Tag Archives: perception

Chocolatey Perceptions: The Simulacra of Cacao

“… the human body is basically an ambulatory colony of trillions of benevolent bacteria of many species, and their complex activity in metabolism and absorption of specific compounds is just becoming known to medical science.” (Coe, p. 31)[1]

A principal perceptive conceit innate to the human condition is the tendency to obscure staggeringly complex phenomena with simulacra[2], which applies so pertinently to our own self-perception as it does to any exogenous phenomenon. This, stemming from the exigences of adaptive prudence, or evolutionary imperative, nonetheless sullies our capacity for holistic and objective appraisal of phenomena and our interactions therewith. By conceptualisation, sociocultural, biopsychological, and linguistic construction, what might simply be labelled and categorised as ‘cacao’ or ‘chocolate’ is to humans a functional simulacrum, with all manner of narratives relative to time and place projected thereon; which, in turn, entail little comprehension of the complex chemistry, economics, industry, and so forth, existential to the product consumed. This article is not intended as a dissection of contemporary conceptions and misconceptions of cacao, but rather as an exploration of the semiotics that surrounded it in Maya, Mexica, and related indigenous Mesoamerican cultures, to offer elucidation of our own perceptions of the ‘food of the gods’ and indeed our predilection for simulacra more widely.

 

Factors monetary

            There are few starker examples of the simulacrum than money. Money is something into which we divest value – divest in the sense that value is displaced from the material objects or practicable services that the metric represents, and for which it is a means of exchange, to the point that, so often in monetary economies of all kinds and not simply in advanced consumerist marketocracies, it becomes an object in and of itself; our conception of value becomes invested in that symbol thereof: money. One of the key particularities of cacao is that it was, for centuries, used by the peoples of Mesoamerica, and later European colonists, as currency (Coe, p. 59). Cacao is a cultigen indigenous to the New World (Mintz, p. 36), specifically to the Amazonian basin towards the Ecuadorian coast, but, while radiocarbon dating has placed the consumption of cacao, in a semi-refined form, in the ancient Barra civilisation through the Olmecs and Izapa (Coe, pp. 36-38), it is the Maya and Mexica for whom we have a wealth of evidence that cacao beans were used as a means of exchange.

Ironically, it may be that one of the first examples of cacao as currency comes from the troves of counterfeit, clay cacao beans found at Balberta, a Classic Maya settlement near to Izapa in the south of modern-day Guatemala (p. 50). The crafting of delicate, ‘almond-like’ cacao beans would have been painstaking and the absurdity of such an endeavour highlights the marked subjective value, psychologically constructed upon its economic usage as tender, and thus indulgence of the simulacrum. When Christopher Columbus made contact with the Maya, believed to be the Putún Maya, near the island Guajana, he and his son, Ferdinand, made mention of the outwardly peculiar inclination of the natives to these beans – ‘those almonds which in New Spain are used for money’ (Weinberg et al., pp. 53-55). In perspicacity, we might similarly substitute the symbolic value placed on paper or digital money in our own cultures to cacao beans, as our own simulacrum is, superficially, of similar arbitrariness – as indeed the Spanish would learn to in their new colonies (Weinberg et al., p. 254). Yet, this would be to make little interrogation into the nature of that particular cultigen and its specificity.

 

Factors otherwise economic

aztec-maya-map

Map of Aztec and Maya Regions, latinamericanstudies.org

Central to cacao’s trade were the waterway networks of the aforementioned Chontal or Putún Maya, who rose to great prominence in the twilight of the Classic Maya period, 250-900 AD, judging by the dress of those depicted on stelae as far and wide as Seibal, in Petén, and Cacaxtla in Tlaxcala (Coe, pp. 52-53) – which may well be demonstrative of the reach and penetration of the cacao-based economy in Mesoamerica even prior to the collapse of Classic Maya ca. 900 AD. Their descendants in the Maya heartlands – see map above – would never be subjugated by the Mexica given their shrewd and peaceful management of trade eastward and onwards into South America (p. 73). Indeed, the Mexica would attribute some degree of prestige to the role of their own guild-like merchants, the pachteca, who would venture across a territory spanning the map of Mesoamerica. The Mexica, as the Spanish, would assimilate into the extant economic order and adopt the incumbent social construction of value, maintaining the norms at play even to the point of collaboration with the gatekeepers of that economic order. This memetic transmission of the symbolic value of cacao between cultures may offer some insight into the processes by which our own perceptions of phenomena, not only that of chocolate, are reproduced.

 

Factors theological

gods-cutting-their-ears-and-bleeding-on-cacao-pods

Gods blood-letting over cacao, Madrid Codex (Public Domain)

            The symbolic value of cacao is omnipresent in the theology of Mesoamerican cultures. Mayan documents were typically written on bark paper and were thus perishable, placing extra importance on the few that survive (Coe, p. 43). In the Late Mayan Madrid Codex gods are depicted letting their own blood onto cacao, part of a persistent metaphorical link between divinity, blood, and cacao (p. 43; see image above). One key factor in the sanguine element of this symbolism was that chocolate was, at the time, often prepared by mixture of ground cocoa powder with achiote[3]. One might view this as predication for symbolism that came about post hoc, as conscious and perfunctory development of the recipe to fit theological and ceremonial purpose, or as some sort of coalescence of the two, but it is the development of that visceral, aesthetic, and ultimately semiotic function to the chocolate that is chiefly of pertinence here – not causality. Another text, the Popul Vuh, was codified by Spanish colonists in an attempt to detail the theology of the Quiché Maya, but it would appear to corroborate beliefs held somewhat consistently, or at least developed dialectically, in Mesoamerica – as attested by Izapa era stone stelae (Coe, pp. 37-40). The sacrosanctity of trees, often anthropomorphised and in the form of a cacao tree, was a consistent feature and the fact that the divine twins and mortal realm were born of the axis mundi[4] can be thought of as another major element in cacao’s rich symbolism[5]. If one were in need of any further proof of chocolate as a simulacrum, its very presence in grave goods[6] shows conceptions extending far beyond the intrinsic value its consumption holds in the mortal realm.

 

Factors psychological

(Please follow hyperlink for video)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnWNNW6C5ss

Chocolate: Benefits vs. Dangers | Is Theobromine Safe?

The complex chemistry of chocolate, and specifically that of cacao, has certainly played a role in the psychology of its perception, be that specious or otherwise. Hervé Robert’s Les vertus thérapeutiques du chocolat is, to date, the most comprehensive medical study of the effects of chocolate, in which he indicated the psychoactive and stimulant effects of methylxanthines[7] theobromine (named for the genus Theobroma) and caffeine and β-phenylethylamine[8], as well as the production of serotonin[9] (Smith, p. 1). Both the Maya and Mexica appear to have used chocolate drinks for stimulant purposes, supplying them to soldiers before combat and athletes before competitions (Weinberg et al., p. 55) – much as we might today drink cups of strong coffee before writing an article. Since there is widespread evidence of cacao consumption in spite of its status as tender[10] there must have been some degree of pleasure associated therewith. One can see how differential food preference across vast cultures and thousands of years may have led to the selective elevation of this particular crop, an affinity therefor. The video above offers an introduction to the debate over the psychological effects of theobromine and caffeine on the brain and body; in modern debates surrounding nutritional and psychological effects of certain substances there tends to be a degree of moral hazard due to the vested economic interests of companies or government agencies that fund research, inertia in food preferences, and the conscious search for foodstuffs with unbalanced value[11]. Stalemate maintains the simulacrum as the technical or highly specialised nature of debates, be they on economics, psychology, chemistry, or any other avenue for debate, often so wholly obfuscate nuances in approach to the phenomenon, ie. chocolate, as to nullify it and so strengthen superficial, expedient categorisation much in the way that ethnobotany, theology, or even the Hippocratic-Galenic humoural system did before.

 

As alluded by the quotation that begun this essay, we have a tendency to reduce the individual human unit to one of uniformity, and consistency of narrative purpose and action, and we take comfort in the somewhat fallacious notion that the trillions of bacteria and cells, even their organelles, that compose us are altogether singular in their congruence. We construct flattened, reductive, two-dimensional avatars that allow us to obscure that complexity with the simulacra ‘Matthew’ or ‘Elliott’, et cetera. This expedient form of categorisation extends from self-perception to all exogenous phenomena, amongst which cacao is no different.

 

 

Endnotes

[1] This article is greatly indebted to the scholarship of Jonathan D. Coe and his late wife Sophie D. Coe, whose book The True History of Chocolate provides the backbone of the historical knowledge here discussed and, in this initial quotation, the genesis for exploration of simulacra in cacao.

