Add a Comment
|The Story of St. Valentine|
by Voice of the Martyrs/Cheryl Odden
How will Llama Llama celebrate this day that both honors one of the strongest of emotions and shows the ones that you love all the sometimes unspoken words that are in your heart?
Llama Llama and Anna Dewdney have come up with one way in this sturdy board book that mirrors your child and all their very sweet Valentine’s day preparation and celebratory activities.
You’re probably sharing in the doing of most of these things with your child; picking out or making Valentine cards for both family members and your child’s classmates. And, like Llama Llama that involves the sending and receiving of same, to those near and far.
A brown-jacketed hippo mailman delivers a bouquet of flowers to Llama’ mama, and Llama Llama, in turn, receives a Valentine heart of chocolates from mom. I confess – via a conspiratorial whisper – that this is one of my favorite parts of the day!
And what child doesn’t like glitter? Glitter and glue are a must on Valentine’s Day, so Llama Llama comes up with a lace-rimmed glittery one for his mom.
And, of course, the small llama saves the best till last; an “I love you” whispered to mom as they cuddle, all snuggled up in her checked padded rocker.
It’s the sweetest part of the day, to my mind, and this board book serves as a perfect patterning for any child’s Valentine’s Day.
But, as you know, there is no one way to say, “I Love You.” Your child probably has their own unique way of saying those words that are so meaningful ANY day of the year!
Please remember to send and receive those words with the ones you love this Valentine’s Day!
Add a Comment
On Valentine’s Day, we usually think of romance and great love stories. But there is another type of love we often overlook: love between friends, particularly between men and women in a platonic friendship. This is not a new phenomenon: loving friendships were possible and even fairly common among elite men and women in America’s founding era. These were affectionate relationships of mutual respect, emotional support, and love that had to carefully skirt the boundaries of romance. While extravagant declarations of love would have raised eyebrows, these friends found socially acceptable ways to express their affection for one another. Learn more about some special pairs of platonic friends from early America, including some very familiar names.
Featured image: Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, Howard Chandler Christy (1940). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.Add a Comment
The Harp is a string instrument of very ancient lineage that is synonymous with classical music and cupid’s lyre. Over the years, the harp has morphed from its primitive hunting bow shape to its modern day use in corporate branding. Across the globe, each culture has its own variation of this whimsical soft-sounding instrument. Check out these ten fun facts about the harp.
1. The harp is one of the oldest instruments in the world. It dates back to around 3000 B.C. and was first depicted on the sides of ancient Egyptian tombs and in Mesopotamian culture.
2. Nowhere is there a larger variety of harps than in Africa. The harp has a place in the traditions of nearly 150 African peoples.
3. The word harpa was first used around the year 600 and is a generic term for stringed instruments. The verb harp means to talk on and on about one subject similar to a harpist plucking the same string over and over.
4. With a range of one to 90 strings per instrument, the harp can be classified into two main categories: the frame harp and the open harp.
5. A modern harpist plays using only the first four fingers on each hand. They pluck the strings near the middle of the harp using the pads of their fingers. Irish harpists use their fingernails to pluck the wire strings.
7. Once an aristocratic instrument played for royalty, harpists were challenged with being able to evoke three distinct emotions from their audience: tears, laughter, and sleep.
8. The harp has been Ireland’s national symbol since the thirteenth century.
9. The popular Irish beer, Guinness, also features a harp as its symbol.
10. In the 20th century, historians and harp aficionados garnered wide-spread interest in reviving the harp and in 1990, the Historical Harp Society was founded and based in North America.
Headline image credit: Celtic Harp. Photo by Holzwurm52. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.Add a Comment
Marvin is a delusional dater. He somehow talked the gorgeous Maria into going on a date with him, and today is the day. Maria is way out of Marvin’s league but he lacks self-knowledge. He thinks he is better looking, better dressed, and more interesting than he really is. Yet his illusions about himself serve a purpose. They give him self-belief and as a result the date goes better than it would have done otherwise. Maria is still out of Marvin’s league, but is at least impressed by his nerve and self-confidence, if not by his conversation.
The case of the delusional dater suggests that self-knowledge doesn’t necessarily make you happier or more successful, at least in the short term. According to social psychologists Timothy Wilson and Elizabeth Dunn, there are physical and mental benefits associated with maintaining slight or moderate self-illusions, such as believing one is more generous, intelligent, and attractive than is actually the case. There are some truths about ourselves which, like Marvin, we are better off not knowing.
