that connect contemporary ideas of nutrition and consumer class.

Price and Quantity

The price of food has an important impact on the quantity and quality of consumption for the global population. As Robert Albritton points out in his book “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry”, price and quantity inextricably link nutrition and class. One quarter of the population suffers from a price point on food that is too high and are malnourished as a result of insufficient quantity (Albritton 342). A second quarter suffers at the hands of the price point in relation to quantity being too low, driving up their consumption and causing high levels of obesity (342). While the first example seems intuitive, the second deserves more exploration.

It seems counterintuitive that a corporation, created to profit from its sold goods, would provide a surplus of food to consumers at a low price. Why would these corporations not either reduce the amount of food they sell or raise prices? Why would consumers pay for more food than they need, and not spend the equivalent amount of money on appropriate portion sizes? The answer to the first question is that these corporations, often denoted as fast food companies, compete with each other for business, so it is in their interest to provide consumers with the most food at the lowest price, so as to win business. This works because of the incredibly low costs of production of this kind of food (344). The profit margin of cheap food is barely lowered by the addition of one more patty on a burger or a few more chicken nuggets in a meal. Therefore, the competition among fast food corporations results in lower prices and larger quantities of food, in a way that is not present in other types of restaurants that have the higher costs of production associated with a higher (and often times healthier) quality of food. As for consumers, the psychology of taste reveals that this type of food leads to over consumption as a result of its better taste and lack of the kinds of nutrients needed for a person to feel full (Benton 211). Lower classes that may be priced out of consistently eating healthy must turn to alternatives that are not only unhealthy but psychologically addicting. This means income not only affects material possessions, but health as well, which is much more concerning. While the example used above was fast food restaurants, a similar problem is visible today in the industry of chocolate consumerism.

An important example is the comparison of the chocolate selections in two stores in the Cambridge area, CVS and Cardullos. When comparing the average prices of similar quantities (as measured in ounces) of chocolate between the two stores, CVS appears to average .58 cents per ounce, while Cardullo averages .75 cents per ounce. Additionally, while the costs of CVS bars were lower on average, the average number of calories from each CVS bar was higher than Cardullos’ bars, with the majority of the caloric difference coming from a higher sugar content in CVS chocolate. While these are rough estimates I calculated by hand, the significant difference between them, along with what we know about the price and quantity relationship for cheap goods, is in line with what is to be expected from a store like CVS, known for its everyday items, and Cardullos, which prides itself on its “Gourmet international and local chocolates” suitable for the “chocolate connoisseurs” of Cambridge (Cardullos Web).

A second example of nutrition and class and how its relationship is demonstrated through the economic factors of price and quantity is found in chocolate’s role as a gift. Cambridge Naturals, a health and wellness store just outside of Porter Square, displays chocolate in a manner that provides evidence of the problematics of this relationship. The store sells chocolate mostly in small quantities meant for individual consumption. The chocolate is marketed alongside self-care products such as cbd oils, moisturizers and lotions.

Cambridge Naturals

Of note though, is the larger quantities of chocolate, which come packaged in a mock gift wrap, as if to say that while the buyer of the gift would never purchase such a quantity of chocolate for himself or herself, he or she would if it were to be given as a gift. It shows the consumers personal commitment to health, while also demonstrating their ability to pay more for a larger quantity of chocolate that will be given as a gift. The individual chocolate only exists in unornamented wrap, while the larger exists, with few exceptions, in decorative packaging. From this, the store seems to imply negative social connotations around both the giving of a single bar of chocolate as a gift as well as the purchase of a large quantity of chocolate for oneself. One could also make the argument that Cambridge Naturals is trying to balance the image of health it hopes to be associated with, with the higher profit margins that come from selling a larger amount of chocolate at a more expensive price. The store offers the consumer the ability to purchase the larger box of chocolate under the pretense that it is a gift, as the consumer would be remiss to indulge in such a quantity of chocolate by himself or herself.

Marketing and Packaging

This point segues nicely into what the packaging and marketing of chocolate say about the connection between class and nutrition. As discussed by Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens in their blog “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies,” many corporations, especially those selling goods with potentially detrimental effects to consumes’ health, have an incentive to put profits above human well-being. The most effective way they have done this in the past is through targeted marketing campaigns that address the controversial aspects of their business. The Sugar Association, which faced potential regulation from the FDA in the 1960s, spent millions on convoluting the idea that sugar was unhealthy. The crux of their argument was that “there was no conclusive evidence” sugar had negative effects to a person’s health (Taubes par. 3). Of course, no study is infallible, and the exercise of picking independent details off as inaccurate in order to invalidate an entire study feels like a reprehensible strategy. The Sugar Association shifted the burden of proof off of themselves and onto other agents, meaning they did not have to prove sugar was healthy, rather, until it was proved definitively by these outside agents that it was categorically unhealthy, no judgment could be made (par. 8).

While Taubes and Couzens focused on how marketing fought against the idea their products were not nutritious, Emma Robertson’s analysis of marketing in “Chocolate Women and Empires” shows how companies would reinforce social stereotypes through their ads depicting idealized consumption. There has been a long standing class separation between industrialized chocolate as that of the working class and craft as that of the sophisticated intellectuals (Robertson 3). Robertson focuses on the example of Rowntree’s attempt to associate their various chocolates with different social classes based on price and quality. For example, Rowntree depicted a sophisticated woman consuming one of their more expensive bars of chocolate (26). This not only targeted people within a certain class, but also those of a specific gender. Rowntree attempted to idealize all the classes in their activities. By doing so, they maintained an appeal to all markets across price points. Those in the lower class saw an idealized version of themselves eating a Rowntree chocolate bar. This type of advertising would have been more realistic, and therefore more appealing, than if they saw a wealthy person consuming chocolate. The message of Rowntree was not that if a person ate this chocolate they would elevate their social status, this would have been difficult to be convincing for obvious reasons. Instead the message was that if one eats this chocolate they become a better version of themselves. When the only difference between a person and the idealized version of that person was a bar of chocolate, that idealized version became more attainable. With this type of marketing, Rowntree bucketed people by social class and reinforced social inequity through expectations of the type of chocolate that person was consuming.

Coupled with Taubus’s and Couzens’s argument on nutrition, Emma Robertson’s analysis of marketing in “Chocolate Women and Empires” evidences how advertisers have pushed narratives in nutrition and class for the benefit of their own sales. These narratives have continued into contemporary society. Returning to the four chocolate stores, there are again two prime examples that can be explored. The first compares the packaging and marketing of CVS products with that of Formaggio Kitchen. These two stores share the largest discrepancy in price point of the four, which makes for a good comparison around how each advertises and packages their respective chocolates. CVS sections all of their chocolate under one category, arranged by increasing quantities, not by brands. In doing so they focus more on quantity than quality. The below image shows the increase sizes in quantity. The movement from right to left in the store is reflected in the below image moving top to bottom, with the right corresponding to top and far left corresponding to the bottom.

CVS Chocolate Selection

Consumers are expected to search by consumption and price. Formaggio Kitchen on the other hand, arranges their chocolates by brand, reflecting a consumer base that knows the kind of chocolate they want to purchase, with the quantity being of secondary consideration. CVS retails producers who package their chocolate in wrappers with larger amounts being encased by plastic bags. Formaggio Kitchen also uses wrappers for individual bars, but a comparison of the touch of the wrappers of those bars retailed by Formaggio Kitchen and those retailed by CVS exhibit’s a noticeable different in quality of wrapping. Many of the chocolates in Formaggio Kitchen contain thicker, smoother wrappers than those in CVS. While small, it is noticeable and enhances the experience of the consumer as he thumbs through the potential chocolate for purchase. Finally, nearly all of CVS advertises the price of their chocolate as being on sale, be it buy one–get one free, or a markdown from the original price. Formaggio Kitchen,on the other hand, is not as concerned with letting their consumer know the price, subtly displaying it below the bar. The differences in presentation of chocolate in these retail stores affirms who each store is trying to market to. Consumers who buy their chocolate at CVS are expected to be concerned with how much they want, and where they can get the best deal. Formaggio Kitchen consumers need to come in with more knowledge of the chocolates they are presented with, as traditional name brands are absent from the selection. Consumers are also expected to be less concerned with the price, a quality of those with higher incomes. The contrast between these two retail stores highlights contemporary class distinctions that markets, such as chocolate, attempt to capitalize on.

A second comparison is the online presence of these chocolate companies. Most notably is the prevalence of Cambridge Naturals Instagram page.

Cambridge Naturals Instagram

It is full of pictures of healthy, largely white, millennials holding Cambridge Natural products. The Instagram feed is linked at the bottom of every page one could visit within the Cambridge Naturals website, often with their most recent posts displayed. For context, all three other stores in this comparison do have Instagram’s, but the link is confined to the home page and only appears as a small icon at the bottom. And each Instagram appears to cater to a consumer base that is much more diverse than the one Cambridge Naturals hopes to attract. Through a handful of posts, Cambridge Naturals reinforces stereotypes that those who enjoy its craft chocolates are wealthy, white, healthy millennials. This depiction of the ideal consumer is dangerous. It shows a disregard for thoughtful advertising that can appeal to a consumer base without excluding a social class or body type. Again through these examples, as situated by scholarly articles, the link between nutrition and class becomes increasingly problematized through the chocolate industry.

Surrounding Retail Items

Finally, the last example I would like to present here is the importance of the experience for consumers, and the role it plays in connecting nutrition and class. Julie Guthman provides a good example of this with the consumption of organic salad mix by the noveau riche of San Francisco in her book, “Fast food/organic food: reflexive tastes and the making of ‘yuppie chow.’” Organic salad was first introduced as an organic food in restaurants that provided its consumers with the experience of dining with other sophisticated members of society who could also appreciate the importance of organic food (Guthman 503). The markups in restaurants made the salad mix inaccessible to the common people, and the idea of organic food as healthy caused body weight to be used as a measure of separation between social classes. Peter McNeil and Giorgio Riello also write about the importance of consumer experience and the role it played for members of various classes in “Luxury a Rich History.” Those who can afford to do so, have shifted their preferences away from brands as a measure of luxury and focused more on achieving the extraordinary through paid experience (McNeil 235). For retailers, the challenge is to create an environment that convinces the consumer of the value of their product. They can no longer rely on brand name and recognition, so the selection of the various kinds of products the retailer includes in the store is what creates the environment.

For CVS, their store has everyday items, ranging from school supplies and cleaning products to other snack foods. They aim to capture the everyday consumer who stops by to grab supplies in small amounts, such as laundry detergent, a snack, or shampoo. In many ways it is a better stocked, convenient store. The surrounding environment to the chocolate situates it as a low cost, everyday item that fits in with the overall consumer environment created by CVS. They hope to move product in large quantities, and their chocolate selection reflects this. The environment does its best to cater across classes by being accessible to the lowest one. Its food selection captures this approach, and as a result, explains why much of that food is not fruit or vegetables, but highly processed foods, including chocolate made by companies with an eye toward profits.

