If, in France, historically, chocolate was first and foremost a luxury drink, today it is democratized and present in many forms: bars, confectionery, entremets, cakes, creams, drinks... A ballet of variations that enriches each year with the approach of Christmas and Easter, when chocolate figurines invade the shelves of stores. What underlines the link to childhood of this food?
Chocolate is accompanied by a whole universe linked to the young years of life, as evidenced by the place of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the pantheon of works appreciated by children, but the mythologies, virtues and beliefs that surround it go far beyond. It is a particularly fruitful object of communication that can mobilize many values but also different discourses between pleasure, health, ethics, or even transmission.
Taste, a complex communication
Communicating taste amounts to communicating a sensitive and thereby labile, fleeting and subjective experience. From our perspective of information and communication sciences, it is not only a question of grasping the sensitive dimensions but also of thinking about how to transmit them, to make them a reality that can be communicated.
Beyond a sensory semantics around taste, the agri-food industries use other communication devices to make us feel our food. Discourses built around values are then mobilized aiming to unite sensitive but also and above all symbolic dimensions because as the sociologist Claude Fischler very rightly notes in his book L'homnivore, eating is "incorporating not only substance nutritive but also imaginary substance, a web of evocations, connotations and therefore meanings".
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Chocolate appeared in my research as part of a project around diet-cancer. If it is black and rich in cocoa, it is treated by some consumers as a virtuous food that can help maintain good health and protect against disease. Chocolate has, moreover, for a very long time been sold by apothecaries and in pharmacies.
However, chocolate has also been cited as a potentially high-calorie food that should be consumed in moderation because it is a source of various diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, etc.). Chocolate is then at the heart of a very recurrent dichotomy today in our food representations opposing healthy and unhealthy, health and pleasure.
Images, ethics and advertising
For the agri-food industry and chocolate makers, health is not a privileged communication axis, it is above all pleasure that is very widely valued and communicated. A sensitive imagination is then built, ranging from sensory to sensualism. Because the communication of chocolate has mobilized and still mobilizes sensuality to show the exacerbated pleasure of the five senses. The chocolate is then warm, voluptuous, aphrodisiac. This is how the Nestlé Dessert advertisement from 1977 whispers to us "Pleasure, all pleasures", and reveals to us in a play of shadows a man and a woman who share a pear delicately coated in chocolate.
En 1987, the Rocher Suchard advertisement fully plays the image of the tempting woman. Here it is indeed the imaginary of Genesis which is summoned with the forbidden fruit and a supposedly virtuous man who yields to the pleasure of dear and flesh. While the health-pleasure dichotomy is still very present, we are seeing a new communication path taking shape around ethics, echoing in particular a context where the climate and environmental emergency is increasingly covered in the media.
In their review of the literature on research in environmental communication, Catellani et al. underline the success of the expression "sustainable development". The authors also note that the theme of environmental communication has experienced a strong rise in power since 2014. This expression has also penetrated food communication with a new value that appears: ethics. This is present in a transversal way in the majority of food discourses promoting health, gastronomy or the terroir.
Rich in meaning, this value makes it possible to reduce the dichotomy between pleasure and health. This is how several interrelated themes emerge: quality, concern for the environment, consideration of working conditions in the logic of developing fair trade. Chocolate is no exception to this communication modality. like Alter Eco and allows for the sake of transparency to "let know" the conditions of production and delivery but also to promote know-how such as that of the producers and not only of the illustrious chocolate makers. Communication that also enhances transmission.
Chocolate, between transmission and childhood
The theme of transmission leads to different discourses in order to communicate family history as well as know-how or even taste. In the background of the transmission, there is childhood: the chocolate drink in the morning, the mustaches of milk, the cakes made in the mother's kitchen. It is then a question of showing the construction of sociabilities and food memories.
Thus, from 1892, Menier chocolate features a little girl drawing on a wall. This poster produced by Firmin Bouisset has survived the ages and will be revisited several times, embodying playfulness but also considering the child as a prescriber of purchase. This playfulness is widely used in advertisements for Nestlé chocolate mousseAnd then 2001 with the famous "you push the cork a little too far, Maurice" underlining the childish transgression.
Gluttony is also available as a possibility offered to all, it is also a vector of sharing, of gourmet conviviality "the children love Kinder chocolate and so do I". Sometimes the adult transgresses and returns to childhood, Read in 1997 stages him with his Little Schoolchildren. The transmission but especially the link to childhood builds a bridge between past and present allowing to value the taste, the transgression, the transmission and in watermark, the individual and collective memory.
Indeed, our diet has a lasting mark on our body between biological traces, bodily traces but also and above all memory traces. The latter, coupled with food symbolism, are widely used to communicate and give taste but above all meaning to food discourse and, by extension, to our food. It is then a question of capturing and transmitting the meaning, the sensitive food reality by embodying it in sensualism, memories, previous experiences and future challenges.
Clementine Hugol-Gential, Lecturer in information and communication sciences, University of Burgundy - UBFC
This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.