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Dark (chocolate) secrets

Chocolate with humor

How fascinating is it that for many of us, especially women, there is only ONE true object of our affections and we are forced to share it with one another? Columnist Gina Barreca explores this enduring passion, compulsion, desire, obsession, preoccupation, fixation -- uh, what was I saying? -- oh yeah, for the mysteriously sublime and shamelessly sinful chocolate.

Woman Eating Chocolate

Committed to chocolate

People who don't have an opinion on anything -- folks who can't tell you their favorite color, name their favorite politician, sing the words to their favorite song, or come down hard on whether or not they prefer women with long fingernails, even if they are artificial (the nails, not the women) -- will tell you their favorite type of chocolate immediately, just in case you have any on you.

And asking someone to name their preferred brand of chocolate when you don't have any chocolate on your person at the time is a pretty dangerous activity, along the lines of wearing a tight skirt with a split up the side to a country-western bar on a Friday night when you're not interested in dating.



The meaning of love

In a world where most people think "arugula" is what the background singers are chanting in "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," it's interesting that chocolate remains a singular knowable and nameable food passion. Children who haven't yet memorized their home address or last name know how to differentiate between an Almond Joy and a Mounds bar. Even when a lot of otherwise normally gifted folks spend part of every day climbing up imaginary stairs or working up a sweat on what at first glance appear to be giant pasta makers, the average American loves his or her chocolate, despite the fact that one chocolate sprinkle has as many calories as, say, a week's worth of tofu casseroles.

And when I say that people "love" their chocolate, I am not being hyperbolic. I am carefully using the word "love" in the same way it's used in wedding vows and other sacred rituals, such as opera: We're talking about devotion, loyalty, the acknowledgment of eccentric tastes, and an overwhelming sense of connection to others in the same state of mind.



Sinful pleasure

This is because in the minds of many people, chocolate is associated with, and almost as much fun as, sin. And not just any sin: It's up there with really juicy sins like adultery and coveting goods. Why? Because there's something selfish, extravagant, and messy about both sin and chocolate. Neither is particularly good for you, but that doesn't stop your appetites. Neither is something you ever need -- but you can want both so much you think about them until you can almost taste them on your tongue, your mouth watering slightly at the very idea. They involve texture, taste, melting, not wanting to share, and the necessity to clean up afterward. Often the aftermath involves guilt, heightened sensitivity, and shame, as well as a deep sense of a secret, very personal pleasure. Many people also feel a need to hide the evidence but give themselves away by smiling a lot.

Godiva temptation

There is absolutely no use on this planet for one piece of chocolate, or even two. Chocolate has to be consumed in relatively massive quantities because otherwise you're left with a sneaking sense of deprivation that will cause you to search out lesser forms of satisfaction, such as food, drink, or unsafe sex with strangers, instead of allowing you the purity -- the simple grace -- of your true quest.

This theory was tested right in front of me at a wedding where the couple, very cutely, had arranged for two-piece boxes of Godiva wrapped with pretty white ribbons to be placed in front of every guest's setting at dinner. You should have seen the guests loot and steal these babies. It was like a bunch of 6-year-old stealth eaters had emerged from underneath sophisticated adult veneers. Women were shoving these boxes into tiny evening handbags, getting in as many as 12 at a time. Men were less concerned with the hunting-and-gathering, delayed-gratification aspect, and ate the chocolates directly by fil1ing up their cheeks like gerbils. Elderly relatives were easy targets, and their stuff was gone right away, although they did get to keep the centerpieces.



Unlimited chocolate = World Peace!

The wedding couple should have known better; we were, after all, their friends. They'd seen us grab for Easter eggs when we were kids, clawing like guests on the Titanic grabbing for lifeboats. They saw us hoard the pellets of foil-wrapped, unspeakably old chocolate over and over again, hating the very idea that you couldn't have your candy and eat it, which meant that you had to steal your brother's candy and eat his, too.

We should not stint on chocolate, especially at this crucial time when most of us are so busy cutting all those other sins from our lives. Better to abandon coveting and adultery, better to eschew deceit and greed, better to forgo false idols than live on chocolate substitutes or worse, deny ourselves any chocolate at all. Perhaps permitting ourselves, without too much argument or reluctance, to take pleasure in what is truly sweet will help us give up all those other, more bitter indulgences.

Or maybe not, but imagine what fun it could be seeing whether it will work.

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