Cardullos, on the other hand, advertises a quintessential New England experience. The store contains a deli restaurant, wine selection and even “New England” goods. Their chocolate selection is meant to both benefit and enhance this environment for the consumer. Catered to those looking to experience New England, the store appears to appeal to tourists visiting Cambridge. It provides a place to get lunch, as well as purchase souvenirs in the form of wine or chocolate.

Cardullos

Those who can afford to travel are often in the upper echelons of society, and those who eat fresh deli food are at least somewhat health conscious, especially given the other food options they would have passed over in the square, such as Flat Patties and Felipe’s. By marketing the deli as quintessentially New England, an identity appealing to those who do not spend extended amounts of time in New England regularly, the chocolate is selected to reflect healthier and wealthier consumers. This deduction on its own may seem contrived, but given the large amount of evidence of such connection existing between nutrition and class, this assertion is well founded.

As mentioned previously, Cambridge Naturals selects products and brands that will collectively create an experience to appeal to their target demographic. Outside of chocolate, there are no other food products sold at Cambridge Naturals. The majority of the store is focused on self-care products, arranged cleanly in rows of the store. Given mainstream knowledge of chocolate is that it is generally unhealthy, seeing it in the store might seem somewhat out of place. Yet it is one of the three FCCI retailers that sells fine cacao, which minimizes additional ingredients to chocolate outside of cacao and sugar (Martin 4). As a healthier version of non-mainstream chocolate, the target consumer base of wealthier millennials can rely on the qualities of craft chocolate as an explanation for why it is marketed along health products. The variety of chocolate offered also indicates this approach has worked. Craft chocolate now comprises a significant part of the store and the brands have carved out a place among the consumerism of healthy, wealthy millennials.

Finally, the environment of Formaggio Kitchen is the most upscale. They market cheese, wine, and chocolate. The pairing of fine cheese and wine is known to be a practice engaged by the upper echelons of society. Formaggio Kitchen must feel then that their selection of chocolate would correspond to the type of luxurious environment those searching for wine and cheese would like to experience. In addition to food, Formaggio Kitchen also offers tasting classes that range from $40 to $100. Access to these classes being restricted to those with the desire and ability to pay for a class focused on learning about finer foods. The dynamics surrounding these types of classes are important, unlike cooking classes, Formaggio Kitchen does not teach you a skill but rather a knowledge. This knowledge can only be further utilized through the continual purchase of these more expensive foods one has learned about. So while the price of the class can be between $40 and $100, there are undoubtedly continued expenses to allow the student to utilize this knowledge.

Formaggio Kitchen

This upper tier and what it says about nutrition and class are important. Unlike CVS, consumers are not purchasing chocolate based on cost, and unlike Cardullos and Cambridge Naturals, consumers are not even consuming healthier chocolate for the purposes of better nutrition. Formaggio Kitchen situates itself in a class of people that consume its product solely for the experience. Cheese, wine, and craft chocolate do not contain many of the essential calories needed for a complete meal. They are not consumed for their nutrition but rather for their taste, demonstrating how in the most elite parts of society, consumption of food may transcend nutritional value if it presents the consumer with an experience of luxury.

In conclusion, the versatility of chocolate makes it a very interesting food that is consumed across classes for a number of different reasons. As a result, an analysis of how it is retailed gives insights into the connected role class plays with nutrition. Those most worried about nutrition often seek to maximize their caloric intake with minimum price. Those seeking healthier chocolate often do so because they are able, and willing to pay more. And then those simply searching for the modern luxury of experience do so through chocolate, which has found a place alongside wine and cheese as a fine food that can provide such an experience.

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. 2012[2010]. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” pp. 342-354

Benton, David. 2004. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” pp. 205-218

“Cardullo’s Gift Baskets and Fine Wines.” Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, cardullos.com/.

Guthman, Julie. 2012[2003]. “Fast food/organic food: reflexive tastes and the making of‘yuppie chow.’” pp. 496-509

McNeil, Peter and Giorgio Riello. 2015. Luxury: A Rich History. pp. 1-10, 225-293

Martin, Carla, “Sizing the craft chocolate market,” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (blog),

August 31, 2017, https://chocolateinstitute.org/blog/sizing-the-craft-chocolate-market/.

Taubes, Gary and Christin Kearns Couzens. “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies.”

Image Citation

“Cambridge Naturals” https://www.cambridgenaturals.com/

“Cardullo’s Gift Baskets and Fine Wines.” Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, cardullos.com/.

“CVS” https://www.cvs.com/

“Formaggio Kitchen.” https://www.formaggiokitchen.com/

Health Benefits of Chocolate

May 2019, Final Multimedia Essay

Obesity Rates and Diet

Obesity is rapidly on the rise and has been classified as one of the largest public health issues known today. Obesity is a disease that can cause an individual to be at risk for various other health complications such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses. In the Untied States, the population of overweight children has tripled since 1980 causing around two-thirds of the American population to be considered overweight (Albritton, 2010). There is a stark contrast between the health of the population and the modernization of society. It has been shown that as populations continue to grow and society continues to modernize and improve, the health of individuals is on the downfall. Worldwide there has been a six-fold increase in the number of individuals who suffer from diabetes since 1985. In India, it was noted that 11 percent of the population suffers from obesity, whereas in Mexico this was found to be 14 percent (Albritton, 2010). This is in part related to the large increase in sugar and sugar filled substances available to the public. Marion Nestle, found that on average Americans consume around 31 teaspoons of sugar a day, half of this coming from soft drinks (Albritton, 2010). Because of the Industrial Revolution and the advancement of technology, sugar (one of the cheapest food ingredients along with salt and fat) has been used by various companies to increase mass production.  

Just as the sugar consumption has been increasing, there is a rapid increase in salt and fat consumption. Today in the United States, salt consumption has increased by twenty percent over a ten-year period. Consequently, as people increase their salt consumption they look for a substance to quench their thirst, which in many cases is satisfied with sugar beverages; thus, increasing sugar consumption. Additionally, there has been around a twenty-fold increase in fat consumption since 2005 (Albritton, 2010). Because of the rapid increase in chronic disease, the World Health Organization in 2003 enacted certain recommendations for specific dietary intakes. For example, they stated that sugars should not go beyond ten percent of an individual’s daily calorie intake. Despite these recommendations, the junk food business has catered towards children’s craving snacks causing American children to receive around twenty five percent of calorie intake from snacks and therefore a continuous increase in sugar consumption (Albritton, 2010).

Obesity Rates by Regions from 1990-2011

Misconception of Chocolate

While most of these sugary, salty and fatty substances come from other junk food brands rather than chocolate, many individuals continue to associate chocolate as a primary cause for the increase in health risks among individuals. Today, chocolate companies have transformed a substance that was once glorified and solely consumed by the elite into one that has become negatively viewed and mass produced. Just as in all other industries, the influence of technology has allowed for chocolate brands to increase their production rate by mass producing a variety of different forms of chocolate. Consequently, individuals have shifted from consuming the rich and pure form of chocolate to consuming a highly processed type that includes the use of more sugar and cheaper ingredients. However, this does not mean that all types of chocolate must be categorized as having a negative impact on an individual’s health but rather that there must be more precaution when choosing what and how much chocolate to consume. Contrary to popular belief, chocolate, can have a wide range of health benefits if the consumer properly selects for the correct type, quality and quantity of chocolate.  

History of Chocolate and Health

Chocolate was first used by the Olmec in 1100 BC. The cacao comes from the tree known as Theobroma Cacao originally found in the Amazon basin. The name itself, originates from the Greek language: Theo which means god and Broma which means drink. The Incas considered this drink to be “a drink of the gods” and therefore the elite were the only ones who were allowed to drink from it (Corti, Flammer, Hollenberg & Lüscher, 2009). They believed the fruit provided wisdom and power while the chocolate drink would benefit their health. The Aztec Emperor Montezuma referred to the drink as “A divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue” (Corti, Flammer, Hollenberg & Lüscher, 2009). Not only did they view cacao as an energy substance but also thought of it as having aphrodisiac properties. It was noted that the Aztec emperor would drink a large amount of chocolate each day before engaging in sexual intercourse (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Theobroma Cacao Tree

When the Spaniards discovered chocolate and observed the way the Aztecs used this substance, they soon realized the medicinal benefits the cacao drink could have. The Aztecs would primarily consume this drink before hard labor, in order to avoid getting tired throughout the day (Coe & Coe, 2007). As the discovery of chocolate began to spread, the literature began documenting the health benefits of chocolate. In 1592 the Badianus Manuscript stated that the cocoa flowers had the ability to reduce fatigue. In 1590, the Florentine Codex stated that cocoa could be used to treat fever, diarrhea and heart weakness (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). In 1591 Juan de Cárdenas published the treatise on New World Foods and described that if cacao was prepared a certain way (toasting, grinding and mixing with atole) this could aid in digestion and make an individual powerful and joyful (Coe & Coe, 2007). Soon after the Spanish discovery of chocolate, it was introduced throughout Europe and in 1741 Linnaeus documented the role of chocolate as a source of nourishment, a cure for illness and an aphrodisiac. In 1834 prior to the first chocolate boom, the Dispensatory of the United States stated that chocolate was nutritious and should only be consumed as a drink in the morning as a substitute for an individual’s morning coffee (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Although the Aztecs and the Mayas mainly consumed chocolate as a liquid drink, the Industrial Revolution popularized chocolate as solid bars. In 1847 Joseph Fry created the first chocolate bar and soon after the first chocolate boom occurred between 1880-1940, when there was a spike in income and more people began purchasing and consuming chocolate (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). The creation of two key inventions during this time, Hydraulic press and Dutch-process, allowed for diversity in the chocolate making business. The Hydraulic press was used to strip away the fats from the cocoa and produce cocoa butter from the beans. The Dutch-process introduced the alkalization of the cocoa which could change the color of the chocolate products made (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). These key inventions allowed for the creation of different forms of chocolate, which large chocolate companies would benefit from in order to expand their specific brand. Chocolate was soon created in the form of cereals, cakes, ice cream and even lotion. However, chocolate bars continued to be among the most popular type of chocolate consumed in the American economy.

Not only were chocolate bars consumed by children but also by soldiers during the American Civil War. With the new packaging and production of chocolate bars, the soldiers were able to easily and quickly consume this new food product. Similar to the Aztecs, the soldiers took advantage of this energy dense food product. During the war and specifically in times of emergency, the chocolate bars would help provide soldiers an easy and efficient way to sustain themselves throughout battle (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Use of Chocolate in the Army

Biochemistry of Chocolate

In addition to energy, chocolate has been studied to provide a large range of health benefits including cardiovascular benefits, insulin resistance, lipid levels, antioxidant effects, mental health benefits and many more. In an interview with Marissa Zarco, MS RDN she noted the key reason for such health benefits comes from the micronutrients found in chocolate specifically flavanols. Mrs. Zarco explained that the flavanols found in chocolate exhibit a vasodilating effect on the human body and therefore can have a positive effect on cardiovascular diseases and blood pressure.

