While slavery has technically been abolished in much of the world since the end of the 19th century, that does not prevent it from still occurring. Specifically, the chocolate and sugar production industries are notorious for slavery and poor labor conditions in the production of their products. Tactics were used by various chocolate and sugar producers to distance themselves from slavery while still supporting the system. The companies and its leadership would appear to be anti-slavery and pro-livable working conditions, however, those same companies used slaves in their production chains or ignored the use of slavery elsewhere. This allowed the companies to continue to use free and cheap labor to increase their profit while maintaining a positive public image.
The major concerns of all companies are profit and public image. Profit keeps the business afloat and successful. Public image ensures that consumers will continue to buy the company’s product, further helping their profit. These aspects take precedence over ethical dilemmas that companies may face even if the leadership of that company might strongly believe in resolving the ethical dilemma. A prime example of this is how the Cadbury company handled allegations that slavery existed in São Tomé and Príncipe, where they purchased over 45% of their cocoa for chocolate production (Satre 18).
The Cadbury family was known not only for being liberal and progressive but also decidedly anti-slavery. George Cadbury, the chairman, was a Quaker with many humanitarian and abolitionist friends, a member of the Anti-Slavery Society and the owner of the Daily News (London), which he used as a platform for the Liberal Party to advance its agenda that included abolition (Satre 16, 21). Cadbury even has a blue plaque publicly displayed in the United Kingdom professing his dedication to philanthropy, suggesting that he had an ethical and moral compass.
William Cadbury, another member of the company, when dealing with the issue of slavery in São Tomé and Príncipe constantly expressed interest in stopping it. In June 1902, he wrote, in reference to the Angola slave trade “I am willing to help any organised plan that your Society may suggest for the definite purpose of putting a stop to the slave trade of this district,” (Satre 22) clearly showing his support for ending the slave trade. However, all this talk of support was met with very little action that benefited the enslaved community in São Tomé and Príncipe that produced nearly a majority of the cacao purchased by the Cadbury company. It was not until seven years after Cadbury received the initial reports of slavery that their own commissioned report on the problem was hesitantly released (Satre 32).
The image of morality extended to the company itself. Scholar Charles Dellheim discusses the company culture of Cadbury and throughout the beginning, he attests to the ethical values held by Cadbury. The first things he says about Cadbury is “The Quaker beliefs of the Cadbury family shaped the ethic of the firm” and “The Cadburys practiced benevolence” (Dellheim 14). The fact that he opened with this praise of Cadbury ethics shows that the public image of Cadbury as an ethical company was strong and prominent. And they still had yet to actually stop purchasing cacao from plantations in São Tomé and Príncipe where slavery was present.
This disconnect between their talk and action was largely driven by Cadbury’s desire to increase profits and maintain a positive public image. William Cadbury, who was known to be liberal and anti-slavery, explained that the slavery he faced with his company now appeared different to him. He “admitted that one ‘looks at these matters in a different light when it affects one’s own interests’” (Satre 19) and he displayed this inability to see the issue of slavery as the same because it affected his own interests when he explained that Cadbury “should all like to clear our hands of any responsibility for slave traffic in any form” (qtd in Satre 19). This approach to slavery is very different from what he portrayed before about putting an end to the slave trade. Here, he wants to dissolve any responsibility that he or the company has with the existence of slavery, but it does not necessarily follow that slavery must be abolished for this to happen. In fact, when they eventually boycotted cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe, slavery was not eradicated, instead, they were no longer responsible and another chocolate company took their spot in purchasing cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe.
Despite the Cadbury’s professed commitment to abolition, they still allowed slavery to continue in São Tomé and Príncipe because ending it would “affect [their] own interests,” meaning the profit of their country. It would be costly to try to move production elsewhere and additionally pay more to purchase the new cacao because the laborers would actually be paid wages. Even Cadbury said, as paraphrased by Sir Martin Gosselin, that “this might mean paying a somewhat higher price at first; but they were ready to make this sacrifice, if by so doing they could put a stop to a disguised slave Trade” (Satre 24). Unfortunately, if this were truly the case, Cadbury would have worked to end the slave trade in São Tomé and Príncipe rather than just leave the region, still open to slavery, because they started to get pressure from their consumers.
Through all of this, Cadbury was additionally protecting their public image. While publicly they seemed to be anti-slavery, it is clear that their actions did not reflect that. However, they continued to push the image that they were moral, ethical and fair. Cadbury had several ads claiming that they chocolate was “pure”. Once such ad is shown below. While pure probably literally meant that there were physically no additives that might contaminate the chocolate, the word choice connotes a sort of innocence. Purity is associated with something clean, moral and without scandal.
Even in the report, they had commissioned on the working conditions in São Tomé and Príncipe, they sugar-coated the issue. There was an initial report that was revised to be less offensive to the Portuguese government and Higgs describes the difference in Chocolate Islands saying “The most striking difference between the two reports was the careful language in the 1907 version. As Burtt acknowledged, great care was taken to avoid ‘referring to the serviçaes as slaves or to the serviçal system as slavery, because, approaching the matter as I did with an open mind, I have wished to avoid question-begging epithets”(Higgs 136). Intuitively it would follow that Cadbury would look to end slavery in order to preserve their public image. However, their public image did not depend on whether slavery exists, it depended on whether they were tied to the slavery that exists, or as Cadbury put it, they were responsible for the slavery. Instead of actually working to end slavery, Cadbury looked to distance itself from the slavery that existed in their supply chain. This meant that they moved their production elsewhere, but did not ensure that slavery actually ended. As a result, the slavery continued even after they stopped purchasing from São Tomé and Príncipe.
In the following podcast, the story of William Cooper is explored. William Cooper was similarly anti-slavery and even started his own sugar production company that did not use slave labor. However, he owned slaves himself. Again, there is a contradiction between what is ultimately done versus the principles he held.
Ultimately, the motivations of profit and public image drive companies to do things that may not seem to fit with what they believe ethically. This creates a huge gap in justice and equality in production. It also allows the companies to feign ethics and morality without actually acting in defense of those things.
Cadbury. Cadbury magazine advertisement. The Advertising Archives. 1900,
Millions of tons of chocolate are produced each year, yet few today would guess that this sugary treat had its origins in frothy, semi-sweet cacao drinks prepared for Maya and Aztec royalty. Chocolate bars, candies, cakes, and pastries are the most popular forms of the food in most of the US and Europe today. Chocolate milk and hot chocolate retain some basic similarity with the cacao drinks of thousands of years ago, yet they combine the chocolate with milk, sugar, and other ingredients that would have been foreign to the Maya and Aztecs. Yet, in Mexico, a tradition of cacao beverages has been preserved from the fall of the Aztec empire to the present day. In this paper, I investigate modern cacao drinks and argue that though they are often marketed with references to the Maya and Aztecs, modern drinks represent a unique hybridity of ancient traditions and European ingredients and styles of preparation.
Chemical analysis has shown that cacao beverages were produced in Mesoamerica as early as 1100 BCE. Cacao beverages were prepared by both the Maya and Aztec, and were considered very precious because cacao beans were used as a form of currency. Maya drinks, especially those produced in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, were known for being prepared hot, while Aztec cacao drinks were generally cold. In Aztec times, cacao beverages were often prepared in different ways depending on the quality of the cacao. High quality cacao was combined with water and frothed, while lower-quality cacao was often combined with other ingredients, including corn, seeds, chili peppers, vanilla, and other flowers. By the time the Spanish arrived in the 1600’s, cacao beverages were sold in markets across Mexico, though cacao remained expensive and had high social significance. Because of the wide range of different flavorings combined with cacao drinks, different regions of present-day Mexico each had unique interpretations of cacao beverages during Aztec times.
Today, Mexico still has a wide range of cacao-based drinks available in different regions of the country. During lecture on February 1st, we watched a video detailing the preparation of Champurrado, a popular chocolate beverage in Mexico today. In this video, the drink is prepared using pre-processed bars of dark chocolate, rather than the raw cacao that would have been used in ancient beverages. Additionally, the Champurrado is mixed with sugar, milk, cinnamon, and star anise – additions that are distinctively European. However, Champurrado also contains masa harina (a form of corn flour) and water, and makes use of a traditional molinillo (an item introduced to Mesoamerica by the Spanish) to mix the ingredients and create a froth. Though the mixture of cacao and water is distinctively Mesoamerican, the additional ingredients and use of a molinillo reflect the influence of Spanish colonialism.
