What would you say if someone told you their favourite chocolate in the world was Bournville?
Maybe they have an emotional connection to it that you couldn’t identify with – it reminds them of happy days growing up near Birmingham, for instance. Maybe their tastes are just different to yours – they are able to enjoy a hint of darkness without wishing for the 80% stuff, the masochistic bitterness that makes you wonder whether that is actually sweetness you detect or is just your brain trying to convince you this is an enjoyable confection.
It usually turns out, however, that the reason that someone’s favourite chocolate is Bournville is simply that they haven’t really had anything else. It’s always been their favourite and they are satisfied.
Now, it’s not for me to judge. Maybe, even if they had access to a wide variety of chocolates, Bournville would still be the one for them. That’s perfectly reasonable.
Maybe they get a lot more out of Bournville than I do, they experience in it a range of flavours and textures inaccessible to my palate because… I don’t know… I was never taught to appreciate them? Maybe they are just confident enough in themselves and in their choices, not to mention in the fact that they deserve chocolate, that the idea that others might be even more pleasant simply does not cross their minds.
This way of thinking feels alien to me. It is the way of our grandparents – during the war, you were probably glad of a tiny square of chocolate of any standard, even some rationing-era, cocoa-free substitute, and you got used to that and by jove, that’s all you would ever need. They look in horror at millennials with our smorgasbord of options, our reckless abandon in sampling, exploring, even deigning to decide some are “not for us” – in my day you took what you were given and were glad of it, sonny Jim. I always wondered why their tastes didn’t change over time but maybe if you tell yourself enough that there are no other options, they don’t. Or you ignore your doubts.
But I can get understand that in the older generation – it was a different mindset back then. And of course I understand that there is an evolutionary draw, an instinct to enjoy any chocolate. Sugar and fat were historically scarce and so our bodies and minds act against our own best interests – we are biologically inclined to like whatever is on offer.
And some of what is on offer is truly awful. I mean, anyone would consider Bournville the food of the gods if all they had been fed beforehand had been shit. I am lucky enough never to have had really shit chocolate – the closest I came was one sample which was delicious until it turned out to contain trace elements of shit. It would have been obvious enough I had only read the ingredients, and that I (usually fastidious) had omitted to was a particular gut punch. This was the flavour I’d been most enthusiastic about until that point, and I resolved to scrutinise all chocolate with a soul-destroying cynicism from that point onwards.
I suppose it’s all about expectation. Hershey’s kisses had been built up to me so much in popular culture that when I wasn’t bowled over by my first taste of one (in fact, I was slightly concerned that it was off but was assured otherwise) I wondered whether there was something wrong with me (this is before I realised that TV could lie about ANYTHING and you wouldn’t have a clue unless you experienced it yourself. Up is down, left is right, the police can be bad and drugs are fun).
I wonder how this lockdown period will affect people’s opinions of their favoured snack. Some have stockpiled their brand of choice and will spend the next month or three hunkered down, working their way through the stash. Will they start to find it sickly and wish for an alternative? I had always assumed this was a risk integral to having a favourite, but perhaps that demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of just how much they like it.
Others are stuck just wishing they could get any chocolate, even Tesco Value Plain, but are finding the supermarkets all out of stock and are settling for meagre alternatives. After a cup of cocoa doesn’t hit the spot you start to wonder whether you can manufacture your own, or even be happy without.
I suspect that what will happen is that we will emerge from the lockdown with those who genuinely loved the Bournville, regardless of any alternatives available, no more or less enamoured with it. Its presence is the happy default. I suppose that goes to show how alien that thinking is to me – I can’t imagine three months of non-stop sameness being anything other than depressing, or an opportunity to find all the things I disliked about a certain brand.
Those who were unsure of their favourite will likely emerge hoping to gorge on the options available, the Easter bounty, hollow and cream-filled and bitter and sweet, before getting that sick feeling of overindulgence and wishing they’d just picked a favourite and settled, and reminding themselves that in their gran’s day you took what you were given. And so the cycle continues.
And that, in case you hadn’t unpicked my heavy-handed metaphor, is why I don’t think I believe in true love.