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Valentine’s Day: How a heart-shaped candy box came to stand for love



There are few social scripts as clear as the one for Valentine’s Day: If you love someone, and if it is February 14, you buy them chocolates. And while you can buy them any chocolates, there is nothing that says Valentine’s Day as loudly and as clearly as an array of chocolate bonbons nestled in a festive heart-shaped box. The heart-shaped box eliminates the possibility of ambiguity: These are not just regular chocolates; these are chocolates of romantic love.

It is not a creative gift. That is the beauty of it. It is simply what is done. There is a heart-shaped box of chocolates for every price point. You can buy a heart-shaped box of Hershey’s chocolates at Target for $4.99, or one from Burdick for $52, or an embroidered heart-shaped box of chocolates from Godiva, which costs $99.95.

Regardless of cost, the basic premise of the heart-shaped chocolate box is always more or less the same. It is a box. Inside, there are chocolates. The box is heart-shaped. Usually, the heart-shaped box is made of cardboard, and is red, but sometimes it is pink or purple, or all three, with gold embellishments.

Sometimes, it is tied with an actual ribbon, or — cheaper — a picture of a ribbon. The contents vary, too, within a very narrow range. In its most classic form, the heart-shaped box contains an assortment of individual chocolates, presumably because it is prettier if they are different from one another, and also variety helps keep love exciting.

It is a logical pairing. Hearts are associated with romantic love. Chocolate is associated with romantic love. Chocolates need boxes, and boxes have to be shaped like something. Really, it was only a matter of time.

Yet the assumptions that make it logical — that hearts symbolize love and chocolate is sexy — are not obvious at all. When did hearts become icons of feelings, and why are they shaped like that? Also, chocolate: why? “Because it was thought to be an aphrodisiac!” you say — I also said — but then, think about this: So are oysters. So is mint. So is tarragon. And still here we are, in the CVS candy aisle, staring at rows of chocolate hearts.

A brief history of sensual chocolate

For the first several millennia of chocolate consumption — in her book Bitter Chocolate, journalist Carol Off dates cocoa back at least 3,000 years — it was served not as a solid, but as a drink. The Maya peoples in Central America were known to prepare a beverage made from beans that had been soaked, aerated, ground, and mixed with various spices. Occasionally, Off writes, it was sweetened with honey; it was always mixed with ground corn, and then frothed. It was a sacred drink, associated with religious rituals. It was also a drink of the elite. “It would be more like port,” Rebecca Earle, a history professor at the University of Warwick, tells me. “Something that men drank while conducting diplomacy.”

It is not clear if the Maya or another Central American group, the Aztecs, drank chocolate to prepare for other, more intimate encounters. “The Spanish thought that Aztecs thought that chocolate had aphrodisiac qualities, and maybe they did,” Earle says. “There are these coy comments in some of the Spanish accounts from the 1520s, ‘Montezuma used to drink a cup of hot chocolate before visiting his wives.’” Whether it was true or not, the reputation stuck.

The Spanish conquistadors also sweetened chocolate, adding not honey, but Caribbean sugar. And it was the conquistadors, Earle says, who began associating chocolate with women. Now sweetened, it acquired a reputation as something colonial women drank, while they lay around, lasciviously, and engaged in romantic intrigues, the new world equivalent of rosé.

In Spanish dispatches from colonial Latin America, there were all kinds of complaints “about women drinking chocolate all the time,” Earle says. “Women poisoning faithless lovers with cups of hot chocolate. Women drinking chocolate in church while mass was being celebrated. Women poisoning priests who tried to stop them from drinking hot chocolate during mass with a cup of hot chocolate. It becomes kind of linked to feminine treachery and intrigue.”

Chocolate — dark and murky and, like most food, prepared by women — acquired a reputation as just a little bit dangerous. Who knows what’s in there? There are lots of court cases from the period involving men going to the Inquisition and accusing women of casting spells via chocolate. “They’d say, ‘I know she did it because she gave me this cup of chocolate, and after that … whatever it was that I’m complaining about started to happen,” Earle says.

It was the Spanish who brought the now feminized, now sweet, and maybe sexy chocolate back to Europe, where it was both fashionable and expensive. Also, still mostly liquid.

Solid chocolate candy — the stuff that comes in the heart-shaped boxes — is a product of technology. By the early 1800s, chocolate was losing ground in Europe. The drink was “greasy” and “gritty,” Off writes; Europeans were moving on to tea and coffee, more refined stuff. The problem was cocoa butter: People didn’t like the taste of it, but removing it was laborious and time-consuming and not all that successful, anyway. Until, that is, a Dutch chemist figured out how to use a hydraulic press to efficiently squeeze the grease from roasted cocoa beans, separating the cocoa from the fat, which remained a useless byproduct.

