When I got to work Friday morning, I found the Arts and Culture editors, along with our publisher, huddled outside a cubicle, mouths agape. I joined them. A large rectangular box sat on the desk. Reminiscent of the strange stone tablet from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), it rose up from the desk, black, and ominous, only this one gleamed with golden letters, spelling out “Catching Fire.” Inside, I found chocolate.
(Here’s a quick rule of thumb in the newsroom: You will get promotional gifts. Another one: rarely will a promo grab your attention. But my favorite is: Do not let thy promo go to waste.)
I did what any food writer would do. I tasted each and every last chocolate bar — a total of 12, one for each “District” inside the post-apocalyptic world of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy The Hunger Games. (The timing of this delivery, of course, is to whet one's appetite for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, out Nov 22). Crafted by chocolate makers Vosges through their American farmer-sourced Wild Ophelia line, each chocolate bar incorporated aspects of American geography, on which Panem, the segregated, classist country where heroine Katniss lives, was based.
“Luxury,” a milk chocolate cashew bar, tasted mild, nutty, and easy — suspiciously easy, much like the rich, well-off citizens of District One. “Masonry” contained little grains of pecans and the liquid-gold caramel, reminding me of molten metals forged in District Two. “Technology” combined Arabica coffee, crystal salt, and dark chocolate, for a brittle texture, a deep byte — I mean bite, and a dangerous, snappy quality that the digital users of District Three would find addictive.
“Fishing” brought out the District Four ocean through sea salt and coconut. I savored it in a guilty way, as one enjoys the perplexity of vegemite or guzzles too much wine at church. “Power,” though immediately pleasing, contained caramel corn, and I conceded, like the disappointed citizens of District Five, that sometimes power is but spun sugar and air. “Transportation” contained runner peanuts, and carried a comfortable, nostalgic taste of peanut butter sandwiches that District Six children would have nibbled on the ride home from school.
(At this point in my tasting, I began to feel a strange sense of urgency — not unlike the adrenaline-filled fear Katniss experienced during the 60 second countdown to the start of the Games — as office colleagues walked past my desk and doubled back, eyes trained on the sleek packaging.)
“Lumber” tasted bad-ass, with a bright chipotle at the beginning and a spark of chili at the end. The dudes of District Seven, if they looked anything like this chocolate tasted, would be the rugged, outdoorsy, smooth-talking types. “Textiles” contained crispy rice, and could be left in the box; much like the cotton clothing District Eight citizens wear, once put on it was easy to forget. “Grain” played with the palate, as milled oats, vanilla and hemp seeds competed for my attention. I predicted this one, District Nine, would win the next Games, if their representative was as complex, intelligent, and earthy as its chocolate counterpart.
(By now, like the last remaining competitors in the Games, I became territorial. “This is an assignment, not a free-for-all! You can eat some soon — hey! Come back here with that caramel!”)
“Livestock,” tasted of smooth chocolate before the beef jerky hit, leaving behind a few puffs of smoke, like empty cattle fields after a roundup in District Ten. “Agriculture” tasted naïve, hiding harvest cherries among the dark chocolate like the lost fairy children of District 11. “Mining,” a classic, charming milk chocolate flecked with edgy salt, tasted like Katniss herself: simultaneously brave, bold, and nondescript; the every-girl we all inhabit when we read the books and watch the movies.
Some may question the chocolate’s relevancy to the The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I suppose the characters are, for the most part, hungry. Yet I contend that the sensorial emotions each flavor presented when I took a bite reflect the same thrills, joys, and anxieties I hope to experience in the darkened theater.
(Take note, promotional gift senders: I do not believe chocolate is exclusively relevant to The Hunger Games, either.)