Tag Archives: sugar consumption

The Significance of Mesoamerican Artifacts to Modern Cacao Consumption

Artifacts play a significant role in shaping how we view history and cultures.  In the case of cacao artifacts, they have changed not only what we know about Mesoamerican culture, but also how/what we enjoy tasting in America today.  Today, “sugar is so familiar, so common, and so ubiquitous that it is difficult to imagine a world without it” (Mintz, 1986, p. 74).  In Mesoamerica – 1500 BCE – 1521 AD (Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. [FAMSI], 2012), sugar was considered a spice and not nearly as prevalent as it is now.  If ancient artifacts had not been found to illustrate the use of cacao, particularly by the elite, both cacao and sugar may potentially be consumed less than they are in America today.

The discovery of the Dresden Codex (and lesser-known Madrid Codex) are perhaps two of the largest breakthroughs in discovering how cacao was used in Mesoamerica.  This Dresden Codex, “deal[s] with ritual activities tied in to the Maya’s scared 260-day cycle” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 42).  When Yuri Knorosov broke the phonetic element of the hieroglyphs used to write the Dresden Codex, it was discovered that “the text written above each deity states that what is held in the hand is ‘his cacao [u kakaw]’” (p. 42).  This shows that cacao was viewed as sacred in the Mayan culture.  In the Classic era – 300-950 AD (FAMSI, 2012), very few documented incidents of cacao being used exist, and the few that do are, “elegantly painted or carved vessels that accompanied the elite” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 43).  It is not known if ordinary Mayans consumed cacao or if they could even afford it.

The view that cacao is only for the wealthy and/or holy leads one to wonder if this is not what led to its mass consumption today.  People want what they cannot have.  Since cacao was viewed as a delicacy for the higher classes when it was brought to Europe, average people wanted to try this luxury, likely to emulate the wealthy.  With an increase in demand, ways had to be found to increase the number of cacao products that were available.  An increase in cacao production and importation would enable those other than the wealthy to access and consume it. “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, n.d,  p. 41, as cited in Martin, 2018a, slide 9).  With the increasing amounts of sugar people were able to purchase, adding it to cacao seemed the logical choice for companies to dilute – and thus cheapen – the cacao and allow ordinary people to access and enjoy it…or think they were enjoying it, even though they were actually tasting fillers such as sugar and condensed milk.  According to Martin (2018a), in the United States today, out of “300 million people, 3 billion pounds annually, 12 pounds per person” (slide 42) of chocolate is consumed.  This illustrates the mass scale in which chocolate is consumed today.  Without the discovery of the Dresden Codex, cacao may never have been viewed as a delicacy enjoyed by gods, thus its demand would not be as high as it is today.

The Dresden and Madrid Codices are not the only examples of artifacts that shaped how we view cacao. A Classic Mayan tomb was discovered in 1984 at Río Azul, Guatemala and was found “to be full of the paraphernalia of chocolate consumption” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 46).  The most obvious example of the existence of cacao in this tomb was “a stirrup-handled pot with a screw-on lid” (p. 46).  This vessel had six hieroglyphs painted on it

and two of them “read ‘cacao’” (p.46). These hieroglyphs lead one to believe that these vessels were very likely used to store cacao, but it was not proven until a selection of the vessels found in Río Azul were tested.  “[T]he screw-top jar had contained both theobromine and caffeine, two of the cylindrical vases had definite traces of theobromine, one had possible traces of theobromine, and the last had no traces of either alkaloid” (p. 46).  In the period in which these vessels were constructed – the end of 5th century AD, cacao was the only plant in the region that contained both the caffeine and theobromine compounds (Martin, 2018b, slide 48).  This proved that these vessels did, in fact, store liquid cacao at the time the tomb was closed.

The Copan excavations in western Honduras have opened an entirely new way of thinking in regard to the excavation and testing of Mesoamerican artifacts (Presilla, 2009).  In fact, “[a]t one time nearly everyone assumed that the presence or absence of cacao residue could be inferred by the shape of a vessel.  If it didn’t look like a tall drinking vessel, it wasn’t worth examining for evidence of cacao” (Presilla, 2009, p. 15). In fact, “the Deer Vessel (far left, [below])…contained chocolate (cacao). A shell scoop in the shape of a hand (second from left) was found inside the Deer Vessel” (Sharer, 2012a, Copan Altar Q section).offerning-vessels-hunai-tomb-copan The team excavating Copan has been sending all forms and shapes of vessels to be analyzed for cacao residue.  Finding residue on various types of vessels outside of the typical drinking vessel could unveil an entirely new way in which the Mayans utilized, prepared, and consumed cacao. The implications of these discoveries could include modern Americans thinking about new ways to use cacao, beyond its standard use in candy products.

Clearly, artifacts play a role in shaping how we view history and cultures. They also impact how we utilize and consume products, in this case, cacao, today.  Had ancient artifacts like those in the tomb at Río Azul, Guatemala and Copan, Honduras, and the Dresden Codex artifact not been found, cacao may not be as highly sought after as it is today. We may also not know how to use it in such a variety of ways. The prevalence of cacao grew because of this knowledge and the availability of sugar; sugar helped make cacao available to the masses, albeit in highly diluted form. Today, every American can consume the “food of the gods.”


Coe, S.D., & Coe, M.D. (2013). The true history of chocolate.  London: Thames and Hudson LTD.

Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI). (2012). John Pohl’s Mesoamerica. Retrieved from http://www.famsi.org/research/pohl/chronology.html

Untitled image of stirrup-handled pot from Río Azul [electronic image]. Retrieved from http://yaplog.jp/quirigua/archive/901

Martin, C. (2018a). 20180307 The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market [PowerPoint presentation]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Extension School.

Martin, C. (2018b). 20180131 Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods” [PowerPoint presentation]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Extension School.

Mintz, S. W. (1986). Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history.  New York, NY: The Penguin Group

Presilla, M. E. (2009). The new taste of chocolate revised: A cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. New York, NY: Crown Publishing.

Sharer, R. (2012a). Time of kings and queens. Expedition Magazine, 54(1). Retrieved from https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/time-of-kings-and-queens/

Sharer, R. (2012b). Untitled image of deer vessel, scoop, and two other vessels [electronic image]. Retrieved from https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/time-of-kings-and-queens/

The Maya Dresden Codex [electronic image]. Retrieved from http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/dresden-codex.htm


The Tea Habit and The Dramatic Increase in British Sugar Consumption in the 17th and 18th Centuries

British sugar consumption dramatically escalated in the 17th and 18th centuries. Records show that British per-capita annual consumption grew from 4 lbs. in the early 1700’s to 18 lbs. in the early 1800’s representing a 400 percent increase in just one century (Mintz). While the figures are astonishing, the increase in sugar consumption can be attributed to several things including the decrease in price, the democratization of use, and most notably, the ritualization of drinking tea.  Henry James once said, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” And with tea, came sugar.

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But let’s go back to sugar’s not so humble beginnings.  Initially, sugar was considered a luxury item afforded only by the noble and wealthy. In Britain, sugar served 5 different purposes – as a medicine, a spice, a decorative material, a preservative and as a sweetener.  And it commonly served more than one such purpose at a time (Mintz).  Cookbooks of the late 16th and early 17th century even treated sugar as a sort of drug to help balance the “humors” — energies that were believed to affect health and mood (Godoy). Like other spices, sugar was used to enhance the flavor of foods.  When combined with various ingredients, sugar was molded into fantastic shapes and structures to decorate noble dinner tables as a symbol of the host’s wealth and standing. Sugar’s preservative qualities extended the life of perishable fruits and meats and prevented spoilage.  But it was with the introduction of chocolate, coffee and tea that sugar’s use as a sweetener became relevant.  Interestingly, the British enjoyed a long-standing familiarity with sweetened beverages such as ale and wine so it is understandable that they would chose to sweeten these otherwise bitter beverages with sugar.

Sugar was expensive and relatively rare, making it a perfect object of conspicuous consumption for the status chasing elite (Goody).  Tea, an exotic import first made fashionable by a Portuguese princess, quickly gained popularity with the rise of coffee houses in London. As the price of tea and sugar dropped, they gained wider appeal across all socioeconomic lines and daily consumption per person increased. Over a relatively short period of time, the habit of drinking tea with sugar became ritualized.  In the chocolate and coffee houses of London, gentlemen and wealthy merchants took their tea sweetened with sugar. Women of privilege enjoyed tea accompanied by pastries, breads and jam at home with their friends often using their finest china and tea pots.

“We can imagine them then that while seventeenth century men were

at coffee houses drinking tea and exchanging gossip, their wives

gathered at one another’s hoes to do exactly the same thing – justin a more

refined atmosphere” (Tea.co.uk)

The first sugar habit learned by the English poor was part of the tea habit, and the tea habit spread downward from the rulers and outward from cities at a rapid rate (Mintz).  For the working class, tea with sugar often served as a break from their backbreaking jobs.  In homes of the poor, men who were the primary bread winners dined on meat while their wives and children subsisted on tea with sugar, bread and preserves.  Regardless of wealth or social status, the amount of sugar consumed at each meal continued to rise.  Tea sweetened with a strong dose of sugar was an affordable luxury: It gave workers a hit of caffeine to get through a long slog of a day, it provided plentiful calories, and it offered the comfort of warmth during a meal that otherwise often consisted only of bread (Godoy).

