Friday, September 17, 2010

Controlling the Concepts of Chocolate?

Here's something I hadn't been aware of:

What is Ghirardelli’s stance on the proposal to change the definition of chocolate?

Ghirardelli does not support the changing the “standard of identity” or “definition” of chocolate. As you may have heard, the FDA is considering changing the “standard of identity” for chocolate. These changes (proposed by other chocolate manufacturers) would allow for the addition of vegetable oil in place of cocoa butter without losing the ability to call the product Milk Chocolate, Semi-Sweet Chocolate or Bittersweet Chocolate. This substitution is not allowed today unless manufacturers clearly label their products as “chocolaty”, “chocolate flavored”, sweet chocolate and vegetable fat coating, or milk chocolate and vegetable fat coating.

If the proposed changes are approved, consumers would have no idea by reading the front of the label whether the traditional milk, semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate are suddenly made with other vegetable fats rather than the cocoa butter that they have come to expect.

I don't follow food news, so this proposed regulation is something I've never heard of. Conceptually, this is utterly ridiculous and will lead to confusion. In the most concise understanding possible, what we retain out of the vast amount of information that can be subsumed under a particular concept is its essential attributes. Books, books, and more books can be written about the biology, history, political implications, and more about trees, but from the most educated person to the youngest child the essence of that particular concept lies within its perceptual data. Regardless of how vast your knowledge may be, at its base are percepts of trees and their specific attributes.

What the FDA proposes to do here is to allow manufacturers to remove the known essence of what makes chocolate what it is and still allow manufacturers to call it that. Vegetable oil does not have the same appearance as chocolate, the same smell as chocolate, the same taste as chocolate, the same nutritional makeup as chocolate, the same origin of chocolate -- it's not chocolate. Keeping in mind proper concepts, only that which is derived from the cacao bean can be called chocolate or a product thereof.

A proper concept only subsumes referents that are similar in an essential way, though with the measurements of their specific attributes omitted. By subsuming vegetable oil under the concept of chocolate, the FDA would be placing an dissimilar referent in this grouping and give rise to the possibility of confusion. By placing in a group referents that are similar, under this conceptual framework, one can apply a conclusion to all the referents on the basis of a conclusion reached by study of particular referents. For instance, by eating one or two ripe lemons one can induct that all lemons are sour. If you were to place a dissimilar referent under the concept of lemon -- such as chairs -- then you'd be applying that conclusion about taste to those referents as well, which is epistemologically erroneous, not to neglect that taste isn't an essential attribute of chairs.

By placing vegetable oils under the concept of chocolate the FDA gives rise to the possibility that people may reach conclusions about the nature of chocolate -- like its nutritional benefits -- and think they apply to vegetable oil bases as well. This is not the case; it could not only lead to dissatisfied customers, but perhaps health consequences as well. What if an ignorant consumer allergic to those types of oils consumes a "chocolate" bar thinking it has cacao at its base? Or what if a person undertakes to try and benefit from the nutritional nature of cacao and thinks the vegetable oil based products are equivalent? This type of move could lead to a sicker, unhealthier populace that could grow more confused about the nature of chocolate after having experienced the effects of a non-cacao product, vegetable oil.

I'm glad that Ghirardelli is taking an opposition stance to this measure, though wish that they take an individual rights direction and state that the government has no right to legislate conceptual language. If this measure does go through, the best way to protect yourself is to establish a habit of reading nutrition labels. I certainly have, though I may not be one in danger of being effected by this measure since I actively pursue chocolates that list their cacao percentages.

Hopefully the government doesn't undertake to change the meaning of the concept cacao. Things would really be confusing then.


  1. Inflation is one of the reasons they want to do these things, with the idea being that in order to keep prices where customers expect them, you have to cheapen the ingredients or make the container smaller. I still find it hard to believe how short-sighted people are. If inflation causes the price of ice cream to go up, you gain no advantage by pretending that prices are the same by cheapening or lessening the product. Sadly, the majority of people make food choices based purely on price, not nutrition or quality. I can hardly imagine that viewpoint. I decide what is the best food for me to eat, and then just pay whatever it costs. Food is important! It becomes part of you! Don't treat it like you're shopping for gas!

  2. Like most ridiculous government interventions, this one can be traced back to the fact that the government is in control of what people can put on product labels in the first place. NOBODY should be in charge of deciding how people are allowed to label their products. If they want to package a piece of bark and call it chocolate, so be it.

    People won't BUY it, cause they're not STUPID.

  3. But, guys, you got it the wrong way around. What we have now is the FDA definition. It is not the free market. What chocolate is in the U.S. is defined by the FDA and we have the regulated playing typical mixed economy pressure group games trying to influence the government to give them an advantage. We all want the FDA to just bugger off and get out of our lives. Then, producers of chocolate (and other stuff) can make their own decisions. Ultimatley, those successful on the market will be those whose products the consumer likes the most at the price they are willing to pay, with or without vegetable oils. So, as Jennifer suggests, let the producer do what he wants, and we will, too!


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