Real world examples of the benefits of moderate self-illusions are not hard to find. In my experience as a university teacher, average students who believe they are better than that tend to work harder and do better than average students who know their own limitations. Studies of HIV-positive men have shown that they are more likely to practice safe sex if they believe they are unlikely to get AIDS. Sometimes positive self-illusions can be even self-fulfilling. Studies of women at weight loss clinics have shown they are more likely to lose weight if they believe they are going to lose weight.
My favourite example of the power of self-illusions is a famous study of snake-phobic subjects who were played what they believed were the sounds of their own heartbeats as they were shown slides of snakes. In fact, instead of their own racing hearts, they were played the steady heartbeats of someone with no fear of snakes. As a result, the snake-phobic subjects inferred that they weren’t that scared of snakes after all and became less snake-phobic.
Knowledge of how generous, attractive, or frightened you are might not sound like “self-knowledge.” We like to think of self-knowledge as something deeper, as knowledge of the “real you.” But the real you isn’t something apart from your thoughts, motives, emotions, character traits, values and personality. Knowledge of these things is knowledge of the “real you,” and the question remains why knowledge of the real you should matter. Most of us have heard of the ancient command to “Know thyself” but few have dared to ask what good it does.
Low-end explanations of the value of self-knowledge say that self-knowledge is a good thing because it makes you happier or more successful. High-end explanations say that the real point of self-knowledge is that having it enables us to live more authentic and meaningful lives. From this standpoint it doesn’t matter if self-knowledge doesn’t guarantee happiness or success. That was never the point of “Know thyself.”
High-end explanations of the value of self-knowledge are seductive but don’t really work. To be authentic is to be true to yourself, and you might wonder how you can be true to yourself, to who you really are, if you don’t know yourself. Actually, it’s easy to show that authenticity is possible without self-knowledge. Suppose the opportunity arises to cheat in a card game but you don’t cheat because you aren’t a cheat. In refraining from cheating you are being true to yourself but what makes you refrain from cheating is the fact that you aren’t a cheat. You don’t need to know you aren’t a cheat for you not to cheat. You can be true to yourself regardless of whether you know yourself.
Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. Could this be why self-knowledge matters? The idea that self-knowledge has something to do with finding meaning in your life is promising but controversial. There is plenty of evidence that people find their life choices more meaningful when they are consistent with the kind of person they think they are, but the kind of person you think you are may be quite different from the kind of person you actually are. Being mistaken about the kind of person you are needn’t prevent you from finding your life meaningful on its own terms.
Am I saying that self-knowledge is worthless? Not at all. What I’m saying – and this might be a surprising thing for a philosopher to be saying – is that self-knowledge is overrated in our culture. The truth of the matter is not that you can’t live authentically, meaningfully, or happily without self-knowledge, but that a modicum of self-knowledge might, depending on the circumstances, improve your prospects of living in these ways. While self-knowledge is no guarantee of happiness, you are unlikely to do well in life if you are grossly self-ignorant. Marvin’s self-illusions might get him through his date with Maria but in the longer term he will save himself the pain of repeated rejection if he stops kidding himself.
“While self-knowledge is no guarantee of happiness, you are unlikely to do well in life if you are grossly self-ignorant.”
The same applies to talentless contestants of reality TV talent shows. It’s hard not to think that delusional contestants who believe they can sing like Michael Jackson would in the end live happier lives if they learned to handle the truth about themselves. How can you plan your life if you are completely clueless about what you are good at? At some point, you need to come to terms with the real you, and the challenge is to figure out how to do that.
Writing in the 17th century, René Descartes saw self-knowledge as strictly first-personal, as the product of a special kind of mental self-examination. Descartes was wrong. We aren’t unbiased observers of our own inner selves, and the studies suggest that the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves aren’t to be trusted. We all like to think well of ourselves.
A better bet is to try to see yourself through the eyes of others. When it comes to the real you, your friends, colleagues, and nearest and dearest probably have deeper insights than you do. The self-knowledge you get by social interaction is indirect and third-personal but that’s okay. For example, you might not think that you are generous but if everyone you are close to thinks that you are tight with money then that trumps your self-conception. In this case, other people know the real you better than you know the real you.