It is important to acknowledge that the dramatic increase in domestic demand for sugar was intertwined with the rise of the slave trade. Britain relied heavily on her sugar colonies to sustain her rabid consumer base, and forced labor allowed more sugar to be produced at a fraction of the price (Sheridan). They conquered the most colonies and went the farthest and fastest in creating the plantation system to satisfy growing demand for sugar (Mintz).  In the British West Indies, the number of enslaved Africans grew to 263,000 by the mid 1700’s (Martin). They were required to work 18 hour days and received only minimal food, clothing and shelter from the plantation owners. As a result, their life expectancy was only 7-8 years (Martin).

Sugar consumption levels continued to rise during and after the Industrial Revolution. By the 1900’s, annual per capita consumption approximated 80 lbs. climbing to an astonishing 120 lbs. in the 2000’s (Martin).   As processed food manufacturers gained a better understanding of taste preferences, they increasingly added sugar to everyday consumables like ketchup, cereals and dairy products. Currently, soft drinks are the biggest single source of added sugar for young people, with boys aged 11-18 getting 42% of their intake this way; and for adults aged 19-64, the main sources are also confectionery and jams, soft drinks and cereals (Jeavans). Clearly, the British love for sweet beverages survived and flourished throughout the centuries.

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In conclusion, the significant increase in British sugar consumption in the 17th and 18th centuries was a direct result of the increasing affordability of the commodity, the democratization of use, and the ritualization of tea time. Today, the British remain some of the greatest consumers of sugar in the world and are taking great steps to encourage people to limit their daily added sugar intake to ward off obesity, diabetes and other illnesses.


Works Cited

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 6: Slavery, Abolition and Forced Labor.” Lecture

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

Sheridan, Richard B. Sugar and Slavery: An economic history of the British West Indies, 1623-1775.  University of West Indies  Press, 1974.  Web.

Jeavens, Christine. “How Much Sugar Do We Eat?” BBC News, BBC, 26 June 2014.  22 Feb. 2018.  http://www.bbc.com/news/health-27941325

Godoy, Maria. “Tea Tuesdays – How Tea + Sugar Reshaped the British Empire” The Salt. NPR. 7 April 2015.  22 Feb 2018. https://www.npr.org.sections/thesalt/2015/04/07/396664685/tea-tuesdays-how-tea-sugar-reshaped-the-british-empire

“Tea – A Brief History of the Nations Favorite Beverage” UK Tea and Infusions Association 2018.  22 Feb 2018. http://www.tea.co.uk

Ward, J.R. “Oxford History of the British Empire.  The Eighteenth Century. The British West Indies, 1748-1815” Oxford University Press.  New York. 1998 https://books.google.de/books?



Beyond the Taste Buds

Lunch time on a Saturday seems like as good of a time as any for an all-you-can-eat, opulent Chocolate Buffet. At the request of my pregnant wife and her pregnant friend, I was summoned to the Chocolate Room to indulge. After talking about the Chocolate Room for weeks, we met up with the other couple for a visit to the Boston Langham Hotel where the event would be hosted. When we arrived, we tipped the valet, tended to our reservations, and didn’t so much as flitch at the forty-five-dollar charge to attend the Chocolate Room. Exceeding already-high expectations, it was worth every penny. While dollar-chocolate at the local convenience store is mere feet from home, why would any couple be compelled to spend over one-hundred dollars just to experience a room of chocolate?

While it is clear that chocolate varies in taste and quality, the experience chocolate warrants, and the experience that Langham creates, set a high value on the entire experience. It is worth exploring to what extent the gustatory perception plays in the social behavior around chocolate. The Chocolate Room experience invoked questions that I will use to probe at the value of the experience. This will help to understand whether the taste of chocolate, or the social and human experience, is a more powerful determining factor in assessing the value of chocolate. Ultimately, we will find that while the pleasantry of taste is what allows us to enjoy it so much, it is not always what compels us to enjoy it so much. When taste is paired with the experience of chocolate, it greatly influences a person’s love for the flavor of chocolate.

Love for chocolate: Natural vs. conditioned?

Is the human affinity for chocolate innate and then discovered in each person, or is it truly socially conditioned? On the topic of the development of food preferences in general, and not just chocolate, psychologist Jamie Hale explains what preferences are pre-programmed, or innate in humans. Hale explains that sweet, savory, and salty substances are innately preferred, whereas bitter and many sour substances are innately rejected (Jamie Hale). However, Hale further explains that “these innate tendencies can be modified by pre- and postnatal experiences.”  This means that while taste, a component of flavor, is detected by the olfactory system, it is also strongly influenced by early exposure and learning beginning in utero and continuing during early infant milk feedings (Jamie Hale). In a close study of child consumption, it was found that eighty-six percent of two to three-year-old American children consume some type of sweetened beverage or dessert in a day (Alison K. Ventura). These early experiences set the stage for later food choices and are important in establishing life-long food habits. While this is true, it cannot be ignored that flavors are enjoyed or not enjoyed by natural compulsions as well. In regards specifically to chocolate, studies show that multiple characteristics of chocolate, including sugar, cocoa and the drug–like effects experienced, play a role in the desire to consume chocolate (Nasser et al.) It is thought to be a combination of both early exposure and a naturally tendency to enjoy all that chocolate offers that ultimately shapes behaviors around chocolate. However, this understanding of a human affinity for chocolate does little to explain why chocolate is consumed as a treat.

Why is chocolate a dessert?

Fig 1

When we looked around the chocolate room, there is more than just chocolate desserts. Although the vast majority of the treats are chocolate, there are also many other sweets. So, why when are so many chocolate centric? The obvious observation about chocolate is that desserts are often times thought of as a treat. We reward ourselves with something that we deserve. Often times toward the end of the day we may convince ourselves that “we’ve earned this”. Treats are pleasant and something we look forward to. The less obvious observation is that chocolate is a pleasantry beyond just taste. For more reasons that we will continue to explore, chocolate makes us feel good emotionally. According to psychology Doctor Susan Albers, we crave chocolate for the feeling that it gives us. She described in Psychology Today that it “Taste good. It smells good. It feels good when it melts on our tongue. And all of those ‘feelings’ are the result of our brain releasing chemicals in response to each chocolate experience” (Albers). As we learned, all these perceptions are part of the flavor of chocolate. A common thing happens when we feel good; our body release chemicals. The experience of eating chocolate results in feel good neurotransmitters (mainly dopamine) being released in particular brain regions (frontal lobe, hippocampus and hypothalamus) (Albers). If we are rewarding ourselves with a dessert what would a better way be than to do so with chocolate.

Am I getting a daily dose of dope with my chocolate?

Fig 2

It was originally thought that chocolate contained compounds that could activate this dopamine system directly (like cigarettes and cocaine do) (Albers). Chocolate does contain theobromine, caffeine, fat and sugar. Theobromine can increase heart rate and bring about feelings of arousal.  Caffeine can make us feel awake and increase our ability to work and focus. Fat and sugar are preferred food sources for humans because they are calorie dense. However, experiments in which the components of chocolate were separated out indicated that just ingesting the chemicals in chocolate without the mouth-feel and taste does not decrease craving for more chocolate (Albers). This means that our bodies have a desire for the entire chocolate experience, and not just one chemical that is in chocolate.

What is chemically unique about chocolate?

In the chocolate Room, the effect chocolate had on our body, mood and emotions was evident. Starting with a chocolate crape with chocolate sauce, fruits and chocolate rum, my pallet was primed for more chocolate. We continued to explore the room in search for the next treat. After each sitting and each plate consumed, our joy and excitement continued to build for our next treat. We each shared a common affinity for chocolate. Chocolate’s effect on our body goes beyond the tongue. It enticed sense beyond taste and has a positive effect on our emotions. Chocolate transcends the senses and takes over inhibition. What seems like an insatiable desire for chocolate gradually transitioned to a glucose high, and feelings of stimulation. The joy’s of chocolate were compared to kissing in a study by psychologist David Lewis. The study found that letting chocolate dissolve slowly in your mouth produces as big an increase in brain activity and heart rate as a passionate kiss—but the effects of the chocolate last four times longer (BBC). Researchers at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California say chocolate also contains a feel-

Fig 3. Anandamide

good chemical called anandamide, which is found naturally in the brain, and is similar to another one called anandamide THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) found in marijuana (Woodford). Its name comes from ananda, the Sanskrit word for “bliss”(Senese) (Fig3). Blissful is exactly how I would  to describe the experience in the Chocolate room. I must have been experiencing ananda.

If chocolate transcends taste, what other senses could be enticed?

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Vid 1. Dr. Spense

In an effort to recognize that the experience of chocolate extends beyond the taste buds, the Langham was certain to maintain an elevated experience for each of the senses. According to Dr. Carla Martin of Harvard University, the “sound of the environment and of the food and beverage itself has been known to impact the experience of flavor” (Martin). This idea of a multisensory environment encompasses elements that entice all the senses. Dr. Charles Spence from the Crossmodal Laboratory at Oxford University explains that the flavor experience for anything from coffee and wine to seafood and chocolate can be altered when careful attention is given to the texture, temperature, feel and esthetics of the mugs, chinaware and silverware, and chairs, as well as the lighting in the room, the sound of the environment, and the context of how the food is being presented (Spense) (Vid 1). The senses come together in a way that change the flavor. The multisensory environment prepared by the Langham was replete with elements to arouse all the senses including fine utensils, live musical string instruments, all compound to add to the ambiance (fig 4).

