Like Money For Chocolate
|When I was five years old and living in Bombay, I was dragged along by my extended family to check out a prospective groom for my young aunt. I don’t remember much about what he looked like, or his kind parents or lovely home, but as we were leaving, I was handed a big bar of Cadbury chocolate by the nice young man who explained to me that he worked for the Cadbury Company and he’d be happy to give me more any time.|
In that era, for me, and probably for most other Indians too, the terms Cadbury and chocolate were synonymous, as the British company was one of the few chocolate makers in the country. As things turned out, my aunt didn’t marry the man — some insignificant matter about him having no hair — and I was understandably crushed.
I grew up, moved on, forgave my aunt in time, and over the years discovered Ferrero Roche, Guylian, Godiva, and Bernard Callebaut. I hadn’t thought back to that incident or Cadbury’s, until I recently saw on the business news that, in spite of the gloom and doom in other companies, Cadbury’s annual profits for 2008 were up by 30%. Now, it’s not that chocolate overall is a recession-proof product: last month Lindt, an upscale Swiss chocolatier, announced that it would be closing many of its U.S. stores. Nonetheless, in these times of financial crisis, economic slowdown and job-losses, people are looking for a low-cost investment, with immediate and predictable returns, one that makes them feel good — and what better than a cheap and cheerful chocolate.
Since ancient times, the Mayans and the Aztecs have known the value of chocolate and even used it as a form of currency. Its botanical name Theobroma Cacao literally means “food of the Gods.” Michael Levine, a nutrition researcher, says, “Chemically speaking, chocolate really is the world’s perfect food.” Chocolate releases endorphins in the brain and make us feel good. Chocolate has been found to have the properties of an analgesic, a stimulant, an aphrodisiac and a relaxant. Dark chocolate has been associated with reducing migraines, calming the mind and body, lowering blood pressure and improving heart functions. Several centenarians have sworn by it: a recent report on 100 year-old Peggy Griffiths of Devon, U.K., claims that she eats 30 bars of chocolate a week — specifically Cadbury’s Dairy Milk.
At a time of financial stress and uncertainty, simple and affordable and immediate pleasures become important and are in a sense re-discovered. Epicurus said, “Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.” Our stocks, now simply declining numbers on a screen, don’t give us the sensory pleasure as a piece of chocolate melting in our mouth. Echoing many world philosophers and sages, Abraham Maslow said “The ability to be in the present moment is the major component of mental wellness.” Eating a chocolate bar brings that message home.
Kevin Walsh, a Federal Reserve governore eloquently said recently, “We are witnessing a fundamental reassessment of the value of virtually every asset everywhere in the world.” Well the world re-evaluated the humble chocolate bar and found it … still good.
But in this world where banks seem to flounder overnight, nothing is certain and unforeseen dangers loom, one of the main suppliers of cocoa, the Ivory Coast, had a smaller harvest last season and, consequently, the price of cocoa beans spiked in December.
So, while the storm of the global financial crisis gathers fury outside my door, my plan for this evening is simple, cheap and reassuring: I’ll settle in with a self-improvement book. I could read the recently released The Power of Less by Leo Babuata, with the explicit subtitle “The fine art of limiting yourself to the essential… in business and in life.” However, I’d have to buy that. Better yet, I’ll re-read Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach: I already have it, so I can use the money saved from not purchasing a book to buy a few bars of my old favorite, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. The prodigal child returns home.