Flavanols are a subcategory of polyphenols which are found in plants and have been proven to alter the function of different pathways in the body. Flavanols are made up of two aromatic rings which are bound together by a three-carbon chain (Farhat, Drummond, Fyfe, Al- Dujaili, 2014). Flavanols can be subdivided into monomers which are called epicatechin and catechin and polymers which are known as procyanidins. The monomers are more common in various different types of fruit and the procyanidins give cocoa the bitter taste (Corti, Flammer, Hollenberg & Lüscher, 2009).  Flavanols have the ability to reduce blood pressure, improve cardiovascular effects through vasodilation, antioxidant effects by reducing reactive oxygen species and improving platelet levels etc.

Health Benefits of Flavanols

Specifically, flavanols activate nitric oxide concentration levels, which can help combat reactive oxygen species and prevent oxidative stress. When the body has too high a concentration of reactive oxygen species such as oxygen free radicals, the body will go into oxidative stress and cause for the development of severe diseases. Therefore, a high flavanol diet will allow for an increase in the nitric oxide concentration which can lead to vasodilation, prevent cell adhesion and platelet aggregation. However, not all types of chocolate contain the same amount of flavanol content because of the reduction in the flavanol levels that occurs as the cocoa beans are processed. (Corti, Flammer, Hollenberg & Lüscher, 2009).  

Three Factors to Consider

When choosing which chocolate to buy, an individual must consider three factors: type, quality, and quantity of chocolate. When choosing the type of chocolate there are usually three options: dark, milk and white chocolate. An individual should aim to choose one that has the highest amount of cocoa with the lowest amount of sugar (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). In order to create the different types of chocolates, they must undergo manufacturing steps and therefore some are richer in flavanols, cocoa nibs, milk or added sugars compared to others.

Dark chocolate compared to milk and white chocolate has the highest number of cocoa solids and lowest amount of sugar and is rich in flavanols. Milk chocolate has a small amount of cocoa solids mixed with a milk substance whether it be condensed or powdered. Lastly, white chocolate is the least pure out of the three, this type of chocolate has no cocoa solids and is instead made up of twenty percent of cocoa butter in addition to a milk product (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Three Types of Chocolate

The quality of chocolate is assessed by the number of ingredients, the proportion of ingredients, and the processing methods the chocolate goes through. The key ingredients that are considered are: cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar and milk powder. When choosing a chocolate an individual should pay close attention to the label and determine the proportion of cocoa nibs compared to all other ingredients (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Cocoa Nibs

Lastly, the quantity of chocolate is important when analyzing the nutritional benefits. In the past, many nutritionists recommended individuals who were suffering from obesity and/or trying to lose weight to completely eliminate chocolate from their diet. However, today nutritionists have realized the importance of chocolate in protecting the human body from severe diseases or a state of oxidative stress and therefore have emphasized the need to restrict the amount consumed rather than completely eliminate it. Studies have shown that small doses of 5-10g daily of dark chocolate can positively enhance human health whether it be through anti-inflammation, hypertension, and/or altering plasma lipid levels (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Overindulgence of Chocolate

Blood Pressure

Moderate consumption of dark chocolate can help with lowering blood pressure. A study conducted with the Kuna individuals stated that because of their high levels of consumption of chocolate beverages they exhibited remarkably low blood pressure states. However, after further investigation it was noted that this study was not properly conducted and the correlation between the levels of chocolate consumption of the Kuna individuals and blood pressure was not accurate (Howe, 2012). However, this is not to say that current studies have not found a correlation between chocolate consumption and blood pressure.

It has been shown that a regular intake of dark chocolate promotes blood vessel dilation because of the effect of polyphenols on increasing nitric oxide concentration and thus lowering blood pressure (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016). Additionally, chocolate has some levels of potassium which can result in the release of sodium ions therefore aiding the regulation of blood pressure levels. The Rusconi et al. (2012) study assed the relationship between different types of chocolate and blood pressure. The study recruited a group of adult males and had them consume a certain amount of either dark or white chocolate every day. Over the course of 28 days they noticed a decrease in blood pressure in the participants who only consumed dark chocolate (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Plasma Lipid Levels

Chocolate can also improve an individual’s plasma lipid levels. Specifically, cocoa butter found in dark chocolate contains oleic acid which is said to affect lipid levels. Cocoa butter has been found to increase HDL cholesterol, decrease LDL cholesterol and decrease the availability of triglycerides in the human body, which can then have a positive effect on the presence of cardiovascular diseases. A study found this to be true after a group of participants consumed around 75g of dark chocolate a day for three weeks. While this did not hold for the consumption of white chocolate, when assessing milk chocolate the researchers also found there to be a decrease in the triglyceride levels and an increase in the HDL cholesterol levels (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Mental Health

Chocolate can have an impact on mental health and cravings. Because chocolate contains highly branched amino acids, there can be an increase in the amount of serotonin released. Serotonin is neurotransmitter that is linked to depression: low levels of serotonin can increase depression. Therefore, by increasing serotonin levels, chocolate can help improve an individual’s mood. This can be observed throughout a women’s menstrual cycle. During this time a women’s progesterone levels decrease and their cravings for chocolate increase; thus, combatting the effect of depression during this time (Squicciarini & Swinnen, 2016).

Chocolate and Mood

Conclusion

Although there is a rapid rise in obesity rates and chronic diseases it is incorrect to generalize this to the effect of chocolate products. As shown, there are a great amount of studies that have been conducted in order to explore the health benefits of chocolate. While it is true that chocolate can negatively impact human health, this is not always the case. By focusing on the three factors: type, quality and quantity when consuming chocolate an individual protects him/herself from the negative effects that can be seen when someone over consumes chocolate that has high amounts of sugar and other cheap ingredients. While, most studies focus on dark chocolate and its health benefits there should be more research focused on how to make this type of chocolate more accessible to the entire population. A valuable food product such as chocolate, should not only be restricted to the elite, as it once was with the Aztecs and Maya, but rather consumed and enjoyed by all.

References

  1. Albritton, R. (2010). Between obesity and hunger: The capitalist food industry. Socialist Register,46, Socialist Register, 0, 2010, Vol.46.
  2. Coe, S ., &  Coe, M. 2007[1996]. The True History of Chocolate.
  3. Corti, R. J., Flammer, A. K., Hollenberg, N. F., & Lüscher, T. (2009). Cocoa and Cardiovascular Health. Circulation, 119(10), 1433-1441.
  4. Howe, J. (2012). Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, 12(1), 43-52.
  5. Farhat, G., Drummond, S., Fyfe, L., & Al-Dujaili, E. (2014). Dark Chocolate: An Obesity Paradox or a Culprit for Weight Gain? Phytotherapy Research, 28(6), 791-7.
  6. Squicciarini, M., & Swinnen, J. (2016). The Economics of Chocolate. Oxford: Oxford University Press USA – OSO.
  7.  Zarco, M. (2019, April 27). Personal Interview.

Media Sources

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  2. Obesity picture Agovino, Crociata, & Sacco. (2019). Proximity effects in obesity rates in the US: A Spatial Markov Chains approach. Social Science & Medicine, 220, 301-311.
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  5. Corti, R. J., Flammer, A. K., Hollenberg, N. F., & Lüscher, T. (2009). Cocoa and Cardiovascular Health. Circulation, 119(10), 1433-1441.
  6. Anne-Sophie L. (2008) Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/138239444@N05/25018430565/in/photolist-E7MZM8-7UWcRa-8qUcUj-qLVTnt-eAK3wx-9jbu4U-eAMZ9L-eAN8BL-jM8eNC-s9oLbM-7zS4Fz-nhDXrJ-7zAGxU-a9UNzT-eAKJNv-dAAMx3-9gjX3F-Mhsyxn-bcJ5yc-oA2dUC-Hw9Th1-BYYWma-x4LTKJ-26s2ZCh-6asR3w-2328FqU-afX6Lz-npoZ9m-2fEJXWT-2549poB-Twrra9-TwrHMN-oZjLmN-2549L9V-2egMEAK-Twru69-2egMEsP-dGn9i3-2fEJXYg-2egMFpP-2549qJH-2fA3BZd-bzwC4V-2dveMYY-gYG2Dv-8GXFCs-2egMEjc-2aaVnU5-TwruP3-TwrrpC
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“Chocolate Makes Strong Men Stronger:” A Materialist Interpretation of Chocolate and Health

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

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

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

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

LIGHTBOX_IMAGE_0021_16_CECILALDINA

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

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

REuOf-1449168747-embed-cocoa_ovaltineperky.jpg

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 11.42.20 PM

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Sweet Medicine: The science of chocolate and health

 

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Chocolate had used as medicine since its inception. The Aztec king Montezuma is said to have consume anywhere from 20 to 50 glasses in order to remain virile. In more recent times, scientists have been looking into whether there are some medical treasures hidden in this scrumptious treat. Naturally, scientists have been zooming in on what it is in chocolate that gives it its health benefits. Scientists now believe these compounds in chocolate, called flavanols, have antioxidant properties and could help treat a variety of conditions and fight a variety of diseases. This has led to a lot of good research being done. There have been studies done that look at chocolate’s impact in fighting heart disease, diabetes, and cancer[1]. There have been studies looking at chocolate’s effect on cognitive function, memory, and blood pressure.  However, before you run to the pantry to self-medicate with chocolate be forewarned; this research, like all medical research, in fact like all science, has caveats. This particular group of research has a good deal of caveats, though not every study has the exact same caveats. Those depend on the strengths and failings of each individual study.

There is one caveat though that applies to this entire group of research; all the chocolate in these studies is all dark chocolate, that is to say to that it is at least sixty percent cacao solids. Milk chocolate is not included and for good reason. US law states that chocolate only needs to contain ten percent cacao in order to legally qualify as chocolate, the rest is mainly sugar, fat, and a few other things such as milk. According to professor Carla Martin, lecturer at Harvard University and director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, “A Hershey’s Kiss typically contains about, I think, 11 percent cacao content”. To put that in perspective, if you had a bar of typical milk chocolate that weighed one hundred grams (about the weight of an iPhone 5S[2]), then the actual amount of chocolate in the bar would be only about ten grams, or the weight of two nickels. The fact that milk chocolate has barely any actual chocolate means that milk chocolate has barely any of those cacao flavanols that are thought to provide the health benefits. Thus, anyone, scientist or otherwise, looking towards chocolate for health benefits has to look towards chocolate with a high cacao content.

Chocolate flavanols table
Figure 1

 

There are many pitfalls a research study can fall into. One of these is having a limited and/or small sample size.  Multiple studies on the effect of chocolate on health have had sample sizes of less than a couple hundred people. One such study, the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study had only ninety participants. The study found that regular cocoa flavanol consumption can reduce some measures of age-related cognitive dysfunction, but given such small sample size it is difficult to draw any large generalized conclusions for the general population, since there is a wide variety of differences across populations. Moreover, the CoCoA study limited their sample size in an attempt at prove clearer causation; because this was a study on aging all the participant were elderly, and the study also excluded Current smokers, habitual users of antioxidant supplements (including vitamins C and E), habitual consumers of chocolate or other cocoa products (daily consumption of any amount), or individuals prescribed medications known to have antioxidant properties (including statins and glitazones) or to interfere with cognitive functions (including benzodiazepines and antidepressants). This means for populations outside the participant group, the research has limited application, since the researcher did not look at how cocoa flavanol intake affects people with these additional variables. It has to be remembered that studies like this are jumping off point, they prove that there is something there that needs to be looked into, but further research is required in order to the proper applications and implications of the initial research.

