Below are a series of short stories that I have gathered from family and friends about their most meaningful experience with chocolate. Their stories range from silly to symbolic. Nevertheless, they all indicate how chocolate plays a significant role in everyone’s life in one form or another.
*Names have been changed for privacy purposes.
I can recall the first time I ate chocolate like it was yesterday. I was no older than four or five years of age. I snuck into my parents’ candy bowl, reserved for guests, unwrapped the wrapper, and immediately shoved the Lindt milk chocolate truffle into my mouth. I was a rebel. I knew it was wrong to go behind my parents’ back, but it felt so right. After munching down on the hardened exterior, an explosive gush of luscious sweet delight stimulated my taste buds. I was addicted; this sensation was beyond anything I had ever experienced.
Prior to the late 1800’s, chocolate was “coarse and gritty” (Coe 248). However, in 1879, Rodolphe Lindt developed the conching process in Switzerland (247). Conching is one of the most misunderstood processes and can take a few hours up to three days to perform. During the process of smoothing out the chocolate, it also reaches a desirable flavor due to the reduction in the size of chocolate particles (248). Lindt’s invention is one of the most pivotable developments in chocolate and has led to much of the chocolate we know and love today.
When I was five year of age, I woke up in the middle of the night crying hysterically. My mother ran to my side to see what was wrong. I exclaimed, “You gave Arko [my older brother] a Kit Kat bar, but not me!” My mother insisted it was simply a bad dream, but I continued to wail. In order to subdue my cries, she went to the kitchen and brought me a Kit Kat bar. I held the Kit Kat bar in my arms as if it were a teddy bear, and fell asleep without ever even opening the package and taking a bite.
This is a perfect illustration of how the chocolate industry has targeted children to become “cradle to grave” chocolate consumers (Lecture, Mar. 29). Companies spend approximately $17 billion annually marketing to children, a staggering increase from the $100 million spent in 1983 (Lecture, Mar. 29). Children are bombarded with marketing every waking moment. Maliha’s desire for this chocolate bar, with strong indications that she was socialized to crave, is a clear illustration of the media’s influence on children’s chocolate consumption..
In the early 20th century, Kit Kat “adverts from the late 1930’s suggested that the product was popular with female office workers” and the modern housewife (Robertson 24). Kit Kats have always been a popular chocolate snack. Even during the 1950’s it was seen as a small nutritional meal or an accompaniment to tea (51). Kit Kat bars have become a staple to the American chocolate industry’s success. Hershey has developed successful advertisement campaigns with catchy jingles such as, “Give me a break, give me a break, break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar.”
To view Kit Kat’s catchy jingle that may have influenced Maliha’s love for Kit Kat bars, check out this commercial from 1988:
I moved to Australia at the age of six. I was always disappointed that Australians did not celebrate Halloween. Nevertheless, our teachers introduced the holiday by encouraging us to dress up in costumes. I admit, I was kind of a weird kid. I would dress up often throughout the month of October in eccentric costumes with hopes that I would receive chocolate candy for my efforts. I clearly had not grasped the concept of the holiday at this point.
Every year my peers and I would wear costumes, but would be very disappointed because trick-or-treating was not a cultural practice in Australia. We were not even aware of the exact day Halloween was, so we tried our own rendition that involved more trick than treat. The closest that we got to receiving chocolate was “tricking” the local convenience store and shoving as much chocolate into our pockets that we could possibly fit. Then, we would run home, empty our pockets and compete with one another by counting our pieces to see who had the most chocolate. The player with the least amount of chocolate was always forced to forfeit his/her share and divide it amongst the rest of us.
The Halloween that Americans know today was much different than the way the holiday was celebrated in the 1930’s and 1940’s. It was not until the 1970’s that candy, especially chocolate, was the treat used in the trick-or-treating process. In previous decades, a multitude of food items were offered when children rang the doorbells of their neighbors. The primary reason that Halloween became a chocolate holiday was because the candy industry was looking for a way to spike sales during the fall season. Halloween seemed like the ideal opportunity (The Atlantic, 21 Oct. 2010). With monopolized markets, three companies make up 99.4% of snack sized chocolate in Halloween candy. (Lecture, Mar. 8).
During Easter, I recall my mother hiding Cadbury chocolate eggs throughout our home. I searched far and wide to determine if the Easter Bunny really existed by searching for the receipts from my parents for the purchased chocolate. I never found those receipts, so my belief in the Easter Bunny solidified. I believed that the Easter Bunny really did hop into my house and hide those chocolate eggs.
