Bittersweet Notes offers a social and historical view of chocolate, culture, and the politics of food. It comes out of a fascination with the story of chocolate and the stories of the lives of all those involved with chocolate at every stage of its production and consumption, whether it be planting, growing, harvesting, fermenting, drying, storing, testing, cleaning, roasting, cracking, grinding, refining, conching, tempering, forming, packaging, marketing, selling, transporting, purchasing, discussing, reviewing, gifting, or tasting. The writing here is based on research – in books, journals, movies, TV programs, interviews, events, classes, online – wherever there is something to be learned about chocolate.

I’m Carla Martin, and my research celebrates the beauty and creativity of chocolate; its many flavors, scents, and appearances are wonderfully rich and diverse.  Ethical concerns also drive my inquiry – while I adore much about chocolate, I am deeply troubled by what author Carol Off has called “the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet,” the poverty and poor labor conditions that define the lives of many cacao cultivators. I believe that additional issues are essential to investigate: racial and socioeconomic injustice, responsible ecological development, honesty in production and marketing, commitments to safe ingredients, hierarchies of quality, and myths of purity. This blog tracks my exploration of these issues and others in relation to chocolate.

A social anthropologist with interdisciplinary interests that include critical food studies, history, ethnomusicology, and linguistics, I am currently a Lecturer in Harvard University’s Department of African and African American Studies. Given my academic background, one might call this blog a sort of real time, online ethnography of the chocolate industry and its consumers. I like to think of it as an open source research project that benefits from a multimedia format and active dialogue with a live audience. During too many years of schooling, I studied over a dozen languages (my favorites, simply by virtue of ability, are English, Cape Verdean Creole, Portuguese, and Hindi-Urdu), and have been very lucky to practice them in various stints living and traveling in North America, West Africa, Europe, South Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.  In these places, I have talked with fellow chocolate lovers and observed the ways in which they make chocolate a part of their lives. In the fall of 2010, thanks to a gift from my partner, Trevor, and my parents, I studied in the Professional Chocolatier Program at Ecole Chocolat, an online institution providing high quality introductions to the making of fine chocolates.

I always appreciate hearing from readers, and am especially grateful for comments and suggestions, ideas for possible posts, and news from the chocolate world.  My e-mail address is carla@bittersweetnotes.com

You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook, where I post about chocolate and my life. My professional site is here.

I very much look forward to exploring and conversing with you.  Thank you so much for taking the time to visit this site!

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    Bittersweet Notes is an open source research project on chocolate, culture, and the politics of food. I invite you to join me as I explore the story of chocolate and the life stories of those involved with chocolate at its many stages of production and consumption.

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