On God and Chocolate
We’ve been on a long road trip for the past two and a half weeks—all the way from Boston to Tulsa, OK, where my sisters live. It’s been a good trip. We visited Hershey’s World yesterday, because hey, it was there. Ever since I had a mission companion who had lived in Hershey, PA, I’ve been a bit of a fangirl. Chocolate! Kiss-shaped streetlights! The legendary “factory tour” ride with singing cows!
So we went. And it occurred to me, as we were driving around town and enjoying the chocolate theme, and later, as we pushed through crowds in the chocolate-themed gift shop, that it’s odd to have tributes to chocolate in ways that aren’t actually chocolate. And then it occurred to me (we were hard on the heels of a long drive through the Bible belt) that this is kind of what we as Christians (and specifically as Mormons) do with God. We all love God, right? God loves us and is, frankly, the best thing that’s ever happened to us—even more so than chocolate. We want more of Them in our lives, and we can go a little theme-happy, celebrating God in ways that have nothing to do with Them. The BYU sweatshirts on our kids are just the beginning; keep it going long enough and we end up with family CTR rings, “RULDS2?” bumper stickers, and cutesy visiting teaching crafts with the monthly message on them. We celebrate our Mormon-ness, and we do so conspicuously. And really, there’s nothing particularly wrong about it, though it can occasionally be as annoying to other people as a bright orange Reese’s t-shirt and matching baseball cap.
And yet. Our point in going to Hershey’s World was to eat chocolate, so we bought tickets for the chocolate-tasting experience, which turned out to be the highlight of the trip. Our guide took us through the process of being a Hershey’s “palatier” (which totally sounds like the best job in the world, by the way) and had us examine four different squares made by the company: Hershey’s Special Dark, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, D’Agoba New Moon (74% cacao), and Scharffen Berger milk chocolate (41% cacao). We also got to taste cacao nibs—the broken edible bits of cacao beans, after they’re fermented but before they’re processed into cocoa.
Our guide reminded us periodically that the ways people experience a particular kind of chocolate are highly personal—where one person tastes fruity overtones, another might detect a floral note or an earthy undercurrent. And some of us are more drawn to one combination of flavors than another. Our group’s overwhelming favorite was Hershey’s Special Dark, but there were a lot of people who liked Hershey’s Milk Chocolate. My oldest daughter and I, who were still nibbling on the cacao nibs as we left the room, loved the D’Agoba dark chocolate, which our guide said was highly unusual (actually, her words were, “You’re the first people who have ever chosen it as their favorite.”) Apparently I like my chocolate strong, pure, and with as little sugar as possible, where most people like a flavor that’s more reminiscent of a cup of hot cocoa, and others prefer it in less intense doses, mixed with milk. And all of those preferences (weird as I think some of them may be) are okay. They’re personal.
We didn’t buy anything in the gift shop. We’re chocolate lovers, and we don’t mind people knowing it, but none of us felt as though we needed t-shirts or plush chocolate bar pillows to prove our love of chocolate to the world. Frankly, we’d rather spend that money on some premium-quality chocolate chips to go in our next batch of cookies.
Our experiences with God are highly personal, too, and commercialism can be off-putting to some of us. I don’t know how many sickly-sweet, planned-tearjerker movies I watched in seminary class as a teenager. They spoke to a lot of people, which was fine, but they didn’t speak to me in the same way. I saw them as manipulative and sappy: milk chocolate that didn’t have enough real intensity to satisfy me. A lot of the planned spiritual experiences that happen at church feel this way to me, and it’s one of the reasons I have so little patience with institutional Mormonism and its kitschy cultural trappings much of the time. But those personal, intense experiences with deity? The experience of the cacao nibs and the specialty brand of dark chocolate I’d never heard of before yesterday? Those are the reasons I stay.