If, in France, historically, chocolate is first and foremost a luxury drink, it is now democratized and present in many forms: bars, sweets, desserts, cakes, creams, drinks … A ballet of variations that s’ enriches each year as Christmas approaches. No sooner has the chocolate fair (with its famous parade of dresses, illustrating the virtuosity of artisans) closed its doors when advent calendars and chocolate Christmas figurines invade store shelves. What underline the link to childhood of this food?
Chocolate is accompanied by a whole universe linked to the young years of life, as evidenced by Charlie’s place 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 experience and therefore labile, fleeting and subjective. 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 is communicated.
Beyond a sensory semantics around taste, the food industries use other communication devices to make us feel our food. Speeches built around values are then mobilized aiming to unite sensitive but also and above all symbolic dimensions because, as sociologist Claude Fischler very aptly notes in his work L’homnivore , to eat is to “incorporate not only substance. nutritious but also imaginary substance, a tissue of evocations, connotations and therefore meanings ”.
Chocolate appeared in my research as part of a project around diet-cancer . If it is dark 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 also been sold by apothecaries and pharmacies for a very long time .
However, chocolate was also cited as a potentially high calorie food that should be consumed in moderation because it is a provider of various diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, etc.). Chocolate is therefore at the heart of a dichotomy that is very recurrent today in our food representations opposing healthy and unhealthy, health and pleasure.
Images, ethics and advertising
As for the food industry and chocolate makers, health is not a privileged communication axis, it is above all pleasure which is very widely valued and communicated. A sensitive imagination is then constructed, ranging from the sensory to sensualism. Because chocolate communication has mobilized and still mobilizes sensuality to show the heightened pleasure of the five senses. The chocolate is then hot, voluptuous, aphrodisiac. This is how the 1977 Nestlé Dessert advertisement whispers to us “Pleasure, all the pleasures”, and reveals to us in a play of shadows a man and a woman sharing a pear delicately coated in chocolate.
In 1987, the Rocher Suchard advertisement fully played the image of the tempting woman. Here it is indeed the imagination of Genesis which is summoned with the forbidden fruit and a supposedly virtuous man who yields to the pleasure of dear and of the flesh. If the health – pleasure dichotomy is still very present, we are observing a new communication channel emerging around ethics, echoing in particular a context where the climate and environmental emergency is increasingly publicized.
In their review of the literature on environmental communication research, Catellani et al . underline the success of the term “sustainable development”. The authors also note that the theme of environmental communication has grown significantly since 2014. This expression has also penetrated food communication with a new emerging value: ethics. This is present in a transversal way in the majority of food discourses promoting health, gastronomy or the land.
Rich in meaning, this value reduces the dichotomy between pleasure and health. This is how several interrelated themes emerge: quality, concern for the environment, consideration of working conditions in the development logic of fair trade. Chocolate is no exception to this communication modality like Alter Eco and, for the sake of transparency, makes it possible to “make known” the conditions of production and delivery but also to promote know-how such as those of the producers. and not just famous chocolatiers. A communication which also makes it possible to enhance the 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 morning chocolate drink, the milk mustaches, the cakes made in the maternal kitchen. It is then a question of showing the construction of sociability and food memories.
Thus, from 1892, Menier chocolate featured a little girl drawing on a wall. This poster produced by Firmin Bouisset has crossed the ages and will be revisited several times, embodying playfulness but also considering the child as a purchasing advisor. This playfulness is widely used in the advertisements for Nestlé’s chocolate mousse in 1999 , then in 2001 with the famous “you’re pushing the cork a little too far, Maurice” underlining the childish transgression.
Gluttony is also available as a possibility offered to everyone, it is also a vector of sharing, of gourmet conviviality “children love Kinder chocolate and me too” . Sometimes the adult transgresses and returns to childhood, Lu in 1997 puts it in scene with his Small schoolchildren. The transmission but above all the link to childhood builds a bridge between past and present making it possible to promote taste, transgression, transmission and, implicitly, individual and collective memory.
Indeed, our food leaves a lasting mark on our body between biological traces, bodily traces but also and above all memory traces. These, coupled with food symbolism, are widely used to communicate and give taste but above all meaning to food discourses and, by extension, to our food. It is then a question of grasping and transmitting the meaning, the sensitive food reality by embodying it in sensualism, memories, previous experiences and challenges to come.
Author Bio: Clementine Hugol-Gential is a Lecturer in information and communication sciences at the University of Burgundy – UBFC