Fig 4. Musical Instruments play in the Chocolate room

After being seated, we were immediately introduced to the layout of the room and explained that the room was segmented into the bodily senses. They have items prepared at separate tables to stimulate sight, sounds, touch, taste, and sent. Treats from the sight table we perfectly plated, meticulously garnished, and delicately placed with care. Desserts prepared for the smell table were chosen for their strong and pleasant aromatic properties such as Grilled Pineapple with chocolate beads, Orange Mouse, Milk chocolate Creamoux with Candied Violet and Rosewater Pana Cotta. Choices on the Sound table included items that audibly contributed to the experience, such as milk chocolate lined rice crispy treats, a crisp milk chocolate crème brulee, and some silent but delicious tarts topped with a fresh crisp strawberry. The touch table sought to tickle my fingers with tactile treats such as a chocolate bubble tapioca, chocolate mini waffle cones, chocolate cake pops, and Black Forest Triffle, rich red velvet cake with a light and airy whipped topping. The Taste table was curated to entice by pairing either rich and creamy or strong and dark chocolate with bold flavors such as cinnamon, spices, and citrus offerings. Not to be omitted, at the center of the room was a glorious fountain of chocolate ready to accept a dip from fruits and confectionaries such as pineapples or marshmallows (of course that included chocolate marshmallows).


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Fig 5. Sensory Tables

Notes on culture:

Looking around the room, it was a joy to know that many more people than we were enjoying this multisensory experience. While all our senses were enticed by each offering, it was an experience that seemed universally enjoyed by people from all cultures. At the Langham, as a destination hotel in a major city, international travelers seeking a reprieve from their journey all found comfort in the room alike. Asian, Hispanic, African and European people, all speaking their own languages, found commonality in their human affinity for chocolate. This universal love of chocolate not only transcends the taste buds and has a multifaceted effect on the body, but transcends race, gender, age and culture as a universally beloved delicacy thanks to transcontinental trade and migration hundreds of years ago. So ubiquitous is the love for chocolate, I’ve often found that it is expected that I enjoy chocolate. Is this projection cast on everyone by everyone? That expectation would seem to be projected onto all those aforementioned classes and ages. This universal love would seem to have no issue contending with the idea that chocolate is simply conditioned and is not an innate trait.

Would sugar alone have the same effect?

To support this idea that the love for chocolate is innate, Dr. Albers reminds her readers that you probably did not have to learn to like chocolate. She explains that “the sensory experience is enjoyed on an innate, biological level, but it is likely that you received chocolate as a treat, reward, or for holidays, especially if you are American” (Albers). This reward based consumption can often times contribute to it being a comfort food. This association alone can bring someone into a better mood, even before the chemical effects of sugar set in. While the thoughts of sugar can allow someone to feel good, the distinct flavors of chocolate also hold a unique ability to socially and psychologically associate with a positive experience in someone’s life. This reinforces the idea that the popularity of chocolate in desserts is no coincidence or due to a lack of alternatives, but rather to meet the demands of human desire.

Socially we have come to think of chocolate as a food that is comforting and can bring us into a better mood. The nature of chocolate candy being a sweet desirable stimulant is more attractive with sugar, but not because of sugar. Sugar alone can often times have an adverse effect on mood and can often times act as a depressant. In a study on the effects of sugar, David Sack explains that “the roller coaster of high blood sugar followed by a crash may accentuate the symptoms of mood disorders” (Sack). His research has tied heavy sugar consumption to an increased risk of depression, even worse in people with schizophrenia. One theory is that sugar suppresses activity of a hormone called BDNF that is already fairly low in individuals with depression and schizophrenia (Sack). Humans love for chocolate has historically persisted without the additive of sugar. Consider the ancient Mayan Cacao beverage prepared and a hot coffee-like drink made from the cacao bean and simple spices alone. This was a beloved Beverage of the God’s long before the refinement of sugar (Coe and Coe).

Sweet Treats room vs Chocolate room: why chocolate?

Fig 6. Milk and Cookies

Is chocolate necessary in order to invoke this described response? As unique as chocolate is, it is one of many foods that can do what it does. While we were presented with bountiful chocolate offerings, the chocolate-less pastries couldn’t escape notice. While tarts, a glass of milk, tapioca pudding, cotton candy, strawberry shortcake, cream puffs, and even popcorn stood out from the chocolate theme, they had a role in contributing to the overall experience. After all, what good would chocolate cookies be without milk? We were told by the server these alternative treats, devoid of all chocolate as they were, allowed a reprieve from a chocolate over-load, while the salty popcorn offered a “pallet reset” that would allow us to extend our chocolate consumption further. We were advised that if we were to slow down and desire an extra boost to be able to continue, grab a hand full of popcorn to be able to carry on.


If the room was only full of options deplete of chocolate offerings, the experience would have lacked appeal. Whether socially conditioned or innate, the human affinity for chocolate could not be accessed and leveraged as a draw for people to enjoy the room. While the ladies were excited to invite us men to the Chocolate room, and we were glad to accept the invitation, the we men would likely have attended a “Sweet Treats” room with less enthusiasm than a Chocolate Room”. Was the fact the two pregnant women invited their male husbands a fulfillment of the gender based stereotype of women craving chocolate?  As Thrilled as the women were to invite the men, it was no more a womanly compulsion than a gender natural human desire.

Our chemically motivated, socially reinforced desire, evident in all cultures, was satisfied in the Chocolate Room. Visiting the Boston Langham was an opportunity to satisfy and explore our most natural desire for the experience of chocolate flavor. The extent gustatory perception played in our social behavior around chocolate was the satisfaction of the craving for the taste of chocolate, but it did not address our deepest yearning for the full flavor experience that we craved. The social and human experience played the most powerful role in our enjoyment. Taste and flavor; experience and gustatory joy, are the ultimate pairing for chocolate.

Works cited

Albers, Susan. “Why Do We Crave Chocolate So Much?” Psychology Today Feb 11, 2014. Web. May 5 2017.

Alison K. Ventura, Julie A. Mennella. “Innate and Learned Preferences for Sweet Taste During Childhood.” Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, , Vol.14(4), pp.379-84 Vol.14.(4) (July 2011): pp.379-84. Print.

BBC. “Chocolate ‘Better Than Kissing’.” BBC News 2007. Web. 5/10/17 2017.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third edition. ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.

Jamie Hale, M.S. “The Development of Food Preferences.” Web.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 12: Psychology, Terroir, and Taste.” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 19 April 2017. Lecture.

Nasser, Jennifer A., et al. “Psychoactive Effects of Tasting Chocolate and Desire for More Chocolate.” Physiology & Behavior 104.1 (2011): 117-21. Print.

Sack, David. “4 Ways Sugar Could Be Harming Your Mental Health.”  2013. Web.

Senese, Fred. “The Bliss Recptor.” Frostburg State University 8/17/2015. Web.

Spense, Charles. “Charles Spence: Multisensory Experience and Coffee.” You Tube. Oxford University May 27, 2014. Web. May 10 2017.

Woodford, CHris. “The Science of Chocolate.” ExplainThatStuff 2016. Web. 5/10/17 2017.

Image Sources

Feature photo; The Langham Hotel Boston. Web. May 5, 2017  http://www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/boston/dining/chocolate-bar/

Fig 3; General Chemistry Online! “The Bliss Recptor.” Frostburg State University 8/17/2015. Web.  http://antoine.frostburg.edu/chem/senese/101/features/anandamide.shtml.

Vid 1: “Charles Spence: Multisensory Experience and Coffee.” You Tube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVKabsudi1I

Fig. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6; Stoffel, Grant. “Langham Chocolate Bar experience.” April 22, 2017. Langham Hotel, Boston.


What Do You See?

Chocolate seems to permeate our lives. It saturates the grocery shelves during the holiday seasons and appears on our television screens. It is a true constant in our rapidly-changing world. Because our modern world is always developing, how has chocolate maintained permanent-product status? The easy answer is: sugar. Several hundred years ago when sugar first emerged onto the European food scene, it was a new and exciting ingredient from Mesoamerica that served many uses. It began as an expensive superfluous supplement to the natural European diet, but after two centuries, sugar had become a staple to the English diet and essential to the rest of Europe (Prof. Martin Lecture). This kind of integration was not isolated to sugar. Chocolate made the journey from a fancy, elite delicacy to a common household item… or so it seems. As this article of fun facts reveals, Modern day “Americans consume 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate each year, or over 11 pounds per person” which is much more than the average for Europeans. I argue that although statistics show that the common person consumes great amounts of chocolate, it still retains its original status as a highbrow item despite its price. This is best showcased by the chocolate sections at CVS.

There are a couple of different places to find chocolate at CVS, each with their own chief marketing purpose. The first is in the candy aisle. Here you can find the label “bagged chocolate” and see an assortment of chocolate from big, well-known companies like Hershey, Reese’s, etc. They all have seemingly endless variations of dark, milk, and white chocolate, sometimes mixed with peanut butter, nuts, or other embellishments. As you walk into the aisle, the sheer amount of options is overwhelming. The range of your selection makes them all seem to blend together. It is even hard to read each label individually because your eye is constantly being drawn elsewhere by cartoon images and bright colors. Eventually, you just go with what you know. This is either a run-of-the-mill choice like plain milk chocolate or something slightly more niche like salted caramel dark chocolate. In the case of a more niche preference, you will likely already know its position in the aisle because it does not change. Never at eye-level, your bag of salted caramel dark chocolate is eternally juxtaposed to the bag of mint milk chocolate, both sold by the same company. At any given CVS, they will sometimes be on a high level but more often than not, they will be off to the side. This particular bag of chocolate will reside at shin-level so you have to bend down to pick it up. It never goes on sale. But your friend has a slightly different experience. You see, she is a big fan of Hershey’s Dark Chocolate, no almonds or other extras. She needs two bags because finals are coming up and she stress eats when she feels bloated. She turns into the candy aisle, finds the sign indicating the chocolate, and walks right up to inspect her choices. She does not have to look for long. As she glances to the side, her eyes find the Hershey’s label and her brain immediately recognizes the color. She grabs two bags since there is a sale that applies to this type of chocolate (second bag is 50% off!) and you both head to the front of the store to pay.

