Will you be my Valentine?
Only if you bring me a box of fair trade or organic chocolate. Not really. I'll gratefully accept the box of chocolates I'm sure to get from either Russell Stover or Whitman's and be thankful my valentine took the time to look for a dark chocolate assortment.
The internet never ceases to amaze me. My theme this Wednesday before Valentines Day was not to preach or chide anyone about the consequences of their choices but just to raise awareness. In this case, on their choice of chocolate. Looking for a catchy phrase or quote, I googled "awareness" and the fifth result down catches my eye because it states "An interesting fact about white people is that they firmly believe that all of the world’s problems can be solved through awareness."
Hrrrumph. Whoever wrote it has damn good insight and maybe he/she has some pegged but things and people can’t be so easily characterized or stereotyped. Raising awareness may not solve every problem but it certainly does others. And it has to be better than saying nothing at all. With that, I'll share what I know about of the way chocolate is grown and processed. (In my mind's eye, when awareness alone won't solve a problem, there is always the hope that someone with more energy and passion will pick it up their newfound awareness and carry it to a solution.)
Just like coffee, if farmers clear forests to grow cacao beans instead of in the shade of them, they require a lot more pesticides and fertilizer. Sometimes pesticide residue shows up in the finished product. Lead is also a problem. I've read lead in chocolate is partly from equipment used to process it. Also, partly because Africa hasn't outlawed leaded gasoline and the outer shells of the beans absorb it from the fields and it gets transferred at processing. Other than that I couldn't find much information other than the FDA declaring levels in chocolate safe for consumption- which is really little solace to me.
The worst thing about chocolate though is that a lot of the beans are picked by child labor. I have to admit, I'm not totally against child labor. Ideally no child should have to work for their living but many children work to save their family's farm and many wouldn't be fed at all if not for their labor. However, there's estimated to be at least 12,000 child slaves (some claim the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands) picking cacao beans in many places in Africa. Stolen off the streets in places like Mali or swindled from their poor parents with promises of education and a better life only to be beaten and forced to work hard 12 hour days.
Africa is "aware" it's a problem to many people around the world and as one of their major export crops are under pressure to stop it. But only because the end consumer put pressure on the big manufacturers like Hershey's and M&M Mars et al which in turn put pressure on them. Sometimes the loudest protest is one that you make with your purchases.
The only way to be sure the cacao beans your chocolate is made from wasn't grown by child slave labor is to buy fair trade chocolate. Organically grown is also said to be free of slave labor because the organic label comes with labor standards and there are no organic farms in Africa. (Chocolate from beans grown in South America is assumed to be free of slave labor.)
A study reported by the BBC indicated that melting chocolate in your mouth produced an increase in brain activity and heart rate that was more intense than during passionate kissing, and lasted four times as long after the activity had ended. That's a good thing for us chocoholics because who knows what we'd be known as if it was the other way around.
If you’re lucky enough to receive a box of chocolates, by all means, enjoy them. But in the future should you want to splurge for quality and for the benefit of others, try a fair trade or organically grown chocolate. One of my favorites is a dark chocolate bar by Green & Black's Organic. (70% cocoa) The large bars are 2 for $5.00 on sale this week at Publix. Wal-Mart also carries them but I don't remember the price.
You can find more brands and information here:
And while we're on the subject of chocolate, did y'all know that there is a fabulous chocolate shop right here in downtown Vero that has fair trade and organic chocolate? It's so nice to have local shops to support, check it out: