Bones & Culture: Huesitos chocolate in Spain

Milka HuesitosI’ll admit, American candy bars often have names that are slightly confounding. To my mind, the combination of peanuts and caramel has never inspired derisive amusement, a milk chocolate and nougat confection does not immediately provoke contemplation of the vast wonders of the galaxy (or, for that matter, the red planet),  and what whipped nougat has to do with 18th century French guardsmen is beyond me. British and Canadian offerings are a bit better – at least Aero bars, Crunchies and Coffee Crisp all give the consumer a hint as to the contents of their packages (though I’ll freely concede I have no idea what reaction the moniker Wispa is supposed to evoke).

Huesitos McFlurry

In Spain, one of my favorite candy bars is called Huesitos. Incidentally, it’s also one of the country’s most popular ice cream flavors. Now, when it’s 40˚C and you’re craving something sweet, I’m not sure the first thing that leaps to mind is “little bones”, but that’s what the name of this chocolate translates to in English. Hueso means bone, and –ito  is a diminuitive used to mean ‘little’, as in the popular epithet pobrecito (“poor little one”).

Huesitos at Heladería Tentación in Jaén, Spain

Huesitos is a fairly simple candy bar, consisting of multiple layers of thin, crispy wafers that are sandwiched together with chocolate cream, the whole ensemble dipped in milk chocolate to bind it together. In essence, the candy bar is a little bit like a KitKat, though flatter and wider and without the thick chocolate bulwarks characteristic of the sides of  the latter confection. The candy is popular enough that a number of Spanish recipe sites show you how to make them at home, as in the image below.

Homemade huesitos

I was initially tickled by the appropriateness of the chocolate to my professional interests – how could a bioarchaeologist not love a candy that’s named after skeletal elements? However, while researching the etymology of the name using only the most refined and high-brow academic resources (read: Wikipedia.es), I stumbled upon some interesting facts about the history of the candy bar itself. Huesitos were initially developed in 1975 by family-owned company Hueso Chocolates, whose name derived not from a morbid fascination with human remains, but from the eponymous Francisco Hueso, the entrepreneur who founded the business in 1862.

Despite the name’s familial origins, the company did decide to capitalize on the osteological undertones of the product when marketing it to consumers. Perplexingly, they chose to do so using an advertising campaign with troublingly racist overtones – their cartoonish ads depict a caricature of a small “African” child (Wikipedia’s assessment of ancestry, not mine) sporting a leopard-skin loin cloth, who has a bone woven into his hair, exclaiming “That….that chocolate bone!”.

Huesitos original adI could give the company the benefit of the doubt – perhaps Francisco Hueso travelled widely in the areas Melanesia where bone septum piercings are popular, and so the depiction is actually meant to reference his worldly interest in the anthropology of body modification. However, this seems highly unlikely. The visual reference that the Hueso company was far more likely keen on invoking was that of the popular television show The Flintstones, as that program premiered some 15 years before their candy bar was invented, and the get-up worn by the child depicted in the ad campaign is suspiciously similar to the easily recognizable outfit of Pebbles, one of the show’s young protagonists. The Flintstones’ specious portrayal of Paleolithic lifeways notwithstanding, the parallel being drawn is unpleasantly familiar to any anthropologist as it evokes a “living fossil” portrait of current human groups, one which implies that contemporary non-agricultural lifeways are anachronistic lost worlds that are holdovers from our hunter-gather human past. More explicitly, it signals that the amorphously “African” individual being depicted is a throwback to an earlier stage of human evolution, rather than a member of a modern culture that has been subject to the same historical processes of change  as contemporaneous agricultural societies. And let’s not even get started on how sadly appropriate it still is in this day and age to draw attention to the implicit exploitation of African children that major chocolate exporters rely on to market cheap candy to the developed world.

However, the Huesitos story doesn’t end there. In addition to illuminating the insidious ways that racism pervaded advertising in the late 20th century, this saga also illuminates the increasingly large purvue of the capitalist juggernauts that are rapidly becoming ubiquitous in the modern world. While Hueso was initially family-owned company, in 1989 the company was bought out by Cadbury-Schweppes, a British brand that was itself bought out by Kraft Foods in 2010, which is owned by the Mondelez Corporation. Which is, of course, owned by the Scheinhardt Wig Company.

The reason this chain of ownership is relevant to the status of Huesitos today is because up until 2013, the candy had been made in Ateca, a municipality located in the province of Zaragosa, Spain. However, in April 2013 Kraft Foods proposed moving the factory to Poland. This caused a predictably loud outcry among the citizens of Ateca, who started a social justice campaign agitating against the closure of a factory that had been a key thread in the local socioeconomic fabric for more than one hundred years.

Ateca protest leaflet

The agitators garnered over 16,000 signatures using the social change platform Change.org. Protesters used the hashtag #AtecaEsChocolate to promote their cause on Twitter, and took to the streets to participate in more traditional forms of protest.

Ateca ProtestsWhen even handsome locally-born footballers started to get involved, it became clear that the social change campaign was getting serious.

Ángel Lafita
In the face of all of the uproar, Mondelez abandoned their attempts to relocate the factory. Clearly deciding to wash their hands of all contumacious Zaragosan laborers, they instead sold the business to Spanish chocolatier Chocolate Valor  (if you’ve visited Spain, they’re the ones who make the massive blocks of “chocolate a la taza” that are used for churros and breakfast chocolate).

Huesitos - Valor brand

For now, things appeared to have settled down for the Huesitos brand. Instead of acting as a reminder of an era of overtly racist advertising, or a serving as a vanguard in the fight against the encroachment of monstrous corporations on local economies, Huesitos have reverted to something even more important: functioning as the sole appealing candy bar sold in the vending machines of Media Distancia trains in Andalucía.

Clearly I jest. However, it is fascinating that a post that was initially intended as a one-paragraph missive to a quirky osteological sobriquet became an exploration of various forms of cultural and economic oppression, incarnated in a simple candy bar. What a complicated, confounding world we live in.

On that note, time to get back to my equally complicated and confounding dissertation.

Image Credits: Photo of the Milka candy bar from Kraft, here.  Image of Huesitos McFlurry found here. Homemade huesitos photo taken from Recetas Confidenciales, here. Image of original troubling Huesitos ad found here. Ateca protest flier found here, and protest photo found here. Photograph of Zaragosa-born Ángel Lafita found here. Huesitos – Valor brand – found here.

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2 Responses to Bones & Culture: Huesitos chocolate in Spain

  1. Pingback: Around the Archaeology Blog-o-sphere Digest #9 | Doug's Archaeology

  2. Pingback: Bone Broke Year in Review | Bone Broke

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