One benefit of historical knowledge and critical thinking is that it can save one from embarassment and shooting oneself in the foot while the foot is in one’s mouth. Such is the case with the Great Chocolate Biscuit Scandal of the 1990s.
You may wonder why an innocent, tasty chocolate biscuit would lead to speechs and resolutions in the Philippine Congress1, a diplomatic protest2 and an investigation by the Department of Trade and Industry.
It was because the biscuits, produced by a Spanish company and sold in Hispanic territories, were called Filipinos. Shrill suggestions were made of corporate racism – they were brown on the outside but white on the inside – although a critical thinker might have wondered why a major company should consider insulting Filipinos to be a good marketing strategy in the late 20th Century.
That a variety coated with dark chocolate was labelled Filipinos – Chocolate Negro gave much fuel for those who searched for reasons to feel their amor propio insulted.
It was a symptom of how divorced many are from the nation’s history and the importance of chocolate to Philippine culture is forgotten.. For the fact is that the term ‘Filipino’ gave the biscuits a cachet of excellence, it was a cause for pride.
The chocolate bars we are familiar with today did not exist until an English company, Fry’s, invented it in 1847. Until then it was a beverage that was a vital part of the daily life of rich and poor Filipinos as meridenda or haponan3 with sandwiches and a piece of cake.
Paul La Gironier, a Frenchman who settled in the Philippines, gives us a glimpse of just how essential chocolate became throughout Philippine society and how important it was to social interaction: Some of his chickens had been stolen by a couple of boys who were found and brought before him for a telling-off. They admitted they had done wrong but excused themselves by explaining that they had stolen the birds to sell because they did not have enough money to pay for a drink of chocolate after taking Communion the next day4.
3 Merienda and haponan are the Filipino equivalents of the British ‘elevenses’ and afternoon tea.
4 La Gironière, Paul P. de. Adventures in the Philippine Islands. Translated from the French of Paul P. de La Gironière … Revised and Extended by the Author, Expressly for This Edition., 2005. http://name.umdl.umich.edu/ahz9187.0001.001.