Eating Chocolate And Challenging The Status Quo
How a book about chocolate taught me that pleasure is an act of rebellion
For 8 years, when people asked what my favorite book was, I’d answer Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Then I grew wiser and changed my answer to the more nuanced “It’s impossible to have a favorite book!” Over the years, it has become my go-to comfort read. But a recent re-reading gave me some fresh perspective on happiness and chocolate. So here goes.
Temptations And Temptresses
“I can smell her perfume, something flowery, too strong in this enclosed darkness. I wonder if this is temptation. If so, I am stone.”
Vianne Rocher causes a stir in the small French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes when she moves there with her daughter and opens a chocolaterie. She tempts people with chocolate (the horror!) and supports travelers like herself against the prejudices of the villagers. Her entire existence—as a single mother, a nomad and a business owner—is a rebellion, and is seen as such by the self-proclaimed villain, Father Reynaud. Church vs. Chocolate is a clever, insightful, and hilarious conflict in the book that baby me unpacked in 2016 here. (Don’t judge!)
Eating Chocolate, Reading Book
“I sell dreams, small comforts, sweet harmless temptations to bring down a multitude of saints crashing among the hazels and nougatines.”
Chocolat takes you on a powerful sensory journey. You can taste the characters’ emotions and experience their lives. You can smell the chocolate being made (cooked?), taste the different flavors and finding your favorite. (Pro Tip: Read the book while eating chocolate for the ultimate sensory experience.)
Here chocolate is indulgence—a symbol for savoring life and sharing its joys with others. For not living in moderation or restraint, but in the simple pleasures of the present. Over time, the book itself has become an indulgence—a feel-good activity or a distraction from sadness, stress or period cramps.
Rebellious Women Eat Chocolate
“Like a flower she grows towards the light, without thinking or examining the process which moves her to do so. I wish I could do the same.”
Josephine Muscat is first introduced as a kleptomaniac and social outcast but we soon realize that her abusive husband is the cause for her behavior. Josephine finds shelter and a job at the chocolaterie and flourishes into a confident woman. She finds liberation, financial independence, and ultimately, love—an arc typically given to the protagonist but does justice to this character.
While Josephine rebels against society, Armande Voizin rebels against time and disease. She is an fierce old diabetic woman who decides to end her life on a high note. Armande gathers all her loved ones for a birthday bash with food, alcohol and chocolate. She dies that night in her sleep—happy, satiated and on her own terms.
Finally, we have Vianne Rocher, our unconventional protagonist. Her story does not focus on romance, but on her relationships with women: her mother, her daughter and friends like Josephine and Armande. There are magical and ‘witchy’ hints to her character, though she never calls herself a witch. Vianne is also running from a ‘boogeyman’: a manifestation of the patriarchal and religious beliefs that make her both anomaly and temptress. She faces a form of that in Father Reynaud, who attempts to burn down her chocolaterie in the middle of the night. Ultimately, the temptation of chocolate is his downfall.
Pleasure Is Rebellion
“Happiness. Simple as a glass of chocolate or tortuous as the heart. Bitter. Sweet. Alive.”
Happiness is usually seen as a long-term state of being. Or a goal to be achieved eventually. But how can I find it, however fleeting, in this exact moment? Like Vianne, how do I focus on the simple pleasures of the present?
I was raised to believe that happiness is earned. We work hard during the week to earn the weekend. We earn our cheat days, our guilty pleasures, our self-care days. Pleasure is a luxury, especially for women. I think of my mother—always cooking the food we loved, insisting on sharing whatever we wanted to eat in restaurants. This approach towards postponing pleasure or putting others’ pleasure over ours seeps into the our smallest actions and simplest things.
“I could do with a bit more excess. From now on I'm going to be immoderate—and volatile—I shall enjoy loud music and lurid poetry. I shall be rampant.”
One of my goals this year is to indulge, not necessarily in expensive or luxurious things. But in doing yoga and taking walks in nature and cultivating hobbies with no monetary agendas. I want to make space for stuff I don’t ‘have to do’, but ‘want to do’.
Some things that bring me joy:
Chocolate. I’ll eat it, drink it, inhale it! What’s your favourite type? Mine is milk chocolate with almonds or hazelnuts. Or 70% dark chocolate.
Scented candles with abstract names like ‘The Perfect Summer’ and ‘Sweater Weather’.
Drawing terrible art on MS Paint. There’s something incredibly freeing about doing something without trying to be good at it.
Mood music. There’s a playlist for everything! Here’s the one I listened to while writing this newsletter.
You can make your own list of small joys and simple pleasures and indulge in them often. Not as a reward. Not as an exception. Just for the sake of pleasure. And let’s ask ourselves regularly: Do I need a reason to be happy?
Why Feminists Ruin Everything
From Harry Potter to Agatha Christie, feminism makes us realize how problematic our favourite childhood reads and movies truly were. Every month I will pick a piece to dissect, appreciate, and possibly ruin with my feminist angst. If you have a book, movie or series I should write about, let me know!