Photo taken by me.

Now let’s say that you and your friend prefer the finer things in life. Pretend that there has been a tragic epidemic and every chocolatier in your immediate vicinity has been destroyed. This leaves CVS as your only option for buying chocolate. The two of you cannot eat “commoners chocolate,” whatever that means (you and your friend are chocolate-snobs) so you head to the “Premium Chocolates” stand that CVS has on display. There is a notable absence of plastic bags and cartoon labels, no bright colors that remind you of late Halloween nights. The characteristics of this section that stand out to you are the highbrow-looking packaging, lack of “Big Chocolate” name brands (or so you think), and the fact that the vast majority of the packaging features some sort of picture of smooth chocolate.

Photo taken by me.

Because you and your friend prefer everyone to know the percentage of cocoa that your chocolate is, you grab a package from eye-level that advertises “85% Cocoa” in big, bold letters beneath the word “Excellence” written in a super fancy script font. This chocolate is slightly pricier than the chocolate in other areas of CVS so you and your friend agree to split the bag. Then you both head to the counter to pay.

In both situations, you have to pass the “impulse buy” test. As you wait in line to pay, you are surrounded by shelves of mini-sized candy. It is a slue of small packaging, with candy, gum, donuts, and chocolate all mixed together. The gum is at the top because it is the easiest to justify in a situation where you need to freshen up your breath. Directly below the gum are four entire shelves of candy, mostly chocolate. This is a departure from the fancy marketing you saw earlier. It is a return to the “Big Chocolate” name brands like Hershey. In contrast to the chocolate aisle, this chocolate is being sold in much smaller quantities. Its small size and location in the store point to a popular marketing ploy that stores like to use, especially in America. In America, we are very susceptible to the “impulse buy.” It is very easy to justify buying a small chocolate candy bar on your way out of CVS than buying a whole bag. Even further, these candies are not at adult-eye level but they are positioned perfectly to draw the attention of any child who walks past them. You, however, are not a child. You wait your turn and pay for your chocolate at the cash register. Then you leave CVS, concluding your shopping experience.

Photo taken by me.

These elaborate scenarios showcase various ways that chocolate plays a part in our everyday lives. For instance, the way that companies choose to visually represent their chocolate speaks to how we perceive chocolate. The “Premium Chocolates” section is a perfect example of this. In “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics”, Mary Norton discusses how sociologists and cultural historians “have eschewed biological or economic determinism and instead theorize taste as socially constructed” (Norton, 663). She uses Mintz’ work on sugar’s development “from a medicinal additive to a luxury good among the upper classes” to complement his argument that “sugar ‘embodied the social position of the wealthy and powerful.’ He points to ‘sugar’s usefulness as a mark of rank—to validate one’s social position. To elevate others, or to define them as inferior.’” (Norton/Mintz). This seems antiquated to us in modern day but it really holds true to society’s perception of chocolate. If you take into account the countless ads like this one that present chocolate as a luxury item that should be desired, then it becomes easier to see why presenting their product as “Premium Chocolates” is an effective marketing tactic used by Lindt and Ghirardelli in CVS.

Looking at this commercial, the first thing to notice is the incredible CGI they have used to recreate Audrey Hepburn, an icon of class and elegance. There is classic music playing in the background. Audrey Hepburn leaves the public transport bus and makes the transition into a handsome man’s car where he proceeds to act as her chauffeur as she eats chocolate in the backseat. This is a very clear way of associating chocolate with a certain lavish lifestyle that mirrors the purpose of the upscale display at CVS. This demonstrates how chocolate is still thought of as a luxury good despite its frequency.

Similarly, you can discern the intended audience from the location and price of the chocolate. In the chocolate aisle and the section right before the cash register, the position of the chocolate can reveal many things. If it is at eye-level for an adult, odds are that product is very popular. An example of this is the Hershey’s chocolate staple: plain dark chocolate. If the product is more particular, it is likely that it will be on a different shelf in order to make room for the standard products. One exception to this rule is when products are placed at the eye-level of children. Today, ads everywhere target kids because they want to create costumers for life. This has various ethical complications, not the least of which are explored in the article “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies” by Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens. Their article describes the way sugar’s detrimental effects on public health were covered up by greedy corporations. Along the way, scientific research has found that “sugar and its nearly chemically identical cousin, HFCS, may very well cause diseases that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, and that these chronic conditions would be far less prevalent if we significantly dialed back our consumption of added sugars” (Taubes). The ethical complications arise when the companies knowlingly advertised their product that contained unhealthy ingredients without making the public fully aware of their effects. There is also research that links the overconsumption of sucrose and HFCS to obesity and type 2 diabetes, both of which disproportionately affect young people. Ad campaigns like this one from Cadbury target young people in an effort to foster a relationship between the child and the brand so that as an adult, their potential purchasing power increases because of their trained loyalty to the specific company.

The ad works likes a commercial to kids for kids. The use of children and upbeat music to advertise chocolate is a convincing strategy to associate chocolate with fun. This targeting of children as consumers is demonstrated in stores like CVS where chocolate is placed in the perfect position for children to recognize them from ads on television and the internet.

Chocolate might seem like a normal treat that you indulge in after a difficult day, but if you look deeper into your own perception of chocolate, you will learn that it is integral to multiple societal structures. Not only can you see from the different placements of chocolate in CVS that it is associated with elitism and opulence, but it is also incredibly gendered. This post on reddit.com by user Te1221 establishes the subconscious connection between chocolate and women.

Reddit, posted by user Te1221 in 2014.

The caption is “CVS boosted chocolate sales this year” which implies that its location next to female hygienic products would help it sell more. The suggestion that women on their period are more likely to buy chocolate is widely spread idea. This is just a small example of how chocolate can really represent institutions within our society like gender (like power through its elitism).

Just from looking at chocolate placement in a CVS in Harvard Square, you can begin to understand its intrinsic nature. Chocolate is a symbol of delicacy, power, femininity, and sinfulness (both in relation to physical health and sexually). All you need to do is look.

Works Cited

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

Mintz, Sidney W. “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History” (New York, 1985), 140, 139, 153, 166–167.

Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, Feb. 15, 2017.

Taubes, Gary, and Cristin Kearns Couzens. “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies.” Mother Jones. Nov/Dec. 2012. Web. 04 May 2017. <http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/10/sugar-industry-lies-campaign&gt;.


Sweetness and Bitterness: A Common Path

For those who are interested in the ethnic and historical origins of foods, chocolate and sugar may be two of the most exciting elements of the traditional English diet (see fig. 1). Linked by their indigenous sourcing and early production during the British colonial period, the bitter taste of chocolate and the ground sweetness of sugar grew in demand and influenced the commercialization of one another. Both, used as food condiments or spices, in medical remedies or as a source of energy and calories share a history of conquest, adventure, social evolution and slavery. Thus, when it comes to England and perhaps other European nations, it is fair to believe that today’s spike in sugar consumption –as suggested by Harvard University professor Carla Martin in her “Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food” class is owed in great part to the expansion and ever-growing demands of the chocolate industry.

Fig. 1. Early 20th century advertisement of a sweet chocolate bar by Fry’s.
Fig. 1. Early 20th century advertisement of a sweet chocolate bar by Fry’s.

Long before Colombus arrived to the Americas, sugar was known in Europe thanks to the Crusades and the conquests of the British empire (SKIL – History of Sugar). The European expansion beyond the Caribbean plateau brought the discovery of the cacao tree and chocolate, highly praised by the natives, according to chapters One and Two from The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe. This discovery increased the European interest in the region causing the assimilation of local elements that helped export indigenous recipes, traditions and beliefs to the wealthiest European social groups and consequently, to the British. This is commonly known as “hybridization” and it resulted in the adoption and rapid commercialization of chocolate throughout Europe (see fig. 2).

Fig. 2. 18th century illustration of a chocolate house in London.

Chocolate quickly became a sensation among the British bourgeoisie. The enigmatic cocoa powder traditionally obtained by a long process of selecting cacao beans, drying, toasting and hand-grinding them with an hand made “molinillo” (Presilla 26) was an edible bounty for the wealthy. Early colonizers learned from the Mesoamerican aborigines that chocolate was “food of the gods” and such was the official name they gave to it as described in The True History of Chocolate (D. Coe and D. Coe 18). The belief that it had magical and medical properties head its way into England where soon the chocolate drink and the cocoa powder were used in medical recipes, as sources of energy and as mood enhancers.

Around the same period of time, sugar had also medical and multiple other uses in Britain. Sugar was an “everything” type of remedy or food condiment. The influence of sugar in the Anglo-Saxon world was such that as professor Martin denoted in class, it moved beyond the Hollywood era so we can recall popular movies like Mary Poppins carry the reminiscent of it in song lyrics that talk about sugar and sweetness, as for instance Disney’s “A Spoonful of Sugar” shown below.

“A Spoonful of Sugar” from the Mary Poppins film.

In 1847, the English company J.S. Fry & Sons produced a chocolate bar from the mixture of sugar and chocolate powder with cocoa butter, which according to the authors of the research paper Welcome to ChE: Chocolate Engineering “had a grainy texture and lacked the smooth flavor of today’s chocolates” (Patton, Ford and Crunkleton 2). This, in turn, prompted Henry Nestle and Daniel Peters to experiment further by adding milk to the mixture, creating the first milk chocolate bar as early as 1876 (Patton, Ford and Crunkleton 2).

