Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Academy of Natural Sciences: Chocolate: The Exhibition

It's the season of warm feelings and holiday cheer, and the Academy of Natural Sciences is offering up a sweet experience for the whole family to enjoy.  Chocolate: The Exhibition takes visitors from the origins of the cacao bean, through its introduction into the modern world, and into how it effects us today.  Daily Vacationer is a big fan of chocolate (we even took a Chocolate Tour this past year!), and we love the Academy of Natural Sciences, so we were pretty excited to check out this fun exhibit.
The first thing you notice about The Exhibition is the smell.  The aroma of chocolate wafts down the hallway greeting you as you exit the elevator or arrive at the top of the stairs - mmmmmm!  The beginning of the exhibit takes you all the way back to, well, the beginning.  A life-sized cacao tree stands in the first room where visitors can touch the seeds and pods and discover where chocolate actually comes from.  It doesn't look much (or apparently taste much) like the end result, but this is really where it all starts. 

The exhibit continues with the history of chocolate from the ancient Aztecs to the Spanish explorers who introduced it to Europe and all way through to how we use it today.  Learn about the different cultures who helped form the story of chocolate and the different ways in which chocolate was used and treasured - and how much more it was in demand with the addition of sugar.  (By the way - we couldn't believe how long Spain kept it a secret from the rest of Europe!) The availability of chocolate took a drastic turn once mass production came into the picture. Suddenly chocolate was an indulgence for the whole country instead of just the rich.  Demonstrated through the interactive chocolate factory experience in the exhibit, companies like our own local Mars and Hershey could now make affordable treats that we all enjoy.
Whether or not mass produced chocolate is as good as the European chocolatiers is up to opinion.  After enjoying the Dove sample that is part of the exhibit (plus checking out the yummy chocolate store at the end), Daily Vacationer is of the opinion that we like chocolate in any form.  And we aren't the only ones apparently.  At the very end of the exhibit you can watch people talk about their memories of, thoughts about, and overall love of chocolate.
Chocolate: The Exhibition is not just a history of the tasty treat however.  It's also an eye opener to the way our seamlessly unending chocolate cravings effect the rest of the world - specifically the unavoidable link between harvesting the cherished cacao bean and the exploitation of child labor.  Chocolate has effected the world in a way that almost no other food every has.  Whether a just a peacetime pleasure or a treasured scarcity during war, chocolate has served to break the ice and bridge gaps between people, cultures, and civilizations throughout history.  A fun treat for some and pure addiction for others, chocolate is a sweet delight we wouldn't want to be without.

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