Of course, seeing ourselves through the eyes of others can be hard to do, especially when their opinion is unflattering. That’s one of many factors which make worthwhile self-knowledge so hard to get. So if self-knowledge is something which matters to you then here is some practical advice: try to accept that reliable self-knowledge is not something you can get by self-examination. Instead, try to see yourself as others see you, and give up any idea that you are always the best judge of the real you. Even with the help of others, a degree of self-ignorance is unavoidable. But if self-ignorance is part of the human condition, so is the ability to get by without really knowing ourselves.Add a Comment
Here’s the thing – there’s this picture book, and it’s called “There’s This Thing.” We adults struggle too with that indefinable something that is front and center on February 14th. We want to find it, nurture it, express it and keep it alive. It’s so important, it has a day all to itself – LOVE!
But children have the exact same feelings in miniature and Connah Brecon has found a way through “There’s This Thing” of painting with words and pictures the “elusive butterfly” called love. My apologies to Bob Lind for the phrase steal from his 1966 song of the same name. If you want to hear it, I’ve included a link below. Might be nice background music to this read.
Across my dreams with nets of wonder
I chase the bright elusive butterfly of love.
Mr. Brecon has found a way to express the sometimes inexpressible, through the eyes of a child seeking and finding that certain “something.” Aren’t we all?
How do you receive it? Send an invite? Does the postman even know where the “something” lives? It is a strong yearning, that’s for sure.
Should she leave trails of crumbs for the “something” to follow? Set a trap and wait?
Will it trap the wrong thing? The “what if” scenarios here are many and meaningful, for they speak to the literal mind of the child. The famous arrows of love that hit, and sometimes miss, are mentioned. Shot a few of those myself!
My favorite part of the book is the young girl’s query of whether she should try to be someone else in her quest? So many choices here that she very wisely chooses to be herself in the quest for love.
The hardest lesson of all in this instant gratification society that our young ones are growing up in, is a pretty profound truth – that sometimes – if you wait – it will, and does come to you! And yes, waiting is hard; but worth it.
Mr. Brecon has done a pretty amazing thing in his book. He has taken the very human longing for love and the emotion involved in that longing, and expressed it in a very literal sense, as seen through the eyes of a child.
Love – so simple; so complex and so wonderful. “There’s This Thing” is a book with the look of love. Please read it to a child today that is looking, and while you’re doing that, wrap it in a big hug!
Happy Valentine’s Day to all the seekers and finders out there! Keep looking!
Add a Comment
[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
~ e.e. cummings
How will you be celebrating this Saturday February 14th? Some see it as a chance to demonstrate the most romantic of gestures, showering their special ones with gifts of affection. Others only need to show an act of kindness to prove they care. Either way, whether it’s Valentine’s Day, International Book Giving Day or Library […]Add a Comment
The National Retail Federation polled some 6,000 odd consumers to see how much they will spend on Valentine’s Day. Traditionally, this is the day to celebrate L O V E with special dinners, flowers, cards and candy, not to mention proposals of marriage. Americans spend some $17.3 billion for the day. An additional survey by the American Express Spending and Saving Tracker, put that figure more in the area of oh, some $37 billion, that’s billion, with a colossal B!
Did you know that of the 13 million people that got engaged in 2014, it was estimated 6 million of the 13 million would pop the question on Valentine’s Day?
So just who was this Valentine that precipitated this lovey dovey day we commemorate each year on the 14th of February?
Does anyone remember him and what he did? I was curious, and so I wanted to learn a bit more, and think that I’ve found a picture book whose art and narrative does justice to this man of love.
Kestutis Kasparavicius, honored by the Bologna Book Fair in 1993 as “Illustrator of the Year” is the person chosen to portray Saint Valentine’s life and legend in this picture book portrayal of this initiator of tokens of affection.
Author Ann Tompert has, in fact, written about others such as St. Nicholas, Joan of Arc, and her book on St. Patrick was selected by “Booklist” as one of the top ten religious books for children in 1998. She also has notable titles such as “Grandfather Tang’s Story”, a Notable Children’s Trade Book in the fields of Social Studies and Language Arts.
But what happened to Valentine? As I mentioned Ms. Tompert presents here a selection of woven together stories about Valentine who seems a bit of a mystery. “Ah! Sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found you” croons Victor Herbert’s song in my head. And, it somehow all fits, right? Makes perfect sense to me that Valentine himself would be a man of mystery.
