Chocolate Around the World
Just in time for the holidays, The Field Museum is bringing back its popular chocolateexhibition that received rave reviews when it premiered in 2002!
Chocolate Around the World is better than ever – with space for public programming, demonstrations, and special events. Come enjoy this sweet experience that will engage all your senses and reveal facets of chocolate you may never have thought of before.
Imagine a unique tree in a lush tropical environment. A seed so precious it was used as money. A spicy drink and a sweet snack. A strong craving and a sublime pleasure. Chocolate is all this and much more. Chocolate Around the World (Oct. 5, 2011 through Jan. 8, 2012) explores the fascinating relationship between human culture and this rainforest treasure.
Liquid Gold from the Rainforest
No one recorded the event. But, says Jonathan Haas, The Field Museum’s MacArthur curator of North American anthropology, it was an intensely human thing to do. “Human beings are tinkerers,” Haas says. “We like to try things. And when most of your diet comes from corn, you’re going to be looking for variety.” So the Maya let the seeds ferment, dried them in the sun, roasted them, crushed them, added water and spices…and drank!
The fascinating first section of the exhibition concerns the cacao tree, its lowland rainforest ecology, and how it’s grown today. The exhibition features a model of the beautiful cacao tree that grows within about 1,380 miles of the equator. Visitors will discover that its pollinators are midges, tiny flies that thrive in the decaying vegetable matter and other debris at the base of the tree.
The exhibition showcases replicas of tools used to grind the cacao seeds, as well as lavishly decorated drinking vessels. Chocolate at first was consumed by rich and poor. But because cacao grows only in the rainforest, it was coveted by other cultures – in particular, the Aztec. It soon became a valuable article of trade; the seeds served as a form of money, and the drink became a luxury for the elite. When the first Europeans reached the Aztec capital, instead of gold they found treasure troves of cacao seeds.
When chocolate reached Europe, it was mixed with sugar and a new craze began – cafés serving hot chocolate sprang up in every city (much like ubiquitous high-end coffee shops of today.) The exhibition explains how the insatiable European demand for this new treat made chocolate a commodity and fueled the use of forced labor on colonial plantations.
A Global Commodity and a Cultural Icon
Though humans have now taken cacao from its native home in the Americas to grow it in West Africa, Indonesia, and other tropical lands, the plant remains rooted in its rainforest ecosystem. Today, many cacao farmers and scientists are working together to find ways to grow cacao profitably without destroying the rainforest habitat.
Technological advances and mass production – not to mention enormous amounts of advertising – have made chocolate part of the global market economy. A mesmerizing video in the exhibition shows a factory assembly line processing thousands of pieces of chocolate candy each hour. In addition, Chocolate Around the World displays candy packaging and advertising from all over the world, underscoring its universal appeal.
Cacao seeds are traded on the commodities market right along with pork bellies and soy. A futures stock ticker display showing cocoa prices on the world market brings this point home.
How Does Chocolate Fit into Your Celebrations?
As visitors leave the exhibition, a digital interactive will ask them to share their own thoughts and memories of how chocolate figures into their own holiday traditions. Responses will be added in real-time to a large video display on the wall of the gallery. This final gallery will also be used for special programming throughout the run of the exhibition. (See below for details.)
Although chocolate is big business today, it still retains vestiges of its ceremonial history. Mexicans use it as an offering on the Day of the Dead, in the form of beans or prepared as mole. Foil-wrapped chocolate coins are given to children as “Hanukkah gelt.” In fact, chocolate has a place in nearly every holiday celebration: heart-shaped boxes of chocolate for Valentine’s Day, chocolate bunnies for Easter, wrapped candies for trick-or-treaters at Halloween, and cups of hot cocoa to warm Christmas carolers.
Colossal Chocolate Creations
Encounter one-of-a-kind chocolate inspired creations in Chocolate Around the World. Chicago-area artists and pastry chefs will draw inspiration from chocolate-focused holiday celebrations as wall as Field Museum and Chicago icons to create colossal-sized sculptures made from chocolate and candy wrappers. Programming inside Chocolate Around the World on select days during October, November, and December. Visit fieldmuseum.org for additional programming dates and times.
Saturday, October 8; 10am-2pm
A sculptural showpiece will be created from chocolate, presented by Chicago’s Palmer House Hilton.
Saturday, October, 29; 10am-2pm
Watch Chicago-area artist Ian Sherwin fabricate a large-scale Halloween-inspired origami sculpture from candy wrappers.
Organizer and Sponsor Information
Chocolate Around the World and its national tour were developed by The Field Museum.
Lead Sponsor: Kraft Foods Foundation.
This project was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.
Field Museum Admission
Tickets to Chocolate Around the World are included in both Discovery and All-Access passes to the Museum and are priced $22-29 for adults, $18-24 for seniors and students with ID, and $15-20 for children 4-11. Discounts are available for Chicago residents. Visit fieldmuseum.org or call 866.FIELD.03. Special rates are available for tour operators and groups of 15 or more. Call our Group Sales office toll-free at 888.FIELD.85 (888.343.5385).
The Field Museum is open 9am to 5pm every day of the year except Christmas Day.
Location and Travel Information
The Field Museum is located at 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive. Visitors can travel to the Museum via CTA bus lines #6 and #146, or by taking the Metra electric and South Shore Lines. Parking is available next to the Museum’s east entrance, or inside the Soldier Field underground lot, located across the street from the Museum’s main entrance.
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