[2] “A simulacrum refers to something that replaces reality with its representation”; Dino Franco Felluga, discussing Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation (Felluga, p. 281).

[3] Bixa orellana, a red colouring agent

[4] The ‘world’s axis’, a tree that spans the underworld, Xibalba in Mayan mythology, from whence the divine twins originate, the mortal, and the celestial realms – an element common to numerous world theologies.

[5] The 7th century Palenque Maya king Pakal the Great claimed divine legitimacy for his rule by claiming to have descended from a cacao tree.

[6] Incidentally of major import to the ‘cracking’ of Mayan script given the propensity to analyse contents of containers by microspectroscopy and cross-reference this to labels and historical linguistics.

[7] Methylxanthines (ie. caffeine and theobromine) are a class of chemical often sought out with vigour by humanity; they tend to arise in plants as response to injury and can offer neural shock to small pests but in humans an effect found to be in some way pleasing, and that pleasure may be considered psychologically addictive.

[8] The neuro-regulatory effect of phenylethylamine approximates a shallow increase in serotonin. Indeed, there is ongoing discussion in the scientific community as to whether the trans-resveratrol, the bio-active quotient of the anti-oxidant resveratrol that is present in cacao, stimulates actual release of serotonin (cf. NCBI links).

[9] A biochemical process typically associated with softer mood transitions and thus pleasantness or contentedness.

[10] There are of course elements of social stratification not touched on here, and indeed the direct relationship of consumption to the monetary value of the product gives it an air of decadence still played on in chocolate marketing to this day (cf. Godiva link below); though intrinsically it is no different to the consumption of any other product of economic value it is compared to lighting cigars with $50 bills.

[11] As in the current taste for antioxidants, specifically quercetin in chocolate (cf. Life Enhancement link).

 

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2006 (3rd Ed).

Felluga, Dino F.. Critical Theory: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge, 2005.

Mintz, Sidney W.. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1985.

Smith, Lucie. “Les vertus du chocolat.” Review of Les vertus thérapeutiques du chocolat by Hervé Robert. Paris: Éditions Artulen, 1990.

Weinberg, Bennett A. and Bonnie K. Bealer. The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug. London: Routledge, 2002.

 

Web Sources

‘6 pc. Dark Decadence Truffle Flight, $17’ (containing ‘Aztec Spice Truffles’), Godiva

http://www.godiva.com/6pc-dark-decandence-truffle-flight/78350.html

‘Metabolism and bioavailability of trans-resveratrol’, PubMed.gov

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15779070

‘Antidepressant-like effect of trans-resveratrol: Involvement of serotonin and noradrenaline system’, PubMed.gov

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20353885

‘Effects of resveratrol on memory performance, hippocampal functional connectivity, and glucose metabolism in healthy older adults’, PubMed.gov

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24899709

‘Trace Amines and the Trace Amine-Associated Receptor 1: Pharmacology, Neurochemistry, and Clinical Implications’, PubMed.gov

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4820462/

‘Reservatrol and Quercetin – Puzzling Gifts of Nature’, Life Enhancement

http://www.life-enhancement.com/magazine/article/1098-resveratrol-and-quercetin-puzzling-gifts-of-nature

‘Rival Candy Projects Both Parse Cocoa’s DNA’, New York Times; September 15th 2010

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/15/business/15chocolate.html

 

Further Reading

‘7 Facts You Should Know About Trans-Resveratrol’, Global Healing Center

http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/7-amazing-facts-trans-resveratrol/

‘The History of Chocolate: The Mayans and Aztecs’, Godiva

https://www.godivachocolates.co.uk/the-history-of-chocolate-mayans-aztecs.html

Chasing Perfection

Since the 1940s chocolate advertising has largely been dominated by stereotyped and hypersexualized images of women, or sexualized images of men FOR women4. They depict women with a lack of self-control, of women caving to their ‘guilty’ pleasures, of women giving in to the temptation and sins of chocolate4. This form of advertising, however, has consequences that go beyond its blatantly offensive stereotypes. Such highly gendered advertising perpetuates images of perfection that in turn create impossible standards. The resulting culture is one of indulgence and shame that often has extremely negative consequences. To combat the negative imagery that exists in advertising, there needs to be a shift, where women are portrayed as inspirations of a healthy lifestyle that encourages moderation instead of guilt and perfection.