And then a British chocolatier found a use for it: It turns out that by adding small amounts of melted, clarified cocoa butter back to the cocoa solids, and then adding sugar and other flavors, you get a moldable, “melt-in-your-mouth treat that could be mass produced and sold at an affordable price.” This new chocolate was even more accessible; you could, depending on your economic status, buy one bonbon, or several.

It is almost certainly not a coincidence that the new possibility of solid chocolate candy coincides more or less exactly with the invention of contemporary Valentine’s Day. And the link between chocolate and seduction presented a market opportunity. “Etiquette books and chocolate advertisers alike encouraged the view that an exchange of chocolates between a man and a woman was tantamount to a declaration of love,” Earle explains in the Independent.

This prescribed heterosexual chocolate exchange was from a man, and to a woman. “A gift of chocolate implies an act of patronage,” writes scholar Diane Barthel, in a paper breaking down the meaning of the modernist chocolate box. “Like most gifts, it goes from the powerful to the less powerful, from adults to children … or from men to women.” Chocolates are, she suggests, not just a tool of seduction, but the embodiment of it: “Women are supposed to give in to men as they give in to sweets, with chocolates symbolizing the impending breakdown of sexual resistance.” Who can say no, to a suitor, or a praline?

Love is a heart-shaped box

You could, in theory, put chocolates in a box shaped like anything: a square; a rectangle; a duck. But we don’t. The iconic box of Valentine’s chocolates is shaped like a heart, because hearts are for love.

This has not always been the case. Eric Jager, author of The Book of the Heart, and medieval literature professor at UCLA, traces the link back to the 13th and 14th centuries. “[People at that time] thought of our hearts” — the physical ones — “as books of memory, a place where God’s commands are written, and [believed] feelings for the beloved were somehow written on your heart,” he told Time. There are stories about female saints, whose hearts, cut open after death, were literally inscribed with professions of love for God.

But then where did the shape come from? It’s not, one might note, quite similar to what human hearts look like, although, as cardiologist and medical illustrator Carlos Machado told Time, it isn’t all that different, either. Really, he says, the shape is closer to a bird or reptile heart, which makes sense, given that the medieval study of anatomy was based on animal bodies, rather than human ones.

By the early 15th century, the heart had taken on the Hallmark-approved shape and meaning we know today — just in time, Time notes, for medicine to move on. The heart stops being understood as a thumping notebook, a pulsing record of feeling, and the brain becomes the body’s ruling organ.

The heart shape kept its iconographic status — love! — even as medicine evolved, giving way to centuries of sentimental objects shaped like hearts, and not like brains. Necklaces. Valentines. Pizzas. Boxes.

Nancy Rosin, president of the National Valentine Collectors Association, says the boxes far predate the chocolates. There were betrothal pendants, silver boxes shaped like hearts, to store — well, she isn’t sure, but “they were hollow, and they were boxes.” (The one in her collection is from 1747.) There were heart-shaped sewing boxes. Heart-shaped porcelain boxes. There were even antique Valentines, which — while not boxes, technically — did often but did often require a certain box-like interaction, with the recipient peeling back layers and unfolding folds and pulling tabs to reveal a secret message or a picture, buried in a heart.

So chocolates were romantic. Heart-shaped boxes were romantic. By the 1840s, Valentine’s Day was becoming a must-celebrate commercial holiday, dedicated to love and also gift-giving. Romantic!

But heart-shaped boxes of Valentine’s Day chocolate were the particular genius of Richard Cadbury, who, along with his brother, took over the family business in 1861. A few years later — 1868, according to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets — he introduced the world to the first known heart-shaped box of Valentine’s Day chocolates, although he didn’t actually patent it. And in the process, he changed the shape of modern Valentine’s observance.

It’s the Cadburys, Off writes, who turned chocolate into a Valentine’s Day necessity, marketing it as a gift that appealed to Victorian sensibilities; it wasn’t explicitly sexual, but demurely suggestive. And with the addition of the heart-shaped box, it was two presents in one. “Once the chocolates had been eaten,” NPR reports, “the boxes were deeply prized by sentimental Victorians, who stored love letters, lockets of hair, and other treasured mementos inside.”

“The heart is the center of emotion and love,” Rosin muses. “You open it up, and it’s your secrets, your dreams — your fantasies are all in this box of chocolates.” Based on sales figures, they still are. Last year, AdWeek reported that “according to one recent statistic, 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate find their way into our paramours’ hands each year.”

You can buy a heart-shaped box of M&Ms or a Whitman’s sampler or a heart box of Godiva. If none of those is to your taste, you can also bestow upon your lover an anatomically correct human heart made out of chocolate, or a goth-inspired all-black box of macabre vegan chocolates, shaped like skulls and bones and other “death-themed sweets.” (The box is called “Fatally Yours,” and, according to the Guardian, suggests an evolving relationship with the holiday.)

