You Are What You Eat

Confessions of a chocoholic.

Everyone knows that drug dealers prey on children, starting them out on small amounts before eventually hooking them for life. That’s how it was with me and the big C. I’m not talking about cocaine. I’m talking about the hard stuff—chocolate. The dealer, in this case, was my Aunt Betty, a smooth operator who chain-smoked Benson & Hedges and showed up at our house in Wynnewood every Saturday with a quarter-pound of break-up milk chocolate.

It came in a shiny, black box from Baracini’s, a Center City confectionary that has gone the way of the streetcar, the automat and the 10-cent phone call. Each irregularly shaped piece was 2 inches thick with jagged edges, as if it had been broken with a sledgehammer.

“Don’t bite it; you’ll break your teeth,” Aunt Betty warned.

I waited till she walked away before sinking my teeth into the biggest piece, marveling at how it resisted then slowly yielded to a creaminess that transported me to a state of bliss. My eyes glazed over, my heart raced; I had to have more. I was a 7-year-old junkie with a habit that could not be “fixed” with a cardboard-thin Hershey bar.

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As fate would have it, my family owned a pharmacy, giving me unlimited access to every candy bar imaginable. Almond Joy, Chunky, Milky Way. You name it, I could get it—which subsidized my popularity through middle school, where I left a trail of Junior Mints and Sno-Caps in my wake. My first year in college, I never saw the inside of the cafeteria, only my reflection in the mirror of a vending machine that dispensed Nestle Crunch bars.

Addicts tend to seek employment in places where their habits can be satiated without calling attention to themselves. One bright November day, I walked into Maron’s Chocolates near Rittenhouse Square and filled out an application. I said I was a college student looking for work during the holidays. True enough. But if the manager had paid closer attention, she would’ve noticed my rapid eye movements and belabored breathing. Chocolate-covered apricots, Jordan almonds, truffles, pretzels, raspberry creams—all within reach.

“Let me see your hands,” she said.

I held them out for her inspection, pale and trembling.

“You have chocolate hands.”

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The manager, a potato-shaped woman with her hair in a net, explained that one must have cool hands to work with chocolate. Apparently, my chronically cold hands were an occupational asset. The shop did a brisk business. There were three of us: the manager, myself and a teenage girl who was either stoned or practicing self-hypnosis.

One day, the manager disappeared mysteriously and insisted that neither of us leave our posts until she returned. Lunchtime came and went. I felt faint. But, hey, who goes hungry in a candy shop? Between customers, I nibbled my way along the counter, from marzipan to double-dipped chocolate creams and back again. I was going for a personal best when a beefy paw grabbed my arm.

“Put that back, Missy.”

It was the manager, her face the color of raw hamburger. I was going to put the truffle back when I had a better idea. I popped it into my mouth. It was the sanitary thing to do. After all, I’d touched it.

These days, the FDA proclaims chocolate to be a key ingredient in a heart-healthy diet, and medical research shows that eating chocolate releases the feel-good drug in our brains (as if I didn’t know).

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Meanwhile, Hershey has jumped on the bandwagon with “antioxidant” milk chocolate bars. The fine print says, “Enjoy in moderation.”

Isn’t that the same warning they have in beer ads?

Stacia Friedman is Main Line Today’s Living Well editor.

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