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Award-Winning Chocolatier Equates Domestic Abuse with a Southeast Asian Delicacy

A seemingly-well intentioned campaign associated durian fruit with revulsion

Paul A Young chocolatier made a durian fruit chocolate to highlight domestic abuse Paul A Young

Internationally renowned London chocolatier Paul A Young has created a chocolate box to highlight the prevalence of domestic abuse in the U.K. The box, created in partnership with Woman’s Trust, a charity that provides free counselling and therapy for female survivors of domestic violence, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and other forms of domestic abuse, contains three salted caramel chocolates, and one “chocolat dégoûtant,” described as having a “vomit-like taste.”

That taste, it is explained, comes from durian fruit: a Southeast Asian fruit, which has been made into chocolates — for enjoyable consumption — for decades in Singapore and Malaysia, and is enjoyed for its sweet-savoury taste and custardy texture. The box, therefore, compares the experience of domestic abuse with the taste of a fruit many people enjoy outside and inside the U.K. The campaign, meanwhile, describes it as “the world’s worst-tasting fruit.”

Chocolatier Young said:

Chocolate is associated with luxurious, indulgent and pleasurable experiences which leave you wanting more. By contrast, the durian, like domestic abuse, stays with you long after your first encounter, so it seemed like a perfect way to illustrate the heart-breaking experience of so many women and raise awareness of a cause I feel passionate about.

In an Instagram post on Thursday, he went further, saying that the fruit’s aftertaste “gives people a taste of the heart-breaking emotional and psychological trauma experienced by survivors of domestic abuse”.

Domestic abuse is still one of the most common and yet unreported crimes in the country — according to Woman’s Trust, 1 in 4 women is expected to experience some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime. Campaigns like the one Young has partnered with the charity for are a vital way of raising awareness of an endemic issue that, by its very nature, is often hidden from view. But its framing feels like an example of ‘white feminism’: a term used to describe a way of approaching gender injustice that ignores the myriad ways that racism, homophobia and transphobia, ableism and classism, among other systems of oppression, intersect with it. Explicitly drawing a link between the experience of eating durian and the feelings engendered by domestic abuse “others” the fruit, stripping it of its context and making it a repository for pain and trauma.

Prized and highly valued as “The King of Fruits,” the durian fruit is ubiquitous in many regions of Southeast Asia, with McDonald’s introducing a durian McFlurry seasonally in Malaysia, that returned in summer 2018 by popular demand. While its aroma is challenging, to the extent that it has, on occasion, been banned from some public areas, including Singapore’s public transport system, it is no less so than an extremely pungent cheese. It’s also not as if making “horrible” flavours synthetically is without precedent. The Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, derived from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, featured bogey, ear wax, vomit, and rotten egg. The aroma and flavour of durian can also be one of nostalgia, especially as it is not widely available in the U.K; the taste — sweet and savoury — and aroma — pungent — are also distinct.

It’s possible, therefore, to create a chocolate that represents the idea of there being something horrible beneath an enticing surface without denigrating a much-loved cultural touchstone. Young himself is well-known for experimenting with ingredients such as tobacco and goose fat in his truffles and caramels, and there was surely a way to create an element of disgusting surprise without denigrating another culture’s enjoyment and prizing of a given, entirely edible, and frequently enjoyed food.

Paul A Young said: “We chose durian for this project for its polarising nature and because it was essential to provoke a reaction from those who eat it — we wanted to start a conversation about a cause that is incredibly important. I tested numerous versions of a fourth chocolate, one of which was incredibly spicy, and another that was too salty to eat, but the one that got the biggest reaction was the durian.”

A spokesperson for Woman’s Trust said: “Women’s mental health and emotional wellbeing is affected by domestic abuse in many deep and complex ways. In the same way that women’s experiences of abuse and their circumstances differ from each other; their reactions and their recovery are equally unique. We feel the chocolate box gets this across and hopefully will get people thinking and, more importantly, talking about how domestic abuse affects mental health.”

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