Impossible Standards

dove-chocolate-dove-chocolate-small-50065
Dove Chocolate Advertisement (1)

“A six-pack that melts a girl’s heart.” This ad often appears in critiques of chocolate advertising. It shows the abs of what appears to be a black male, clearly edited and enhanced. The ad makes reference to the temptation of the male body for women in the same way that chocolate also tempts women. This reinforces the stereotype that women are both sex crazed and obsessed with chocolate; a stereotype that is largely a consequence of chocolate’s supposed aphrodisiac qualities4. But I would like to dig a little further into the effects of this ad. To sell the product, the advertisement compares Dove chocolate to this impossibly perfect male figure. The association begins with women, who are clearly the target of this ad, desiring this perfect male figure. His figure dominates the visual space of the ad, filling the image with a picture of desire for women. The attention then focuses to the bottom right hand corner, to the bar of chocolate. This bar and the figure have the same coloring, the same editing, and even the same shaping. This resemblance serves to create an immediate association between the man that is desirable and the chocolate, thereby making that chocolate desirable. The text at the bottom is the final focus, since it is small print that blends into the coloring of the picture, which serves to reinforce the association between this “perfect” man and thus the perfect chocolate that all women are supposed to want desperately. This ad plays to the sexual desires of women as well as their insecurities about body image and its implications for actually being in a relationship with the perfect man. This ad has two major implications: 1) it is created based on the idea that women must desire the ‘perfect’ man who is represented by singularly physical (and unattainable) attributes and 2) that men do the “melting” while women are the ones who are “melted”, reinforcing a hetero-normative sexual hierarchy that chocolate advertising has long perpetuated. As well there is a distinct contradiction at work- the male figure is perfect in this ad, thereby selling the chocolate to women. However, according to mainstream media, to get the perfect man, women shouldn’t being eating chocolate because they too need a perfect body! Such impossible standards and contradictions breed a culture that shames women and places them into an inferior relationship with the men around them.

Inspiration

The entire purpose of advertisements is to make consumers buy a product. But in ads like the Dove ad above, marketers are inflicting a ridiculous cultural stigma onto customers with potentially very damaging effects. In a 2009 study, researchers found that women who were exposed to advertisements that used thin models were more likely to avoid chocolate2. The counter to this avoidance was that the women then experienced extreme cravings for chocolate since they were intentionally depriving themselves of it, leading to excessive indulgence and feelings of guilt and shame2. The study concluded that this could be a possible link to a culture of eating disorders brought on by the exposure to the advertisements2. The Dove ad that uses a male model may be less directly correlated to female eating disorders, but it still has massive psychological effects and contributes to the impossible standard that is present in our culture.

Blog Post 3 climbing ad picture
Original  Advertisement created for the Chocolate Class Blog (5)

As a response to such negative and damaging advertising, I created an ad that featured images of the top female rock climbers in the world. I chose pictures that intentionally showed them doing their sport rather than modeling. My purpose in including them was to inspire rather than demoralize women. These women constitute several generations of ground breaking female athletes at the top of their sport, competing and often ahead of their male counterparts. These pictures show their skill and strength rather than objectifying them. The accompanying slogan is a direct response to the previous reference that only males have six-packs and muscles. Additionally I think that despite our crazy guilt over what NOT to eat, chocolate can have a healthy place in our diet. In moderation, it can in fact be a very positive food, and not just an indulgence to an irrational craving. By showing that real women eat chocolate on a daily basis as part of a balanced diet serves to encourage a healthy lifestyle that is not fraught by a binge and purge mentality.

Reality

Ads that encourage healthy habits instead of guilt and impossible standards do actually exist in the world of advertising. In an ad for JoJo’s chocolate bark (a homemade dark chocolate snack), we encounter a woman with an inspirational story who is simply trying to live a healthier lifestyle after a close call with cancer. Additionally, the ad features a woman and a man who do cross fit and eat the bark, showing its benefits as well as showing real unedited people who live a healthy active life. While not entirely rid of stereotypes (white woman in her kitchen, making chocolate that her son likes to eat… sounds eerily similar to the original housewife ads of Cadbury and Rowntree) I think it is a step in the right direction. Ads like this will help to break the relationship between women and the stereotypes of guilty eating and hypersexualization, as well as help to make chocolate a part of a healthy balanced lifestyle.