Seems he may have been a Roman nobleman or might have been a doctor or he may have had a shop quite near the Forum in ancient Rome. Maybe.
We do know he was born near there in the 3rd century A.D. It is known he was a Christian priest during the reign of Claudius II. The rest gets a little murky and legends abound which is where this book takes off beautifully.
Valentine and fellow Christians are persecuted for their faith and are forced to meet secretly in shops, homes and caves in the hills of Rome.
Legend has it that Valentine cut out of parchment, comforting hearts to send to the Christians being held in prison. That’s where the card idea emerged!
Another legend has Valentine performing marriages for military men. Rome apparently banned marriages for them because it wanted to insure undivided loyalty to Rome, instead of a wife and children! Valentine, as I said, conducted these secret marriages.
Valentine even wins the admiration of the emperor, Claudius II himself after Valentine is tossed into prison. Apparently his graceful speech won him over!
My favorite story is the one about Asterius, a Roman lieutenant that has a blind daughter. Relief is sought from the Roman god Apollo and eminent doctors of the time – to little avail. The legend says a bright light filled the young girl’s room after Valentine prayed for her. Asterius and his entire family, servants and slaves are baptized because of the healing.
Claudius is not happy at the news and sentences Valentine to death – and this time he is not spared.
The date is February 14th around 270 A.D. outside the Flaminian Gate where Valentine is put to death.
Did you know it was then referred to as Valentine’s Gate and later the People’s Gate?
Near the gate, a almond tree, symbol of love and friendship was planted near Valentine’s grave.
And guess what? It bloomed for many years on February 14!
Finally, what could be more perfect? Both my grandfather and brother are named Val!
Add a Comment
Happy Valentine's Day to all my fellow YA & Mysterybook lovers.
In honor of Valentine's day, I am giving away an Ebook or paperback (You choose) of my new YA mystery novel, Unraveled.
Happy Valentine's Day!
Love is in the air, and Online Author Visits is celebrating with a contest that gives you the chance to win books not only for yourself, but also for your library! The winner will get to choose 3 books from among works by our incredible pool of authors, which includes Janet Lee Carey, Dia Calhoun, Deb Lund, Martha Brockenbrough, Joan Holub, Suzanne Williams, Lisa L. Owens, Claire Rudolph Murphy, and Trudi Trueit.
In addition, a collection of books will go to a U.S. library selected by the winner. There’s even an ARC (Advanced Reviewer’s Copy) in the mix from author and readergirlz co-founder Dia Calhoun, so don’t miss out!
Read the full report and find the entry form here.
<!--[if gte mso 9]> 0 0 1 358 2042 Overlook Press 17 4 2396 14.0 <![endif]--> <!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE <![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]>Add a Comment
Little known fact: The Easter Bunny moonlights the rest of the year for some extra scratch.
Happy Valentine's Day!
Today is the day the flower shops become over-crowded, Hallmark makes a mint on greeting cards and men everywhere try not to panic for waiting to the last minute to buy something for their loved one. Women struggle with what to do as well. Sending cards to friends is expensive, treats for the kiddies is not really healthy or wise, yet candy companies keep pushing out the gaily wrapped packages and it's just too hard to resist. Then there's the adorable stuffed animals and the silky see-throughs. The hustle becomes over-whelming and one wonders if this is just a ploy to boost the economy! At the end of the day some want to collapse while others get dressed up for an evening out.
Whatever you choose to do, take a moment to relish the many blessings in your life. Don't fret over the bills or laundry or deadlines. Take a deep breath. Smile, relax, and acknowledge the love in your life. Love of friendship, love of family, love of that special someone. The many layers of love blend together like the pedals on a flower. The love in our life is a bouquet in itself. Breathe it in and enjoy.
How will you show your love this Valentine's?
My sweetie and I are leaving for a few days. We plan to stroll through the Auto show in Chicago, have dinner at an Italian restaurant and thank our lucky stars we didn't decide to take a cruise this year. The Carnival Cruise Line being towed back to Mobile has sewage issues and other hygiene problems to deal with. I feel awful for these folks who had planned a romantic get-away only to have to endure this hardship.
Hopefully the cruise line will make up for their nightmarish vacation.
So will you relax at home? Go out with friends or loved ones? Is Valentine's Day special for you or just another day?
