Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Chocolate Irony

You want irony? I'll give you irony. Remember in "Out of Milk" when I promised an essay about chocolate and how I would never eat it again as long as I lived? (It has been 10 days already, and 10 days without chocolate is a long, long time. ) (Photo: Detail from "Chocolate Kama Sutra," artist unknown.)

Here comes the irony. Just now my wife Ann has forwarded me notice of an intriguing job opening at a company in Vermont that needs a marketing person just like me. The company? Lake Champlain Chocolates, purveyors of super-premium gift chocolates, "made in small batches," for prices that approach $30 per pound.

So I have written a very memorable letter to the chocolate makers about how I would bend my creative talents to their noble purpose, and I mean every word of it. I could do that. I love chocolate. I love all food that comes with a story.

I remember my grandmother feeding me, zooming a spoon around in front of my face. I was well past the age when I needed to be fed by an adult, but she was my grandmother and it was a luxury. She would say, "Here comes the airplane, now open the hanger!" or "Here comes the spaceship!" What was the food? I don't remember. I remember the story.

I remember my mother burning the toast, and saying "Aunt Susie would have loved it. She always asked for the burnt toast."

I heard that my Aunt Lois, during the hungry times of the Great Depression, was asked what she wanted for her birthday. She replied, "A whole chicken, all to myself." I never heard whether she got it.

There are foods that nobody would eat at all if it were not for the power of the accompanying story. Matzoh is one example, and its near cousin, communion wafer, is an infinitely better example.

Haggis is in the same league of foods that can only be consumed with a heavy sauce of narrative. I remember a Bobby Burns Night concert in Cambridge, when folksinger Jean Redpath brought out a haggis on a platter, and even in the tenth row I could sense that eating it would require an act not of hunger but of faith.

You can tell stories about chocolate, but chocolate requires no story. Chocolate doesn't need to talk its way into your mouth. Your mouth is made for chocolate, the way your lungs are made for air. There is no resistance, no hesitation, no intermediation, no required ritual, no byplay of salt-licking and lime-biting.

That's the problem with chocolate. It doesn't say no. It doesn't even say "Wait a minute." It says "Eat me now. Eat all of me. It's what I live for."

I read once that a properly-planned dinner must include a "piece de resistance" and that although that French phrase has lately come to mean merely "a very special dish," its name comes from the idea that this should be the most substantial part of the meal, the part that takes some time, that slows you down, that offers resistance. It's not a two-bite appetizer, not an amuse-bouche. It's food that takes some work and study to eat. When that course appears, the conversation dies down and the serious eating begins.

For me, chocolate is just too easy. It lets me eat too much too fast with too little effort. It's not like walnuts in the shell, which must be attacked with various steel surgical tools. It's not like pomegranates, or steamed crabs, or artichokes. Those foods are all resistance.

There's a bag of chocolate morsels in the pantry, waiting to be made into cookies. I know where it is. I leave it alone. This doesn't sound like much, but it's a breakthrough.

Peanut butter, milk, chocolate. Now what? What next? I will entertain nominations from the floor.


  1. Working for a chocolate company might actually be a really good idea if you're trying to give up chocolate. I worked in a Godiva shop for year, and after binging shamelessly the first couple of days I had no interest in eating chocolate again until well after my employment there ended.

    I'm pretty sure I will NEVER eat Godiva again.


  2. You said you're entertaining nominations from the floor. How about beer? Easy to give up or hard?


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