Cadbury mini eggs were created in 1967 (Lecture, Mar. 8). These eggs are served during Easter with a sugary shell outside and a chocolate inside. Some people may describe this as a frankenfood–a different category that should not fit in with food because it is ultra processed and different (Lecture, Mar. 8). It is a different choice product when comparing it to the Mesoamerican history of cacao. It is, ultimately, a result of the changes in industrialization. People want things fast: the production is innovative, cheap, available and maintains the same expectations. On the other hand, some argue that people determine what people want and that is what people get (Lecture, Mar. 8).
To view the process of how Cadbury chocolate eggs are made watch this video:
When I was ten years old, my parents decided that they were going to take me and my sister to chocolate mecca, also known as Hersheypark. Hersheypark was my childhood fantasy–even better than Disneyworld. I daydreamed of roller coasters made of chocolate and chocolate streams flowing alongside the sidewalks. However, when I entered the themepark, I realized it looked nothing like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Instead, it was a bunch of middle aged families excited to take a photo with a man dressed up in a giant Hershey chocolate bar costume. I was heartbroken. My Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory dreams were crushed and all I was left with was a Hershey Kiss plush toy.
Hershey is considered one of the the kings of American food companies and has become synonymous with American chocolate. In 1903, Milton Hershey aimed to produce chocolate in Pennsylvania by involving the local community (Coe 248). He hired locals and struggled to develop milk that came from local dairy farms. He genuinely focused on the right variety of cow to make the type of chocolate he desired. He experimented with many different types of milk from cows to get the right balance of fat and flavor.
Hershey is notoriously secretive of what they do in their factories, however they do have areas of their factory open to the public. They even have a theme park and spa. This is all part of Hershey’s attempt to become a beloved American candy company (248-251).
To see how Hershey chocolate is made watch the video here:
My first boyfriend, Ty Anderson, bought me my first gift on Valentine’s Day. It was a Russell Stover chocolate heart. If anyone has tried Russel Stover chocolate, one would realize the chocolate inside actually sucks and is truly only cute for the novelty behind the shape of the box. I sadly had to throw the box away before returning home from school because I was not allowed to have a boyfriend. Nevertheless, I was not extremely disappointed because the chocolate was not very tasty anyway.
There is a lot of competing history debating the roots of Valentine’s Day. Some argue that it derived from early pagan rituals linked to romance or that St. Valentine himself invented the holiday. Nevertheless, the Valentine’s Day understood by modern western society is believed to have originated during the Victorian era (Lecture, Feb. 8). The holiday took off on both sides of the Atlantic and was popular in both the United Kingdom and the United States. Cadbury Chocolate Company developed the first heart shaped box in the mid to late 1800’s and became very popular for people to buy. The National Confectioners Association, started in the mid 1800s, saw the potential for chocolate companies to link chocolate to Valentine’s Day. The association lobbied to commercialize the holiday for chocolate companies (Lecture, Feb. 8).
An Armenian tradition is to bring a box of chocolates, known as bonbonerka, to a home when you are invited as a guest. Typically, no one ever opens the box and it often gets recycled. One time, my friend brought me the same bonbonerka that I had brought to her home as a gift a few months earlier. She was quite embarrassed.
As depicted in this brief story, chocolate gift giving is popular amongst a variety of cultures. It may have originated from the American chocolate industry lobbying, but today sharing a gift of chocolate is seen as a cultural norm, even in the Caucasus.
My grandparents lived in Armenia during the Soviet times. My grandfather would smuggle chocolate from Europe for my grandmother known as “plitka.” It was a simple flat chocolate bar wrapped in foil. Indulging in this chocolate was taboo. Each day when my grandmother would drink her afternoon tea, she would take a bite of this foreign chocolate. Until this day, my grandmother indulges in a bite of chocolate with her tea. The other day she even exclaimed, “I have this exclusive dark chocolate!” I replied, “Ok grandma. You’re reminiscing over your chocolate days again.” My grandmother still finds it fascinating that a commodity that was so difficult to acquire in Soviet times is now so easily accessible.
During the Soviet times, “Red October” was a state owned company that produced chocolate for the Soviet Union. Due to the communist regime, chocolate was limited to very few state owned chocolate factories–Red October was the most prominent and primary producer. Prior to the Communist Revolution, the factory was privately owned by a German immigrant, Teodore Ferdinand von Einem, and later succeeded by Julius Heuss (Los Angeles Times, 10 Nov. 1991). After the nationalization of the factory, it was first named “State Confectionary Factory #1,” but in 1922 renamed to “Red October.” During World War II, the factory produced a specific chocolate bar with a high concentration of caffeine for members of the military. The company was later acknowledged for their service to the government with an honorary award for their contribution to the war effort (Los Angeles Times, 10 Nov. 1991).