Henceforth, sugar and chocolate crossed a common path: that of the “bitter-sweetness.” This bitter-sweetness is a descriptive metaphor derived from their combination: chocolate is naturally bitter and sugar is the embodiment of sweet. From the history of their discovery, production and consumption the bittersweet blend evokes a distant grief infused with human slavery which was viewed by its wealthy consumers like the “necessary evil” –as professor Martin puts it, to achieve the finest tasting, sweetest chocolate cup or chocolate bar.

Knowing the historical and socio economical factors that made possible a “rendezvous” of chocolate and sugar, it is possible to find correlation between the sugar consumption and the production of chocolate. Professor Martin illustrates this in class with visualizations of the rise in sugar consumption from the colonial times before chocolate was brought to Europe up to the present times. Those graphs shown by professor Martin reveal a dramatic curve of growth. It is then evident that the discovery and commercialization of chocolate influenced the consumption and demand of sugar. The image below illustrates the period of time in which the sugar consumption rose in England, which coincides with the time in which chocolate began to commercialize during the 1800’s, as well as the corresponding price depreciation per pound (fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Spike in sugar consumption after the creation of the first chocolate bar in England during the 19th century.

In conclusion, the social contexts of contemporary Britain, the Anglo-Saxon culture and all of Europe keep sugar and chocolate forever bound in tasty combinations. Often is our own “sweet tooth” that helps move chocolates off the shelves because some of us suffer a disease called “chocolate craving.” Yet, one thing is certain: today’s chocolates are generally sweeter than those of yesterday… either because they have thrice the amount of sugar, or because they no longer come from the bitter tears of slavery.

Works Cited

Chocolate House in London (18th Century). Digital image. “The World of Chocolate.” Worldstandards.eu. 2017. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. “The Tree of the Food of the Gods.” The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, Inc., 1996, New York, Print. Feb. 2017.

Fry’s Five Boys Milk Chocolate. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Jarrold & Sons, Ltd., 2 Dec. 2005. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.

“How Sugar is Made – the History.” SKIL – History of Sugar, 2017. Web. 6 Mar. 2017, http://www.sucrose.com/lhist.html

Martin, Carla. “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. 22 Feb. 2017. Harvard University Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Lecture. Mar. 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. 1 Mar. 2017. Harvard University Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Lecture. Mar. 2017.

Patton, Christi L., Ford, Laura P., and Daniel W. Crunkleton. Welcome to ChE: Chocolate Engineering. Strong Point Center in Process Systems Engineering, Trondheim, Norway. 2005. Web. 5 Mar. 2017. http://folk.ntnu.no/skoge/prost/proceedings/aiche-2005/non-topical/Non%20topical/papers/162e.pdf

Presilla, Maricel E. “Natural and Cultural History of Chocolate.” The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009, Berkeley, Print. Feb. 2017.

Real Sugar Prices and Sugar Consumption Per Capita in England, 1600-1850. Digital image.
“Sugar: How Much Is Too Much?” Normal Eating Blog. 18 Jun. 2012. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.

Walt Disney Records, DisneyMusicVEVO. “A Spoonful Of Sugar.” Mary Poppins. Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 1 Aug. 2014. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.


How Can Awareness Affect Chocolate Consumption?


Chocolate is a unique consumer’s item because it has exhaustive social and historical significance.  Chocolate is created in similar ways but the background of one chocolate bar can vary immensely when compared to that of another chocolate bar. Chocolate bars vary in cacao percentage, sugar amount, cacao origination, labor laws, and so many more complicated factors. When you walk into a store, chocolate seems like another typical food available for purchase, but it is much more complicated than that. The average American consumed almost ten pounds of chocolate in 2015 and that number continues to rise over the years (Satioquia-Tan, 2015). It is very clear that there has been a rise in chocolate consumption that does not appear to be ending anytime soon. In fact, chocolate production and sells bring in billions of dollars per year to many countries (Figure 1), making production a top profitable market (statistica, 2016). The appeal of chocolate is strong and there is no doubt about this.


Figure 1: Consumption of chocolate in dollars in different countries.


It is evident that this rise in chocolate consumption is due to increased advertisement and mass production (Martin, 2016) and the increase of the sugar market (Mintz, 1986). Of course, all of this seems clear because I have taken AfAm119X. I learned firsthand about the joys and perils of the chocolate market. With all the new information I learned about the chocolate industry, I am more skeptical with purchases. I question the fundamentals of where a chocolate originated and the labor laws in place for its production. Unfortunately, not much information is readily available to consumers so they do not have the necessary information to understand the social impacts behind chocolate consumption. If there are no problems associated with the chocolate industry, then new information should not change views on chocolate consumption. This is not the case, however. The easy accessibility of popular brands, constant advertising, and lack of information about exploitation and health consequences all promote chocolate consumption. If people were made more aware of problems in the chocolate industry, then there could be a decline in chocolate consumption which could push industries to better their practices and have more conscious efforts in production. In an interview with a Harvard senior, it was noticed that new information of the problems of the chocolate industry influenced her chocolate consumption.


The woman interviewed for this blog is a Harvard senior who considers herself to be an avid chocolate lover. She agreed to sit down twice for the interview because there were two parts assigned for the interview. Part one of this interview has general questions about chocolate consumption. Part one ended with the interviewee being shown new information, videos, and advertisements intended to bring awareness of some problems of the chocolate industry. Part two of this interview was conducted five days later and was intended to find whether or not the negative information influenced her chocolate consumption. After the entire interview had been conducted, the interviewer was awarded with chocolate of her choosing and her answers were analyzed. It was found that the interviewer lacked background information about chocolate and the new information did influence her choices.


Interviewer: “When I say the word chocolate, what are some of your first thoughts?”

Friend: “Delicious. Chocolate is delicious and I love it. It’s a great dessert and there are so many different chocolates to choose from. You can give it to people as presents or buy it for yourself.”

Interviewer: “How often would you say you buy chocolate?”

Friend: “A few times a week. I usually buy it on the weekends.”

Interviewer: “Is there any particular type that you buy more often?

Friend: “I usually buy Hershey’s or Almond Joy. Sometimes I’ll get Snickers or Kit-Kat.”

Interviewer: “Why these? What do you consider when you buy these?”

Friend: “It’s really easy to get it. It’s in the aisles but usually it is also at the register so it’s very tempting. Also, it is pretty cheap so I can usually get a lot of chocolate for a few dollars.”.

Interviewer: “How much would you say you know about chocolate?”

Friend: “I would say that I know a lot about the types of chocolate and what they have in them.”

Interviewer: “Would you say you know a lot about how they are made or where their products come from?”

Friend: “Probably not. I honestly just know about the chocolate brands that you find at like CVS. I know they are produced in factories and there is a lot of chocolate out there.”

Interviewer: “Would you say that chocolate is healthy?”

Friend” I have heard that dark chocolate is healthy so I think chocolate can have benefits.”


From the interviewee’s responses, it is very clear that she is a frequent consumer, yet she does not know very much information about chocolate production. The majority of her chocolate experiences come from the Big Five because they control 80% of the chocolate market (Martin, 2016). These companies have made buying their chocolate easily accessible and affordable. With their mass production success, they can continue to supply at such a demand. Not only do these chocolate companies mass produce their chocolate, but they also monopolize stores to market their chocolate as much as possible. For example, the interviewee mentioned the convenience of chocolate found at checkout (Figure 2). Consumers are advertised chocolate throughout the store in the aisles, but then they are advertised again at checkout to solidify the sell. This convenience is content merchandising (Blumenfeld, 2015).

Figure 2: Chocolate found at checkout register.

As one would predict, the exploitative side and influential advertising of chocolate production is hidden from the consumer. Chocolate making has a rich process behind it from cacao bean to bar but the consumer is hidden from this. The consumer is only advertised chocolate as a luxurious, desirable good that can only positively affect the consumer.


At this point in the interview, I informed the interviewee that I would give her new information about chocolate that I had learned in AfAm119X. I would proceed to ask her follow up questions and I would take notes of any reactions that she had to the information. I presented the information in the following order:

1. I showed her different advertisements from popular chocolate companies. I told her about how some of these advertisements were often hyper-sexualized women and advertisements were different for men or women audiences (Farhim, 2010). Or some ads were used to promote chocolate to children from a very young age (Fed Up, 2014). chocolate-ad-two       flakeaa0209_468x355

maxresdefault2. I gave her a chart of the benefits of cacao and advised her that popular chocolate bars, such as Hershey’s, were only made of 20% chocolate (Martin, 2016). I presented her with a nutrition label chart of a Snicker’s bar and pointed out that there was no daily value percentage assigned to the sugar information.



3. I told her the statistic that every metric cacao has only a $200 premium most of the profit does not go directly to the farmer (Martin, 2016).

4. I showed her some clips from the documentary “Fed Up”. The clips showed the major control that the sugar industry has on food today and its negative impact on health. I explained that many efforts to control this industry have been denied due to profit concerns (Fed Up, 2014).


Interviewer: “With this new information about chocolate behind-the-scenes, how do you feel about chocolate or what are some thoughts you are having?”

Friend: “I feel like I’ve been lied to before. I didn’t know that a chocolate bar was more sugar than actual chocolate. I also never really considered how much farmers were exploited and overworked just so that I could eat a chocolate bar. All of this information makes me believe that there is a bad side to the chocolate industry that I didn’t know about.”

Interviewer: “Which of these would you say is sticking with you more?”

Friend: “I’m actually quite upset with the Fed Up clips that you showed me. I can’t believe that there is such a monopoly in advertisements. They influence children and adults and work to stop change from happening. I almost feel responsible like I should only buy chocolate that is more socially conscious.”

Interviewer: “Who would you say is responsible for these problems?”