However, Champurrado is just one of many popular cacao drinks in Mexico today – and just one of many unique combinations of ancient recipes and European influences. Today there are a variety of different cacao drinks made in different regions of Mexico, for example bu’pu in Tehuantepec, chorote in Tabasco, tascalate in Chiapas, and tejate in Oaxaca.
Tejate is perhaps the most authentic, as archaeological research has shown that many of its ingredients, as well as the vessels it is served in, reflect the style of cacao beverages produced in Oaxaca for thousands of years. According to a 2009 article from The Atlantic, in tejate’s recipe “you’ll almost always find a blend of nixtamal corn, cacao beans, mamey seed, and rosita de cacao–the secret ingredient that makes tejate truly special. Rosita de cacao is the flower of the funeral tree (Quararibea funebris).” Once the ingredients are combined, tejate is served combined with water and topped with a pile of frothy foam. Similar cacao-foam-based drinks can be found passed-down from generation to generation in Cholula, Puebla, and other regions of Mexico. Though tejate combines cacao, corn, flowers, and abundant foam, much like ancient drinks, it also includes modern influences. Today, tejate is served with a sugar-based syrup, and some have experimented with serving tejate paste “in cookies, cake, ice, powder,” and other forms that stray away from the traditional liquid. Though tejate recipes have been passed down for generations and represent a unique cultural inheritance, they have not been immune to the ingredients and new tastes imported by Spanish colonizers.
The video below describes a drink that can be found in Mexico City, Espuma de Cacao – a beverage very similar to the tejate prepared across Oaxaca. However, it is notable that this version of the drink specifically calls it “El elixir de los Dioses” – the elixir of the Gods – a direct reference to the elite pedigree of cacao beverages in Maya and Aztec times. The video does not reference the influence of Spanish colonialism, yet the inclusion of sugar in the recipe reflects the changes to traditional recipes that occurred under Spanish rule.
Video is from OZY travel blog article.
Besides the recipes for cacao-foam drinks passed down in communities across Mexico, there are also recipes that have been created specifically to recreate the cacao-drinking experience of the Aztecs and Mayans. Munchies documents some such recipes made by Fernando Rodriguez, a businessman in Teotihuacan. Rodriguez uses recipes for ancient drinks, found in such sources as the Popul Vuh and Florentine Codex, to design modern drinks that rely on the same key spices, flavors, flowers, and production methods. Though Rodriguez bases most of his drinks on the historical clues he finds from ancient writings, he still makes some blends that introduce cinnamon, ginger, and other spices that were first introduced to Mesoamerica by Spanish colonizers.
Though different areas of Mexico each have their own variations on how to prepare and serve cacao-based drinks, there are common threads that connect all these beverages. In all areas, modern Mexicans are proud of their unique cultural heritage stemming from Aztec and Maya civilization, and market modern cacao drinks for the ancient wisdom and tradition that they perpetuate. Many of the ancient drink-making customs remain the same – corn, flowers, and water are often added, and foam is still often considered a desirable element to top the beverage. Yet, Spanish and European taste and colonial influence can also be seen in many variations of these drinks. The most common manifestation of this is the addition of sugar, though cinnamon, ginger, star anise, other spices, and milk also reflect the influx of European ingredients and taste preferences. The cacao beverages produced across Mexico today are unique, with no clear counterpart in most other countries, yet they represent both the heritage of ancient civilizations and, more subtly, the complex and difficult legacy of Spanish colonialism.
The history of chocolate begins with the Olmecs and then was past along to the Mayans and the Aztecs as one civilization conquered another (Presilla 23). All of these ancient civilizations began the process of harvesting cacao pods from the tree and finished by preparing it as a drink – the entire process they completed themselves. It cost nothing for them besides time and labor, so it was a relatively common drink at the time.
1An Aztec woman is depicted above pouring her chocolate drink from one vase into another. This process was used to aerate the chocolate in order to make the drink frothier (Presilla 20). The Molinillo was later invented to create the same results as from this technique (Martin). This technique traveled all the way from the Aztecs to Europe and the Americas.
After the Spanish colonization of the Aztecs in the early 16th century, the Spanish noticed the special chocolate drink they had been making. Bringing this back to their country, they decided to add sugar to the drink that had previously only been flavored with different spices but had yet to be sweetened in such a way (Presilla 25). This addition of sugar is the reason why chocolate was once exclusively for the elite but has since become something that people of all classes can afford and want to enjoy.
When chocolate was first introduced in Spain, it was a drink of the elite due to its exotic and luxurious association (Presilla 25) , along with the cost of labor to import and produce it from the pod. After chocolate had reached Spain, it was then sent to Italy, then France, then Britain, so that other European elite could have what those of Spain did (Martin). At that time, sugar prices were also extremely high, for they have been perpetually decreasing over time, and sugar was considered to be a rarity in 1650 (Martin). Regardless of how the price of cacao was at the time, the price of sugar mattered very much for the cost of the overall product. Since sugar was part of the drink when it was introduced to the other parts of Europe, it became fully associated with it (Martin).
2The European nobility, pictured above, are seen sipping cups of chocolate, which was poured from a special chocolate kettle. This represents how only the wealthy were able to consume chocolate during the 17th century, since it was too expensive for everybody else.
It wasn’t until after 1800 that sugar was able to be mass consumed in the United Kingdom (Mintz 147-148). This was due in large part to the Industrial Revolution and the invention of the steam engine, which began to power sugar mills in places like Jamaica, one of the largest producers of sugar for Europe (Monteith 242-243). This resulted in a huge increase of sugar, which therefore lowered the price, making it more attainable for all. Given the huge role that it has in chocolate, whether in a chocolate drink as it was in the past or as an ingredient in the more recently developed solid chocolate candy, this decrease in price greatly impacted accessibility.
This transition can now be seen as “Culinary Modernism”, which results in affordable food for all that was once considered a luxury only for the elite (Laudan 40). This was able to occur because of the technology that sped up the process of harvesting sugar and the speed of transportation upon exporting it. Mintz claims that after 1850, sugar transformed from a luxury into a necessity for almost every member of society (147-148).
In addition to being cheap, sugar has been an important part of chocolate because consumers have been increasing their desire for and consumption of sugar inversely to the price, so the cheaper it is, the more people have been buying it. in 1880, each person in the United States was consuming about 38 pounds of sugar per year (Mintz), and today that number has risen to about 110 (Blodget). A similar statistical trend is apparent for the amount of chocolate consumed in the United States over the past century, increasing all the way to 38 pounds per person per year (Blodget).
Sugar has also affected the way that the large chocolate companies in the market advertise their products. Children have a natural inclination towards things that taste sweet, so sugary chocolate is something one would assume that most enjoy.
3The advertisement above represents the sweet girls that would love to have some sweet milk chocolate. This advertisement displays the cheap price of only 5 and 10 cents for a chocolate bar. The little girl also appears to be very excited about the chocolate bar she has, which the Hershey Company wants to be the case for all of the young children being targeted by this ad.
As tastes have changed over time, from the sugar-free Aztecs to Western civilizations that now include about 87 grams in one serving of milk chocolate (USDA), sugar has always played a key role in who gets to consume chocolate. The addition of sugar was once an expensive luxury that the wealthy got to experience, but once the price of sugar significantly dropped the price of chocolate did as well, making it available for everyone.
Blodget, Henry. “American Per-Capita Sugar Consumption Hits 100 Pounds Per Year.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 19 Feb. 2012. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.
“Food Composition Databases Show Foods List.” Food Composition Databases Show Foods List. USDA, 2017. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.
3Hershey’s Sweet Milk Chocolate from Chocolate and Cocoa Town. Digital image. Explore PA History. WITF, Inc., 2011. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.
Laudan, Rachel. “A Plea for Culinary Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food.” Gastronomica 1 (2001): 36-44. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.