After experiencing a terrible breakup with my boyfriend of two years, I had to endure my first Valentine’s Day alone. In order to make my ex-boyfriend jealous, I purchased the most expensive box of Godiva chocolate available to post on social media. I am not entirely sure if he got jealous, but I did enjoy the chocolate inside! I still don’t think he knows that I actually bought the $150 box of chocolate for myself.
Valentine’s Day is a highly gendered holiday. Although men and women in the United States consume the same amount of chocolate, every week, except for the week of Valentine’s Day, women buy more chocolate than men (Lecture, Feb. 8). On Valentine’s Day, it is a common heteronormative tradition for men to gift chocolate to the women in their lives. The practice is commonplace around traditional couples: men give chocolate to a woman and she will be romanticized and seduced (Lecture, Feb. 8).
All of this has led people to feel very divided about Valentine’s Day. Some people love the tradition, while others find it to be an unpleasant holiday with bizarre expectations. One reason why chocolate is linked with Valentine’s Day is due to many believing in its aphrodisiac qualities (Lecture, Feb. 8). Even Mesoamericans linked chocolate with romance and marriage ceremonies. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the meaning of Valentine’s Day is socially constructed–the gift of chocolate on this day is something we have agreed upon as a society and that is why we practice it (Lecture, Feb. 8).
I crave chocolate like people crave cigarettes. I get into crazy binges and become loyal to only one type of chocolate. For example, I’ll get tired of Hershey’s chocolate almond nougats after a few months and then stock up on multiple bags of Lindt chocolate truffles. During the summer months, I’ll even ensure to bring a cooler with me when I buy my chocolate in bulk to prevent it from melting.
After a trip to the dentist a few year months ago, I vowed to stop eating chocolate with nuts. I now completely avoid some of my favorites, including Lindt chocolate hazelnut bars, and resort to chocolate that is not so destructive to my teeth. If I’m having a rough day, I’ll have a bite of chocolate and my day instantly improves! I’ve never suffered from depression or anxiety. Perhaps it’s because I eat chocolate every day. Who knows?
There is inconclusive evidence amongst the scientific community determining whether both the chemistry and biochemistry of cacao compounds relieve depression and improves one’s mood (Watson 392). Some scientists argue that chocolate only affects short-term mood improvements. The issue is controversial because some scientists even argue that many of the studies conducted involve tests that involve the consumption of chocolate bars (ingredients not containing 100% cocao) and mood elevation may be due to other compounds in the chocolate, such a carbohydrates and sugar (393). Scientists are also conflicted because a majority of these studies focus on the short-term mood effects of chocolate and do not consider the potential “relief like state” chocolate addicts experience after fulfilling a chocolate craving.
There is an extensive body of literature that examines chocolate cravings and whether it is a viable addiction. In some studies, results have indicated that when determining whether chocolate is a viable cure for depression or anxiety, one must consider the subject’s relationship to chocolate. Some scientist conclude that the taste and mouthfeel result in the mood improvement–not the active chemical compounds present in the consumed chocolate (394). One study confirms, “chocolate craving is probably the expression of a speciﬁc eating disorder whose relief may be attributable more to sensation satisfaction than to the effect of chocolate compounds” (394).
Although there is more concrete evidence that indicates that chocolate can improve cognitive effects in short-term consumption, there is less evidence to concur whether sustained consumption of cocoa can reduce the intensity of anxiety and depressive symptoms (403). The results are continually inconclusive and require a consideration of a plethora of variables (400). More research must be conducted on diverse populations and subjects containing different types of mood disorders in order to confirm these observations” (400).
As the above testimonies have illustrated, each individual has a unique and personal relationship with chocolate. Everyone that I interviewed had a different perspective on chocolate and a meaningful story to tell. Most did not realize how their experience with chocolate may have significantly impacted their lives and the lives of others. To an outsider, this collection of short stories may seem vapid and meaningless; however, when one delves deeper and analyzes the social/cultural/political contexts of their experiences, it becomes clear that a multitude of factors influences one’s relationship and experience with chocolate, and in a broader scope, one’s personal life.
“About company.” Red October. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 May 2017.
Brenner, Joel. 2000. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.
Kawash, Samira. “How Candy and Halloween Became Best Friends.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 21 Oct. 2010. Web. 2 May 2017.
Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 3: Chocolate Expansion.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge. 8 Feb. 2017. Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 7: The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge. 8 Mar. 2017. Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 9: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge. 29 Mar. 2017. Lecture.
Peterson, Jonathan. “Soviet Chocolate Factory Is Facing Bittersweet Times : Economy: The Red October plant, which has survived revolution and war, is struggling with privatization.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 10 Nov. 1991. Web. 5 May 2017.
Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.
Watson, Ronald Ross, Victor R. Preedy, and Sherma Zibadi, eds. 2013. Chocolate in Health and Nutrition.