Continue reading Sweet Medicine: The science of chocolate and health

Chocolate in our life

The beginning of chocolate

 

Chocolate comes from Theobroma Cacao.  Theobroma cacao is botanical name for the cacao tree and cocoa tree from the Malvaceae family. Genus Theobroma has 22 different cocoa species. Theobroma cacao is the name given by the European botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753. This plant is not special high because has from 4 to 8 meters. The tree comes from tropical forests in South and Central America as well as parts from Mexico. The plant is evergreen.

Chocolate is a preparation of the seeds of cacao. Roasted, husked, ground, it is often sweetened and flavored with vanilla and sugar, although fruits such as raspberries can sometimes be used as well.

Chocolate was invented in South America around 1000 BCE.  While the Olmec were probably the first people who tried it, the Mayan’s civilization were the first to plant the cacao. The chocolate and cocoa were very important in their life. Theobroma means Food of the Gods in the Mayan language. Of their myths, Mayans believed that the Plumed Serpent gave Cacao to them, after people were created from maize by the divine grandparent deity Xmucane. The Mayans took this time celebrate Cacao because they thought that this is a gift from the God.

The Ancient Mayans prepared chocolate just for drinking because they didn’t know a solid chocolate.  The production of this beverage was very similar to the production today. After all processes (harvesting, fermentation, drying, roasting, grounding) they added hot water, honey, vanilla, chili, corn, etc.

Between 1200-1500AD, the Aztecs also were planting cacao. This caused a competition for the Mayans because they dominated and used the cocoa as a currency. For example fish wrapped in maize husks was worth 3 Cacao beans.

The chocolate and cocoa were very important for the Mayans and Aztecs because they used it in lots of religious rituals. Cacao was also perceived like a connection between earth, underworld and sky, royal bloodline. Mayans thought that plant is integral to keeping cycles of death, life, and rebirth. Cacao was thought to boost energy and made the imbiber stronger.

Christopher Columbus was the first European who discovered a cacao tree. . He sent the Cacao to the King Ferdinand. While cocoa was rare for some time, around 20 years after Columbus’ first sample, Prince Philip of Spain received the cocoa drink from a Dominican friar. The reception to this was so positive that France and Portugal didn’t trade cocoa to the rest of Europe for 100 years. At the beginning chocolate was only imported to Spain.

Throughout the rest of Europe, chocolate appeared in the 17th century. The chocolate beverage was very luxury good.

 

Production of chocolate

            The statistics say that the biggest production of cacao is in those countries:

  • Cŏte d’Ivoire
  • Ghana
  • Indonesia
  • Brazil
  • Nigeria
  • Cameroon
  • Malaysia

 

From my ealier blog post I want to remind that:

“The first step of cacao production is harvesting. When the pods are properly ripened it is possible to remove them by knife or machete from the tree. The pods must be pried open to access the beans inside. One pod typically can contain around 30-45 beans.  The beans are placed in bins for few days to await processing. Afterwards they go to specially designed facilities where they can be fermented and dried.

The next step is fermentation. The fermentation process takes around four or seven days. But this is depends on the condition such as: temperature or humidity. During the fermentation, beans are mixed in every 48 hours. This process is very important because we can obtain flavor precursors, kills seeds, activate enzymes, and volatile aromatics produced in the fermenting pulp diffuse into the seeds, adding additional flavors. Fermentation is very important because the quality of the Cacao is depends on this process. When the Cacao is under-fermented the taste is flat, bitter, beany, and astringent. Conversely, when the product is over-fermented the flavor can come off as hammy, wet cardboard, and the sickening sweet-sour taste has been compared to what seems like vomit, parmesan cheese, moldy, cat urine, fruit loops, olives or sour cream.

The third step is drying. This process takes around one or two weeks. The beans are spread out over a large, flat surface. During this time, it is important to rake them often. The beans are usually dried under the direct sun, sometimes is possible to use artificial heating but the first option is preferable because can help to avoid some undesirable flavors like smoke or oil. Drying can also be a part of fermentation because sometimes this process takes first days of drying. Also it helps to reduce moisture in the cacao, avoid molding, start Maillard reactions and ensure good quality of the cocoa.

The next step is sorting. During this is possible to remove moldy as well flat and destroyed beans, as well extra detritus picked up in the previous stages, such as insects, plastics, glass, and dirt.

Finally Cacao can be packed and shipped. It is important to remember that bagging, storage and transports must be climate controlled to preserve the quality of the beans. Like proper temperature, humidity or polyethylene sacks must all be carefully controlled and monitored.”

Roasting and winnowing the cocoa. Those processes have a place in a manufactory. Roasting the cocoa helps to get the properly color and flavor. The shells of cocoa during this process are much more brittle. Inside the shells we can find cocoa nibs (is kind of raw chocolate of cacao beans which have to be roasted). After roasting the nibs are sorted according to size. This step is called winnowing.

The next process is grinding. During this the nibs are turned into cocoa liquor (cocoa mass). Thanks to the heating of granular consistency we can obtain liquid because the nibs are melted. After this the product is mixed with sugar and cocoa butter.

Types of chocolate

 

We have a lot of types of chocolates. The type is depends on the substances which are in the product like sugar, milk, chocolate liquor (ground mass of cocoa beans), cocoa butter (the waxy ivory – yellow fat obtained from chocolate liquor)

            We can distinguish some types of chocolates:

Dark Chocolate – it contains at least 30% to extremely 70-80% of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and sugar. The taste becomes bitterer when the level of sugar is smaller. Dark chocolate can also contain vanilla and lecithin.

Unsweetened Chocolate – it contains pure chocolate liquor, composed of ground cocoa beans. This product has very bitter taste. It is used for baking when it is possible to add a sugar.

Bittersweet Chocolate – it contains at least 35% of cocoa solids and 50 – 80% of chocolate liquor.

Sweet Dark Chocolate – it contains at least 15% of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and sugar.

Milk Chocolate – it contains at least 10% of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, 12% of condensed milk or dry milk solids. This kind of chocolate has much more lighter color, and is sweeter than dark chocolate.

White Chocolate – doesn’t contain chocolate liquor and basically is not a chocolate. This product has at least 20% of cocoa butter, 14% of milk solids and no more than 55% of sugar.

 

The most know chocolate’s brands on the worlds are: Lindt (Switzerland), Cadbury (United Kingdom), Milka (Switzerland), Toblerone (Switzerland), Ghirardelli (Italy), Ferrero Rocher (Italy), Taza (United States), Hershey (United States), Mars (United States).

Consumption of Chocolate

 

The consumption of chocolate is huge. People in the United States in 2015 spent around $ 22B USD on chocolate. They ate around 12 lbs of chocolate per person.

We can distinguish five top nations who like chocolate the most:

  • Switzerland 22 lbs per year
  • Austria 20,13 lbs per year
  • Ireland 19,47 lbs per year
  • Germany 18,04 lbs per year
  • Norway 17,93 lbs per year

All of those countries are European. In Europe the most popular chocolate is – milk chocolate.

This kind of chocolate is much sweeter than dark chocolate. One of the most popular chocolate in Europe is “Milka”. This product has many different varieties of taste, for example with strawberries, cherry, Oreo cookies, nuts, raisins, yoghurt, etc. Is also not special expensive. Approximately 1 chocolate package costs $2.

Is chocolate healthy?

            According to the Harvard School of Public Health a few pieces of chocolate per month can make our life longer and sweeter.

Cacao and especially dark chocolate is very rich in magnesium. The chemical symbol is Mg. this is a mineral who participate in many biochemical reactions in our body. Cacao nibs have around 272 mg per 100g.

Chocolate which is very rich in cacao and cacao helps to reduce a weigh. This is because these products have a lot of fiber who helps with digestion. The cacao also helps to keep our bowel movements regular. Also is good to take it when is a problem with constipations because the fiber in cacao work well during the digestion process.

The cocoa and chocolate have a lot of iron. This element is needed to produce red blood cells. When the level of iron is too low the body suffers for anemia. Is a good idea to intake the iron with vitamin C because the absorption of Fe is much better.

The chocolate is very rich in antioxidants like polyphenols, catechins, flavanols which are responsible to absorb free radicals that can damage in the body (for example cancer).  Dark chocolate has much more antioxidants than some fruit lie for example blueberries or Acai berries.

Cacao and dark chocolate can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Also those products have very good influence on blood pressure and insulin resistance. The antioxidants like flavanols stimulate the endothelium to give a gas – Nitric Oxide (NO). This substance is responsible for sending out the signal to the arteries to relax. This process makes our blood pressure lower. The dark chocolate can also reduce the level of oxidized bad LDL which can react with free radicals.

When we are eating chocolate or cocoa our brain is stimulated by them. Cacao can produce in our body two chemicals: phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide. The first one we produce when we are happy or excited (for example during the eating chocolate). Our pulse is much quicker.

The dark chocolate can also protect the skin against the sun. The product has a lot of flavonols which are responsible for improving the blood flow to the skin and increase the hydration, density of the skin. It is a good idea to eat a dark chocolate a few months before for example vacation or visiting places with a lot of sun.

Our brain can also be improved by eating a dark chocolate. It happens because of the flavanol which can improve the blood flow in our brain. The product also contains some substances like theobromine or caffeine which work as a stimulant for the brain.

Chocolate doesn’t have bad influence on our tooth. If we have a tooth decay is because of the sugar which we can find in a lot of food products. We have to remember that dark chocolate with high level of cacao has less sugar. Actually, a chocolate consists an anti – bacterial substances which can help and prevent the tooth illness.

As we can observe the dark chocolate and cacao have good influence on our body. It is recommended to eat a few times per month because those products are rich in some chemical elements which our bodies need to work properly. Is very important to remember that if we want to eat good chocolate we need to choose a product with high percent of cacao without many sugar. We shouldn’t eat it every day because we gain too much weight but is good to eat for dessert a few times per week.

In a 100 gram of dark chocolate (70 – 85% of cocoa) bar we can find:

  • 67% RDA for Iron
  • 58% RDA for Magnesium
  • 98% RDA for Manganese
  • 89% RDA for copper
  • 11 grams of fiber
  • A lot of potassium, selenium, zinc, phosphorus

RDA*  – recommended daily allowance

 

 

As we can see the chocolate is a food product with amazing history. Has good influence on our health and frame of mind. We have to remember that dark chocolate with high consistence of cacao is the best for our body because have a lot of nutrients and very low level of sugar.

 

Bibliography:

Scholarly sources:

1.Chiaki Sanbongi, Naomi Osakabe, Midori Natsume, Toshio Takizawa, Shuichi Gomi and Toshihiko Osawa.  Antioxidative Polyphenols Isolated from Theobroma cacao. Chiaki Sanbongi, Naomi Osakabe, Midori Natsume, Toshio Takizawa, Shuichi Gomi and Toshihiko Osawa, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry,volume 46, numero 2, 1998, pages 454–457,

2.Miller, K. B.; Hurst, W. J.; Payne, M. J.; Stuart, D. A.; Apgar, J.; Sweigart, D. S.; Ou, B. (2008). “Impact of Alkalization on the Antioxidant and Flavanol Content of Commercial Cocoa Powders”. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 56 (18): 8527–33; 8527.

