Chocolate Easter bunnies

via WikimediaCommons

Believe it or not, this is a matter of great importance, one that even medical journals pontificate over. And it is because of concerned professionals and rigorous research that we have a clear answer to this week’s Burning Question.

Kathleen Yaremchuk, M.D. and chair of the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital, plastic and reconstructive surgeon Vigen Darian, along with psychologist Amy M. Williams—both also with Henry Ford Hospital—bring credentials that leave no doubt in the results of their study, published in a 2017 edition of the wildly popular The Laryngoscope.

The report makes it very evident: “A statistically significant increase in mention of rabbit auricular amputations occurred during the spring. Mapping techniques shows the annual peak incidence for 2012 to 2017 to be near Easter for each year studied.”

And it gets even more troubling. The doctors pin the blame solely on humans—both adults and children—for these auricular amputations. Sadly, their study concludes, “Reconstructive techniques are dependent on the percentage of auricular defect.”

Um…

“We’re talking about ears,” Yaremchuk thankfully explained to the New York Daily News. Hell, why didn’t they just say that up front?

As it turns out, those in the chocolate bunny industry knew this all along. “We’ve thought about whether we should just make the bunny ears,” explains Victoria Lund of Lula’s Chocolates. “That’s what everyone goes for.”

For the record, 59 percent of Americans bite off the ears first. A third have no real preference. They are happy to amputate, disembowel, castrate—whatever suits their mood. Four percent go for the feet.

Don’t judge.

You know, I’d probably bite off the head,” says Anne Johnson of Parker-Lusseau Bakery & Cafe. Fortunately for all those decorated chocolate rabbits the Monterey bakery produces every year, Johnson has plenty of scraps to keep her satisfied. “We tend to not go for the beautiful finished pieces,” she adds.

Of course, there are plenty of surveys to back up the research, although results from these tend to vary wildly. For example, the National Confectioners Association claims a whopping 89 percent of Americans chomp the ears. Their figures are slightly higher for the foot fetishists (6 percent) and those who like a nice piece of tail (5 percent). Meanwhile, TopCashback.com—no idea—puts the ear-cleavings at 68 percent.

But those guys didn’t identify “online content and visual portrayals of confectionary rabbit auricular amputations” and trend them “against seasonal variations." Nor did they bother to determine incidence by assaying “commercial availability of chocolate rabbits in retail facilities.”

That’s going deep.

Anyway, there is general agreement that a majority of people lop off the ears of chocolate bunnies first. Burning Question settled.

But there are other matters at hand. And they also involve numbers. For instance, last year 89 percent of people shopping for Easter purchased candy according to the National Retail Federation, shelling out $2.6 billion on chocolates.

OK—so a few demented sorts may have grabbed Peeps from grocery shelves. Best not to speak more about them, however. It might inspire copycat crimes.

Yet candy sales around Easter falter compared to the other candy-related holidays. Sales double before Christmas, while Halloween and Valentine’s Day see spikes of 50 percent. Easter registers just a 13 percent boost.

Easter is about candy, right? Probably—a 1989 New York Times piece traces the association of rabbits, eggs and later chocolate to Medieval Europe, where people related spring with rebirth because rabbits breed like...well, you know. Smithsonian’s Amanda Fiegl explained in a 2010 story how a German legend involving an Easter bunny placing colored eggs (but only for the good kids) eventually led to shaped chocolate.

But the trend was late to the U.S. It wasn't until 1902, The Reading Eagle in Pennsylvania featured a story on the Easter chocolate boom.

“Time was, and not so long since, when America imported all her Easter candy novelties from Europe...Now the making of Easter candies has become a regular industry,” the article said. These confections included chocolate bunnies and hens, but an abundance of eggs.

“There are eggs, eggs everywhere,” it pointed out.

The story was so important, it was placed above a report on the death of a dubious “King of Patagonia” of illness in his small Paris apartment. His High Chamberlain, who also ran a saloon, told the world of this tragic passing.

It also sat higher on the page than a juicy story about a knock down, drag out brawl between a male gorilla and his keeper in Marseille—lots of stuff about France for a Pennsylvania paper—that started when the man’s marriage sent the beast into a jealous rage.

A sad week.

So how did bunnies make inroads in a market dominated by chocolate eggs?

“Don’t you think it must have been marketing?” Johnson asks. “I wouldn’t be surprised.”

She’s partly right. Although Whitman’s offered chocolate bunnies by the middle of the 1800s, the Harvard Center for Easter Candy Studies credits a Pennsylvania drug owner and his stunt of crafting a five-foot chocolate rabbit to advertise for starting the craze. As molds became more readily available through the 20th Century, the bunnies became more and more popular.

And no—the Harvard Center for Easter Candy Studies cannot be verified.

Nowadays, Americans consume all or part of 60 million chocolate bunnies each year, according to SweetCityCandy.com. And another site—YumSugar.com—claims 76 percent crop the ears first.

There’s one question that must remain unanswered. Not even the horn-rimmed doctors writing for The Laryngoscope tackled the tricky subject of why—as in, why start at the ears?

“I don’t know why, but it’s the funnest to eat,” Lund says.

And that will have to do. By the way, the doctors were just having some fun. It was not a funded research project...although that rumor would definitely be picked up by Breitbart.

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