Saturday, June 09, 2007

Scholarly Chocolate

The Spring 2007 issue of the Radcliffe Culinary Times (a publication of the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University) includes my new article, "Hershey Economics: American Chocolate in the Age of Globalization." Many thanks to editor Elizabeth Gawthrop Riely for allowing me to post this excerpt:

The Hershey Bar defines American candy, but its story is sprawlingly global. Milton Hershey (1857-1945), inventor of the bar that bears his name, is revered as one of the most egalitarian business men in American history. Yet the company he founded is currently embroiled in the controversy over gross human rights abuses on cacao plantations abroad that chocolate makers have blatantly ignored for years. To understand the history – and the future – of the Hershey Company it is important to be familiar with its developing-world and developed-world identities. Two new books address each one, respectively: Carol Off's Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet (published in Canada by Random House Canada in 2006) and Michael D'Antonio's Hershey: Milton S. Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams (Simon & Schuster, 2006).
      The story of the Hershey Company – like the story of chocolate itself – is often a disjointed one. "The dark brown, pleasantly bitter, chemically complex substance we know of as chocolate bears little resemblance to the pulp-surrounded seeds of the cocoa plant from which it is produced," explain Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe in the 1996 book that paved the way for chocolate scholarship, The True History of Chocolate (Thames & Hudson, 1996). "One would never suspect," they continue, "that one could be derived from the other." The cacao bean (in an oversized pod that sprouts directly from the trunk of a tree) grows only within twenty degrees of the equator, primarily in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, and in other tropical countries including Indonesia, Brazil, and Ecuador. But processed chocolate (formed by expensive machinery that causes the beans' grittiness to vanish while enhancing complex flavors) is an indulgence largely restricted to wealthier nations in cooler climates. It often seems that there are two chocolates: the raw chocolate that originates in developing countries with the help of enormous amounts of human labor and the factory-produced chocolate that is consumed in mass quantities in Europe and America with very little effort at all.

The entire article can be found at the Schlesinger Library at 10 Garden Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts (617 496-8340). A subscription to the twice-yearly publication is given to all Radcliffe Culinary Friends. Membership costs $35 annually, and strikes me as an act of culinary solidarity up there with joining the James Beard Foundation in New York or the Copia Center in Napa.


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