Friend: “The chocolate companies and politics. It is unfair that we don’t know this information because they are afraid that their sales will decrease. It is my fault as well though for not questioning the production of chocolate.”


The interviewee had a very negative reaction to the new information. She was angered by the lack of information available to the consumer. Even though this information is not available to consumers, it affects them indirectly or directly when they consume chocolate. When consumers increase their demand for chocolate, chocolate companies must increase their demand of cacao. This could cause more exploitation of farmers to meet the demand, which is an indirect effect. Directly, chocolate is about 80% sugar so one chocolate bar could exceed the recommended daily consumption amount (Martin, 2016).

A particularly interesting finding of this interview was that the interviewee was mostly offended by the advertising efforts of companies. Many companies target children from very young ages because if they can accustom them to the consumption of their product when young, at older ages they will continue to buy the products (Fed Up, 2014). Children are much more impressionable to such advertisements and companies monopolize on that fact. The advertising efforts begin at home when children watch television and they continue elsewhere. The interviewee’s reaction to this shows that people would be angered if they had the necessary information. Chocolate companies have mastered the act of hiding their problems and promoting the taste of their chocolate.


Interviewer: “How did this new information affect you?”

Friend: “I feel like it prevented me from buying as much chocolate as I normally would. I also bought some different type of chocolate that advertised that it had higher percentages of cacao. I considered buying chocolate that had more of a story on its label. It made me more aware of my purchases.”

Interviewer: “What were your overall feelings when you bought the new chocolate and what did you consider?”

Friend: “When I tried to buy the popular chocolate brands, I felt guilty. I didn’t want to know that I was being a part of the manipulation of the sugar industry. Plus, the other chocolate is healthier and still tastes somewhat good.”


Even though this was only one person, a bit of new information about the problems in the chocolate industry were influential. The information from part one affected what the interviewee considered when buying chocolate. In fact, she no longer considered easy accessibly and cheap cost. Instead, she was more conscious about the background of the chocolate bar and its health benefits. It has been known that chocolate can cause feelings of guilt because there is a false dichotomy (Martin, 2016). However, the feelings of guilt that the interviewee felt were due to her lack of information about exploitation and advertising. After learning the new information, the interviewee made an active change to her consumerism. She avoided Big Five chocolate companies and attempted to buy more socially conscious chocolate.

It is important to acknowledge the social issues that were presented to the interviewee. Sugar consumption is at a high and chocolate companies monopolize on this. Mass production of chocolate leads to high demand which can increase exploitation. Advertisement efforts often target children and women. Each of these issues alone is problematic but they persist anyhow. People are not aware of these issues so there is increasing success of major chocolate companies. One interviewee’s consumption practices were changed with some new information which signals that more awareness about the problems in the chocolate industry could influence many more people.


Chocolate industries have manipulated information available to their consumers. They manipulate country taxes to exploit countries’ cacao profits (Sylla, 2014). They manipulate the health information known about chocolate. Their success in advertisements, mass production, and low cost mask the problems of chocolate production. Even though this is true, a bit of awareness could influence consumers. The interviewee made changes in her consumption and others could too. Next time, buy a Taza Chocolate bar!

Works Cited

Blumenfeld, J. (2015). The art of chocolate: Woo customers with craft, story and health. New Hope Network.

Farhim, J. (2010). Beyond cravings: Gender and class desires in chocolate marketing. Occidental College; OxyScholar.

Fed Up, documentary. (2014). Film.

Martin, C. (2016). Introduction to chocolate, culture, and the politics of food. Harvard College, Lecture.

Mintz, S. (1986). Sweetness and Power.

Satioquia-Tan, J. (2015). Americans Eat HOW MUCH chocolate?. CNBC.

Statista.com. (2016). Statistics and facts on the chocolate industry.

Sylla, N. (2014). The fair trade scandal.


The Oh-So-Convenient Sugar Aisle

When you traverse around a convenient store for your necessary groceries and finally make it to the front counter, you begin to notice a bright array of sugary delights staring upwards at you as you wait lethargically in line for the cashier to call “NEXT!” You begin to think, “well, I am craving something sweet…and that’s not too expensive” before picking up a chocolate bar and adding it to your tab. But have you ever stopped to wonder why it may be that the candy isle is so conveniently located at the check-out around waist-level when it already has a bigger isle devoted to it right in the back of the store? Coincidence? Well it is surely far from it.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 3.28.34 PM.png

A candy selection at the checkout counter of a generic convenient store. Notice the placement of the isle and physical height. 


In this blog post, a discussion will arise pertaining to the varying types of chocolate bars sold at a convenient store such as CVS, the history and contents of this selection of chocolate, and all in relation to contemporary issues in sugar and obesity in youth, harkening back to the advent in the rise of sugar amidst the chocolate industry historically.

Among the selection of candy bars sold at CVS there include, but are not limited to: Reese’s, Twix, Hershey’s chocolate bar, M&Ms, Butterfinger, Kit Kat, 3 Musketeers, and the like. Such inexpensive candy bars tend to sell at a price at or around $1 USD. Interestingly enough, although there seems to be a wide selection of candy bars at these check-out counters, oftentimes all these bars fall under roughly three major chocolate companies: Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle. After Henry Nestle’s creation of milk chocolate in 1875, the chocolate conglomerate race began. In the 1920s, competition began to run starkly between Hershey’s and Mars with Forest Mar’s cheap but selling creation of the Milky Way. When customers would approach the candy counter back then and see a flat Hershey’s bar adjacent to a bulging, thick Milky Way, they surely chose the latter, raising sales for Hershey’s competitor (Brenner). What was interesting about Mar’s company as well as the big chocolate companies back then, was that even though they were putting out over 20 million candy bars, their infrastructures didn’t actually appear on the outside as manufacturing plants. Instead, they adopted cultural architectural styles, and had magnificent grass lawns; in essence, an emulation of a utopia (Brenner). But competition really wasn’t too strong between Hershey’s and Mars all the time: when Hershey’s was starting out with Mars, Mars was actually helping sales of the former by purchasing its chocolate coating and Hershey’s would make specific chocolate coatings for different Mars bars. Unfortunately, candy spies arose amidst these companies, with workers disguising themselves to find secrets about the chocolate making of these large companies, thereby contributing to a rise in competition (Brenner).

            Soon these companies realized they could add other materials inside their candy bars such as nougat or even peanut butter, racing each other with novel inventions and mass or bulk production of chocolate. And with industrialization underway by the late 1800s, culinary modernism–a period of processed and bulk production of food (especially cacao)–was prominent entering into the 20th century (Laudan, 2001). Representing these industrial manufacturing plants as utopias and embodying American values, companies like Hershey’s would be found producing commercials that represent core American values and common societal motifs. Yet not only was industrialization helping these companies sell their products, but a steep rise in sugar consumption was also attracting customers. In 1830-1840, with a drop in the price of sugar by over 30%, the working and middle class were beginning to outnumber consumption rates over the wealthy, with sugar being added to most foods, especially tea and chocolate products. Children at young ages were now being accustomed to larger caloric intakes of sugar, as sugar began to represent, and continues to represent, the most significant upward production curve of any other food item on the market over the course of several centuries (Mintz, p. 142-145; Martin, Lecture 7).

            Consequently, with a rise in cacao production, the manufacturing of bulk or processed candy, and higher sugar intake in these processed items, major ethical issues have arisen. As a matter of fact, when looking at the nutritional facts and ingredients in a Hershey’s candy bar, one may be surprised to find out that a generic Hershey’s Chocolate Bar only has roughly 11% cacao content. If that is the case, then one may ask what the remaining contents are; the answer being mostly milk and sugar. Simply put, the chocolate bars you may find at a store like CVS may be considered mere imposters or cheats of chocolate bars when you consider that a purchase of such a bar that brands itself as a “chocolate” bar only has at or around a tenth of chocolate in all [See: Washington Post below].

Washington Post: Chocolate By the Numbers 

Article explaining the cacao contents in contemporary chocolate


More frightening is the fact that such bars contain nearly the entire daily recommended percentage value of sugar intake and over a fifth of the daily amount of fat intake  As a result, it is noteworthy to inquire as to why these candy bars are being purchased in such high quantities, and as to who these companies attract as their target audiences.

Going back to an observation made in the introduction of this discussion, it should be reiterated that not only is the candy isle located both in the back of the store and at the check-out counter, but that it is also conveniently placed at waist level: keyword being convenient. Convenient for whom? Children! The wider selection of the back-of-the-store candy isle can be found stocked with finer chocolates such as Lint Bars or Ghirardelli, but take notice that the front checkout counter merely contains your $1 candy bars supplied by Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle. And this all makes sense now when shining the light on youth. Given the sweet tooth common among children, Lint Bars and 72% cacao may not be enough for their desperate taste buds. Instead, they may desire the high, sugary content of a Reese’s bar or M&Ms, flashing over 24 grams of sugar. Yet oftentimes a caring parent avoids the candy isle. But what he/she cannot avoid is the child’s stare at the array of colorful candy bars as mom/dad pulls out the credit card to pay for the groceries. Clearly, manufacturing companies like Mars team up with store owners to win over their target audiences: youth. Colorful candy wrappers and animated characters, teamed up with a beautifully placed, waist-line presence of candy bars, mom and dad cannot help but cease the wining and begging of their children, ultimately conceding to the purchase of a sugar-packed candy bar from one of the top chocolate conglomerates.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 3.42.12 PM.png

The animated characters that candy companies utilize to help attract youth. 