2Longhi, Pietro. The Morning Chocolate. Digital image. Public Domain, 2013. Web. 7 Mar. 2017.
Martin, Carla. “Chocolate Expansion.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge. 8 Feb. 2017. Lecture.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. N.p.: Penguin, 1986. Print.
Monteith, Kathleen E. A. Jamaica in Slavery and Freedom: History, Heritage and Culture. Kingston: U of the West Indies, 2003. Print.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.
1An Aztec woman generates foam by pouring chocolate from one vessel to another in the Codex Tudela. Digital image. Ancient Origins. Public Domain, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.
National Confectioners Association, founded in 1884 began as a coalition of trades-people to organize and create viability for their products. The contemporary mission statement on their official website perpetuates that original undertaking; “NCA exists to advance, protect and promote the confectionery industry… serving as a transparent and trustworthy source while building and promoting a responsible industry”. Is anyone else raising their brow at this proclamation of transparency – as it would presumably associate to promoting responsible nutritional standards?
“The medicinal and nutritional aspects of sugar’s role were never far apart, any more than they are today (mid-1980s)” persisted Sidney Mintz in her book Sweetness and Power (106). In 1715, well before the inception of the NCA, the Englishman Dr. Frederick Slare published A Vindication of Sugars Against the Charge of Dr. Willis, Other Physicians, and Common Prejudices: Dedicated to the Ladies. From a contemporary feminist perspective, the title alone makes me chuckle. I’m visualizing Slare on a platform pointing into a crowd, “I’m talking to you there, you miss, and you my lady”. Slare believed that “sugar is a veritable cure-all, its only defect being that it could make ladies too fat”. Well – No thank you Dr. Slare for that prejudgment upon female metabolism, a proclamation which surely added to a persisting gender bias. A notion for refute, Dr. Willis shed light on the topic with his anti-sugar views and clinical findings of what would be later known as diabetes mellitus, (Mintz, 106).
“NCA is proud of the role it plays in the public’s understanding and appreciation of candy’s unique role in a happy, balanced lifestyle.” Certainly, they are proud of their $35 billion-dollar industry totaling 55,000 employees in the U.S. alone. I do not intend to be overly jaded on the matter, but I can’t help but recognize the various clinical analyses and public profiles of high fructose corn syrup in our diets as we understand it today, but that’s a larger discussion in and of itself that would require deeper comparative research. Primarily my concerns lie in the fact that HFCS is often mislabeled as ‘natural flavor’ and during the last three decades, has grown to replace what used to be natural cane sugar in our common grocery foods and candies. Generations before us had already grown accustomed to foods preserved with sugar, becoming complacent with their expectations of taste and economical value through visual culture in advertisements. In my opinion, not much public transparency occurs where reliance on less expensive groceries is present.
The Life & Candy ideology expressed by NCA is particularly interesting in how they use the age old economical reach upon our physical and social values. Influenced by hegemonic notions of pollution and purity of the body, nutritional attitudes across all human societies have interpreted this punitive dichotomy for generations. NCA’s marketing lingo is reflective of the influential nature in which our collective emotional experiences in health, reinforce our ritualized notions within cultural practices surrounding holidays and special events.
Never mind the daily addicted chocolate and candy consumer- See this promotional video echoing the “power, power, power of sweet”, as seen through the lens of the confectioners’ industry workers.
We see a progressive move towards less expensive goods that used to be considered only for the elite prior to 18th century Europe and American society. The custom of drinking and consuming chocolate had spread through most of Europe and “one thing that didn’t change – at first, anyhow – was the association of drinking chocolate with high social standing” (Prescilla, 25).
See in the Cadbury ad to your right just how politically inclined a chocolate company was in 1901. The advertising poster was a rousing salute to Edward VII and his wife when he took the British throne (Morton, 86).
“In 1898 in the United States a dollar bought forty-two percent more milk, fifty-one percent more coffee, a third more beef, twice as much sugar, and twice as much flour as in 1872” (Laudan, 41). The NCA began actively lobbying for chocolate companies in the early decades of the 1900s to commercialize chocolate for holidays, and as noted earlier, to this day the NCA still portrays a high relevance with candy to our community practices. I ponder, as Laudan suggests, has “culinary modernism provided what was wanted… the food of the elite at a price everyone could afford”? On that notion, has the National Confectioners Association also prevailed a political platform for chocolate, sugar, and food companies to exploit on the desire to consume what is considered socially elite?
Throughout the creation of anthropology as formal discipline during the 19th century, a new worldview was being introduced, one with scientific tools. With the arrival and maturation of the scientific revolution, the period of enlightenment facilitated human consciousness for the means to alter old world views. In a cultural setting, when interpellation is presumably present, “the experience of the viewer influences the images meaning”. With this known, hegemonic generalizations can become an illogical way of analyzing an influence of an image upon the whole group of viewers.Therefore, counter-hegemony is an “alternative force that leads us to undo concepts of hegemony”, allowing us to see how the image influences the viewer from a comparative perspective (S & C, 2009).
Coffee, tea, sugar and chocolate long being known as stimulants, we see this reflected in the early 1900s in another – among many – Cadbury advertisements, portraying its popularity with English firemen. Sugar promoting stamina was a lasting notion. See this Baby Ruth ad below that speaks to just that.
Gendered advertising was also sewn into most visual aspects of material culture, including in the marketing of candy such as the Tootsie Roll. I think we can reflect upon our social context during these time periods and find parallels between social constructs within advertisements. From a counter-hegemonic perspective, it’s not to say this image below is meant to reinforce gender roles with the consumption of chocolate and sugar products, yet it does create a lens into the artists’ view of the American social scene.
We see thirteen men pictured here, strategically positioned facing this seemingly gleeful American woman holding a Toostie Roll. She, alike the Tootsie, “is the life of every party” as the text reads. I don’t know about you, but if thirteen men were staring at me eating a Tootsie Roll at a party, I’d be finding the closest exit and calling 1-800-N0-T00T$I3!
During a time when women were subjective to the ideologies imposed by men, we see this through the material culture we create. Where heterosexuality is the normal or preferred sexual orientation in most American households. Heteronormative notions in our visual culture is nothing new and we still see advertisements daily, selling sex, and I can’t help but reflect upon Dr. Slares remarks. They indulge the viewer or the reader into a glimpse of the cultural attitudes of the time. The National Confectioners Association has been no stranger to it.
Cartwright, Lisa and Sturken, Marita 2009 Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York, NY Oxford University Press, 2nd ed.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe 2013  The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson
By the twentieth century, sugar had become a common component of the English diet. Several factors led to this development, two of which are the proliferation of slavery in the New World, and advancements in technology that made larger scale production possible. While technology, after the abolition of slavery, continued to play a role in the success of sugar production, sugar prices would likely not have dropped to the degree they did, had it not been for a shift away from British protectionism, a policy that had formerly limited competition in the sugar industry. The reduction of sugar prices is what allowed the product to become so integrated in the diet of everyday people.
One cannot ignore the role the slavery played in the production of sugar into the mid to late nineteenth century. As Sidney Mintz states, British colonists in the Caribbean had began to think about sugar production close to the middle of the seventeenth century. As tobacco production began to be supplanted by sugar production, plantations began to develop, and increasingly, small farms became a thing of the past, and slavery a more popular form of labor than indentured servitude. As Mintz points out, slavery maintained its crucial role in sugar production until the Haitian Revolution, which concluded in 1803. This graph of UK per capita sugar consumption over time (from this article) shows that sugar consumption continued to increase well into the nineteenth century. So, while slavery may have played a pivotal role in sugar production in its day, it cannot, however, be given credit for the ultimate explosion of sugar consumption in Britain.
Technological advances also played a key role in sugar production. As Mintz states, until the nineteenth century, “mechanical force was [still] an imperfect and incomplete substitute for manual labor.” However, around the middle of the 1800’s, there were drastic improvements in the technology of the sugar industry, as evident by “[i]mmense improvements in grinding capacity, cane varieties, pest control and cultivation methods, increasing use of machinery, and revolutionary changes in transportation eventuated in vast new agro-industrial complexes.” One such technological improvement was the use of steam powered sugar mills. Another was the multiple effect evaporator, which introduced a cheaper and safer way of evaporating sugar cane juice. As slavery ended in several European countries in the nineteenth century, there was a decrease in the labor available for Caribbean planters, as former slaves sought to escape the plantation. The planters who were most able to utilize technological improvements got a leg up over their peers in the face of increased competition in the sugar market. It seems that technology helped to compensate for emancipation’s effects on the labor supply.