Til next time ~
PS: I've been informed I misquoted last week. "Endeavor to persevere," is from the movie The Outlaw Jose Wales, not Jermiah Johnson! Geesh! How could I make such a blunder? Thanks for setting me straight!
My three year old is getting excited for Valentine's Day. It is, after all, the next holiday coming up. And there will be chocolate involved. But in truth, much of her excitement was sparked by a box of Valentine's Day-themed picture books and early readers that Harper Collins sent us last week. They're not all my personal cup of hot chocolate, but my child is thrilled.
Far and away the most exciting of the books for her is Pete the Cat: Valentine's Day is Cool, by Kimberly and James Dean. In this story, Pete initially thinks that Valentine's Day isn't "cool." However, encouraged by his friend Callie, he gets on board with using valentines to tell people how special they are. By the end of the book he's making valentines for the school bus driver and other people he encounters throughout his day. Pretty classic Pete the Cat storyline, all in all. But there is a pull-out poster, as well as stickers, and a set of tear-out valentine cards. This turned out to not be a great bedtime book, because my daughter was so excited by all of this. She just came in to my office needing help finding the cards, which I imagine she wants to give to her friends. I do like the "show people you appreciate them" message, delivered in a light-hearted fashion.
My daughter also enjoyed Foxy in Love by Emma Dodd. We have not read Foxy, for which this book is a sequel. But the premise comes across fairly quickly. Foxy is a fox who can conjure things with a wave of his magical tail, though he doesn't always quite understand what his friend, a girl named Emily, wants from him. In Foxy in Love, Foxy comes across Emily as she is working on a valentine. He suggests that she draw what she loves in the card, hoping that she'll draw him. But instead, she focuses on things like balloons and rainbows. Not until the end of the book does Foxy finally tell Emily that "Valentine's Day is not about what you love... It's about who you love." Of course it all ends happily. Foxy's longing to be loved actually comes across in relatively subtle fashion throughout the book, and there is plenty of humor as he tries, with mixed results, to conjure the things that Emily wants (not tarts, hearts!). I think we'll keep this one in our arsenal.
The first book that my daughter actually picked up from this box was Little Critter: Just A Little Love, an I Can Read book by Mercer Mayer. She adores Little Critter, and I've come to appreciate the humor in the differences between what he says is happening and what the pictures show. The expressions on the faces of the characters, particularly Mom and Dad, are often priceless (as when Dad looks rueful after Little Critter causes a flood in a gas station restroom). Just A Little Love is not actually a Valentine's Day book at all, though it certainly works for the season. Rather, the family members (pets included) have a series of mishaps as they set out to visit Grandma, who isn't feeling well. Each time someone ends up unhappy, someone else "gives him (or her) a little love." There's not enough of a storyline for this one to end up a favorite for us, I don't think, but one can't really argue with a book that makes us laugh, and in which family members console one another.
It's Valentine's Day by Jack Prelutsky & Marylin Hafner is a level 3 I Can Read! book, full of love-themed poems. It's fairly text-dense, with a small illustration or two on each page. My daughter lost interest after the second poem. It's more a book for elementary school kids than preschoolers, it seems. But I thought that the poems, on subjects like how pets respond to receiving valentines, and how a child might be tempted to eat all of the chocolates that he bought for his mother, were clever and funny. This is a nice introduction to poetry for new readers, with colorful illustrations to make the book more accessible.
Love Is Real by Janet Lawler & Anna Brown is a picture book for the youngest listeners about all of the little things that people (well, animals doing human-type things) do that show their love for one another. Like this: "Love awakes... and helps you dress. Love will clean up any mess." These sentences are accompanied by three different images, each showing a different kind of animal parent helping his or her child (bunny, bear, fox). The same three families are followed throughout the book. The children sometimes are the ones who do things that express love. For us, this book skewed a bit young / sentimental. But the digital collage illustrations are fun.
Finally, we read Tulip Loves Rex by Alyssa Satin Capucilli & Sarah Massini. Tulip Loves Rex is a picture book about a little girl who loves dancing, and dances everywhere, but has one unfulfilled wish. One day in the park she encounters a dog who, miraculously, loves to dance, too. And it turns out that this perfect-for-Tulip dog needs a home. I quite liked Massini's breezy illustrations, and I liked Tulip as a character, but the convenience of the ending felt a little flat for me. The parents "didn't mind a bit" bringing home a large stray dog from the park? Really? Perhaps I just don't want my daughter to get any ideas...
