The Confessions of a Chocolate Eater
EXCESSIVE chocolate eating is not one of the most popular, colorful, spectacular, and social of the vices. The ordinary Hollywood film displays enough liquor to float a 50,000-ton battleship. But the glamorous heroes and heroines of the screen are never shown secluding themselves to go on a binge of Hershey bars. The chocolate fiend, even after a heavy bout with his favored drug, does not walk through plate-glass windows, battle with lampposts, drive through red traffic signals, or do any of the other things that lead up to a “drunk and disorderly” conviction.
Chocolate has never ranked in popularity with alcohol and tobacco. Six or seven out of every thousand of us, as I recently read, are alcoholics. (I could mention some occupations and communities where the percentage would seem to be much higher.) The number of chocolatics (individuals who simply cannot live without the stuff) must be vastly smaller. And chocolate addiction is an unsocial vice. I have yet. to hear of a chocolate cocktail party, and “Have another munch of the milk chocolate" is not a recognized social slogan. The cigar, the cigarette, the pipe are all much larger social common denominators.
Yet, as I know from personal experience, there is such a thing as addiction to chocolate. For as many years as I can remember I have been eating my own weight in chocolate — not in bonbons with fancy fillings, mark you, but in straight, legitimate sweet milk chocolate. What vintages of chocolate would I choose if I were king, I have been asked. Kings do not have such an easy time, now that they are tolerated only on condition that they set good, not bad, examples to their subjects. The modern monarch gets only five inches of hot water for his bathtub and would no doubt feel a noblesse oblige inhibition against exceeding the meager chocolate ration of his subjects.
If, however, I were a food controller or had access to that mysterious and wicked thing known as the black market, 1 should give the preference of an old soak (in chocolate) to the following brands: Cote d’Or, a rich, creamy smooth French production; Ringer’s, a melt-in-your-mouth Dutch achievement in the blending of milk chocolate; Peter’s and Cailler’s — both among Switzerland’s many contributions to civilization; and Fedora, a very creditable brand of German chocolate, sacrificed, no doubt, on the altar of total war. Our own Fanny Farmer possessed an excellent recipe for making solid milk chocolate; and it was a black day for me when, after prolonged and ominous shortages, I learned that this brand was “out for the duration.”
The only occasion when I have been unable to get chocolate was in remote Soviet Central Asia; and I suffered a combination of the agonies of the heavy drinker, the heavy smoker, and the devotee of opium deprived of their solaces, until I discovered some frightfully stale Cadbury chocolate bars that were a leftover from British intervention in that part of Russia in the confused years of the Russian civil war. They restored my mental and physical equilibrium.
My daily consumption of chocolate ranges from a quarter to a half pound (more frequently approximating the latter figure) and is as steady as the tick of a grandfat her clock. Consumption is heaviest in the morning and is stimulated by a light breakfast, consisting of an apple and a cup of tea. But there is no hour of the day or night when the impulse for the solid brown stimulant may not arise. I find that chocolate conveys both a mental and a physical kick. The curve of consumption rises in direct relation to the quantity — perhaps to the quality — of my writing. Once, when I was lost on a mountain trail in the Tyrol, tired and wet after a premature September snowstorm, I discovered that a cake of chocolate, eaten with great speed, is a fine restorative. It is also a relaxation. One gets a Nirvana-like satisfaction from leaning back and reading an interesting book or magazine while slowly savoring the flavor of a fine chocolate.
In short, I have the same attitude toward this stimulant that the toper feels toward alcohol: if there isn’t one good reason for resorting to it, there is another.
Chocolate is a jealous mistress. Excessive addiction, in my case at least, has excluded yearning for any of the more popular shots in the arm. I lived in Russia for twelve years without tasting vodka, and I have never been able to recognize a favorable distinction between the most prized French dry wine and vinegar, or bet ween beer and castor oil.
Residence in the Orient left me allergic to Japan’s sake, or warm rice-wine, and to the genial game, so popular in China., in which one of the partners tries to guess the number of lingers held up by the ot her, the loser’s forfeit being to drink his wine cup to the bottom. I was occasionally called on to act as an impartial and reliable score keeper in these games. My inhibitions extend to “soft drinks,” pure fruit juices excepted, and to tobacco in any form.