Another development that had significant effect on the sugar industry was the end of the British policy of protectionism. Protectionism is a policy of limiting foreign competition via tariffs, subsidies, quotas, or other limitations. As Mintz articulates, at around the middle of the nineteenth century, the system of protectionism was abandoned in favor of “arrangements that could supply an abundant but cheaper supply of the same goods to English consumers, without special West Indian privileges.” So, it is clear that the end of protectionism, which led to an increase in competition in the English sugar market, played a key role in the reduction of sugar prices, which, of course, was pivotal for the increase in English sugar consumption. The tendency of competition to lower prices, as it pertains to the sugar market specifically, should not be understated. An earlier period of sugar production also attests to the potency of competition. As Ralph Davis articulates, the entrance of English colonies as producers in the sugar market was a noticeable force in the reduction of sugar prices, as they competed with the Portuguese:
“At the beginning of the seventeenth century Portuguese (i.e. Brazilian) production was already growing fast and reducing prices sharply and the English West Indian Islands, when they turned to sugar production, had this large established New World producer to contend with. They came late into the field… and in the early 1660’s they were still contending with the Portuguese even for the English market. But already their competition had caused a considerable decline in prices and prices continued to fall, on the whole, until about 1685, by which time the English product had driven Brazilian sugar from the North European as well as from the English market.”
This price reduction ended, or at least slowed, with the end of competition. It seems unlikely that the sugar producers in the English West Indies would have reduced their prices as much as sugar prices fell following the end of protectionism, if they had still enjoyed the lack of competition that protectionism afforded them. I contend that although new technological advances improving the means of sugar production might still have led to a reduction in sugar prices, this reduction would not have been as great without this shift in British policy.
The change from protectionism to some semblance of free trade was completed by 1870. When they removed “barriers to ‘free’ trade… [British elites made it] possible for the world’s cheapest sugars to reach the widest possible market in Britain.” While slavery, in its time, had some impact in the flourishing of the sugar industry, and technology surely played a role as well, the results of the British departure from protectionism allowed the competition that also helped to drive down sugar prices, which allowed sugar to be consumed more widely by the English population.
Davis, Ralph. “English Foreign Trade, 1660-1700.” The Economic History Review, New Series, 7, no. 2 (1954): 152. doi:10.2307/2591619.
Mintz, Sidney W., Woodville K. Marshall, Mary Karasch, and Richard Frucht. “Slavery and the Rise of Peasantries [with Commentary].” Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques 6, no. 1 (1979): 213-53. http://www.jstor.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/stable/41330423
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books, 1986, c1985.
“The Inconvenient Truth about Sugar Consumption (it’s not what you think)” Published May 1, 2014. Accessed March 10, 2017. http://www.czarnikow.com/news/01-05-14/inconvenient-truth-about-sugar-consumption-it-s-not-what-you-think
 Sidney Mintz., Woodville K. Marshall, Mary Karasch, and Richard Frucht. “Slavery and the Rise of Peasantries [with Commentary].” Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques 6, no. 1 (1979): p.215.
Nutritionists and those in the food industry often find themselves with opposing opinions with regards to health and nutrition. It is often argued by chocolate companies that scientists do not have as strong of a grasp on the science of chocolate as they would lead you to believe (Nestle), and scientists argue that the food companies are too concerned with profits to care about the health of their consumers. Currently, nutritionists suggest limiting the consumption of candy and other high-in-sugar products. However, the scientific community’s stance on chocolate consumption has shifted with time – new advances in scientific understanding cause nutritionists to update their previous suggestions to better reflect the information available. Chocolate companies, in turn, are quick to point out how rapidly the nutritionists’ suggestions change, neglecting to mention how minute their updates may be. As the understanding of the nutritional effects of chocolate and sugar on humans has evolved, the scientific community has updated its suggestions on what individuals should be eating; however, chocolate companies have put much efforts into undermining the scientific advancements, both by attacking the credibility of scientific advancements, and by trying to persuade their customers that their products are healthier than they are.
To better understand the science of chocolate, it is important to discuss the perceived health benefits chocolate has had historically. Societies native to Mesoamerica, such as the Olmec and Mayan societies, consumed chocolate as early 1100BC (Squicciarini). The Aztec society thought cocoa pods were able to provide nourishment, fertility, and even an increased sex drive (Squicciarini). However, while “chocolate” in name, this chocolate is notably different than the chocolate we think of today. As the Mesoamerican chocolate migrated to Europe, chocolate began its human-induced evolution, as the Europeans added their own elements to chocolate, to fit their sweeter appetite, and extracted cocoa products (Squicciarini). Even still, this chocolate is not the chocolate we typically see in grocery stores. In the 17th century, European academics began considering chocolate as a remedy for certain illnesses. It is important to note here, however, that the illnesses of seventeenth century Europe were vastly different than those of modern day America. Twenty-first century health in America is characterized by obesity, diabetes, and other illnesses associated with overeating. However, in the seventeenth century, Europe often faced food shortages, and a much more common ailment was undernutrition (Lyons). Chocolate was considered a high-caloric food, and as such was able to fight malnutrition. Since the hallmark health characteristics of the seventeenth century are different than in today’s society, it seems rather silly to suggest that our chocolate could serve as a medicine in the same way. Moving into more modern times, chocolate has undergone even more changes. As our society built up a taste for sweetness, sugar was added in high amounts to chocolate, reducing its bitterness. Before 1914, hot chocolate drinks had nutritional value of high fat content and protein content, and were among the only hot drinks to have such properties (Squicciarini) Then, the Spanish started sweeting it with sugar cane, vanilla, and cinnamon, increasing its popularity drastically (Squicciarini). And even then, there were health concerns regarding chocolate. A characteristic ingredient of chocolate is theobromine, which is classified as a psychoactive alkaloid. This is the same class of molecules as nicotine, caffeine, and cocaine, and is often attributed to their addictive properties (Clarence-Smith). Let us take a look at both theobromine and caffeine.
Caffeine is a compound that is thought of as addicting (as well as vital for most college students). Its effect is greatly due to the fact that it greatly resembles the molecule cyclic adenine monophosphate (cAMP). cAMP helps expedite the process of delivering oxygen to the brain, and maintains blood pressure, both of which are important for remaining alert (i.e. feeling awake). The enzyme cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterase (cAMP-PDE) recognizes cAMP as its substrate, and will break the molecule down, resulting in the feeling of drowsiness. The enzyme cAMP-PDE has evolved to recognize the cAMP, a naturally-occurring molecule in our bodies (unlike caffeine), (Spoto). Since cAMP and caffeine resemble each other chemically, cAMP-PDE is not able to distinguish the two, and thus can spend its time breaking down caffeine instead of cAMP (Montoya). In other words, the part of our body that is responsible for making us tired (cAMP-PDE) has to waste its time breaking down the wrong molecule (caffeine), so our bodies can maintain higher levels of the molecule that helps maintain alertness (cAMP). This is actually how many psychoactive alkaloids work in terms of alertness (Horrigan). When the similarities between caffeine and theobromine were first discovered, many nutritionists compared chocolate to cocaine, and suggested minimizing its use (Wilson). Despite its similar structure, however, theobromine is unable to perform this same function. Theobromine and caffeine do look very similar to humans, and have somewhat similar reactivities, yet are not the same molecule, (Beckett). cAMP-PDE is not able to recognize theobromine, in part because it is a smaller molecule, and unable to fit into the enzyme as well as caffeine, or its natural substrate cAMP, (Spoto). The addictive properties of chocolate have previously been placed on theobromine’s classification as a psychoactive alkaloid, but this is not able to cause the explained effect.
