Chocolate: History, Culture and Heritage (Book Review)
So a book about chocolate has to be really extraordinary to get my attention. This one is: Chocolate: History, Culture and Heritage, edited by Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro (Wiley, 2009).
Well, I’m being a little unfair. This is no ordinary book. This is an enormous and exhaustive compendium: nearly 1,000 pages, including 56 articles and 11 appendices. The articles are written by experts in fields ranging from food history to archeology to chemistry.
This volume is the fruit of the chocolate history group, a loose aggregation formed at UC Davis and sponsored and funded by Mars, Incorporated. In 2004 the group was expanded and a fresh infusion of Mars funding allowed for scholars and researchers from the U.S., Canada and Britain to join in the project. Using the most up-to-date research techniques, including access to newly discovered historical documents and new data bases, this team has produced incredible and original in-depth accounts of every aspect of chocolate history that you could imagine.
It is not, admittedly, a book for the casual reader. And at a list price of $99.95, it is likely to be found mostly in research libraries and very specialized private collections. But for food historians and the candy-curious, it is a good book to know about. If you are wondering about, say, chocolate’s use in whaling voyages, or the evolution of chocolate manufacturing techniques, this is the work to consult. Here’s a link to the table of contents, fun reading in itself.
There is a lot of concern these days about corporate influence on academic research. This volume, and the enormous work of research it represents, absolutely would not exist were it not for the funding from Mars, Inc. Obviously Mars has a stake in producing more positive images of chocolate. But this research is significant in much more profound ways. The emphasis here is on the history of the making and eating of chocolate, not on the current faddish studies of chocolate’s purported health benefits. Chocolate history, like food history more generally, gives us a window on all kinds of aspects of everyday life in the past.
If Mars is benefitting from this work, it is only in the most indirect ways. So I say, thank you Mars. This is an excellent resource, and I’m very happy that Mars was willing to fund it.