3.Szogyi, Alex (1997). Chocolate: Food of the Gods. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 199. ISBN: 978-0-313-30506-1

4.Terry G. Powis; W. Jeffrey Hurst; María del Carmen Rodríguez; Ponciano Ortíz C.; Michael Blake; David Cheetham; Michael D. Coe; John G. Hodgson (December 2007). Ochocolate in the world. Antiquity . 81 (314). ISSN 0003-598X. Retrieved 2011-02-15.

Multimedia Sources:

https://www.sfu.ca/geog351fall03/groups-webpages/gp8/history/history.html#anchor2

http://facts-about-chocolate.com/chocolate-history/

http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/RDA

https://authoritynutrition.com/7-health-benefits-dark-chocolate/

http://chocolatealchemy.com/

 

Delicious Products, Admirable Sentiments, Unreal-istic Mission

Bar

Walking through Whole Foods one Sunday afternoon in Nashville, TN, two years ago, a small crowd caught my eye near the front of the store. The reason turned out to be peanut butter cups, halved and waiting on parchment paper for the avid samplers to consume. Organic and fair trade, these chocolates lacked any artificial preservatives or coloring, boasted higher protein and fiber content than any of their peers, and featured dark chocolate almond butter and coconut quinoa crunch. I recently rediscovered the Unreal brand on Facebook, thanks to an aggressive social media campaign. Additional research has confirmed that Unreal’s latest project offers a quality product that tastes as good, or better, than its competitors. The product is well worth purchasing for the taste and healthier ingredients alone, and corporate values do enhance the value of the product. However, when analyzing the founders’ claims to operate as small company in order to combat unethical sourcing and, more importantly, nutritional deficiency, it becomes clear that the lofty mission proclaimed on the website falls a bit short in practice.

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First, it is important to understand the background of the company. Viewers who open the Unreal website find a barrage of fluorescent colors and pithy slogans. One of the last pages on the website tells the well-publicized story of Unreal’s founding.[1] In a TEDx Teen talk delivered in 2013, a few months after the first iteration of Unreal products hit stores, 18-year-old Nicky Bronner delivered a 15-minute presentation about his company’s story, mission, and products. Calling his parents “junk food pirates,” Nicky shared the very marketable story of the moment that led him and his brother to set out to change the candy industry. Three years before, the 12-year-old Nicky and his 15-year-old brother, Kris, returned from trick-or-treating to have their candy confiscated from their health conscious parents. After conducting some online research to attempt to prove them wrong, the brothers found that the ingredients in their favorite candies were, in fact, damaging to health for their chemical additives and contribution to obesity. After 1,000 recipes by acclaimed Spanish chef Adam Melonas, Unreal bars launched to 25,000 stores nationwide and featured unpaid endorsements by Bill Gates, Matt Damon, Gisele Bundchen, Tom Brady, and Jack Dorsey. In a very direct fashion, Nicky proclaimed that his mission is “not to sell candy, but to sell you on an idea, which is that you can change the world, because the world needs change.”[2] Coming from a gangly, nervous 18-year-old, this seems a bit heavy-handed, but his passion and enthusiasm for his product are clearly genuine.

Founder1
Co-founder Nicky Bronner with 1st edition of products (2012)

From 2013 to today, the story and the products have changed somewhat, but the mission has stood fast. Today, interviews for the company feature the CEO and CMO, who discuss product alignment and core messaging to target consumers alongside merchandizing strategies and bring-to-market plans. The initial plan targeted all stores and matched the price point of Mars and Hershey products, but the black packaging and numbered, QR-code inspired naming system deterred consumers. Simply renaming the products did not boost sales sufficiently. The company scaled back. Unreal created new recipes based on the peanut butter cups and M&M’s with trendy ingredients (ie. quinoa, coconut, almond butter), re-designed colorful packaging with a quirky style, and re-launched in 1,000 health foods stores. [3]

The chocolate itself might be tasty, but Unreal has always marketed itself as more than just another candy bar. How, then, does the corporate structure of the company compare to Hershey and Mars, two direct competitors that Unreal seeks to unseat in the marketplace? Initially, in 2012, Unreal planned to move into non-processed snacks, breakfast foods, and soda. The initial CEO John Burns, managing partner at the VC investors Raptor Consumer Partners, promoted their selection of the candy sector not due to a teenage whim but in response to a lack of innovation in the marketplace, which focused instead on product line extensions and new packaging. Raptor provided $8 million in Series A funding, and many of the stars who promoted the product have, rather than receiving compensation for their endorsement, actually invested in the company. However, far from two inquisitive, motivated teenagers creating a company from nothing, Forbes revealed that their father, Michael Bronner, was a multi-millionaire entrepreneur who funded Unreal’s first steps. Moreover, he was a family friend of the Boston-based celebrities who highlighted the brand, especially Bundchen, Brady, and Damon.[4]

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Another early backer, Bill Gates, invested in Sun Microsystems founder Vinod Khosla’s VC firm that provided the next wave of funding for Unreal. Gates wrote on his website:

Let’s be honest. Even with better ingredients, candy is still candy. But this candy may be an example of how innovation can be successful when it creates a better product, and proves that all of the junk and high amounts of sugar in many of our most popular foods (also exported around the world) may not need to be there in the first place.[5]

Far from Nicky’s seemingly innocent comment at his TEDx Talk, “it turned out we needed money to start a company, and investors loved our mission and saw the potential to create change,” the Bronners were able to leverage their family connections to get their company off the ground. For someone who shared that he was “up for adventures of all kinds,” a teenager proud that he climbed Kilimanjaro, played tennis in Antarctica, and went skydiving in New Zealand, Nicky clearly had a rather advantageous platform for launching his company as a homeschooled boy in Boston.[6] As Bon Appetit wrote in October 2012,

But hey, slightly more healthy candy bars made by a vastly wealthy 15-year-old are still slightly more healthy candy bars—let’s just hope that his love for candy matures into a well-funded grown up passion for actually changing the world for the better. [7]

So how does Unreal compare to Hershey and Mars, two notoriously secret companies? Industry specialists have speculated that one or both of these companies may bid to buy Unreal, or copy its marketing techniques, if the brand picks up steam.[8] One Business Insider writer who grew up in Hershey, PA boasted a close personal connection to the Hershey Company. She loved the products after Unreal sent them to her for a tasting, the first in a series of promotional efforts after an additional $18.7M in funding helped the company roll out the new line of products in 2015.[9] Like Bronner, Milton Hershey founded a company at the turn of the twentieth century that always sought to go beyond providing a product for consumers. “The Hershey idea,” biographer Michael D’Antonio wrote, was “a business that would create something nobler than profit…at the very height of the progressive movement’s power.” Hershey founded a utopian community in 1904 with ready built homes and an ordered town park, which tied in his company to the local community’s economy, and Hershey bequeathed his fortune to found a philanthropic school.[10]

Mars, on the other hand, has earned renown for its intense privacy. Despite earning $33 billion in global revenue each year and 200 million consumer transactions per day, Mars maintains a nondescript world headquarters in McLean for 80 employees. Still 100% family owned without any debt, Mars boasts incredible employee loyalty, as seen through unparalleled retention rates, and ranks among the best companies to work for in the United States.[11] Both Hershey and Mars control a disproportionate share of the chocolate, and snack foods more broadly, industry. In the United States, Hershey held on to 44.1% and Mars to 29.3%, together accounting for 73.4% of the domestic market.[12] In this context, despite the significant advantages that the Bronner brothers received from their father and the funding accessible to them through his connections, Unreal is clearly trying to shake-up the industry from a weaker financial position. They deserve significant credit for this courageous move.

Companybreakdown
Segmentation of Major Consumer Product Conglomerates, Featuring Mars and Nestle (major players in the candy industry) as well as Kellogg, General Mills, Pepsico, CocaCola, and Kraft

This very structure, as an industry disruptor, has allowed Unreal to challenge the status quo for ingredients and recipes in the candy industry. First, Unreal’s pledges to be organic, fair trade, and sustainably harvested, certified gluten free and vegan. The company associates its product with “good,” opening with “good is back,” then “good never tasted better,” and finally “doing good isn’t so hard.” Declaring themselves “people people and planet people,” the company proceeds to discuss how it creates color in the M&M-like candy through vegetable dyes, uses 93% Fair Trade ingredients, and engages in sustainable sourcing of palm oil—for every hectare harvested, the supplier plants two more.[13] Organic and Fair Trade have become important trends in sustainable chocolate, in particular, over the last decade. The Fair Trade platform pledges to build:

A trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers—especially in the South. Fair trade organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.[14]

Though it is debatable whether the proceeds of fair trade benefit farmers as much as its proponents claim, both Fair Trade and Organic certifications are important steps toward improving wage and labor conditions for cacao farmers in the Third World.[15] Although these labels features prominently on the Unreal website, the company focuses less on its ethical considerations than its nutritional mission for health.[16]

Second, and most importantly for Unreal’s corporate success, the Bronner’s recognized that candy companies have not changed their recipes to reflect the medical consensus linking processed foods to obesity over the last century. The Sugar Association of lobbyists disregarded scientific evidence that sugar was poisonous and slowly killing millions of Americans. Private documents show how this turn recalls that of Big Tobacco decades earlier. Government regulations accordingly speak of sugar in vague generalities in response to industry pressure, funded by companies like Hershey and Mars through the Sugar Association. Those who testified to Congress about the wholesome nature of sugar earned millions from the very companies whose business they defended. In an industry still “facing the inexorable exposure of its product as a killer,” companies like Hershey and Mars, whose mass production model is based inherently on the addictive properties of sugar, are trying desperately to forestall such public knowledge of sugar’s true properties.[17] Scientists have conducted studies to confirm that sugar is addictive, in addition to impairing liver performance and inhibiting digestive capacity.[18] Among ancient cultures, chocolate was used in more pure forms, ground up as cacao and added to beverages intended to provide stimulation or serve ritual importance among the elite.[19] It did not have the sugar and preservatives added to candies today.

