Cows + chocolate [does not equal] healthy Pa.

Anyone driving east toward Philadelphia knows that, if anything, there are abundances of cows, trees, trees, cows, cows, and more cows in Pennsylvania. And of course, when there are cows, there’s milk, and when there’s milk, there’s chocolate. Although Pennsylvania is known for steel mills, Heinz ketchup, the Steelers, and cows, we’re also known for chocolate. Centered in Hershey, Pa., is everyone’s favorite serotonin booster: Hershey’s chocolate.

But Pennsylvania’s affinity towards chocolate doesn’t end here. On February 13, 2003, a bill was passed designating the chocolate chip cookie as the official cookie of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Due to Pennsylvania’s leading role in the national production of processed chocolate and cocoa, as well as the popularity of chocolate chip cookies among the children and adults of the Commonwealth, it was deemed necessary to award this title to a beloved favorite in America.

The question then becomes whether or not we are a nation suffering from an acute case of chocoholicism. Perhaps we are — especially with the recent emergence of a slew of studies concerning the theoretical health benefits of chocolate. Are we trying to justify our chocolate craze by rationalizing with the positive health implications of chocolate? Maybe chocolate actually possesses health promoting qualities. Mars, Inc., the maker of M&Ms, Snickers, and Milky Way, certainly believes so.

With a new product line called CocoaVia planned for release nationwide, Mars, Inc. claims that their products are high in antioxidants, which may have possible blood-pressure-lowering effects similar to those of aspirin. Furthermore, since they have been enhanced with vitamins and cholesterol-lowering plant sterols, the company is confident that their line of products made with dark chocolate will fit in a healthy diet.

This insight into dark chocolate has caused other chocolatiers to jump on the bandwagon as well. Hershey Co. is planning on adding new dark chocolate products to their already wide range of chocolate offerings.

Is this new perspective on chocolate something to be concerned about? Yes. In a nation where “chocoholics anonymous” is a phrase that is jokingly thrown around in conversations and nearly every holiday or special occasion revolves around giving or receiving chocolate, we should be concerned with how people will react to information that promotes chocolate as a “health food.”

In a nation where chocolate-covered anything (ranging from strawberries to gummy bears to mealworms) is sold, we should be very afraid of mobs of people swarming to the nearest chocolate store once they find out about “healthy” chocolate.

In a nation where hot chocolate is the choice drink of the winter and chocolate milk is drunk all year round, we should be worried about consumers giving up wholesome beverages like orange juice and milk for chocolate beverages.

In a nation where obesity is a leading health problem, we should not be encouraging the consumption of chocolate as a snack whose ability to reduce the risk of cancer and/or heart disease has not been clearly established.

Simply put, although consuming dark chocolate in moderation may, in fact, provide the body with a good source of antioxidants, the merits of consuming fruits and vegetables should not be dismissed. If you need an excuse to eat chocolate, don’t say that it is for your health. Be honest with yourself and admit that you are eating chocolate because you enjoy indulging in this delectable sweet treat.

Next time you pick up a Kit Kat bar or some Hershey Kisses, don’t say that you’re eating it for the flavanols. Don’t act like you don’t enjoy eating chocolate, because not only are you lying to yourself, you’re being disrespectful to chocolate... and we all know that disrespecting chocolate is not allowed. Especially if you’re living in Pennsylvania, where there is an abundance of cows.