 

References

  1. Dove Chocolate. Dove Chocolate Ads and Commercials Archive, Seoul. Ed. Mars, INC.
  2. Durkin, K., and K. Rae. “P02-53 Women and Chocolate Advertising: Exposure to Thin Models Exacerbates Ambivalence.” European Psychiatry1 (2009): S743. Doi:10.1016/S0924-9338(09)70976-9. Web.
  3. Food Creators. “JoJo’s Chocolate: Cure the Craving”. Youtube. Dec.22, 2014. Web.
  4. Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.
  5. Photos used to make the advertisement
    1. Abshire, Megan. SBC at ABS Nationals. 2015. Rock and Ice the Climbing Magazine, Colorado Springs.
    2. Burcham, John. A Female Rock Climber in Joshua Tree National Park, California. National Geographic Creative. Sports, Joshua Tree National Park.
    3. Patagonia Climbing Ambassador, Lynn Hill. 1993. Patagonia, Ventura, Ca.

Kristy Leissle in her article “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate” argues that the negative image Americans retain of West Africa deters chocolate companies from single-sourcing their chocolate from that region. However, I argue that not only does this negative imagery give the appearance of poor quality cacao beans, it tastes like it is of poor quality to the consumer.

Food and culture are very closely intertwined. When visiting a foreign country, one of the main outlets through which you can get in touch with the culture is through its food. Each culture enjoys a specific diet and even then, it can vary from city to city. Many social scientists have studied this idea and found that food is very closely tied to memories. Chocolate companies attempt to replicate those good memories using their product as a sort of reminder (Stuckey 2012).

Chocolate companies want to remind consumers of good memories, ones they might have had with their families for example. Taken from http://www.zvecevo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/obiteljska-kockica2.jpg

If that is true, how then is it possible that most people do not understand the history of chocolate and its origins? Indeed, most do not even think to ask where chocolate comes from or where it is made. In fact, very few understand anything about chocolate when in reality, it has a very rich history. Beginning in the Mesoamericas with the Olmecs, the cacao bean has undergone many transformations to arrive at its current form of the popular chocolate bar (Coe and Coe, 2013). Through technological advancements though, its complex flavors have been dulled in favor of the mass production of consistently flavored chocolates.

This brings us to the recent development of single origin chocolate on the production side of the story. In the past, cacao beans were valued based on origin. This information told the buyer whether the cacao was fine or bulk cacao. Fine cacao has more complex flavors and is considered to be better quality. Bulk cacao, on the other hand, is more resistant to disease and heartier than fine cacao. This method of judging chocolate has reappeared, a comeback made apparent by the explosion in the number of artisans producing single origin chocolates. The market has gone from a single chocolate maker in 1997 to 37 today and still growing (Leissle 2013).

However, the world’s largest chocolate-producing region is noticeably absent. West Africa produces over 70% of the cacao on the world market today, but only 3.8% of single origin chocolates are sourced from West Africa (Leissle 2013). How is it that 70% of the world’s chocolate is produced in this region but few chocolate artisans have chosen this area to supply their cacao beans?

West Africa supplies most of the cacao on the world market (~70%), but almost none of the single origin chocolate (~3.8%). Taken from https://financialpostbusiness.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/fp1018_cocoa_production_940_ab.jpeg?w=620&h=345

Leissle argues that consumers today are unaware of the origins of chocolate because single origin chocolate makers claim the bean strain and bulk amounts sold are not conducive to their goals (2013). They claim the beans are too bitter and have weak, simple flavors, whereas single origin chocolates aim to bring out the complex, diverse flavors of chocolate. Additionally, the cocoa farms only sell in bulk which is not efficient for these kinds of companies, which make the chocolate from bean to bar. Ghana is considered to have the best cacao in West Africa because of the strenuous quality measures its Cocoa Board exercises. However, the Ghana Cocoa Board also presents an obstacle: it is under government control and it is the government that controls where the cacao can be exported. Though this system does indeed present a difficult obstacle, countries such as Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, and Nigeria have similar quality beans but with deregulated markets that allow for direct contact with the farmers. Furthermore, artisans from other countries source a lot of their products from West Africa.

Why then has the United States not followed this trend? We look to the history of relations between the United States and West Africa.  Leissle claims that because the US has historically had negative relations with West Africa, the cacao beans are perceived as being of lower quality (2013). Media in the US has created a negative image of West Africa and Africa in general. The average American only knows stories of West Africa’s political instability, the poor infrastructure, and today, most prominently, the Ebola outbreak. This negative light the media has painted of West Africa has led to the conclusion that West Africa has poor quality cacao beans, at least from the point of view of the chocolate artisans.

