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Cocoa Loco

Chocolate: The Exhibition at Fernbank Museum

Will the news that chocolate's history is tangled up with a colonialist slave trade and continues to thrive in an unequal global economy marred by child labor and difficult work do anything to temper people's desire for the stuff?

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Nahhhhhh. Chocolate is good. By the time you've wound through its natural, social and political history and sniffed up the olfactory crack of chocolate aroma pumped through Fernbank Museum of Natural History's Chocolate: The Exhibition, you will be jonesing for some of that historically fraught, questionably obtained goodness for sale in the climactic gift shop through which all souls must pass.

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Chocolate begins at the beginning, with the Central and South American cacao tree and its almond-sized cacao seeds used in ancient times by the Mayans and Aztecs as a spicy drink, religious offering and currency. Eventually, the Spaniards got wind of the stuff and imported it to Europe (giving the Aztecs smallpox, measles and influenza in the process). All so a 21st-century woman named Denise, who is seen on a TV monitor at the conclusion of Chocolate, can crow in the parlance of drug dependency, "My name is Denise. ... I am a chocoholic."

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"Hi, Denise."

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Chocolate feels more than a little thin, gussied up with window dressing of giant chocolate boxes and truffle stools for visitors to sit on. The copious Mayan and Aztec accouterments of daily life, from vessels to jewelry, feel like padding on the chocolate story — an effort to validate its placement in a natural history museum. The need to provide physical evidence of chocolate's significance grows even more laughable in contemporary times. A bottle of Yoo-Hoo and a T-shirt threatening "Hand Over the Chocolate and No One Will Get Hurt," look especially pitiful when placed behind protective glass like the Hope diamond.

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Ultimately, Chocolate probably will not prove as intoxicating to the wee folk as Frogs: A Chorus of Colors, though Denise will like it.



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