All in all, though, these books are a welcome addition to our February reading. Wishing you a happy run-up to Valentine's Day (or Balentine's Day, as it's called around here).
Valentine's Day is on Friday! Consider doing a read aloud to inspire your students to write poems, comic books, or short stories they can give to a special friend or close family member in lieu of a box of chocolates. Here are five books that will inspire primary, upper elementary, and middle school writers to craft writing that expresses heartfelt emotions.Add a Comment
Happy Valentine's Day, International Book Giving Day, and Cybils Day! You can find the Cybils winners on the Cybils blog, in categories ranging from picture books to young adult fiction and non-fiction. This set of winners is the culmination of tons of work on the part of many bloggers, and is NOT to be missed. You can also find out where to get started for International Book Giving Day at Playing By the Book. Wishing you a wonderful, book-filled day!
Meanwhile, here are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage.
Book Lists and Awards
Diversity and Gender
Love our Library Lollapalooza Honors Supporters and Raises Money, reports Cynthia Cheng in Santa Clara Weekly http://ow.ly/tBahd
On Reading, Writing, and Publishing
Schools and Libraries
Technology and Social Media
It's complicated | Five Myths About Teens, Technology, and Social Media | Peter Gray at Psychology Today http://ow.ly/tB6Lv
Little known fact: The Easter Bunny moonlights, filling in for Cupid, to get some extra scratch.
He says, “They don’t call me Dead-Eye Cottontail for nothing!
(Actually, they don’t really call him that, shhhhhh.)
I've been goofing off for a few weeks, enjoying some family time while my oldest were home from college for the holidays. Now it's time to get back to business.
Cocoa and chocolate have a long history in Central America but a relatively short history in the rest of the world. For thousands of years tribes and empires in Central America produced cocoa and consumed drinks based on it. It was only when the Spanish arrived in those regions that the rest of the world learned about it. Initially, cocoa production stayed in the original production regions, but with the local population decimated by war and imported diseases, slave labor was imported from Africa.
The ‘First Great Chocolate Boom’ occurred at the end of the 19th and early 20th century. The industrial revolution turned chocolate from a drink to a solid food full of energy and raised incomes of the poor. As a result, chocolate consumption increased rapidly in Europe and North America.
As the popularity of chocolate grew, production spread across the world to satisfy increasing demand. Interestingly, cocoa only arrived in West Africa in the early 20th century. But by the 1960s West Africa dominated global cocoa production, and in particular Ghana and Ivory Coast have become the world’s leading cocoa producers and exporters.
Not surprisingly, given the growth in trade of cocoa and consumption of chocolate, governments have intervened in the markets through various types of regulations. The early regulations (in the 16th–19th centuries) focused mostly on extracting revenue from cocoa production and trade through, for example, taxes on cocoa trade and the sales of monopoly rights for chocolate production.
The world is currently experiencing a ‘Second Great Chocolate Boom.’
More recent regulations have focused mostly on quality and safety. With growing demand for chocolate in the 19th century, chocolate producers substituted cocoa with cheaper raw materials, going from various starchy products and fats to poisonous ingredients. Scientific inventions of the 18th and 19th centuries allowed better testing of the chocolate ingredients. Public outrage against the use of unhealthy ingredients (now scientifically proven), led to a series of safety regulations on which specific ingredients were not allowed in chocolate – and in countries such as France and Belgium also in a legal definition of ‘chocolate’.
Chocolate consumption has many fascinating aspects. It is bought both for the pleasure of consumption and as a gift. It has been considered a healthy food, a sinful indulgence, an aphrodisiac, and the cause of obesity.
For much of history, chocolate (or cocoa drinks more generally) was praised for its positive effects on health and nutrition (and other benefits for the human body). As people were poor, hungry, and short of energy, chocolate drinks and later chocolate bars became an important additional source of nutrition.
In recent years, chocolate consumption is often associated with negative health issues, such as obesity. Recent research has shown that its health potential is closely linked to the composition of the final product and, not surprisingly, to the quantity consumed: darker, lower-fat, and lower-sugar varieties, consumed in a balanced diet are more likely to be healthy than the opposite consumption pattern.
