Kristy Leissle: The Cultural Politics of Chocolate

From its mysterious origins deep in the rainforests of Central America to the gluttonous foodstuff we all know and love today, chocolate (not to mention its parent cocoa) has been an integral part of human society for centuries. The Aztecs used cocoa in rituals and as a form of currency as well as for nourishment. In early modern Spain, Catholic theologians argued over whether drinking chocolate could be seen to break the ecclesiastical fast. Chocolate pioneers in the nineteenth century promoted it as an alternative to alcohol, in keeping with the temperance movement that was all the rage at the time. Even in the modern world it has provoked strong emotional perceptions, from innocent treat to sexualized indulgence to junk food. Chocolate is a symbol of global inequality, cultural mores and social anxieties about health, religion, morality, sexuality, race and gender.

This week on The Provocateur we are joined by Kristy Leissle, a lecturer in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell, to discuss the cultural politics of chocolate. We talk about the history of chocolate from the Aztecs to the present, the politics of chocolate branding (using some rather tasty examples) and the future of the chocolate industry in an age of global climate change. Hopefully after listening to this episode you will never look at a chocolate bar in the same way again!

You can listen to the podcast here: 

These are images of the chocolate bars discussed during the show, for reference:

Further Reading:

Allen, L. L. (2009) Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association.

Beckett, S. T. (2008) The Science of Chocolate. Cambridge: The Royal Society of Chemistry.

Coe, S. D. and M. D. Coe (2013) The True History of Chocolate, third edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Forrest, B. M. and A. L. Najjaj (2007) ‘Is Sipping Sin Breaking Fast? The Catholic Chocolate Controversy and the Changing World of Early Modern Spain’, Food and Foodways 5(1-2), pp. 31-52. [See also the rest of this journal issue.]

Jones, C. A. (2013) ‘Exotic Edibles: Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Early Modern French How-to’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 43(3), pp. 623-653.

Leissle, K. (in press) Cocoa. Cambridge: Polity Press (in the ‘Resources’ series).

Mintz, S. (1985) Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Viking-Penguin.

Norton, M. (2006) ‘Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics’, American Historical Review 111(3), pp. 660-691.

____ (2010) Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Richardson, B. (2015) Sugar. Cambridge: Polity Press (in the ‘Resources’ series).

Robertson, E. (2009) Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Ryan, O. (2011) Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. London: Zed Books.

Satre, L. J. (2005) Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Bryan Pitts: Sexual Liberation with Political Liberation? Race, Sexuality, Nationality and Democracy in Contemporary Brazil

In the final episode of our month-long miniseries for LGBT History Month, The Provocateur travels to Brazil, arguably one of the most important emerging markets at the moment as well as being a vibrant and dynamic country in its own right. While it may have hit the headlines most recently for the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff – and the subsequent return to power of the main conservative faction in Congress, led by Michel Temer – Brazil also has a long and complicated history of colonialism, decolonisation and dictatorship. This has inevitably impacted on the ways in which LGBT people express their sexuality and how they are perceived by mainstream Brazilian society.

Today I talk to Bryan Pitts, a lecturer in history at the University of Georgia, for a fascinating look at the interplay of race, sexuality, nationality and democracy in contemporary Brazil. We discuss the historical context of the dictatorship years of 1964-1985 and the transition to democracy, the legacies of Portuguese rule, the thesis that sexual liberalisation has gone along with political liberalisation and the particular challenges facing transgendered people. We also talk about Bryan’s research on Brazilian gay magazines and gay sex tourism.

You can listen to part one of the podcast here: 

Part two is here: 

Robbie Smith: Haiti and the Complexities of Giving

In this second episode of The Provocateur, I talk to Robbie Smith, CEO and founder of NGOs United, about the political situation in Haiti and how his initiative can improve the efficacy of development aid in the country. Join us for a fascinating discussion that takes in the history of this oft-forgotten Caribbean state; the impact of recent natural disasters such as the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew; and the ongoing challenges to effective aid delivery.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Berry, N. S. (2014) ‘Did we do good? NGOs, conflicts of interest and the evaluation of short-term medical missions in Solola, Colombia’,  Social Science & Medicine 120, pp. 344-351.

Kidder, T. (2011) Mountains Beyond Mountains. London: Profile Books.

Minn, P. H. (2011) “Where They Need Me”: The Moral Economy of International Medical Aid in Haiti. PhD thesis, McGill University.

Pfeiffer, J. (2003) ‘International NGOs and primary health care in Mozambique: the need for a new model of collaboration’, Social Science & Medicine 56, pp. 725-738.