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The documentary Fed Up! explored the damage that processed foods wrought on the health of Americans and, to an increasing extent, the rest of the world that consumes our exported foods. Exposes like this provided the basic information for the Bronner’s as they created their mission. Though the McGovern Report, issued in 1979, warned that obesity would soon be the #1 form of malnutrition in the United States, the industry pegged fat as the culprit, rather than sugar. Companies replaced fat with chemicals, so raw sugar and high fructose corn syrup increased psychoanalytical tendencies toward behaviors associated with obesity. Commercials targeted children to solidify the social constructs surrounding processed foods, especially chocolate candy. When individual senators, President Bush, and First Lady Michelle Obama attempted to combat the obesity crisis in schools and in grocery stores, lobbyists paid off doctors, politicians, and companies to suppress their efforts.[20] Even the Clinton Foundation, which claimed to fight child obesity and large corporations, takes donations from The Coca-Cola Company ($5M-$10M) and The Coca-Cola Foundation ($1M-$5M). This conflict of interest undermines the forcefulness of President Clinton’s message in the documentary.[21]

Given this complicated reality, by which the close intersection between business and politics prevents concerted public health efforts to combat the obesity epidemic, how can Unreal, such a small company, despite its funding, make a difference? One of the statistics that Unreal used in its early promotional materials emphasized the troubling fact that, by 2020, 40% of Americans will be clinically obese and 50% will be diabetic. As a result, its first candy bars averaged the following, as compared to their traditional equivalents: 45% less sugar, 13% less fat, 23% less calories, 149% more protein, 250% more fiber. In addition, they registered as low Glycemic Index and avoided hydrogenated oils or synthetic colors.[22] Unreal tried to promote its status as a healthy food with initially absurd comparisons to fruit, which analysts and food bloggers aptly criticized.[23] Later efforts used Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady’s reputations as exceptionally health conscious to bolster their brand.[24] Some blogs even misinterpreted the basic nutritional facts around the candy. Vegan bloggers, for example, claimed that Unreal’s mission was “about veganizing popular candy bars” to remove “animal products and additives,” a claim far beyond what the founders intended.[25]

This reputation, however, is largely unfounded. Unreal’s nutrition comparisons are complicated by the fact that the packages were, on average, 19.4% smaller. This amplifies the value of the increased protein and fiber, but it reduces the significance of the caloric, sugar, and fat adjustments.[26] However, the primary issue at stake is that, as even Bill Gates acknowledged, Unreal is, at its core, a candy, not a health food. An early Huffington Post article that took issue with Unreal argued, “Candy is candy, not fruit, not food, not the stuff of everyday sustenance…Americans don’t need more obfuscation when it comes to food.”[27] As discussed in Fed Up!, a key issue with the obesity epidemic is that companies offer too many products and alternatives, adding more rather than taking options off the shelf.[28]

Unreal’s strong mission undercuts the corporate conglomerates like Hershey and Mars, whose reliance on the sugar industry has hampered any significant progress toward recipe change. However, replacing one dessert with a healthier version cannot rectify economic inequality or solve the magnitude of the obesity epidemic, for a candy is still a candy. For consumers seeking a treat with a little less guilt, Unreal offers a great alternative to traditional candies. For those seeking to address series ethical and medical issues, however, the solution must aim much higher and reach much further than the Unreal brand is currently capable of doing.

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End Notes

[1] “Chocolate Snacks Made Good,” Unreal Chocolate, accessed May 3, 2017, http://getunreal.com/.

[2] How to Change the World, TEDx Teen (New York, N.Y.: Scholastic Auditorium, 2013), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nd7dz0HKGb4.

[3] Abigail Watt, “Unreal Relaunches Line of Unjunked Candy,” Candy Industry, February 17, 2015, http://www.candyindustry.com/articles/86634-unreal-relaunches-line-of-unjunked-candy.

[4] Caleb Melby, “Meet UNREAL, A Natural Candy Maker Endorsed By Jack Dorsey, Matt Damon, Gisele And Tom Brady,” Forbes, September 28, 2012, http://www.forbes.com/sites/calebmelby/2012/09/28/meet-unreal-a-natural-candy-maker-endorsed-by-jack-dorsey-matt-damon-gisele-and-her-husband/.

[5] Bill Gates, “Candy Innovation That’s Really Unreal,” Gatesnotes.com, October 26, 2012, https://www.gatesnotes.com/About-Bill-Gates/Candy-Innovation-Thats-Really-Unreal.

[6] Bronner, How to Change the World (TEDx Talk).

[7] Sam Dean, “Unreal, the New Candy Made by a Super-Rich 15-Year-Old (and Promoted by Tom Brady),” Bon Appetit, October 1, 2012, http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/ingredients/article/unreal-the-new-candy-made-by-a-super-rich-15-year-old-and-promoted-by-tom-brady.

[8] “Unreal Brand Candies – A Better Choice?,” Fooducate, January 18, 2013, http://www.fooducate.com/app#!page=post&id=57A34A73-F78C-9C05-476E-8D4F3A8DC556.

[9] Maya Kosoff, “I Tried ‘Unreal’ Peanut Butter Cups, and They Tasted Better than the Real Thing,” Business Insider, February 4, 2015, http://www.businessinsider.com/unreal-candy-tastes-just-like-the-real-thing-2015-2.

[10] Michael D’Antonio, Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, Reprint edition (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007), 115.

[11] David A. Kaplan, “Mars Incorporated: A Pretty Sweet Place to Work,” Fortune, accessed May 4, 2017, http://fortune.com/2013/01/17/mars-incorporated-a-pretty-sweet-place-to-work/.

[12] “U.S. Market Share of Chocolate Companies,” Statista, 2016, http://www.statista.com/statistics/238794/market-share-of-the-leading-chocolate-companies-in-the-us/.

[13] “Chocolate Snacks Made Good.”

[14] Carol Off, Bitter Chocolate: Anatomy of an Industry, Online edition (New York: The New Press, 2014).

[15] Jack Goody, “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine,” in Food and Culture: A Reader, ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik, 3 edition (New York: Routledge, 2012), 88.

[16] As discussed during Bronner’s TEDx, How to Change the World.

[17] Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens, “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies,” Mother Jones, accessed May 4, 2017, http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/10/sugar-industry-lies-campaign.

[18] Nicole M. Avena, Pedro Rada, and Bartley G. Hoebel, “Evidence for Sugar Addiction: Behavioral and Neurochemical Effects of Intermittent, Excessive Sugar Intake,” Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 32, no. 1 (2008): 20–39, doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.04.019; for a detailed overview of additional studies, refer to “Chocolate in Health and Nutrition,” Nutrition and Health (New York: Humana Press, 2013).

[19] For a detailed history of the origins of cacoa, see Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 3rd ed. (London: Thames & Hudson, 2013).

[20] Stephanie Soechtig, Fed Up, Documentary, (2014).

[21] “Contributor and Grantor Information,” Clinton Foundation, accessed May 4, 2017, https://www.clintonfoundation.org/contributors.

[22] Gates, “Candy Innovation That’s Really Unreal.”

[23] “Unreal Brand Candies – A Better Choice?”

[24] Sarah Shemkus, “Tom Brady Inflates Sales for Boston ‘healthy’ Candy Company,” Boston Globe, October 30, 2015, https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2015/10/29/tom-brady-inflates-sales-for-boston-healthy-candy-company/SqYCbLsiI7cEql2AN9tueL/story.html; Tom Brady, Watching Tom Brady Eat Halloween Candy in Slow Motion Will Be the Highlight of Your Day (Boston, MA: Brady Family Kitchen, 2016), http://people.com/food/tom-brady-unreal-candy-video-diet/.

[25] Hannah Sentenac, “Unreal Is Veganizing Popular Candy Bars; Dark Chocolate Crispy Quinoa Peanut Butter Cups Hit Stores,” Latest Vegan News, April 15, 2015, http://latestvegannews.com/unreal-is-veganizing-popular-candy-bars/.

[26] Melby, “Meet UNREAL, A Natural Candy Maker Endorsed By Jack Dorsey, Matt Damon, Gisele And Tom Brady.”

[27] Rachel Marie Stone, “The Problem With ‘Unreal’ Candy and Nutrition Facts Labels,” Huffington Post, January 15, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rachel-marie-stone/misleading-nutrition-labels_b_2477807.html.

[28] Soechtig, Fed Up.

Works Cited

Avena, Nicole M., Pedro Rada, and Bartley G. Hoebel. “Evidence for Sugar Addiction: Behavioral and Neurochemical Effects of Intermittent, Excessive Sugar Intake.” Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 32, no. 1 (2008): 20–39. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.04.019.

Brady, Tom. Watching Tom Brady Eat Halloween Candy in Slow Motion Will Be the Highlight of Your Day. Boston, MA: Brady Family Kitchen, 2016. http://people.com/food/tom-brady-unreal-candy-video-diet/.

“Chocolate in Health and Nutrition.” Nutrition and Health. New York: Humana Press, 2013.

“Chocolate Snacks Made Good.” Unreal Chocolate. Accessed May 3, 2017. http://getunreal.com/.

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

“Contributor and Grantor Information.” Clinton Foundation. Accessed May 4, 2017. https://www.clintonfoundation.org/contributors.

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Reprint edition. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007.

Dean, Sam. “Unreal, the New Candy Made by a Super-Rich 15-Year-Old (and Promoted by Tom Brady).” Bon Appetit, October 1, 2012. http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/ingredients/article/unreal-the-new-candy-made-by-a-super-rich-15-year-old-and-promoted-by-tom-brady.

Gates, Bill. “Candy Innovation That’s Really Unreal.” Gatesnotes.com, October 26, 2012. https://www.gatesnotes.com/About-Bill-Gates/Candy-Innovation-Thats-Really-Unreal.

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” In Food and Culture: A Reader, edited by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik, 3 edition. New York: Routledge, 2012.

How to Change the World. TedX Teen. New York, N.Y.: Scholastic Auditorium, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nd7dz0HKGb4.

Kaplan, David A. “Mars Incorporated: A Pretty Sweet Place to Work.” Fortune. Accessed May 4, 2017. http://fortune.com/2013/01/17/mars-incorporated-a-pretty-sweet-place-to-work/.

Kosoff, Maya. “I Tried ‘Unreal’ Peanut Butter Cups, and They Tasted Better than the Real Thing.” Business Insider, February 4, 2015. http://www.businessinsider.com/unreal-candy-tastes-just-like-the-real-thing-2015-2.

Melby, Caleb. “Meet UNREAL, A Natural Candy Maker Endorsed By Jack Dorsey, Matt Damon, Gisele And Tom Brady.” Forbes, September 28, 2012. http://www.forbes.com/sites/calebmelby/2012/09/28/meet-unreal-a-natural-candy-maker-endorsed-by-jack-dorsey-matt-damon-gisele-and-her-husband/.

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

Sentenac, Hannah. “Unreal Is Veganizing Popular Candy Bars; Dark Chocolate Crispy Quinoa Peanut Butter Cups Hit Stores.” Latest Vegan News, April 15, 2015. http://latestvegannews.com/unreal-is-veganizing-popular-candy-bars/.

Shemkus, Sarah. “Tom Brady Inflates Sales for Boston ‘healthy’ Candy Company.” Boston Globe. October 30, 2015. https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2015/10/29/tom-brady-inflates-sales-for-boston-healthy-candy-company/SqYCbLsiI7cEql2AN9tueL/story.html.

Soechtig, Stephanie. Fed Up. Documentary, 2014.

Stone, Rachel Marie. “The Problem With ‘Unreal’ Candy and Nutrition Facts Labels.” Huffington Post, January 15, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rachel-marie-stone/misleading-nutrition-labels_b_2477807.html.

Taubes, Gary, and Cristin Kearns Couzens. “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies.” Mother Jones. Accessed May 4, 2017. http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/10/sugar-industry-lies-campaign.

“Unreal Brand Candies – A Better Choice?” Fooducate, January 18, 2013. http://www.fooducate.com/app#!page=post&id=57A34A73-F78C-9C05-476E-8D4F3A8DC556.

