product review

A World Upside Down?


probably my favourite of the chocolate bars that i encountered while in London this spring was the Toffee Crisp. of no relation to the Coffee Crisp (one of my favourite Canadian chocolate bars), these were my initial impressions:

interesting, not so much for its taste as for its structure. the bar consists of a lower layer of (presumably) rice crisps held tightly together in a sort of chocolate matrix, with a thickish layer of caramel (toffee? what’s the difference?*) on top, all enrobed in chocolate. what makes it interesting is how the lower stratum breaks apart, crumbles, almost more like masonry than food, before one’s top teeth have made it through the upper caramel level. i had no notion of how singular and almost disorienting this experience could be until it occurred. it is totally not what one anticipates, and very much gives one the sensation not of biting down but of biting up. the caramel is very chewy, and one is left with this resistant mass, and the fragments of the crispy lower stratum scattered in amongst it and about the recesses of one’s mouth. cool.

the masonry reference above is doubtless inspired by the two Edible Geography posts a while back about chocolate bar design, sandwiches, sacred architecture, and the cross-section as revelatory perspective.** i’ve never had masonry crumble in my mouth, but i like that kind of non-food evocation. this is something i’ve thought about a bit with scotch and other drinks that call up taste associations with things that one couldn’t or wouldn’t normally eat – slate, peat, tar, hay, urine, etc.. for the sake of neologism let’s call it paravictual association for now: victual from the latin victus for food, and para- because it concerns not only “non-food,” but non-food that is juxtaposed or interjected into the food experience in order to enrich or define that experience. formerly i’d only really thought about this in terms of taste, but of course texture is a giant part of that as well. the question, however, of whether this is substantively different than descriptive analogies like referring to chocolate as ‘silky’ or ‘velvety smooth’ is open, but i think there is something more interesting going on when we are struck by manifestly and perhaps incongruous non-food associations when eating, not just calling on readily available descriptors.

Scandybars features a cross-section of the Toffee Crisp (and, as chance would have it, a similar assessment of its merits), which gives you a sense of what i’m talking about, structurally, and it’s interesting for me to see just how small a proportion of the whole is taken up by the caramel, considering how thoroughly it dominates the eating experience. this is the second time that a chocolate bar has caused me to reflect on the biting down/biting up illusion (why we think in terms of “biting down,” when what is actually happening is our lower jaw swinging up and pushing food against our top teeth), although it is only in the case of the Toffee Crisp that the veil was ripped away, so to speak, and i was confronted by the actual experience of biting up. it makes me wonder to what extent the Toffee Crisp was designed to do this, to produce this sort of somatic disorientation. how generalizable is my own experience? is something of the uncanny common to those eating a Toffee Crisp for the first time? or every time, even?

if so, it would be such a tasteful and awesome gimmick to engineer into a chocolate bar – to by a simple structural trick provoke a subtle dis- or re-orientation of one’s sense of one’s body parts’ relation to each other (one’s body’s relationship to itself?).

i don’t know much about, uhhh….neurology(?), but i imagine this has something to do with proprioception, the sense and sensors that allow us to understand where parts of our body are in relation to each other. but i wonder, in the case of biting down, how much of our actual experience of biting down actually feels like biting down, and how much is it just a conventional label on a still opaque set of spatial sensations, a linguistic gloss?

i suppose for my own sake i could try biting into a bunch of things and think really hard about how it feels, pay attention to how my upper and lower rows of teeth move through whatever it is i’m eating, but i could only generalize so much from that (initial tests suggest that it feels like both sets of teeth are biting through/moving toward each other at comparable rates). ultimately though, it is not even that i am so invested in finding out the answer to this, so much as the questions it can provoke. it is this uncertainty that interests me in the first place, the lingering opacity at the centre of embodiment. ie: do i actually know how it feels to do this, or has it been eclipsed/constituted by my means of describing it? or, how much is my identity dependent upon proprioception, to say nothing of the entire sensory array that provides the experience of embodiment? can a chocolate bar be a key to the (corporeal) spatialization of non-self-identity?

* cooking temperature and butter vs. cream, apparently. i don’t know if toffee is regulated the same way chocolate is, and there seems to be some confusion as to whether this distinction is New World-specific, but let’s say for the sake of simplicity that the sugar stuff inside the Toffee Crisp is what an American would likely call a very thick, chewy caramel.

** which remind me, in a roundabout way, that i need to get back to reading Daston & Galison’s Objectivity, and you should too, so i can talk about it with someone.


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