Instead, the reason chocolate can seem so addicting lies in a different class of molecules, called saccharides, more commonly referred to as sugar. Americans are commonly said to be addicted to sugar, and add excessive amounts of sugar to everything. Sugar is commonly being added to more and more foods, and those foods are increasing in their sugar content over time (Hyde). Our chocolate products’ sugar content is increasing (Hegelman), and our modern-day scientists and nutritionists are alarmed (Nestle). Scientific studies have consistently warned us of the dangers of excessive sugar (diabetes, obesity, etc.), and as new research is performed, the results are increasingly worrying (Squicciarini). However, chocolate companies put an interesting spin on this – they claim that the new results in the scientific research must contradict each other, and as such are unreliable (Nestle). They also point out that different studies measure health through different techniques, and since it isn’t uniform, it must be open to interpretation. It is a quite brilliant strategy actually, to claim that the data presented by the scientific community, the data which scientists themselves admit to updating, is too inconsistent to be worth reducing chocolate consumption. These chocolate companies rely on the consumers to not fully understand the research, and agree with their argument that the scientific figures change with each update, instead of realizing that each update creates further evidence for limiting our chocolate intake. They are thus able to present themselves as more easily understood, and no less credible. This allows these companies within the chocolate industry to claim that no foods are inherently “bad,” and that dieting and nutritional advice is too variable by the individual to be applied so broadly. This continues the theme of scientific advancement reshaping the nutritional food pyramid into the future, as the chocolate companies are attempting to immobilize our consumption patterns, in direct opposition of nutritionists creating a change over time in our consumption patterns to help keep us more nourished.
However, this is not to say that chocolate companies are totally void of arguments involving science. Many chocolate companies use science in their advertisements to attempt to trick the consumer by using scientific and nutrition buzz-words that actually have very little meaning. First, to discuss this point, it is necessary to distinguish between two terms: chocolate and confectionery. Chocolate companies advertise themselves as chocolate companies, but focus most of their attention on chocolate confectionery. Chocolate is defined as “A preparation of the seeds of cacao, roasted, husked, and ground, often sweetened and flavored, as with sugar and vanilla,” (Martin), while confectionery refers to sweet foods, often sweetened with sugar. A more representative title of companies such as Hershey’s and Mars would be “confectionery companies,” rather than chocolate companies. This distinction is important because there are health benefits associated with chocolate that are not associated with confectionery. For example, chocolates have high polyphenol and methylxanthine contents (Ackar), both of which are antioxidants, and associated with antiviral, antiallergenic, and anti-inflammatory properties, among other beneficial characteristics (Manach). This is something which chocolate companies love to advertise, but is less significant than they claim (Squicciarini). By using chocolate in their confectionery products, these companies are accurate in claiming their product has these properties. However, when discussing this feature in chocolate in their advertisements, they fail to establish that the “chocolate bar” they are selling is not entirely chocolate, but instead has a certain (and often small) amount of chocolate in it. Looking at this Hershey’s advertisement shows how they use this sneaky tactic in promoting their brand.
Here, Hershey’s states “antioxidants in the chocolate reduce free radicals in your body and keep your skin looking younger longer.” While this information is not false, it is presented in a misconstruing way. The advertisement makes it seem as if their Hershey’s Kiss has a particularly high content of these antioxidants, and discusses their existence rather than their concentration or effectiveness. This is not an isolated incident within the food industry, many other advertising campaigns utilize similar scientific inexactitudes. Many products are advertised as “reduced sugar,” “whole grain first ingredient,” etc. Each of these phrases are buzz-words that seem to imply either an added degree of nutrition, or a lesser degree of unhealthy ingredients. And while these statements are technically truthful, these facts are rarely as relevant as they would appear. For example, when a chocolate company claims that its product has reduced its sugar content, that often means that the products’ sugar has been replaced with a sugar-like ingredient. Let us take the example of Heinz’ Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup. While their ingredients list does not list “sugar” anywhere, it instead includes the ingredient sucralose, a sugar derivative (Schober). It even specifies that sucralose is not an ingredient that they regularly include. Sucralose is an artificial sugar whose safety is still disputed within the scientific community: it has been shown to increase the pH level in the intestines (Abou-Donia), and increase body weight, levels of P-glycoprotein, and risk of leukemia (CSPI), and even DNA damage (Sasaki) in rats. And while some of these scientific studies have been contested, they are often done so by those invested in the products. For example, Trevor Butterworth claims, in vague terms, that these studies are inaccurate, and that it is important to “scrutinize the data,” (Butterworth). However, Butterworth has a history of attacking scientific research in the world of nutrition, and is known to have connections with GMO companies, who produce the products he defends (Malkan).
And this brings us back to the chocolate companies. They use scientific wording (inaccurately, mostly) when it suits them, and then attack (with vague wording and emotional claims) any science that opposes their views. This is not a tactic unique to the chocolate industry, but in fact was perfected by the tobacco industry beforehand. Marion Nestle examines the sales strategies within the tobacco industry in her book Food Politics. She states that “Cigarettes use science to sow confusion about the harm that cigarettes can cause,” (Nestle), in addition to techniques of targeting children, the impoverished, and expanding their market globally. This parallels how the chocolate industry, and the greater food industry, market their products. Just as tobacco targeted children in their advertisements, chocolate and fast-food companies do the same, through television advertisements, product placement in media, internet advertisements, and even within their schools (Story). And just as tobacco companies expanded their markets internationally, the chocolate industries are competing for China’s chocolate market (Martin) Just as the tobacco companies had great success, chocolate companies are seeing similar results (Story). As children are making more demands on their parents for chocolate confectionery products they see on television, their parents’ relent with the result that children are consuming much higher levels of sugar (Story) Nestle does discuss how to prevent this, by citing the largely successful anti-smoking campaigns. She discusses the four pillars of the anti smoking campaigns: the firm research base that smoking does cause cancer, the clear message telling consumers not to smoke, the clear strategy for intervention focusing on smokers and nonsmokers alike, and strategies that do more than just address education, but address cultural measures as well (such as taxing cigarettes and preventing them in restaurants). She puts forth a proposal on how to do the same for the fast food and confectionery companies which mirrors the anti-smoking campaign. However, attempts to reduce the appeal of high-caloric food advertising has been met with opposition – the FTC was restricted in their ability to censor TV advertisements in backlash to their proposal to prevent inaccurate claims by food companies directed at children (Story).
The scientific understanding of both chocolate and sugar has grown considerably since the introduction of chocolate in Mesoamerica, yet this science is often overlooked. The companies who stand to profit off of the sales of chocolate confectionery attempt to discredit any science that would hinder their sales, while advertising their own products through the use of overly-simplified, and thus irrelevant scientific oversimplifications. Chocolate is not inherently a toxin to be avoided at all costs (assuming you aren’t a dog), but chocolate confectionery is much more processed sugars than the original cocoa it derives from and is named after. The pursuit of scientific advancement, and of scientific inquiry on the individual level is vital to avoid falling victim to false claims, such that every chocoholic can know exactly what he or she is ingesting.
Ackar, Djurdjica, et al. “Cocoa polyphenols: can we consider cocoa and chocolate as potential functional food?.” Journal of chemistry 2013 (2013).
Abou-Donia, Mohamed B., et al. “Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats.” Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A 71.21 (2008): 1415-1429.
Beckett, Sheilah. The science of chocolate. Vol. 22. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2000.
Browning, Lynnley. “New Salvo in Splenda Skirmish.” The New York Times: Business Day. N.p., 22 Sept. 2008. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.
Butterworth, Trevor. “Controversial Italian Scientist Says Splenda Causes Cancer.” Forbes. N.p., 24 Apr. 2012. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.
Clarence-Smith, William Gervase. Cocoa and chocolate, 1765-1914. Routledge, 2003.
CSPI. “CSPI Downgrades Sucralose from “Caution” to “Avoid” – New Animal Study Indicates Cancer Risk.” Center for Science in the Public Interest. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.
CSPI. “CSPI Downgrades Sucralose from “Safe” to “Caution” – Group Cites Need to Evaluate Forthcoming Italian Study Linking Artificial Sweetener to Leukemia in Mice.” Center for Science in the Public Interest. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.
Hegelman, Carl. “How the Snickers Bar Changed Over Time.” Web log post. The Billfold. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Mar. 2017.
Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Kiss Advertisement. Digital image. Hershey’s. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.
Heinz’ Annotated Ingredients of Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup. Digital image. Coach Calorie. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.
Heinz’ Annotated Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup. Digital image. Coach Calorie. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.
Horrigan, Louise A., John P. Kelly, and Thomas J. Connor. “Immunomodulatory effects of caffeine: friend or foe?.” Pharmacology & therapeutics 111.3 (2006): 877-892.
Hyde, Dan. “Does your breakfast cereal contain more sugar than before?” The Telegraph. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.
Lyons, Albert S. “Medical History — The Seventeenth Century.” HealthGuidance for Better Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.
Malkan, Stacy. “Trevor Butterworth Spins Science for Industry.” Web log post. U.S. Right to Know. N.p., 12 Dec. 2016. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.
Manach, Claudine, et al. “Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 79.5 (2004): 727-747.
Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 1: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.” Harvard, Cambridge, MA. 1 Feb. 2017. Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 6: The rise of big chocolate and the race for the global market.” Harvard, Cambridge, MA. 8 Mar. 2017. Lecture.
Montoya, Gina A., et al. “Modulation of 3′, 5′-cyclic AMP homeostasis in human platelets by coffee and individual coffee constituents.” British Journal of Nutrition 112.09 (2014): 1427-1437.
Nestle, Marion, and Michael Pollan. Food politics: how the food industry influences nutrition and health. Berkeley, CA: U of California Press, 2013. Print.
Sasaki, Yu F., et al. “The comet assay with 8 mouse organs: results with 39 currently used food additives.” Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis 519.1 (2002): 103-119.
Spoto, G., et al. “Caffeine, theophylline and bamifylline are similar as competitive inhibitors of 3′, 5′-cyclic amp phosphodiesterase in vitro.” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF IMMUNOPATHOLOGY AND PHARMACOLOGY 10.2 (1997): 153-158.
Schober, Tony. “10 Ways Food Advertising Tricks are Misleading You.” Web log post. Coach Calorie. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.
Story, Mary, and Simone French. “Food advertising and marketing directed at children and adolescents in the US.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 1.1 (2004): 3.
Squicciarini, Mara P., and Johan F. M. Swinnen. The economics of chocolate. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 2016. Print.
Wilson, Philip K., and W. Jeffrey Hurst, eds. Chocolate and Health: Chemistry, Nutrition and Therapy. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2015.
The Atlantic slave trade was much more complicated than your middle school teachers may have lead you to believe. Common knowledge rarely acknowledge the complexity of the economics of the slave trade, its far-reaching consequences, and the specific, long-lasting impact it had in cacao growing regions. The slave trade presented challenges to the chocolate industry as it pitted economic necessity against shady moral practices. I argue that over the course of its history, the slave trade created such profound inequalities that even though it was abolished in the mid- to late-1800s, the essence of slavery still exists today.
The Atlantic slave trade had in the New World. Europeans forced indigenous populations to work which produced a dangerous power dynamic from which the Europeans benefitted for centuries. The Europeans that migrated to the Americas would encroach on indigenous land. By taking ownership of that land, the settlers forced those residing on it already to work for them under extremely undesirable conditions, especially in cacao growing regions where the days were long and unimaginably hot. This developed into “chattel slavery” which means that those enslaved were regarded as property and could be traded as a commodity (Martin lecture). As they burned through the indigenous population, Europeans were pressured to meet a growing demand for labor. They found a new source in Africa.
In order to understand the connection between slavery and cacao, we must first understand under what conditions the slave trade developed in cacao growing regions. Rodney explains in his article that “slavery prevailed on the African continent before the arrival of the Europeans” which implies that African society was susceptible to European manipulation (Rodney, 431). Europeans looked to Africa simply because they needed more cheap labor and the western coast was the most economically viable. On top of the preexisting societal structure, the addition of the Atlantic slave trade proved disastrous and demonstrates why “it was [that] only after two and a half centuries of slave-trading that the vast majority of the peoples of the Upper Guinea Coast were said to have been living in a state of subjection” (Rodney, 434). The compounded effect of the Atlantic slave trade on the already-problematic African regions left lasting impacts on its people and culture.
Take a look at this video by Anthony Hazard and published by TED-Ed which details the nuances of the slave trade.
This video points out how the culture of Africa was heavily affected by the Atlantic slave trade. Europeans would pit tribes against each other. This created an environment where Africans of different communities would be abducting each other to sell into slavery across the Atlantic in exchange for weapons or safety. The video uses simple animation and voiceover to convey how uniformly destructive the slave trade was to the African economy and culture.
As the abolition movement emerged, the Atlantic slave trade began to change. The abolition movement always existed among slaves and gained momentum after the Haitian Revolution in 1789. This was a pivotal moment because it was the biggest slave revolt to date. At the time, Haiti was an exceptionally valuable asset to France because it exported nearly half of the world’s coffee and sugar (Martin lecture). A significant amount of people depended on the slave trade, either directly or indirectly, through the products it produced. For the enslaved population to overthrow such a dominant colonial power inspired others across the world and spurred the abolition movement forward. Slowly, the Atlantic slave trade began to diminish. Finally, in 1888, Britain was the last place to abolish slavery.
Yet, the abolition process was gradual and hard-fought. You can plainly see in the picture how it was satirized for its very slow implementation.
This image is particularly relevant because it incorporates the dependence on sugar that Europeans had formed. Mintz writes that sugar “had become an essential ingredient in the British national diet” and that “it was consumed daily by almost every living Briton” (Mintz, 187). The fact that he uses words like “national diet” is significant. It implicates everyone in the consumption of sugar. Since sugar is a common ingredient used with cacao, this figure really identifies how everyone is implicated in the slave trade as an extension of consuming sugar and chocolate. This speaks to the reason for the delay in abolishing it: the final product was too tantalizing and the consumers were too far removed. This is also representative of our mentality today.
The Atlantic slave trade left deep-seated damage to the African regions which it affected, the most important of which is the legacy of slavery. There was a compounded effect as the emphasis shifted to cacao growing regions for mass production. Today, “[a]pproximately two-thirds of the cocoa destined for the world market is produced on West African farms” (Manzo, 529). The exploitative power dynamic is still so strong that modern day slavery still exists in the form of coerced labor. Watch this video to catch a glimpse of what life is like for a child working on a cacao farm on the Ivory Coast today.
After slavery was largely abolished in the Americas around 1850, the geographic regions where cacao was being grown changed. The focus transferred to Fiji, Mauritius, and the Ivory Coast, as seen in the video. In this shift, “many small farmers [became] dependent for their livelihood on cocoa, and it is this smallholder production that accounts for most of the large increase in production and export from the Ivory Coast in the 1990s” (Manzo, 529). This is significant because it demonstrates how when colonial powers “abolished” slavery they just created a vacancy for multinational companies to exploit deprived workers who were already suffering from the consequences of the slave trade. The parallels between the old slave trade and modern day child slavery are substantial. The modern day-version still sees the power struggle between powerful landowners who offer an exchange for laborers. This turns Africans against each other. You can see this situation play out in the video where the boy was brought to the cacao farm when his father died. Another parallel is the forced labor in extreme conditions with unsatisfactory clothing. Modern day laborers are being “paid” in the form of room and board but this prevents them from accumulating any considerable amount of money that would allow them to leave, just like colonial powers used to enslave entire families based on who was living on their property.
Even though the slave trade has developed and adapted over the past hundreds of years—even after it has been “abolished”—there is no question that slavery still exists today. Furthermore, it implicates everyone (just as it did back then) because it is the chocolate industry that is exploiting people. It follows that because we all consume chocolate, we all are culpable in its prolonging. This means that it is up to the consumers to stop distancing themselves from the origins of their chocolate and learn about the production of cacao.
Manzo, Kate. “Modern Slavery, Global Capitalism & Deproletarianisation in West Africa.” Review of African Political Economy, vol. 32, no. 106, 2005, pp. 521–534.
Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” AFRAMER 119X. Harvard University. CGIS South, Cambridge. March 1. 2017. Lecture.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. Print.