“To the postmodern, romance is an embarrassment requiring ironic distancing,” writes Barthel; now, there are sentimental hearts, and ironic hearts, and also sentimental hearts bestowed ironically. But if the meaning has evolved, the shape has not.

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Oakland teachers strike: Union calls strike for pay, smaller classes




Teacher frustration keeps spreading.

Public school teachers in Oakland, California, said they will strike on Thursday, following 18 months of tense negotiations with district officials over pay raises and classroom sizes.

“We have had it. Enough is enough, bargaining with our school district has not worked,” said Keith Brown, a middle school teacher and president of the Oakland Education Association, during a press conference on Saturday. “Our schools have been starved of resources for years.”

If they don’t reach a deal before Thursday, about 3,000 teachers won’t show up to work in one of the state’s largest school districts, which has struggled from years of budget cuts and poor student performance.

Teachers say the lack of investment in city schools is hurting student performance. The cost of living in Oakland has also skyrocketed in recent years, due to an influx of high-skilled workers unable to afford housing across the bay in San Francisco, making it impossible for teachers to live there on their current salaries, Keith said. Teachers want a pay raise, smaller class sizes, and more counselors and nurses.

The strike in Oakland would come a month after teachers in Los Angeles walked off the job with similar demands — and ended up getting a lot of what they wanted. At the time, LA officials said the same thing Oakland officials are now saying: We just don’t have the money.

Oakland schools are facing a $56 million budget deficit in the next two years, so the school board wants to cut school spending, not increase it. School officials are trying to get more money from the state, but teachers are ready to walk out. And they know they have leverage.

It’s just the latest strike in what’s becoming a national trend. More than 100,000 public school teachers in six states have walked out of class in the past year, rebelling from years of stagnant wages, crumbling infrastructure, and deep budget cuts to education. The strikes in Arizona, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, California, and Colorado had broad public support, forcing state lawmakers to raise pay and fueling a national movement to boost investment in public education.

So far, that momentum shows no signs of slowing down.

Funding for public schools in California is a mess

Oakland teachers share a lot of the same frustrations that led LA teachers to walk out of class in January. They say school districts are spending too much money on privately run charter schools that have little public oversight. They also believe they are paid too little working in a state with much wealth.

California is among states spending the least on each student (adjusted for the cost of living), largely because of the state’s strict limits on property tax rates.

The Oakland Education Association, a labor union representing 3,000 educators, has been trying to negotiate a new contract since the last one expired in 2017. Teachers want a 12 percent pay raise over three years, smaller classes, and more support staff. One school counselor for every 600 students is not conducive to a student’s success, says Keith Brown, the group’s president.

The district has offered a 5 percent raise over three years.

Teachers rejected the offer.

“Unless there are dramatic changes to the district’s approach, including spending more money on students and for nurses and counselors, lower class size, and a living wage that will keep Oakland teachers in the classrooms, we will strike,” Brown said.

The school district has said it is willing to keep negotiating for a better deal to avert the strike, and would consider some recommendations from an independent panel, which found that low teacher pay, large class sizes, and school privatization were hurting Oakland schools. The report also acknowledges the state’s “complicated, flawed” system for funding public education.

“Despite our challenges, we are prepared with a comprehensive proposal to reach an agreement. If both sides are committed to settling the contract before a strike occurs —and we are — an agreement can certainly be reached without disrupting the educational experience for students, families and staff,” Oakland Schools Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said in a statement Saturday.

They have three days to try and reach a deal.

Teachers are leading a national workers revolt

A record number of US workers went on strike or stopped working in 2018 because of labor disputes with employers, according to new data released last week by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. A total of 485,000 employees were involved in major work stoppages last year — the highest number since 1986, when flight attendants, garbage collectors, and steelworkers walked off the job.

Frustrated public school teachers were behind the year’s largest walkouts, but hotel housekeepers and steelworkers also organized strikes that lasted for days.

There are no signs that worker angst has subsided. So far, in 2019, teachers in two major cities have launched their own strikes. And in January, the Los Angeles teachers strike shut down the nation’s second-largest school district for more than a week.

As part of their deal with city officials, teachers agreed to a 6 percent raise and slightly fewer students in each classroom, according to Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, a labor union that represents about 34,000 public school teachers, nurses, librarians, and support staff in the city.

Last week, more than 2,000 teachers in Denver went on strike for three days. The school district ended up giving educators and extra $23 million in pay and agreed to overhaul the compensation system, which relied heavily on annual bonuses.

Now Oakland teachers are prepared to walk out, and Sacramento teachers may follow.

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Read Now Go Viral!: The Most Effective Viral Marketing Strategies To Launch Your Online Business




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Kamala Harris’s 2020 presidential campaign: news and updates




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