As a result, significant ethical issues have arisen, especially over the current decade and continuing on into the present: namely, in relation to sugar consumption and child obesity. As the documentary film “Fed Up” mentions, “They’re in business to make money, not to make America healthy” (“Fed Up”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVX6_LzX4mM ). What is more interesting is to find recent research studies supporting the findings that the human brain reacts similarly to sugar intake as it does to drugs such as cocaine (Serge, Karine, and Youna, 2013). The reward pathway in the brain lights up nearly identical to that of the reaction to the intake of hard drugs. In fact, the dopamine reward pathway of someone who consumes sugar has more activity than someone who is obese, and the person who is obese shows a similarly dulled dopamine response as someone who is addicted to drugs (http://mic.com/articles/88015/what-happens-to-your-brain-on-sugar-explained-by-science#.52zWKxwvS). What this shows is that sugar intake can be a very dangerous aspect of human culture, but more so, that with the rise in sugar production and consumption significantly, and with a target audience of youth for candy companies, issues are arising. Looking back at the 1800s, the average American consumer consumed what is now equivalent to the amount of sugar in one can of soda, but during the length of five days. Now in the second millennium, that 5-day intake has risen to over fifteen cans of soda or nearly 20 times the amount of sugar intake.

The Rise in Sugar Consumption


According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), obesity rates in youth ages 6-11 years old rose from 7% (1980) to 18% (2012), almost three times the amount, tagging almost one in five children as obese, and one third of youth and adolescence combined falling under the category of obesity. With cheap prices, flashy advertising, and high sugar/calorie contents of these candy bars, the rise in obesity in youth and teens is strongly increasing, posing risks for cancer, cardiovascular health, diabetes, and obesity during adulthood, which may further affect offspring and their further risk for obesity and related health problems (http://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm).

In summary, current society is posed with a vital issue at hand: obesity. And much of this problem can lend itself to the big candy companies who continue to contribute significantly to the rise in production and consumption of sugar. Adding to their sales repertoire, flashy candy wrappers, color cartoon mascots, joyful commercial advertisements, and conveniently placed candy at convenient stores for youth to run into, candy companies and stores like CVS are only contributing to the problem. The CDC points out that statistics for child and adolescent obesity are rapidly increasing and posing risks for adulthood and future generations. Documentary films such as “Fed Up” attempt to expose the sugar industry and the issues at hand. And parents claim to be trying hard to provide healthy alternatives to their children. Yet issues are still arising and issues will continue to arise until the conglomerates are staunchly confronted. Until then, they may hide behind flashy advertisements and commercials that appear to embody true American values, concealing the truth of crushing these values with issues like obesity.

Works Cited

Ahmed, Serge H., Karine Guillem, and Youna Vandaele. “Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit.” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care 16.4 (2013): 434-439.

Brenner, Joel. 2000. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. chapters 5, 13 pp. 49-69, 179-194.


“Chocolate By the Numbers.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.

Kate, Nina. “The Cacao And Cognition Connection | HoneyColony.” HoneyColony. N.p., 12 Mar. 2013. Web. 03 May 2016.

Laudan, Rachel. “A Plea for Culinary Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food”. Gastronomica 1.1 (2001): 36–44.

Mintz, Sidney W. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power. pp. 142-145






Sugar becomes the Opiate of the Masses


Sugar was introduced into the British Empire as a luxury of the rich, over time and across many uses, it found its way into the homes of the average man and also became a staple in the everyday diet. How and why this change occurred is of great importance into understanding the shift in the consumption of sugar. Sugar was introduced as a spice and medicine into the British household, but came to included three other uses: as a decoration, sweetener and preservative. As sugar moved down the list of its uses, it also had social and economic impacts. The progression of sugar usage effected consumption in the British society and caused the shift from sugar as a luxurious good to an opiate of the masses.

In the early decades of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, Britain established Caribbean plantations for the sole purpose of growing sugar cane. Britain’s first attempt at doing this occurred upon the establishment of Jamestown in 1607 which was the first English colony in the New World (Mintz 36). Sugar cane was brought in 1619 as were the first African slaves to reach the English colony (Mintz 36). Unfortunately, the sugar cane would not grow. The British Empire was hard pressed to see this mission successful as there was a high demand for sugar at home.

Slaves working in a sugar cane plantation in British-West Indies
A Sugar Cane Plantation in the West Indies

The settlement of Barbados in 1627 proved to be the turning point in British attempts as production with the successful production of “clayed sugars” and “muscovado”. (Mintz 37). “The first British sugar islands was Barbados followed by St Kitts, Nevis, Antigua and Jamaica. Grenada and Trinidad were added to the bunch in the late 19th century” (clements.umich.edu). Sugar supply for Britain now came directly from her settlements in the West Indies and added drastically to the consumption of sugar at home as it was now more accessible. “As supply for sugar increased, England’s demands for sugar kept pace. So much so that productions on the islands were barely able to keep up” (Mintz 39). Britain was importing huge amounts of sugar and the condiment in question came to define the “English Character” (Mintz 39).

Sugar Mill, Standard Mill in the West Indies
Sugar Mill


The sugar trade was successful because it was a highly priced commodity regardless of the volatility of the sugar market, the demands for it rose as consumption did (clements.umich.edu).  Sugar production increased as a direct correlation of its consumption. As availability of sugar rose in Britain, so did the many uses of sugar. The British households found new ways to incorporate sugar into their social lives.

British sugar consumption chart
British Sugar Consumption Chart

Mintz mentions five uses of sugar: 1) as medicine, 2) spice-condiment, 3) decorative material, 4) as a sweetener, 5) as a preservative. The use of sugar in these many forms although coming into usage progressively, also happened interchangeably. Sugar was first introduced into the British household as a Spice and Medicine, in this form, it remained a luxurious good only available to the rich. “The first written mention of sugar was in the pipe scrolls, the official records of royal income and expenditures in 1154-89(Mintz 82).  The quantities of sugar at this time were relatively small and since this was an account of the expenditures of the rich, meant that only this class of people could afford to consume sugar. “By the thirteenth century, sugar was still being sold by the loaf and by the pound and although still quite pricey and only accessible to the rich, it was now available even in the remotest areas” (Mintz 82). The shift from a luxury to a commodity available to all would happen in the sixteenth and seventeenth century and with the introduction of other uses of sugar.


In the seventeenth century, the use of sugar as a spice declined and this time period, “saw the prices, supplies and customary uses of sugar change rapidly” (Mintz 86). Sugar featured as a decorative item after this time and was not only available to the noble and rich but now made its way downward to the middle class. As sugar progressed in the list of uses, so did the decline in its exclusiveness and the more prolific it became, the more it was consumed by all. Sugar consumption also had economic ramification as well, “the decline in sugar importance went hand in hand with its increase in economic and dietary importance” (Mintz 95). As sugar became more plentiful, it now became available to the poor.

Sugar became available to the poor in the form of a sweetener and preservative; this accessibility would be responsible for the upward swing of the consumption of sugar. The rise of chocolate, tea and coffee into the British household massively contributed to the large amount of sugar consumption. The use of sugar as a sweetener in tea propelled the “Sugar Equalization Act” which removed the import tariff and lowered the price of sugar of which the direct result was the proliferation of sugar everywhere (clements.umich.edu). The poor used sugar not only as a sweetener but also to supplement their diets as well.

As sugar become more widely used in many forms, it made its way into the household of all citizens regardless of class, this was directly responsible in the shift of sugar consumption in the British society. Sugar in the form of a sweetener and preservative became an everyday commodity, which meant that consumption would greatly rise as it permeated every single dish that was eaten by the British citizens. This standard has come to hold true across the world as sugar features in every single dietary item we consume. However, there is a marked difference in the reception of this commodity, at some point highly revered, sugar is now a social pariah, an evil that has been thrust upon society and should be eradicated.



Scholarly Sources:

Clements.umich.edu. Sugar In The Atlantic World. 1923. Document. 21 March 2016.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York: Penguin, 1985. 274. Print.

Multimedia Sources:

brave.info, land of the. Sugar Act. n.d. image. 21 March 2016.

clements.umich.edu. Sugar In The Atlantic World. 1923. image. 21 March 2016.

czarnikow.com. The Inconvenient Truth about Sugar Consumption. 1 May 2014. image. 21 March 2016.






















Slave-free Sugar: exploring the economic linkages between sugar, British industrialization, and abolition

As the global commodification of sugar served to enrich European markets, laying the groundwork for an industrialized and pre-capitalist economy, the discourse around the abolition of slavery also shifted. The growing efficacy of arguments for the abolishment of slavery coincided with the emergence of technological advances and changed  labor needs. In short, as the efficiencies around sugar production increased to drastically decrease the amount of human capital required in its production, the need for slave labor diminished.