Rodney, Walter. “African Slavery and Other Forms of Social Oppression on the Upper Guinea Coast in the Context of the Atlantic Slave-Trade” Journal of African History, vn, 3 (1966), pp. 431-443
If the average person today were to be asked to imagine “chocolate”, their first thought might be a common product from one of the few major companies (e.g. a Hershey’s bar). But that person would likely also think of two, four, ten more examples of chocolate confections. The chocolate world is truly massive today, in volume and variety. Furthermore, chocolate is not a uniformly priced product, with clear hierarchies in different products under the chocolate umbrella, most clearly defined by differences in companies (A Lindt Truffle is considered across the consumer pool to be a better product than a Hershey’s Kiss). Yet chocolate was for centuries a food that looked very different from what it is today, and one consumed as an integral part of mesoamerican culture. The journey of chocolate through history is a transformation that intersected with a range of socioeconomic systems and changes. Specifically, we will see that the industrial revolution directly set the stage for the global commercialization of chocolate, and was the catalyst for shifting chocolate in the European market as a luxury good to one accessible to all consumers.
Cacao was likely first consumed as a food object before 400BCE by the Olmec civilization that preceded the Mayan civilizations, and residues of cacao were found in Mayan vessels dating back as early as 250AD (Martin, Lecture 1). According to Mayan hieroglyphs cacao was processed into drinks and used in a variety of functions – wedding rituals, burial rituals, as an energy snack for warriors before battle – and there was certainly a special place for early “chocolate”. Cacao beverages were not a snack for the general populace, and the notion that they were reserved for the elite carried into its early use in Europe. Coe writes that prior to the mid 16th century, “chocolate drinking […] in both pre-Conquest Mesoamerica and in Europe was the costly prerogative of the elite” (Coe, 377). Yet it was enormously popular amongst the rich and comfortable, so that even today we find remains of pots, cups, and saucers specifically and ornately designed for chocolate beverages. The following video shows the restoration of an entire kitchen dedicated to chocolate, in the Hampton Court Palace. In the video food historian Marc Meltonville remarks, “The thing about chocolate, is that it was absolutely the luxury item for Georgian England. If you could afford chocolate, you were something special.” We see in this video the wealth attached to chocolate consumption in the ornateness and specificity in the items designed for chocolate during the 1700s.
Up until the Industrial Revolution starting around 1760, chocolate beverages continued to be consumed by the economically comfortable. Chocolate was “taken” like a daily medicine to help digestion and combat alcohol’s effects, and was especially popular among the clergy (Coe, 432). After the Industrial Revolution however, we see a clear shift in who and how chocolate is consumed. Sugar, which had a industrialization history similar and tied closely with chocolate’s, grew from a luxury or medicinal good to be used sparingly by the rich, into a necessity of the masses. We find in Mintz’s narrative of sugar’s history, the “opening up of mass consumption [of sugar], from about 1800 onward. During the period 1750-1780 every English person, no matter how isolated or how poor, and without regard to age or sex, learned about sugar. Most learned to like it enough to want more than they could afford. After 1850, as the price of sugar dropped sharply, that preference became realized in its consumption. A rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, sugar had been transformed into a virtual necessity by 1850.” (Mintz, 148). Over the same period of time, chocolate underwent the same shift from luxury/medicinal use to average consumptive use, via several important developments.
The first update to chocolate’s consumption was the improvement of medicinal procedures replacing the Galenic system of humors and temperaments. With the appearance of modern medicine, chocolate was deemed no longer a medicinal product – freeing its consumption as a leisure food to be eaten however and whenever people wanted. Therefore and “concurrent with these changes, the per capita consumption of chocolate, which had been fairly constant for centuries, shot up dramatically; this was coupled with an equally enormous upsurge in the intake of sugar, since the principal destiny of this new, solid chocolate was in the manufacture of confectionery and desserts.” (Coe, 500-501). Furthermore, the appearance of this “solid chocolate” as a product was a major step towards chocolate’s mass production. Specifically, in the year 1828, Johannes Van Houten’s invention of the “Dutch” process to refine cacao butter into an even less fatty cocoa powder allowed chocolate to be mass produced in the shape it is known today. In Coe’s words, “Van Houten’s invention of the defatting and alkalizing processes made possible the large-scale manufacture of cheap chocolate for the masses” (Coe, 503). Solid chocolate was simply easier to manufacture at large amounts, and additionally easier to consume.
However, at the conception of Van Houten’s method, chocolate was still produced using human body strength. Below is an image depicting the mass labor needed to separate the fat from cacao nibs, in Van Houten’s factory.
The industrial revolution provided the solutions to the limitations of human power that had prevented a product that could be easily sold on a large scale, to be produced on a large scale. The two most important innovations that came with the industrial revolution were mechanized grinding and milling, which efficiently separated the necessary parts of cacao and reduced particle size for optimal chocolate production (Martin, Lecture 3). After these initial developments that jump-started mass chocolate production, we see an exponential growth in further innovations and production of chocolate. In 1847, Joseph Fry began selling the first chocolate bars for general consumption, but by 1868 Cadbury had greater success with “Cadbury’s Cocoa Essence” and holiday chocolate boxes. In 1879, Lindt’s conching process brought further smoothness and quality to chocolate, more efficiently (Martin, Lecture 3).
The ease with which chocolate could be mass produced was tied with reduced cost of production. These reduced costs in turn carried into cheaper prices for chocolate, and the extending of the consumer market into all socioeconomic classes. Below is an early advertisement for a Cadbury chocolate product.
The target audience for this advertisement is clearly not the rich elite – the ad features an older commonly dressed man whose chocolates have fallen because of wind, and children gather around to steal the fallen chocolates. The message of this poster is the popularity of the chocolates with people of all ages. The intended consumer for Cadbury’s chocolates is clearly very different than the Mayan consumers of chocolate, or of the royal consumers in Georgian England. This global shift in consumption patterns is really a reflection of food production changes in general over the same period as illustrated by Jack Goody. He writes, “industrial decadence, whatever its consequences for the haute cuisine […] has enormously improved, in quantity, quality, and variety, the diet of the urban working populations of the western world.” (Counihan, 72). The development of industrial processes made chocolate production more efficient and cost effective, fundamentally changing the nature of chocolate and making it the widely accessible food it is today. Though arguments of quality/variety degradation always arise with mass produced products, the shift of chocolate as a food for the rich to a food accessible to virtually all people is both undeniable and unignorable as a major part of the food market.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. IBook.
Counihan, Carole, and Penny Van Esterik. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.
Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 1: Mesoamerica and the ‘food of the gods’.” Aframer 199x. CGIS, Cambridge, MA. 1 Feb, 2017. Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 3: Popular sweet tooths and scandal.” Aframer 199x. CGIS, Cambridge, MA. 22 Feb, 2017. Lecture.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. Print.
Cadbury. “Cadbury’s Chocolates.” Image. Pinterest. 10 Mar. 2017.
Early Cocoa Press, Van Houten Factory, Amsterdam, 1828. Nederlandse Cacao Vereniging. Image.
Historic Royal Palaces. “The making of the Chocolate Kitchen” Historic Royal Palaces. Online video clip. YouTube. 3 Sep, 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
As I sit in Beat Brasserie, watching Maui sugar crystals disappear into my coffee, I realize that I’m consuming one of thelast batches of Hawaiian sugar. The Hawaii Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) closed the last sugar plantation in Hawaii this past December and laid off nearly 700 workers(Solomon). This marks the end of the sugar industry in Hawaii, a place that Mark Twain once described as “the king of the sugar world”(Downes). Sugar wasn’t just a profitable enterprise, it became a way of life because it shaped Hawaii’s culture through land use, employment and ethnic diversity.
The sugar industry grew in Hawaii in the 1860’s because the Civil War cut off sugar supplies from the south(Flynn 302). Then, in 1876, plantations owners struck a deal with the Kingdom of Hawaii that removed tariffs on sugar exported to the U.S(Solomon). Sugar production increased exponentially and American planters couldn’t get enough. Sugar brought in immense wealth to Hawaii and powered politics on the islands. Plantation owners capitalized on this power and helped to overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893(Downes).