In today’s high income societies where hunger is an exception, food is cheap, and obesity is on the rise, systematic overconsumption of chocolate – often associated with impulsive consumption and lack of self-control – is more associated with health problems. New research in behavioral engineering is targeted to help consumers deal with situational influences, and change behavior in a sustainable way, i.e. by ‘nudging’ them to change their consumption behavior and resisting the lure of chocolate.
One of the intriguing aspects of chocolate is its ‘quality’. Different from many other foods (such as cheese or wine) perceived chocolate quality is not related to the location where the raw material is grown or produced, but to the chocolate manufacturing process and location.
Some countries, such as Switzerland and Belgium are associated with prestigious traditions of chocolate manufacturing. However, perceptions do not always fit reality. ‘Belgian chocolates’, such as pralines and truffles, are now world famous but until 1960, Belgium imported more chocolate than it exported. Since then its “Belgian chocolates” have conquered the world – while the world has taken over the Belgian chocolate (companies). Most “Belgian chocolates” are now owned by international holdings – and a sizeable amount is produced outside the country.
Moreover, consumer perceptions of ‘quality’ are strongly influenced by consumer experiences with their local chocolate – this includes the smoothness of Swiss chocolate from long conching, the milkiness of British chocolate, and the preference of American consumers for chocolate that Europeans consider inferior.
In fact, the integration of the UK, Ireland and Denmark into the (precursor of the) European Union, which included France and Belgium in 1973 resulted in a ‘Chocolate War’ which lasted for 30 years. Disputes between the old and the new member states of the definition of “Chocolate” (and its ingredients) made that British chocolate was banned from much of the EU continent for three decades.
Ethical concerns about chocolate have been triggered by the specific structure of the structure of the global cocoa-chocolate value chain. For most of the past century, the value chain was characterized by a South-to-North orientation, with most of the raw material (cocoa beans) produced in developing countries (‘the South’) and most chocolate manufacturing and consumption in the richer countries (‘the North’). Another characteristic is that cocoa production in the South is almost exclusively by smallholders, while cocoa grinding and (first stage) chocolate manufacturing processes are often dominated by very large companies.
The cocoa-chocolate value chain has undergone significant transformations in recent years. First, in the 1960s through the 1980s the cocoa production and marketing in developing countries was strongly state regulated, often dominated by (para-)statal companies and state regulated prices and trade, etc. In recent years there has been substantial liberalizations of these sectors and the market plays a much larger role in price setting and trading, often resulting in new hybrid forms of ‘public-private governance’ of the world’s cocoa farmers.
Second, these new regulatory systems are reinforced by consumer awareness around labour conditions and low incomes in African smallholder production related to structural imbalances in the value chain. Consumer concerns and civil society campaigns around poor socio-economic conditions of producers (such as child labor) have affected companies’ strategies and responses. These involved (a) sustainability initiatives with civil society and governments, (b) certification initiatives including Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and Utz, and (c) various forms of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities.
The world is currently experiencing a ‘Second Great Chocolate Boom’. Rapidly growing demand is now not coming from ‘the North’, but from rapidly growing developing and emerging countries, including China, India and also Africa. The unprecedented growth of the past decades, the associated urbanization, and the huge size of their economies have turned China and India into major growth markets for chocolate. While consumption is highest in China, and the growth is strong, the country with – by far – the highest growth rates in chocolate consumption is India. In addition, significant African growth of the past 15 years is now also translating into growing chocolate consumption on the continent where most of the cocoa beans are produced.
Headline image: Fresh Cacao from São Tomé & Príncipe, by Everjean. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
‘The deepest need of man is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness.’ (Fromm, E. 1957)
The time of year approaches that has gaggles of teenage girls quivering anxiously in school corridors: outwardly bemoaning the late arrival of the postman, while inwardly breathing a huge sigh of relief. At the other end of the spectrum, jaded 75-year-old-long-marrieds dust off last year’s card, re-presenting it safe in the knowledge that (a) it won’t be remembered and (b) he won’t care that much either way. It’s a day that hints at the arrival of Spring, when a question mark can create a frisson of excitement in a recipient or a knowing smile from a long-suffering spouse.
Saint Valentine’s Day, where millions of British pounds are spent on grand, kitsch, or anonymous romantic gestures (chocolate, flowers, lacy underwear, and dinner reservations, not necessarily in that order). It’s become a British industry. It celebrates love or as Samuel Johnson put it, the ‘triumph of hope over experience’.