The charged history of slavery has also turned these artisans away from sourcing cacao beans out of West Africa. Even as late as the early 1900s, slavery was a hot topic as rumors of slavery on cacao plantations in Sao Tome and Principe turned out to be true (Satre 2005). This is the clear motive for American companies staying away from West African origins of cacao beans–slavery will always be a delicate subject in the United States.

Chocolate companies typically use the wrapper and exotic words to entice the consumer, to elicit some curiosity (Leissle 2013; Stuckey 2012). Images of exotic scenery with hardworking cacao farmers are included on the wrapper as well as exciting descriptors. Some companies even appeal to the goals of social justice in order to hook the consumer. These ploys clearly will not appeal to American consumers. Companies cannot market the Wet African countries because the first words that come to mind when considering West Africa are not “vacation spot.” Instead, Americans see danger, AIDS, Ebola. A quick Google search of this topic leads to articles on armed robbery, civil war, and the Ebola outbreak. Appeals to social justice will also be aversive because of America’s history with slavery.

Companies use exotic words like “Ocumare” to intrigue consumers. Ocumare is the name of the city in Venezuela from which the cacao beans in this bar have been sourced. Taken from http://www.sugoodsweets.com/images/blog/amano-ocumare-milk-400.jpg

All of these factors have led to few chocolates of single source from West Africa in the United States. What does this mean to the consumer though? Bill Nesto explores the consumer reaction to single origin chocolate in one of his articles (2010). According to Nesto, it does not appear that most customers understand the phrase single origin chocolate. Indeed, there are so many different terms that have not been officially defined in the chocolate world that a consumer would be hard-pressed to understand all the concepts.

Recent studies though may have a consumer-side explanation for why no chocolate is from West Africa. Studies have shown that expectation, as well as one’s surroundings, can change how a food tastes (Zelano and Gottfried 2012; Grabenhorst et al 2008). Applying these results to the chocolate world, this negative imagery of West Africa can indeed leave a bad taste in the mouth though the chocolate is the same as all other chocolates we have been consuming. Chocolate single-sourced from Ghana might not taste as delicious as the Ghanaian chocolate in a Hershey’s bar. For chocolate amateurs who does not understand the distinction of single origin chocolate, they only see the country of origin; negative portrayals of West African countries by the media do not lend themselves well. If the chocolate is expected to be of lower quality, then it will taste like it is lower quality, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Dean & Deluca is one of the few companies that has chocolate sourced from West Africa, specifically Ghana. Even then, all of their other single origin chocolates are outside of this region. Taken from https://imeatingthis.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/090810_chocolate_deluca2.jpg

All of these factors keep the origins of chocolate in the dark despite the fact that over 70% of all marketed chocolate comes from a single region. Chocolate has been completely divorced from its origins (Norton 2006). The negative image of a country leads to an expectation of lower quality which, in turn, results in a worse-tasting chocolate. It is a vicious cycle that does not benefit anyone–a cycle inherent in the system. Because of the perception of low quality chocolate, no one invests in West Africa, reinforcing its bad reputation. The issue now is how to solve these problems. A weakening cacao industry is turning people away from growing cacao and there soon may be a shortage of chocolate. Should chocolate producers be more transparent about where the cacao is coming from? Or should we be striving to eliminate the negative media coverage of West Africa? There is currently no incentive for a change in the system, so it seems it will be a while yet before we see more single origin chocolates from West Africa on the US market.

 

 

Works Cited

Coe, S and Coe, M. (2013). The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson.

Grabenhorst, F., Rolls, E., and Bilderbeck, A. (2008). “How Cognition Modulates Affective Responses to Taste and Flavor: Top-down Influences on the Orbitofrontal and Pregenual Cingulate Cortices.” Cerebral Cortex 18 (7): 1549-1559.

Leissle, K. (2013). “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 13, No.3, pp. 22-31.

Montanari, M. (2006). Food is Culture. New York: Columbia University Press.

Nesto, B. (2010). “Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol.10, No.1, pp. 131-135.

Norton, M. (2006). “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” American Historical Review 111 (3): 660-691.

Satre, L. (2005). Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Stuckey, B. (2012). Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Zelano, C. and Gottfried, J. (2012). “A Taste of What to Expect: Top-Down Modulation of Neural Coding in Rodent Gustatory Cortex.” Neuron, Vol.74, No.2, 217-219.