Stephanie Greenman Stone (415) 379-5121
Pat Kilduff (415) 321-8125
CHOCOLATE Exhibit Opens June 11, 2005
From the Ancient Rainforest to the Supermarket Shelf,
The California Academy of Sciences Takes Visitors on a Delicious Expedition
SAN FRANCISCO (February 3, 2005) - A unique tree in a lush
tropical environment. A seed so precious it was used by the Aztecs as
a form of money. A spicy drink and a sweet snack. A heavenly craving and
a sublime pleasure. Chocolate is all this… and much more. Explore the
relationship between human culture and this rainforest treasure in Chocolate,
from June 11 to September 5, 2005, at The California Academy of Sciences.
Chocolate will immerse you in a sweet experience, engage all your senses,
and reveal little-known facets of this tasty treat. You'll explore the
plant, the products, the history, and the culture of chocolate through
the lenses of botany, ecology, anthropology, economics, conservation and
popular culture. And if all that sets your mouth to watering, we'll send
you off with a chocolate treat to satisfy your cravings.
Bon bons, hot fudge, frozen chocolate bars. Most of us know chocolate
today primarily as a candy or a sweet dessert. But it wasn't always so.
The ancient Maya of Central America knew it as a frothy, spicy drink,
made from the seeds of the cacao tree and used in royal and religious
ceremonies. They found these bitter seeds deep in the pulp of a large,
rough pod the size of a football, let them ferment, dried them in the
sun, roasted them, crushed them, added water and spices…and drank!
This chocolate drink was originally consumed by rich and
poor alike. 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, served in lavishly decorated vessels. When the
first Europeans reached the Aztec capital, instead of gold they found
treasure troves of cacao seeds.
The exhibition explores the commoditization of chocolate
by Europeans, and the use of forced labor on colonial plantations to meet
the insatiable European demand for chocolate and its new soul-mate, sugar.
Rooted in the rainforest
Another fascinating part of the exhibition concerns the cacao tree itself
(Theobroma cacao), its lowland rainforest ecology, and how it's grown
today. A beautiful tree with delicate flowers, cacao grows only within
20° latitude (about 1,380 miles) of the equator. It is relatively small,
no more than 30 feet high, and grows naturally in the rainforest understory,
in the shade of larger, canopy trees. At the Academy, the rainforest display
will include a live colony of 80,000 Leaf Cutter ants, which harvest leaves
from the rainforest (including cacao leaves!) and use them to cultivate
gardens of fungus.
Most of the rainforest trees we use, like rubber trees and
Brazil nuts, are taller trees that capture the sunlight. But cacao is
different. Its pollinators are midges, tiny flies that thrive in the decaying
vegetable matter and other debris at the base of the tree. Midges stay
close to the ground, and that explains another unusual feature of the
cacao tree: its flowers grow directly on the trunk and lower branches,
where the midges can reach them.
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 ecosystem. When cacao is taken
out of its natural environment and grown separately, in cleared, unshaded
plantations, it doesn't thrive. The soil becomes dried out and eroded,
and the tree becomes susceptible to molds and diseases. To counteract
that, growers may add fertilizers and pesticides that can harm both the
workers and the environment. Today, though, many cacao farmers and scientists
are working together to find ways to grow cacao profitably without destroying
the rainforest habitat.
Global commodity… cultural icon
Sustainable cacao-growing, environmental protections, and supporting the
genetic diversity of wild cacao are increasingly important topics today,
for economic as well as botanical reasons. Thanks to technological advances
and mass production - not to mention enormous amounts of advertising -
chocolate has become a part of the global market economy. Cacao seeds
are traded on the commodities market (under the name "cocoa"), right along
with pork bellies and soy.
Even so, chocolate retains vestiges of its ceremonial history.
Mexicans today 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 "Chanukah gelt." And in the U.S., of course, 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
The value of chocolate can be measured in sales - $13 billion
a year in the U.S. - or in symbols. In this country, for example, chocolate
is closely linked not only with love but with patriotism: chocolate has
been issued to U.S. soldiers since World War I, and it has even accompanied
astronauts into space.
These popular uses of chocolate, along with a fascinating
array of chocolate advertising and packaging and a look at myths about
chocolate, are all part of the Academy's new exhibition. For supplemental
materials about chocolate, including health facts, quotes, and recipes,
please click here.
The California Academy of Sciences is planning an array of public programs,
films and performances, cooking demonstrations, guest speakers, and other
special events highlighting the many facets of chocolate. A few special
events are listed below. For more program listings, please call (415)
Opening Festivities - Aztec Dancing
Saturday, June 11 at 11 am
In Pre-Hispanic times, Central Mexico was one of many cacao-growing
areas of Mesoamerica, and the Aztecs used bitter chocolate drinks in
many of their ritual ceremonies. To mark the opening of the Chocolate
exhibit, Ernesto Hernandez Olmos and the Xaguia Gura Ensemble will perform
Aztec Indian dances that pay homage to the ancient Nahuatl-speaking
cultures of Pre-Columbian Mexico. Wearing colorful outfits, masks, and
spectacular plumed headdresses inspired by the feathered serpent god
Quetzalcoatl, the dancers will move through the Academy's halls to the
rhythm of indigenous instruments such as ankle rattles, hollowed log
drums, conch shell trumpets, bamboo flutes, and clay whistles.
Chocolate Carving Demonstration
Saturday & Sunday, June 11 & 12, from 10 am - 5 pm
Watch as award-winning food sculptor Arthur Escoto carves a block of
chocolate weighing more than 200 pounds into a sculpture inspired by
the natural world.
Saturday, June 18 from 10:30 am - 5 pm,
Saturday, July 30 from 10:30 am - 5 pm, and
Saturday, August 20 from 10:30 am - 5 pm
Celebrate the taste and culinary history of chocolate by participating
in a full day of demonstrations and activities for families.
Friday Afternoon Features
Every Friday afternoon from June 17 - September 2
Enjoy a delicious variety of chocolate product samplings and demonstrations,
such as hand massages with chocolate lotions or delectable dessert tastings.
New demos will be offered every Friday afternoon throughout the duration
of the exhibit.
Organizers and Sponsors
Chocolate and its national tour were developed by The Field Museum, Chicago.
This project was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.
The California Academy of Sciences,
including Steinhart Aquarium and the Natural History Museum, is open to
the public at 875 Howard Street, Admission to the Academy at 875 Howard
Street is: $7 for adults, $4.50 for youth ages 12 to 17, Seniors ages
65+ and students with valid ID, $2 for children ages four to 11 and children
ages three and younger will be admitted free of charge. Hours are 10 a.m.
to 5 p.m. every day. www.calacademy.org (415) 379-8000.
The California Academy of Sciences,
the fourth largest natural history museum in the United States, is home
to Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium and the Natural History Museum.
The Academy is beginning an extensive rebuilding project in Golden Gate
Park. Pritzker prize-winning architect Renzo Piano is designing the new
Academy, which is expected to open in 2008.
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