Plantation owners rushed to fill the demand for sugar with cheap labor. American consumption of sugar nearly doubled between 1880 and 1890 from 38 pounds of sucrose per person per year to over 70 pounds per person per year(Mintz 188). Plantation owners needed laborers and with the promise of a decent wage, workers from China, Japan, Brazil, and the Philippines immigrated in waves. These contract laborers were mostly young males who agreed to work for 5 years. At its peak in the 1930’s, 50,000 people were employed by sugar in Hawaii(Downes). Some returned home after their contracts expired, but many settled down and married into the community(“Hawaii’s First”). These immigrants shaped the unique ethnic makeup of Hawaii. This history is a source of pride for many residents of Hawaii and they carry on the legacy of their ancestors today. Teri Freitas Gorman, President of the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce stated:
“My ethnic heritage is what I call plantation pedigree. I’m almost in the order that they came: I’m Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese. And I’m Native Hawaiian as well”(Solomon).
This heritage is also important because as Dan Boylan from the University of Hawaii notes, “somehow Hawaii has realized a degree of racial harmony unknown in most parts of the world”(Kent xii). For example, interracial marriage was “unremarkable” long before Loving v. Virginia(Downes).
Due to this heritage, jobs on sugar plantations run generations deep. Mark Lopes, the harvest manager at HC&S, remembers, “I used to ride on the tractor with [my father] and that was pretty cool. And then my son, when he was young, I used to bring him out on the weekends. My granddaughter is not going to be able to experience that”(Solomon). These concerns are echoed by many in the community. The Hawaiian Homes Commissioner, Pua Canto, grew up in the plantation camps in Pu‘unēnē(Solomon). She fondly remembers her father tinkering with the intricate tools in the mill. Jobs were highly specialized and many worry about where the 675 laid off workers will go(Wood 2). For these workers and those like Pua, Gorman, and Lopes, who consider sugar as an integral part of their identity and the only skill set they have, the new era is daunting.
The mills created skills training programs that produced welders, electricians, mechanics, and more. These workers took their skills all over the islands. A former millright stated that, “Other than Pearl Harbor, the state has no other training facility for these skills”(Wood). This is a great loss to the island because the mills invested in the residents.
The impact of the end of the industry is also felt by businesses that supplied the mill with equipment, fertilizer, and irrigation supplies. Some companies had partnerships with HC&S for over 100 years(Solomon). Maui’s small farmers have also been affected because they can no longer benefit from the bulk orders of supplies from HC&S.
The absence of sugarcane also changes the landscape and experience of the islands. Dorothy Pyle used to be able to see the thousands of acres of sugar cane from her house. Now, she states:
“It’s changing us forever because I will never see 35,000 acres of agriculture there again. And so the whole feel of the island, that flying in over these fields and driving through them. It’s never going to be again”(Solomon).
Not only will the fields be missed, but the smell of molasses and the crackling from burning cane have been lost as well.
Dorothy Pyle looks out over the last cane harvest.
As the sugar industry becomes a part of the past, it is important to remember its sweeping impact on the Hawaiian economy, people and culture. For me, it is a reminder to think about the immense history bundled in a small packet of Maui sugar or whatever food I happen to be eating.
Solomon, Molly. “Sugar plantation closure marks end of a way of life in Hawaii.” Marketplace [Los Angeles, CA], 9 Dec. 2016, Sugar plantation closure marks end of a way of life in Hawaii. Accessed 7 Mar. 2017.
Britain has a sweet tooth, to put it mildly. Modern day consumption is in excess of 140 pounds per year per person, which means that the average Brit eats almost one cup of added sugar per day. However, sugar is very much a product that has been introduced to the British diet over the past few hundred years. In the year 1700, the average person ate less than ten pounds of sugar per year (Martin Lecture “Sugar and Cacao”, 13 Feb 2017). The explosion of sugar consumption started in large part due to Britain’s Caribbean colonies, which produced and continue to produce much of the sugar the world consumes. I will argue that the culture of sugar consumption in Britain has largely been influenced by issues of class: that it started out as a primarily upper class product and spread to the lower classes through their desire to emulate wealth, that debates over abolition and free trade of sugar were largely a reaction by the bourgeois classes, and that even the modern day debates over sugar consumption and health issues are intrinsically linked to socio-economic status.
“Hero’s recruiting at Kelsey’s; – or- Guard-Day at St. James’s” by James Gillray, 1797
As sugar began to take off in Britain, it was primarily an upper class product, viewed as one of the spoils of empire. Illustrations from the period, such as the above engraving from 1797, portray sweets and confections such as the sugar plums the soldiers are eating as products for those who have profited from Britain’s imperial expansion. The soldiers are caricatures of the troops who would go overseas to establish and maintain British colonies, and in the engraving they are the lucky few enjoying the spoils of their victory. The overweight soldier guarding the door and the bustling street scene outside further establishes the soldiers as removed from, and superior to the masses outside. As sugar became cheaper over the course of the 18th century and grocers began to market it to lower classes, they billed it as an exotic good, often comically mislabelling their products. In an effort to portray the now affordable product as a mark of status and participation in the British empire, descriptions such as “Lisbon sugar” were common (Stobart 178). The increase in sugar consumption over the course of the 18th century reflected sugar’s status as a wealthy product that had recently become affordable, making that mark of status affordable to the masses but not yet having lost its meaning.
Advertisement for a Slavery-Free Sugar Basin, late 18th century
Towards the end of the 18th century and into the Victorian Era, there emerged a largely upper-class-based abolition movement in Britain. Given that slaves were central to the British colonial sugar industry, they quickly set their eyes on it. Some abandoned eating sure entirely, whereas some tried to make sure that they sugar they were eating had not been produced by slaves. Even companies that employed slaves like the East India Company capitalized on this trend, selling Slavery-Free products like the sugar basin in the advertisement above. Abolition became more palatable amongst the upper classes in large part because slavery made products such as sugar that had previously been marks of status affordable to the masses, causing them to lose their meaning. After slavery was gradually abolished in the early 19th century, abolitionists turned their sights to lobbying for a continued tax on non-British (meaning slave-produced) sugar. As Richard Huzzey argues, this “was not a battle to preserve a shred of anti-slavery principle” but competing visions of abolitionism trying to make themselves heard (Huzzey 361). As sugar consumption rose and it lost its value as a status symbol, the upper classes were swift to turn on it.
Fast forwarding to the modern day, British sugar consumption is higher than ever, and there is a growing movement by the government and health sectors to get people to eat less due to its unhealthy effects. Articles such as “Sugar tax: what does it mean, which drinks will be affected, and will it work?” in the Telegraph demonstrate the current culture around sugar consumption. Soda and other sugary drinks are viewed as the biggest culprits, and there is a growing awareness of the amount of added sugar in other processed food. However, the foods attacked for containing the most sugar are typically the cheapest and the ones most likely to be disproportionally consumed by those of lower socio-economic status. A recent study even showed that the parents most likely to have receive counseling as to lower their children’s sugar intake are disproportionally poor (Park et al.). While the health risks of sugar are real, many modern efforts to combat them do not confront the fact that many of the foods most responsible are also the most affordable.
Gillray, James. “Hero’s recruiting at Kelsey’s; – or- Guard-Day at St. James’s.” http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2001695092/. Accessed 9 Mar 2017.
Huzzey, Richard. “Free trade, free labour, and slave sugar in Victorian Britain.” The Historical Journal 53.02 (2010): 359-379.
Image. http://www.mylearning.org/learning/global-citizens-make-an-impact/sugar%20notice.jpg. Accessed 9 Mar 2017.
Martin, Carla D, lecture “Sugar and Cacao,” Harvard College, Cambridge, MA. 13 Feb 2017.
Park, Sohyun, Bettylou Sherry, Heidi M. Blanck; Characteristics of parents receiving counseling from child’s doctor to limit child’s sugar drink consumption. J Public Health (Oxf) 2012; 34 (2): 228-235. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdr071
Stobart, Jon. Sugar and Spice: Grocers and Groceries in Provincial England, 1650-1830. Oxford University Press, 2013.
“Sugar Tax: What Does It Mean, Which Drinks Will Be Affected, and Will It Work?” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 18 May 2016. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.