First aired on The Sunday Edition (10/17/10)
Decadent, seductive, forbidden — all of these words spring to mind at the mention of chocolate. Add slavery, god, war, espionage and a good dose of Christian conscience to the mix and you've got the recipe for Deborah Cadbury's new book Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry between the World's Greatest Chocolate Makers.
Cadbury — yes, her family is the one behind that line of delectable goodies — peels back the layers of a treat we all take for granted to reveal its hidden intricacies and intrigue. The result is a history of chocolate's evolution from a bitter, fatty drink for the wealthy elite to the ubiquitous treat we know today.
The book is engaging and often surprising. Who would have guessed the puritan roots of this decadent substance? For more than a hundred years, Britain's leading firms of chocolate foodstuffs were all Quaker families. Most off them found in chocolate and cocoa a nutritious, wholesome and marketable alternative to alcohol. It's here, and no doubt owing to her family's historical ties to the Quaker religion, that Cadbury's initial interest in the subject lies.
"I began to think, well, how on earth could you run a business according to religious principles and values?" Cadbury said in a recent interview on The Sunday Edition. "And how did we get from the Quaker capitalists and the values that they had for their business to today's modern form of what I call shareholder capitalism?"
As Cadbury explains, chocolate was not the only industry marked by a Quaker influence. By the early 19th century, Quakers ran 74 British banks (one in every major city) and more than 200 major firms, including some of the more recognizable British institutions like Barclays and Clarks shoes.
All of these were a part of what Cadbury calls Quaker capitalism — a markedly different variety from the kind of shareholder capitalism we know today. According to Cadbury, the Quaker capitalists saw their businesses as opportunities to improve the lives of their workers and the community, building philanthropic practices into their enterprises from the very beginning.
In her own family's history, this meant moving a Cadbury's factory from industrial Birmingham to the country. In the countryside, workers were allowed to roam extensive gardens and play sports during breaks and were given access to education and medicine.
Cadbury's history of chocolate is also a history of the changing notion of industry and ownership, tracing the decline of these altruistic Quaker practices to the rise of global markets. For her family's company, this culminated in being purchased by Kraft Foods in January of this year after going public in the 1960s.
As for the company's Quaker-inspired country factory, it's still standing.
"Amazingly, (it's) still there and large," Cadbury said. "It's still nestled behind the cricket pitch, surrounded by greenery and gardens and recreation fields."
Only time will tell what its fate might be under Kraft. The history of chocolate is far from over.
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