What are the physical consequences of eating one’s own weight in chocolate year after year? Well, I must confess to some fifteen pounds of overweight; but who is there past forty-five who can cast the first stone? At least I can tip the scales with less danger of breakage than a well-known journalistic colleague, not a chocolate fiend, who had achieved such magnificent girth that no parachute belt could be found to fit him when he set out on a dangerous airplane trip. As for the innumerable diseases that Job’s comforters, candid friends, and amateurs in medical science have cheerfully predicted for me — diabetes, arthritis, gallstones, and all the ills to which the liver and kidneys are liable — these haven’t got me, yet.
How does one become a chocolate addict? The habit got me young. That salty Quaker moralist Isaac Sharpless, President of Haverford College in my undergraduate days, may have unconsciously started me on the road to perdition — via chocolate. Fixing the incoming Freshman class with a severe yet fat herly eye, President Sharpless gravely warned us that we should be exposed to five great temptations: “Drinking, smoking, gambling, loafing, and
— er — immorality.” It was enough to inhibit the boldest budding Byron in our midst. But there was no mention of chocolate orgies.
Now a chocolate fiend, until recently, would have experienced no difficulty in gratifying his craving in the United States. But a large part of my life has been spent in cities without much benefit of this luxury — in Moscow and in Tokyo. The most ardent Communist would scarcely claim chocolate as one of the productive triumphs of the Soviet regime. The Soviet product was scarce in quantity, high in price, and abominable in quality. When the rigors of the First Five-Year Plan called for turbines and tractors instead of cocoa beans, there was an effort to make chocolate out of soy beans, with the most atrocious results.
For a time I got by on sporadic imports from Germany, bringing in scores of cakes in my own and my wife’s luggage whenever we returned from Europe. Soviet customs inspectors, in my experience, were more lenient than Soviet thought controllers. Later a sympathet ic Foreign Office official made a special arrangement with the customs authorities, so that 1 could import my regular quota of chocolate on payment of a moderate duty.
The indigenous Japanese chocolate was a shade, but only a shade, better than the Soviet. But I happily discovered a Polish confectioner in Japan who was an artist in his trade. He supplied me
with exquisitely flavored pure milk chocolate until the Japanese militarists took to demanding oil and copper and scrap iron, to the exclusion of the peaceful, pleasing, and wholesome substances that go into milk chocolate. The Polish confectioner saw the handwriting on the wall and made off for South America. I made off for France.
For the first few months Paris was an epicurean paradise, in chocolate, as in so many other things. Then came the blighting hand of war. Belgian and Swiss brands disappeared; the French became ominously scarcer. With the horrible specter of chocolate rationing before my eyes, I scoured the patisseries, buying up huge stocks of my favorite cakes with bad French and unlimited francs. My Neuilly flat acquired one of the biggest private chocolate caches that ever existed. Alas, the security of this reserve was illusory, just as illusory as the bank notes and stocks and bonds that many a French bourgeois had put by for a rainy day.
My wife and I got out of Paris (two days before the Germans marched in) with what we could carry in our hands. Most of the cache I abandoned, although I wedged enough cakes of chocolate into our scanty baggage to help sustain us in our harried, hungry days as refugees. I only hope the abandoned hoard helped to feed a hungry French family and did not swell the loot of the conquering Nazis.
Now the American chocolate situation is ominously reminiscent of France in 1940. Only the true devotee can appreciate what desolation has been wrought on our formerly unlimited reserves of this precious stimulant. Fortunately for my reputation as a law-abiding citizen, chocolate is not rationed. So I haven’t been obliged to break through ceilings, forge coupons, or deal with black markets in order to obtain, not my fair share, but my essential share of this substance. By scouring every town I visit and buying up ruthlessly whatever little stocks of pure chocolate I can find, I have built up a reserve roughly comparable with what 1 possessed in Paris. Should new supplies be finally and irrevocably cut off, I could live on tins for a few months.
I refuse to look further ahead. Life without sun or air might be made endurable by some miracle of science. But not life without chocolate. Should this be denied, I cherish wild dreams of emigrating to Ecuador or Guatemala. There (although I have never raised anything more productive than ideas) I would layout, a personal Victory Garden in which the sole crop would be cocoa beans, which I would chew raw if necessary. This is the kind of desperate sacrifice a chocolate addict will contemplate.