“U.S. Market Share of Chocolate Companies.” Statista, 2016. https://www.statista.com/statistics/238794/market-share-of-the-leading-chocolate-companies-in-the-us/.

Watt, Abigail. “Unreal Relaunches Line of Unjunked Candy.” Candy Industry, February 17, 2015. http://www.candyindustry.com/articles/86634-unreal-relaunches-line-of-unjunked-candy.

The “Power of Sweet”: An Anthropological Perspective on the NCA and Visual Interpretations of Chocolate & Sugar in Industrialized Society

National Confectioners Association, founded in 1884 began as a coalition of trades-people to organize and create viability for their products. The contemporary mission statement on their official website perpetuates that original undertaking; “NCA exists to advance, protect and promote the confectionery industry… serving as a transparent and trustworthy source while building and promoting a responsible industry”. Is anyone else raising their brow at this proclamation of transparency – as it would presumably associate to promoting responsible nutritional standards?

“The medicinal and nutritional aspects of sugar’s role were never far apart, any more than they are today (mid-1980s)” persisted Sidney Mintz in her book Sweetness and Power (106). In 1715, well before the inception of the NCA, the Englishman Dr. Frederick Slare published A Vindication of Sugars Against the Charge of Dr. Willis, Other Physicians, and Common Prejudices: Dedicated to the Ladies. From a contemporary feminist perspective, the title alone makes me chuckle. I’m visualizing Slare on a platform pointing into a crowd, “I’m talking to you there, you miss, and you my lady”. Slare believed that “sugar is a veritable cure-all, its only defect being that it could make ladies too fat”. Well – No thank you Dr. Slare for that prejudgment upon female metabolism, a proclamation which surely added to a persisting gender bias. A notion for refute, Dr. Willis shed light on the topic with his anti-sugar views and clinical findings of what would be later known as diabetes mellitus, (Mintz, 106).

“NCA is proud of the role it plays in the public’s understanding and appreciation of candy’s unique role in a happy, balanced lifestyle.” Certainly, they are proud of their $35 billion-dollar industry totaling 55,000 employees in the U.S. alone. I do not intend to be overly jaded on the matter, but I can’t help but recognize the various clinical analyses and public profiles of high fructose corn syrup in our diets as we understand it today, but that’s a larger discussion in and of itself that would require deeper comparative research. Primarily my concerns lie in the fact that HFCS is often mislabeled as ‘natural flavor’ and during the last three decades, has grown to replace what used to be natural cane sugar in our common grocery foods and candies. Generations before us had already grown accustomed to foods preserved with sugar, becoming complacent with their expectations of taste and economical value through visual culture in advertisements. In my opinion, not much public transparency occurs where reliance on less expensive groceries is present.

The Life & Candy ideology expressed by NCA is particularly interesting in how they use the age old economical reach upon our physical and social values. Influenced by hegemonic notions of pollution and purity of the body, nutritional attitudes across all human societies have interpreted this punitive dichotomy for generations. NCA’s marketing lingo is reflective of the influential nature in which our collective emotional experiences in health, reinforce our ritualized notions within cultural practices surrounding holidays and special events.

Never mind the daily addicted chocolate and candy consumer- See this promotional video echoing the “power, power, power of sweet”, as seen through the lens of the confectioners’ industry workers.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/

We see a progressive move towards less expensive goods that used to be considered only for the elite prior to 18th century Europe and American society. The custom of drinking and consuming chocolate had spread through most of Europe and “one thing that didn’t change – at first, anyhow – was the association of drinking chocolate with high social standing” (Prescilla, 25).

See in the Cadbury ad to your right just how politically inclined a chocolate company was in 1901. The advertising poster was a rousing salute to Edward VII and his wife when he took the British throne (Morton, 86).

Cadbury.Edwardvii“In 1898 in the United States a dollar bought forty-two percent more milk, fifty-one percent more coffee, a third more beef, twice as much sugar, and twice as much flour as in 1872” (Laudan, 41). The NCA began actively lobbying for chocolate companies in the early decades of the 1900s to commercialize chocolate for holidays, and as noted earlier, to this day the NCA still portrays a high relevance with candy to our community practices. I ponder, as Laudan suggests, has “culinary modernism provided what was wanted… the food of the elite at a price everyone could afford”? On that notion, has the National Confectioners Association also prevailed a political platform for chocolate, sugar, and food companies to exploit on the desire to consume what is considered socially elite?

Throughout the creation of anthropology as formal discipline during the 19th century, a new worldview was being introduced, one with scientific tools. With the arrival and maturation of the scientific revolution, the period of enlightenment facilitated human consciousness for the means to alter old world views. In a cultural setting, when interpellation is presumably present, “the experience of the viewer influences the images meaning”. With this known, hegemonic Cadbury.firemangeneralizations can become an illogical way of analyzing an influence of an image upon the whole group of viewers. Therefore, counter-hegemony is an “alternative force that leads us to undo concepts of hegemony”, allowing us to see how the image influences the viewer from a comparative perspective (S & C, 2009).

Coffee, tea, sugar and chocolate long being known as stimulants, we see this reflected in the early 1900s in another – among many – Cadbury advertisements, portraying its popularity with English firemen. Sugar promoting stamina was a lasting notion. See this Baby Ruth ad below that speaks to just that.

babyruth.dextroseGendered advertising was also sewn into most visual aspects of material culture, including in the marketing of candy such as the Tootsie Roll. I think we can reflect upon our social context during these time periods and find parallels between social constructs within advertisements. From a counter-hegemonic perspective, it’s not to say this image below is meant to reinforce gender roles with the consumption of chocolate and sugar products, yet it does create a lens into the artists’ view of the American social scene. tootsieroll.lifeoftheparty

We see thirteen men pictured here, strategically positioned facing this seemingly gleeful American woman holding a Toostie Roll. She, alike the Tootsie, “is the life of every party” as the text reads. I don’t know about you, but if thirteen men were staring at me eating a Tootsie Roll at a party, I’d be finding the closest exit and calling 1-800-N0-T00T$I3!

During a time when women were subjective to the ideologies imposed by men, we see this through the material culture we create. Where heterosexuality is the normal or preferred sexual orientation in most American households. Heteronormative notions in our visual culture is nothing new and we still see advertisements daily, selling sex, and I can’t help but reflect upon Dr. Slares remarks. They indulge the viewer or the reader into a glimpse of the cultural attitudes of the time. The National Confectioners Association has been no stranger to it.

*

Sources:
Cartwright, Lisa and Sturken, Marita   2009   Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York, NY  Oxford University Press, 2nd ed.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe   2013 [1996] The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson
Martin, Carla    2017 AAAS E-119 Lecture Slides. Laudan, Rachel on Culinary Modernism (p.41)
Mintz, Sidney   1986 [1985] Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books
Morton, Marcia and Frederic.   1986   Chocolate, An Illustrated History Crown Publishers, Inc. New York, NY   Cadbury Limited images (pg.82 + 87)
National Confectioners Association, 2017
The Power of Sweet – That Power. National Confectioners Association advertisement
Organic Consumers Association, 2017 (Mercola)   2007    How High Fructose Corn Syrup Damages Your Body.
Presilla, Maricel   2009   The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Toop, C. R., Muhlhausler, B. S., O’Dea, K. and Gentili, S.   2014    Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. Consumption of sucrose, but not high fructose corn syrup, leads to increased adiposity and dyslipidaemia in the pregnant and lactating rat.
Unknown Artist, “The LIFE of the Party” Tootsie Roll advertisement
Unknown Artist, “Keep Going with Baby Ruth”

 

Sweet Relief: A History of Chocolate as Medicine

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of chocolate in the media as a means of weight loss, body transformation, and pursuing a healthy lifestyle. Individuals have flocked to this fad, willing to integrate chocolate into their diet in the hopes of physical improvement. The Flat Belly Diet states, “The Flat Belly diet does not offer magic….but it does offer science” (xi) and proceeds to coin the term “MUFAS”, mono unsaturated fatty acids, as the science behind the subject (5), citing dark chocolate specifically as a MUFA to be utilized on a daily basis throughout the diet program (27). Before and after pictures of thrilled women, finally rid of their belly fat once and for all wave gleefully from the pages of the self-help book.

For many, this may seem like a wholly novel idea. However, in light of deeper research, it becomes clear that the authors of this diet plan are simply tapping into the age-old penchant that humans have for turning to chocolate for medicinal purposes. In the following blog post, I will examine that phenomenon, tracing chocolate’s journey as a medical agent throughout history. I theorize that this continued use is due to both its chemical makeup and its esteemed position in social history.

To begin, it is crucial to look at the beginning of chocolate’s historical journey as a remedy. Presilla and de los Santos explain that chocolate was used for religious offerings and elite ceremonies by the Aztec and Mayan communities pre-European invasion (20). By making offerings to the gods and drinking cacao at ceremonies, the Mayans and Aztecs implicitly indicated an association of chocolate use with longevity and health. Additionally, as explained by Dillinger et al., missionary Bernardino de Sahagún’s Florentine Codex explicitly named chocolate as an Aztec remedy. In his written account of Aztec customs, he named chocolate as a therapy used by the civilization for everything from infection and fever to diarrhea or excessive phlegm (2060). However, Europeans took this practice to an even further level. Historians Sophie and Michael Coe describe how the Europeans “stripped it [chocolate] of the spiritual meaning which it had for the Mesoamericans, and imbued it with qualities altogether absent among the Aztecs and Maya… it was a drug, a medicine” (Chapter 5).

chocolate world digital
Image of Florentine Codex section detailing Aztec medicine. Source

With medicine in the 16th century being speculative at best, incorporating this holy, revered substance into the medical repertoire was an attractive option. When chocolate was discovered, the medical world at the time revolved around bleeding, deadly surgery without anesthetic, and other foul remedies meant to balance the “humors” (Dillinger, 2059). Therefore, the reports of Aztec medical expertise were more than enough to catch the attention of King Phillip II, who sent his royal physician, Francisco Hernández to investigate (Coe and Coe, Chapter 4). Hernández quickly adapted the Aztec rituals to fit within the European system of the four humors. This publicity caused many others to follow suit. Notable Spanish doctor Antonio Comero de Ladesma claimed that it “preserved health” and made the user “amiable” while Englishmen Thomas Gage and Adam Stubbes also endorsed the product ((Dillinger et al 2064). Thanks to this widespread publicity touting the efficacy of chocolate, by the Baroque period, chocolate, had fanned across Europe as a viable medication, endorsed by royalty and beloved by individuals of the highest class (Coe and Coe, Chapter 5). Of course, this was soon met with controversy, as by the 18th century medical professionals were also warning the public of the dangers of chocolate, claiming that excessive use could result in hyperactivity, discomfort, and even death (Coe and Coe, Chapter 7). While these claims were eventually disputed, chocolate’s role as a medicine was beginning to be contested.

