Perhaps no other edible substance is so fraught with meaning as chocolate, a food that conjures up memories of childhood and feelings of bliss. For the average consumer who gets a fix from Hershey or Snickers, Richardsons exploration of chocolates historical, cultural, gastronomic and even political impact will be nothing short of eye-opening. He begins his travelogue in Mexico, with a study of the harvesting and production of cacao beans, which come from the Theobroma Cacao ("chocolate tree"). While journeying through such countries as Venezuela, Spain, France, Italy, the U.K., and the U.S., Richardson observes the manner in which people enjoy their chocolate and concludes that it is directly tied to culture: hot chocolate drinks abound in Spain and, in France, artisan chocolatiers produce sublime truffles and other treats. Artisinal chocolate is a far cry from the sweet milk chocolate confections favored in the United States and Britain. Of the Cadbury eggs that are ubiquitous during Easter, Richardson remarks: "To eat a whole Creme Egg...is to feel sick in soul and stomach for the rest of the day." Of course, luxury items are never without political implications and consequences. Richardson notes the harsh dichotomy that exists between producing and consuming nations: "Cacao and chocolate are the raw and the cooked. What comes to mind is a dualistic, almost Manichean world, or rather two separate worlds living in almost total ignorance of each other. How many Western consumers have more than the faintest clue about cacao, its provenance and process? Meanwhile Latin America consumes 7 per cent of the cacao it produces; Africa, just 3 per cent." Readers will likely be left with a serious chocolate craving after reading some of Richardsons more eloquent descriptions, but its hard to imagine ever looking at a bon-bon in quite the same way again.
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