Valentine’s Day juxtaposes our desire for romance at its best. At its worst, it exemplifies another defining contemporary human characteristic: consumerism. This Western tradition can be tenuously traced back to Valentine of Terni, martyred circa AD 197, for his Christianity. Another possible origin, Valentine of Rome, circa AD 289, was imprisoned for continuing to wed soldiers after Claudius had outlawed marriage, decreeing armies of single men fought better than those distracted by conjugal delights. Awaiting execution, Valentine is reported to have cured the jailer’s daughter of blindness and fallen in love, his final letter to her signed, ‘from your Valentine’.
Historian Noel Lenski, classics professor at the University of Colorado, has unearthed evidence to suggest an ancient pagan fertility festival on 14th February. Lupercalia, a celebration of love, which saw young Roman men strip naked and use goat skins to brush the backsides of young women and crop fields to improve fertility, followed by a matchmaking lottery where men drew women’s names from a jar. Little wonder card manufacturers have chosen to shift their focus from death, sadism, imprisonment, and swinging, from whence Valentine’s Day tradition is suggested to have sprung.
From a partisan standpoint, as a couple psychotherapist, the idealised romance of Valentine’s Day with its fantasy-laden, unconscious projection onto a ‘love object’ is not necessarily good news. The lover’s notion, that the strength of his emotion will ensure a yearned for relationship metamorphoses into a-glorious-sunset-happy-ending, doesn’t predict a stable, long-lasting, and fulfilling relationship. Come to that, neither does love at first sight or your partner resembling one of your parents. And yet romantic gesture, prolific at a relationship’s birth, is the bedrock of most unions and forms part of their narrative. Just ask a couple how they met.
The romantic notion of reality (two individuals from similar socio-economic backgrounds, attracted by their differences/irritating and lovable idiosyncrasies) becoming fantasy (thinking as one, able to read each other’s mind and anticipate each other’s needs) can be traced back to the Bible, ‘Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder’ (Matthew, 19.6).
For the Victorians, love was a periphery consideration. A relationship between a man and a woman was a business contract between two families, with the woman as product and land as prize. Choice in love is a new Western trend. Forced by female emancipation and latterly such freedoms as same-sex relationships, emphasis has shifted away from acreage and towards how to attract a partner, how to fashion yourself as the prize.
Erich Fromm in his seminal work The Art of Loving, advocates love as a skill, to be honed and worked at, requiring knowledge and effort, rather than ‘something one falls into if one’s lucky’. From a consulting room vantage point, the idea of a relationship created between a couple that takes work and attention can come as something of a revelation. There is often real confusion between a falling in love state for couples and the permanent state of being in love. ‘I don’t feel the same about her as when we met and it’s making me depressed,’ is not an unfamiliar complaint.
Falling in love is an exhilarating, almost psychotic experience for everyone that is fortunate enough to feel it. The tragedy is that this new and precious intimacy, triggered by sexual attraction, is impossible to sustain. The infatuation stage, where everything else falls away, is commonly described as a ‘coming home feeling’, where a sense of familiarity nestles amongst the thrill. The bad news is it burns itself out. Nothing except the most dangerous attraction can sustain that undiluted intensity. Who would do the work? Captains of Industry would just stay in bed. Reality must test each new relationship. Can it survive meeting the in-laws? When do the stains on her teeth come into focus – and hopefully not matter. When do the stresses of work and mundane domesticity creep back into consciousness?
Many couples seeking help with their relationship are burdened with the expectation that their love should feel natural; fulfilment of sexual desire, rather like the Holy Spirit, should be around at all times, despite inhabiting a time-pinched world of Internet dating, Viagra, and plastic surgery. They feel that loving should be accompanied by an ease and constant lightness, and so feel cheated or deficient, even deviant in some way when it doesn’t feel like that. Their internal echo of why isn’t every day like Valentine’s Day infuses their relationship with an uncomfortable and unspoken ennui.
So where is the relationship advice at this most quixotic of times? As Valentine’s Day dawns, perhaps Honore de Balzac’s suggestion in ‘La physiologie du marriage’ will resonate: ‘No man should marry until he has studied anatomy and dissected at least one woman.’ Permit a translation. Take it slow, have some fun, keep past relationships in mind, especially that of your parents, and remember, ‘Love is, above all, the gift of oneself.’ (Anouilh, J. 1948)
Headline image credit: Heart. CC0 via Pixabay.