The Ugly History of Chocolate, Told in Five Minutes

March 22, 2017

Where does our chocolate come from? Anthropology books have been written on the very subject of chocolate and its history. As research and scholarship around it intensifies, I suspect there will be many more to come.

Still, the seedy labor practices undergirding chocolate production across the world don't get enough coverage, at least from my vantage point. Over the past few days, I’ve been seeing this video from the folks at TED floating around that gets it right. It condenses the expansive, centuries-long timeline of chocolate's commodification into fewer than five minutes.

The video is concise and direct, tying together many competing threads in telling the story of how our chocolate gets to us, walking through its Mesoamerican roots to its global spread. It does a particularly fine job of explaining, briefly, the colonial-era power dynamics that persist today to supply chocolate, and how this has sustained the allure surrounding chocolate that makes it so appealing for consumers—namely it's status as an elite luxury good with a forbidden air.

The lesson is derived from the scholarship of Deanna Pucciarelli, Associate Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at Ball State. She's been researching cacao production for years now, and she's compiled some recommended further reading on the topic for anyone who's curious to go beyond this five-minute video. I'd recommend taking a look at this exposé last year from Fortune on the reliance on West African child labor for cocoa harvesting. The video merely scratches the surface of an inordinately complex historical timeline, but if you know very little about how our chocolate makes its way to us, I could think of worse places to start.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


Whiteantlers March 22, 2017
The video was quite good. Thanks for this article. People need to keep being made aware of where their food and treats come from-and at what cost to those who make the enjoyment and consumption possible. Bravo to you once again!
Chocolate B. March 22, 2017
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