For example, the scholar Eric Williams, in what is now referred to as the “Williams Thesis”, argued that central to the development of Britain’s economy into a capitalist and industrial one was its accumulation of economic surplus through slavery and that it was the decline of the  sugar economy rather  than morality that led to Britain’s abolishment  of slavery and slave trade in the British West Indies. [1] In Capitalism and Slavery, it was “the commercial capitalism of the eighteenth century developed the wealth of Europe by means of slavery and monopoly. But in so doing it helped to create the industrial capitalism of the nineteenth century, which turned round and destroyed the power of commercial capitalism, slavery” explains Williams. [2] In Sweetness and Power, Mintz explains that during debates against and for both the slave trade and slavery, the future of Britain’s sugar production figured into such discussions. [3] (Mintz, 1985, p. 68)

Not all scholars shared Williams view, for example Solow explains how Eltis and Engerman, respected scholars, countered that Britain’s sugar industry when compared to its others was not its most dominant nor did it have strongest ties to Europe’s economic growth and development. [4] (Solow, 2014, p. 49) While the economic debate around the linkages between Atlantic trade and the industrialization of Britain are contested, scholars like Inikori have clarified that the central concern of Capitalism and Slavery was Williams exploration of the causality between “between industrial capitalism in England and the abolition of the slave trade and slavery by the British government” [5] (Inikori, 2012, p. 14) and demonstrate the overall economic basis of  British abolition. [6]  

On the other hand, economic linkage between slavery and sugar consumption in Britain was very much in the public consciousness; for abolitionists, it was a link they attempted to break through a campaign of public awareness, consumer activism through the boycott of sugar from the British West Indies. [7] (Carmichael, 2015, p. 8) In protesting the horrors of slavery, abolitionists called upon the British people to abstain from consuming and buying sugar from the British West Indies, thought to be derived from slave labor,  to undermine the economic foundations of slavery through collective action. [8] (p. 25)

Changing consumer habits based on increasing consumer awareness of how  a product was produced or not produced was central to the consumer’s economic resistance to slavery, which included buycotts. For example, a strategy adopted included other colonial sugar producers marketing their product as “free sugar” signaling to consumers that the commodity was derived from non-slave labor which may have correlated with “positive brand association (Figure 1). [9] (p. 67) This technique is not too dissimilar from today’s usage of certifications of the ethical and sustainably sourced/produced products, like coffee and chocolate for example. 

Figure 1. East India Sugar Bowl

Finally, the development of print culture introduced new strategies for promoting the boycott campaign included literary and visual materials to shape the public discourse. [10] (p. 26) For example, in 1791 James Gillray released “Barbarities in the West Indies‟ a cartoon satirising horrors and atrocities of sugar slavery (Figure 2) , the image worked to make explicit the link between human suffering  and violence  through the institution of slavery and sugar sourced from the British West Indies.

NPG D12417; 'Barbarities in the West Indies' by James Gillray, published by  Hannah Humphrey
Figure 2. Barbarities in the West Indies, by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey, hand-coloured etching, published 23 April 1791 (NGP D12417)

All in all,  historical scholars continue to debate to what extent sugar played a role in Britain’s industrialization and the emergence of capitalism, arguing primarily the economic importance of sugar to Britain overall. However, even while this is the  subject of ongoing  historical debate, it may be reasonably inferred that for many British consumers, the economic link between sugar and their consumer behavior  and consumption habits  was well understood. This is most easily demonstrated in their resistance to slavery using economic strategies like the boycott of British West India sugar and buycott East India sugar. This would become one of the earliest examples of consumer and food activism. 


[1] Selwyn H. H. Carrington. (2003). Capitalism & Slavery and Caribbean Historiography: An Evaluation. The Journal of African American History, 88(3), 304–312. http://doi.org/10.2307/3559074

[2] Williams, Eric (2015-09-17). Capitalism and Slavery (Kindle Locations 5839-5843). Lulu.com. Kindle Edition.

[3] Mintz, S. W. (1985). Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin.

[4] Solow, B. L. (2014). The Economic Consequences of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

[5] Inikori, J. E. (2002). Africans and the industrial revolution in England: A study in international trade and economic development. New York: Cambridge University Press.

[6]  Ibid.

[7] Carmichael, L. (2015). Fetishism and the Moral Marketplace: How Abolitionist Sugar Boycotts in the 1790s Defined British Consumers and the West Indian” Other” (Master’s Thesis,Victoria University of Wellington). Retrieved from http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10063/4941/thesis.pdf?sequence=1.

[8]  Ibid.

[9] Ibid.


Carmichael, L. (2015). Fetishism and the Moral Marketplace: How Abolitionist Sugar Boycotts in the 1790s Defined British Consumers and the West Indian” Other” (Master’s Thesis,Victoria University of Wellington). Retrieved from http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10063/4941/thesis.pdf?sequence=1.

Inikori, J. E. (2002). Africans and the industrial revolution in England: A study in international trade and economic development. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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

Selwyn H. H. Carrington. (2003). Capitalism & Slavery and Caribbean Historiography: An Evaluation. The Journal of African American History, 88(3), 304–312. http://doi.org/10.2307/3559074

Solow, B. L. (2014). The Economic Consequences of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Williams, Eric (2015-09-17). Capitalism and Slavery (Kindle Locations 5839-5843). Lulu.com. Kindle Edition.


Figure 1. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:East_India_Sugar_not_made_by_Slaves_Glass_sugar_bowl_BM.jpg

Figure 2. http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portraitLarge/mw61443/Barbarities-in-the-West-Indias-Indies


Economics + Transatlantic Slave Trade = Racism

In today’s world, racism unfortunately still exists, but to acknowledge why racism is still existent, one needs to pinpoint the relationship between African Americans and slavery, and ask, why Africans in particular were enslaved. Eric Williams, historian & former Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago answers this question stating, “The reason was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the laborer, but the cheapness of the labor.” What he is arguing here is that Africans were not enslaved because they were naturally set to be enslaved, they weren’t enslaved because they were known to be better workers. They were first enslaved because they were the cheapest and easiest population to get at and to quickly and efficiently move to the new world to begin producing these goods (Martin).  Racism was a byproduct of the transatlantic slave trade and not the reason for it because it was primarily driven by economic considerations/justifications as illustrated by the encomienda system which was very much structured like the European feudal structures.

enclomendia picpyrud meowmadisonlong_1385062049

(Source: https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/infogram-particles-700/madisonlong_1385062049.jpg)

The conquerors used Native Americans to farm the land and work the mines to produce wealth, the system of force labor is called the Encomienda System. These activities provided food for the population and products for the trade with Europe and the east. The Encomienda System was similar to The Manor System in Medieval Europe or the Feudal System. Instead of having nobles as lords who controlled the peasants, in this case the Spanish were the lords, and the Native Americans were like the peasants. The Spanish claimed that the Encomienda system would benefit both settlers and Indians. The idea is that they would come with their superior intellect and military might to protect and care for the indigenous people, and thereby save their souls by baptizing them or by making them Christian. In return, the indigenous people would work a portion of their time for Spanish settlers, and give them a tribute of their crops, such as a form of cacao, often 10’s of thousands of cacao beans per year (Martin). The reality played out differently.


(Source: http://cdn.dipity.com/uploads/events/0d8054001025d85654853dd5f81d502e_1M.png)

The Spanish settlers forced long labor on different crops. They didn’t pay indigenous workers. They failed to protect them, and they also seized their lands as time went on. So indigenous people were unable to pay tribute the Spaniards would claim their lands as theirs. And as a result, indigenous people died from a variety of different diseases in which they didn’t have immunity and experienced harsh living, and working conditions. The Encomienda system really went on until it was clear that demographic collapse was imminent that the clergy protested. So the Spanish clergy in this area of the world protested and the indigenous people themselves revolted against it. However abuses continued (Martin). After the indigenous slave labor proved to be insufficient, Chattel slavery is what the Europeans turned to next.

slave20trade20map1(Source: http://macquirelatory.com/Slave%20Trade/slave%20trade%20map.jpg)

Chattel Slavery, slavery in which people are treated as the chattel (personal property) of an owner, and are bought and sold as commodities had the greatest result from sugar (Martin). As sugar was a rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, and a necessity by 1850, the enslavement of Africans was disseminated by Europeans who prosecuted and profited from the slave trade for three centuries (Mintz 148).  “The institutionalization of slavery in the New World led directly to the Transatlantic slave trade due to the fact that demand for slaves outpaced the growth in supply by natural increase nearly everywhere in the Americas”(Cumo). As there was massive demand for labor, the Europeans looked to Africa. The African’s themselves sold African slaves as a commodity in return for goods such as rum, guns, textiles and other goods to exchange for slaves, and then transported them across the Atlantic to sell to plantation-owners, and then returned with sugar and coffee, also fueled the first great wave of economic globalization (The Economist). By the Africans selling their own people, they enriched their own realms and strengthened them too. This is where the dehumanization aimed at Africans begins.

It was, after all, in the interest of slave traders and slave owners to propagate the myth that Africans were not human beings, or at least not fully human, a species different from the rest of humanity most likely due to the pro-slavery lobby that lived on. Thus, it is the idea of racial hierarchy, developed, refined and disseminated by Europeans over such a spectrum of time where racism really initiated against African Americans. It is not clear why Europeans fixated on the skin color of Africans. Imaginably, they did so simply because the physical appearance of blacks was as markedly different from their own and, regarding themselves as superior beings, most Europeans associated a series of negative characteristics with blacks (Olusoga). Also, it was thought that Africans were said to “be able to need less food, and be able to withstand the elements better than whites”, this here is social and psychological violence falsely generated to dehumanize Africans (Asante). The false claims of blacks that was intentionally imagined preceded slavery and helped to justify it.

In conclusion, without European slave traders, slave buyers, slave insurers, slave sailors, slave auctioneers, and slave owners, there would have been no transport of Africans across the sea for enslavement, and therefore no racism developed. Further exploration on this topic would be to watch the multimedia source below, and see the further developed myth of racism that stemmed from economics and the byproduct of the transatlantic slave trade to this day. Although racism is a myth derived, developed, and changed from generation to generation, the impact of racism is very real to this day.

Works Cited:

Asante, Molefi Kete. The Ideology of Racial Hierarchy and the Construction of the European Slave Trade. Vol. 3. 2001. Web. 01 Mar. 2016.

Cumo, Christopher. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1750–1900.” World History Encyclopedia. Alfred J. Andrea. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Credo Reference. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

International: Breaking the chains; slavery. (2007, Feb 24). The Economist, 382, 64-73. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 5: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 6: Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

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

Olusoga, David. “The Roots of European Racism Lie in the Slave Trade, Colonialism – and Edward Long | David Olusoga.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.