When I feel stress, whether good or bad, I have no appetite for regular food. I was unable to eat for a couple of days, when my partner and I decided to get married. And my stomach contracts down to the size of a walnut in the excitement before Opening Night. Likewise, when my Mum was very sick, I had no appetite for weeks.
But chocolate is not regular food.
I would never turn down really good dark chocolate.
It doesn’t take much for it to do its magic. A small square of fine dark chocolate, taken from the secret compartment in my work bag, tossed into my mouth under pretext of a yawn, has got me through many a tense situation.
Cleverly concealed from unsuspecting acting students by the slight thoughtful pursing of the lips, as though in careful contemplation of the scene they are performing, in actual fact I am pushing the chocolate around with my tongue to extract as much flavour as possible, as it melts slowly on the tongue. I need only nod slowly a few times at the end of their work, close my eyes and swallow, before managing a convincing “Mmm-hmm”, and I appear to have been totally concentrated upon their acting.
I swear I have given some of my best directorial advice after sneaking that chocolate, and I know my fabulous teen students don’t mind me admitting it, because when they catch me at it, I share. It also means I don’t talk as much, and cannot yell. I go to my happy place.
And because my colleagues know I have the privilege of writing this blog, and the opportunity to work with and learn about chocolate, I have been able to help many of them get through a difficult technical rehearsal, or teach a summer drama camp class full of energetic 8 year olds.
But of course, the only kind I will dispense MUST be fine dark chocolate, in small amounts, as I smugly mentioned to my dearest friend (oddly enough, not a chocolate lover), in conversation, the other day.
I wax poetic about the health benefits of dark chocolate, the darker the better, citing studies where it has been found to improve circulation, lower blood pressure, be helpful to diabetics (with its low glycemic index), be good for heart health (filled with those wonderful antioxidants to help fight off cell damage), and contains a good dose each of copper, potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron, all in plant based form.
She listens patiently, smiles indulgently and says, “So, that’s why you eat it all the time, right?”
“Well, it IS good for you.”
“So is broccoli.”
“I am not going carry a head of broccoli around in my bag – too big, it would give me smelly breath and it would be really rude to be chomping away on broccoli while someone is trying to do a scene.”
“So, you eat it because it’s quiet and sneaky?”
This is getting ridiculous.
I mention that even JK Rowling uses chocolate, in the Harry Potter series, as an antidote to the effects of the Dementors – the truly horrible beings in whose presence a person feels an absence of hope, and the feeling that nothing will ever be cheerful again. A chunk of chocolate, eaten immediately after exposure to these dreadful beings, brings on almost immediate relief.
My friend looks unimpressed at my literary reference.
“Well, she knew what she was talking about! She knew about depression!”
She cocks an eyebrow at me. I hate it when she does that.
“So, now you’re saying it’s medicinal?”
“I’m just curious – why do you have to have it?”
She is not even trying to understand, Chocolate Hater that she is. And it’s really too bad she is one of the most intelligent people I know.
I start reading recent chocolate related medical articles on the Internet (never a good idea). The first hit that comes up is “People with depression eat more chocolate, a mood food” – it was right there in the header.
The more I read, the more depressed I become. These articles (and there are quite a few of them) seem to be saying that the more depressed a person is feeling, the more chocolate they will consume.
I feel terrible. I have to get away from the internet.
I call another friend to check in with her about a play we are planning to attend. She, knowing my love for, and association with chocolate says, “I thought about you today.”
“Yeah, I was in the mall getting a spatula, and right next to the check out, I noticed some chocolate bars on sale.”
Before I can stop myself I blurt out, “What was the percentage?”
“The cocoa percentage?”
“I have no idea. Well, I bought one. It was huge and (she starts laughing, here) it’s such a hot day today, I was afraid it was going to melt in the sun, so I ate at least half of it, just walking through the mall.”
“Oh, yeah?” I sigh. “Did you feel sad or something?”
“Sad? No! It was the most wonderful feeling. That chocolate just melted on my tongue because of the heat. It felt like silk and tasted so good. I ate half a big bar. I’m going to save the other half, right by my bed and savour it in little bits, later. But today in the mall – that was fun.”
Huh. And I start to think about the words she used to describe the chocolate experience. Warm. Silky. Savour. Wonderful. Fun.
I am starting to feel a little better.
So, I ask my husband for words that describe what he likes about chocolate.
“That’s easy. Special Event. Choice.”
“When I was a kid, it was one of the things I could actually choose for myself. At Christmas, when we got a box of chocolates – I could choose the chocolate covered cherries. It was special.”
“That’s sweet,” I say, melting.
“Then later, when I started dating, it was about something completely different. Then it meant – “
“Choose me!” I gush.
“Yeah … something like that.” He smiles.
I am in the kitchen later, with my son while he does his Calculus homework. He’s concentrating, serious-faced, staring at the middle distance, eyes charting the solution in the air. After this particularly complex calculation, I go to the cupboard and slip him the rest of a bar of organic peppermint dark chocolate I have been hoarding.
We say nothing, just share a smile. And the chocolate. The words that come to mind: Harmony. Communion. No yelling Mom. No eye rolling teen. Just – a moment.
And I realize that is why I need it. I don’t need to convince myself I eat it for the flavonids and antioxidents. I don’t eat it for anything to do with food value.
I eat for smooth texture, and the way it melts at body heat, the heavenly dark smell and the way it slips down the back of your throat.
It is reward, consolation, stress reducer, pleasure inducer and celebration. And all those words of my wise friends and family. And as soon as I pop that piece of chocolate into my mouth, I go to my happy place. I get my moment. And this one tastes particularly sweet.
My happy place.