Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Battling the meaning of Chocolate... I'm not kidding. Chocolate: a political synecdoche...

Words mean things... at least they once did, prior to the GWB administration's implementation of Orwellian double-speak, as when they decided to gut an EPA program that once fought air pollution and call it "Clear Skies," or allowed the timber industry to help rewrite forestry standards to favor their clear-cutting methods, and called the program "Healthy Forests." Today, I have once again come across an unbelievable news story about the ongoing battle over what it means to call something CHOCOLATE.

[I am not implying that Karl Rove is
actively trying to thwart millions of dark chocolate consumers... only that BushCo, of all modern White House administrations, is the one most likely to allow such a thing... given that most of their base is already focused on the upcoming Rapture, and not really thinking long term, if you know what I mean.]

Wouldn't a reasonable person expect that the manufacturers of a product with a market that is still growing, as the market for chocolate must be, have learned a thing or two-- perhaps in business school?!-- by observing what happened when other similarly situated industries made either or both of two serious errors:

a) ignoring what their customers want;

b) attempting to compromise quality-- while hoping that no one would notice-- just so they could make a few more dollars in the short term... and let the long term be damned.

But avoiding both of those errors appears to be too high a bar for some members of the American chocolate industry, i.e., those who wish to adulterate their product without suffering any consequences, while substituting alternative fats for the chocolate liquor, or by adding other, non-chocolate, ingredients... and I don't mean wonderful flavors like orange or roasted almonds or espresso.

Obviously, there are some chocolate producers who truly do not understand their base, given that chocolate politics are now in danger of following the mold cast in Washington, DC. But back to the topic...

The current state of the American automobile industry is a prime example of what happens when manufacturers continue to ignore what their customers say they want... decade after decade. Detroit's main business and its once-large profits found their way across the Pacific to manufacturers of high quality cars with better gas mileage and important safety features.

And if trying to save a bit of money-- those pesky stockholders!-- really is all that Mattel had in mind (temporarily forgetting that you get what you pay for) when they outsourced all of those (lead-)painted toys to China's underpaid workforce, they're probably about to find out the meaning of that old Reality saw, "penny-wise and pound-foolish." To be fair... Mattel's fiasco is a brand-new story, but there have been other recent examples available for learning purposes, the most dramatic being the contaminated wheat gluten responsible for the deaths of too many beloved pets. Shouldn't American manufacturers have learned by now that endangering the lives of consumers' children and/or pets is not just immoral, but also bad for business?! Apparently, that collective learning curve is pretty steep.

Remember what happened to Coke when someone thought they could simply change the formula? ...and that was without any life or death consequences!

If you also care about the quality of some product that is important in your life, and nostalgic for the days when most companies were run by people who cared deeply about the product or service they provided, then you understand why I am so devoted to Green and Black's, and why I am presuming that IntrovertGirl feels similarly.

There are plenty of other manufacturing industries that could employ those whom I would have BigChocolate sack; for example, let industrial chemists mess around with tobacco all they want. It's not as if they could make tobacco any more harmful to humans than they already have with all of the noxious, carcinogenic, and just plain poisonous, additives that have been used to make it more addictive. Perhaps they really could-- as has often been promised-- improve tobacco products and make them even a little bit less harmful.

But, Chocolate?! Why should industrial chemists have anything to do with so-called improvements (aka cost-cutting measures) to a product that is as near to perfect in this imperfect world as chocolate... which is also known to westerners as Theobroma, or "food of the gods?" Yet, there are those who wish to substitute a bit of hydrogenated vegetable oil (yes, a trans fat!) for a portion of the cocoa butter, and its health-giving properties.

If only BigChocolate could exercise a bit of restraint, some patience. Medical research is even now showing some proof of cardiovascular benefits from a moderate intake of dark chocolate... and the chocolate industry is not even having to spend the billions of dollars that BigPharma does whenever they come up with a new drug that will likely have serious side-effects. Those savings should be considered as cash in hand, but instead, some members of the chocolate industry think it a better idea to mess around with the (potentially) healthful benefits of a product for which the projected market growth is probably a steep incline.

Ai yai yaiii.... [sigh] Would someone please send the Chocolate Manufacturers Association a copy of the children's tale about killing the goose that lays the golden egg?

Consider, too, the wider view... perhaps the critical state of our national politics has not really sunk in for you yet. If not, then just contemplate what could happen to chocolate if companies like Nestle and Mars were allowed to have their way. Equivalent scenarios have already happened in so many other areas of our lives...

In fact, the politics of chocolate might once have been considered a synecdoche for American politics... except that so many of the worst-case scenarios have already come to pass in DC politics, and the government-sanctioned adulteration of chocolate is not yet a FISA accompli.

* * *

[Anyone who wants to sign a petition to save the integrity of chocolate, in general, can do that from here.]


ondelette said...

The reason they want to take the cocoa butter out is to use it in cosmetics, for which it gets a better price. People using moisturizers, skin lotions, and suntan lotions could switch to shea butter.

Introvert Girl said...

You're right, Karen, I was really peeved when I heard about this. First off, it's so unecessary, honestly. Secondly, I find it awfully irritating when Big Whatever Commodity decides that its customers don't want what they've been buying all along, or that what they don't know can't hurt them.

You find this last problem in the fight of Big AgriBusiness to keep genetically modified labeling off their products. They say that including such information will unnecessarily send the message to consumers that the product is somehow inferior or dangerous. I say that we, as consumers, have a right to know exactly what we're buying and to make our own informed decisions.

Naming things is actually much more important than people realize. The US's organic label standards, which only came out a couple of years ago, are fraught with misleading information, not the least of which is the prevalent use of labels like "all natural," which mean absolutely nothing.

Ondelette, I know you're right. How do I know? Not because I was told, but because my local natural-crunchy store sells a brand of chocolate bar in the cosmetics section. Its claim? To improve complexion, skin, and health through its high concentration of cocoa butter.

John Cowan said...

Besides, BigChoco is only further adulterating a product already adulterated, particularly but not exclusively in the U.S., beyond all recognition.

Karen M said...

And all of your comments, my friends, are why I (almost exclusively) buy Green and Black's. I still graciously accept other varieties as gifts, and then share them with others...

John, most of the American varieties are full of too much sugar, and even the dark varieties contain milk products. Ai yai yaiii...

I'Girl! that genetically modified crap really gets to me, too. I already have to avoid wheat/dairy/soy... so, now I try to avoid anything modified, since it could easily involve adding one of the above.

ondelette: I do like to use products with Shea butter, since I know it's good for your skin. Cocoa butter, otoh, is just as good for the skin when consumed, as I'Girl has noted.

I was beginning to think that no one else thought this was as big a deal as I did... Thanks, all!

Introvert Girl said...

Oh, you're not alone. It all comes down to use of language, right? How it's crafted and how it can be used to manipulate, to persuade, to redefine reality.

And we're on this blog because we care about such things, right? :-)

Karen M said...


(cute kitty...)

Introvert Girl said...

That's Nemo. She's fat and loyal and is sleeping on the Oxford English Dictionary (compact edition), so I thought she was appropriate ;)