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A London doctor warns of the dangers of chocolate. Source

By the turn of the 19th century, modern medicine was on the rise and chocolate’s medicinal value was in a nosedive. As data and facts replaced assumptions and ideas, chocolate was replaced by the scientifically supported medicines we see today (Coe and Coe, Chapter 8). This is due to the fact that modern science found the health benefits of chocolate to be modest. However it is important to note that chocolate can cause several physical effects. First of all, its chemical makeup which include caffeine means that chocolate consumption does give a slight energy boost, and it is addicting (Presilla and De Los Santos, 10). Additionally, a recent study conducted by Joke van Wensen and colleagues found that over time, certain doses of dark chocolate can have health benefits such as lower blood pressure (1). Another study found that chocolate consumption increases total plasma antioxidant capacity (Halliwell 787).  However, in these studies, and many more, the effect of chocolate is minimal, and it is yet to be seen if the results are long lasting and prove causation rather than simply correlation.

In light of these facts, it is incredible that situations like the one in this article are still occurring. How is it possible that chocolate keeps on being disproved as a healthcare option, but continues making dramatic resurgences as medicine?  First of all, it seems clear that chocolate’s chemical makeup is a huge contributor. It has addictive qualities and does give a small boost of energy, so it is easy for a consumer to fall into the habit of eating it, and to believe that they are physically benefitting. However, cocaine, cigarettes and french fries are all products that give a physical boost and are addicting, but no one operates under the assumption that they are medically valuable. The crucial difference here is that, as described above, chocolate has been revered and storied by experts and the highest castes of society for centuries, from the Aztec warriors to the Kings and Queens of European society. Chocolate has carried social power for centuries, and this is a powerful thing in the human brain. It is a treasured part of Western culture, and it seems clear that the social context of chocolate continues to outweigh medical opinion. For this combination of reasons, it is very likely that chocolate will never lose its allure as a healthcare option.

References

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Cohen, Paula. “How the “chocolate Diet” Hoax Fooled Millions.” CBS News. CBS Interactive, 29 May 2015. Web. 1 Mar. 2017

Dillinger, Teresa L., Patricia Barriga, Sylvia Escárcega, Jimenez Martha, Diana Salazar Lowe, and Louis Gravetti. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate.”The Journal of Nutrition 130.8 (2000): 2057S-072S. Journal of Nutrition. The Journal of Nutrition, 01 Aug. 2000. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.

Duncan, M. Wholesome Advice against the Abuse of Hot Liquors. Digital image. Folger Digital Collection. Printed for H. Rhodes, and A. Bell, n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.

“General History of the Things of New Spain by Fray Bernardino De Sahagún: The Florentine Codex. Book X: The People, Their Virtues and Vices, and Other Nations.” WDL RSS. World Digital Library, n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.

Halliwell, Barry. “Health Benefits of Eating Chocolate?” Nature, vol. 426, no. 6968, 2003, pp. 787-787; discussion 788 Advanced Technologies & Aerospace Database; Agricultural & Environmental Science Database; Earth, Atmospheric & Aquatic Science Database, http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/204509938?accountid=11311.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.

Vaccariello, Liz, and Cynthia Sass. Flat Belly Diet!: A Flat Belly Is about Food & Attitude, Period. (not a Single Crunch Required). New York, NY: St. Martin’s, 2012. Print.

van Wensem, J. (2015), Overview of scientific evidence for chocolate health benefits. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 11: 176–177. doi:10.1002/ieam.1594

 

 

 

One Man’s Treat, Another Man’s “Temporary Heaven”

For many, chocolate is a delightful treat for the occasional indulgence, but for Buster it is his every day meditation. Chocolate is the favorite part of his day because with one bite Buster says he is put into his “temporary heaven”. He also noted that “if there is no chocolate in heaven, [he] will not be happy.” When asked about his first experience with chocolate he remembers going to the store and sticking a penny into a gum machine and getting a gum ball with speckles. If you got a gum ball with speckles you got to trade it in for a nickel to purchase a small candy bar. Little Buster had the time of his life choosing that Snickers bar and sharing it with his grandmother. It is experiences like this that show the true relationship that people can have with food. One brand of chocolate can bring forth a multitude of emotions and memories.

3_Snickers_mini
When Buster was a child, one Snickers cost only one nickel. 

blots-gumballs-850-count-435.jpg
The store Buster visited had one cent, speckled gum balls that you could trade in for a Nickel to buy  a candy bar. 

 

While interviewing Buster, I discovered that some of his memories of chocolate brought tears to his eyes. His “darling sweetheart Cheryl” and he would only argue about how she spoiled her two daughters, unless he came home with a Hershey’s Symphony chocolate bar. That was  the one treat “she wouldn’t share with her kids”. Sadly, Cherly passed away before they could get married, but this memory they shared with chocolate still lives on with Buster today. Chocolate is a truly amazing part of our world because one combination of flavors can hold the dearest memories in peoples’ hearts.

 

3209305859_4d60af7d91
The favorite treat of Buster’s sweetheart. Hershey’s Symphony is milk chocolate filled with almonds and toffee chips. 

 

The nutritional value of chocolate and the healthy amount of chocolate people should consume daily has been debated over the years. Though chocolate is not labeled as a health food is has been proven to have benefits to people’s health. The Mayo Clinic states, “Chocolate and its main ingredient, cocoa, appear to reduce risk factors for heart disease (Zeratsky)”. Zeratsky goes into more detail to explain that,  “flavanols in cocoa beans have antioxidant effects that reduce cell damage implicated in heart disease,” and “Flavanols — which are more prevalent in dark chocolate than in milk chocolate — also help lower blood pressure and improve vascular function.” It is these benefits of chocolate that avid chocolate eaters attribute as an “excuse” for their chocolate addictions. When Buster was asked if chocolate was healthy in a day-to-day diet, he answered, “yes most, and if it’s not I don’t care!” Buster eats chocolate every day and loves to journey into his favorite section of the candy aisle at Food Lion. The nutritional benefits of chocolate exist and though too much can cause weight gain and other health risks, a daily dose of chocolate certainly does not hurt with Buster being a true example.

Some people’s favorite part of chocolate is the delicious taste, but for Buster it is the benefit of meditation. With one piece of chocolate, he is able to “take [his] mind off [his] problems temporarily”. Chocolate has been proven to alleviate stress of many types. In 2009, a study found that the “consumption of 40 grams of dark chocolate per day for two weeks decreased urinary  cortisol (an indicator of physiological stress levels) in participants with chronic stress (Osdoba, 242)”. Another study of chocolate consumption showed, “just three days of dark chocolate consumption resulted in decrease levels of psychological street captured by self-reported anxiety and depression (Osdoba, 242)”. The chocolate Buster uses to meditate is Hershey’s special dark chocolate with almonds nuggets. Chocolate is a perfect tool for meditation because not only is meditating helpful in reliving stress, but the combination of chocolate is only added to the major benefits of the stress relief.

 

hersheys_nuggets1
One nugget can be the perfect amount of chocolate for a short and relaxing meditation. 

 

pope_francis_i_chocolate_covered_oreo-rbaa50515244f431683337dd9bf45bdc1_zipmn_1024
Even today, Chocolate labels can be seen with the Pope on them. This is one example of a chocolate covered Oreo with the Pope on the packaging. 

Chocolate consumption can make people happy and feel good; that’s just one of the major benefits of it. For Buster, chocolate makes him “feel like [he is] enjoying one of the better aspects of life”. Buster even recalled from the Food Channel, that the Pope for years he was the only one to consume most of the chocolate. In fact, “in the 18th-century Italy, chocolate was the preferred drink of the Cardinals and they even had it brought in while they were electing a new Pope (Belardo)”. Though this was a special treat for the Cardinals, “chocolate was also rumored to have disguised a poison that killed Pope Clement XIV in 1774 (Belardo)”. In most cases, chocolate was always a great pleasure for the Pope and it was one “of the better aspects of life”. Historically, chocolate was only consumed by the elites at first because it was considered a high treat only for the best to consume. Chocolate is massed produced today and massed consumed, but the quality and enjoyment of it still remains in high status of many chocolate lovers’ lives.

While interviewing Buster, there was no doubt that he truly loved chocolate. He rated his favorite chocolate bar the Snickers a 10 out of 10; with all other chocolate bars having a score of 9 out of 10. Chocolate has helped in his favorite past time as well. Buster is an avid golfer and he finds the Snickers Bars to be a good source of energy on the golf course. “you eat them at the turn and have energy on the backside” while playing a round of golf. The only part of chocolate he does not like is when “you leave them in your golf bag too long in the summer time it melts and its hard to eat”. As one can easily see, Buster is dedicated to his chocolate consumption regularly and the only down fall is he craves it all the time.

must-have-chocolate
Funny images like these are made by people to show the feelings of people who crave chocolate and must have it immediately.

Chocolate cravings are very common for many people, and there is science behind why people crave this delicious delight. The Journal of Nutrition cites that, “chocolate is the most frequently craved food in North America (Yanovski)”. There are ingredients in chocolate that explain why this is true.  Several “studies describe psychoactive substances in chocolate, including theobromine (a weak central nervous system stimulant), anandamide (an endogenous cannabinoid), phenylethylamine (an amphetamine-like compound) and caffeine (Yanovski)”. Though the content of these substances is very low in chocolate it can still affect craving slightly. Chocolate cravings can also occur when the body is going through hormonal changes, for example women on their menstrual cycle (Yanovski). Cravings of chocolate are not people simply wanting their favorite treat, the science behind it shows that chocolate cravings are real and can happen to anyone. Simply watching a chocolate commercial can spark the cravings for many, but for Buster’s case he craves chocolate all the time.

1169124_1358297761063_full.jpgPreferences for the time when people eat chocolate can vary among consumers. Most would argue that people eat chocolate generally as a dessert after meals. While others enjoy chocolate as a snack, usually as an impulse buy at the cash register. Buster noted that he enjoyed eating chocolate after meals because the flavor lasts longer in his mouth. Much to everyone’s disappoint though, too much chocolate can be very bad for you all at once. One story Buster shared with me was how he made a record of eating eleven chocolate milkshakes in one day. Needless to say, he did get quite sick for a moment. Chocolate can be healthy for you and the amount you eat can all depend on when you eat it, but be sure you eat just the right amount to enjoy chocolate at its best.

Some of the greatest aspects of chocolate can be hidden behind the ingredients and packing. Food is a delight and basic necessity for living, and the most powerful part of it is that it has the power to bring people together. Chocolate is able to bring people together to form friendships that may not have happened without the bond of chocolate.Though Buster and I share a work place (and he had to pass my desk to get to his working space), we did not become great friends until he stumbled upon my chocolate textbook on my desk. I found him reading the cover and telling me how fascinated he is with chocolate and how much he absolutely loves eating it. From that day forward, several times a week he would leave chocolate on my desk or hand me some chocolate nuggets from his pockets. Sometimes we even end up exchanging chocolate bars. We now share a unique friendship bonded by our love of chocolate and the enjoyment of consuming the amazing taste of it.

Cites:

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Osdoba, Katie E., Traci Mann, Joseph P. Redden, and Zata Vickers. “Using Food to Reduce Stress: Effects of Choosing Meal Components and Preparing a Meal.” Food Quality and Preference 39 (2015): 241-50. Web.
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Zeratsky, Katherine, R.D., L.D. “Can Chocolate Be Good For My Health?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, 06 Dec. 2014. Web.