Experiential and wellness tourism are growing at a rate in excess of 15 percent worldwide. Nicaragua coffee and chocolate adventures now figure prominently in the offerings of successful tour operations.
Matagalpa Tours sweetens the pot by bringing their tours to the beauty of the mountainous region surrounding Matagalpa. Coffee grows in abundance high in the cloud forest while prolific small farm holders provide the bulk of the high quality coffee that is often organic. The farm nestled into the hillside going as high as 4,000 feet into the cloud canopy. Cacao is very often grown as a supplementary income. It grows on the slopes descending from the farm elevated coffee Grove in the riparian zone approaching the crystal and rivers that crisscross the region, descending over waterfalls to craft swimming holes in the mountain ledges.
A drive through the rural landscape on rugged dirt roads takes the visitor into a world barely imagined by North Americans: children, naked save for rubber shoes, playing in the roadside culvert; teenage boys calling to passersby as they try to sell monkeys and parakeets held by jute string captured in the surrounding rainforest. At a roadside farm a bull is down on his front knees and a silver knife flashes in the sun. The bull now goes from serving the family as a plow horse to serving as essential protein during the rainy season.
Beyond the rumble of the rugged road this lack of machetes rings. Cacao pods are being human from the trunks of these Theobroma trees. The typical farmers cacao crop often around the homestead as proximity to the river is important for both the home and the crop. The cargo pods are carried in large baskets to outdoor kitchens where they are opened. There Musil Lodge savored for it to taste and important calories and the seeds are extracted the seeds are placed in bins and covered with banana leaves to ferment for 8 days. The complex flavors of the seeds develop in this stage after what which the beans will dry in sheltered shallow bins for 2 weeks. The shelters serve the coffee process as well. Hear the tourists can run their fingers through the cacao beans as they say solidify the flavors and within the bean flesh. When the timing is right visitors can assist in packing heavy beans into burlap and Tivar bags. The bags are loaded onto trucks already packed with children and dogs and taken to holding locations for grating purchase by local chocolatiers or shipment abroad.watching over them zealously with wood and rakes Visitors to medical PA tours offers 6 stores specifically about chocolate culture and 13 tours that combine hot chocolate with coffee tobacco natural wonders and sustainability. Trips along the coffee chocolate fruit can include visits to El Castillo a semi artesanal Chocolate Factory. Perhaps most cacao focused is there a tower tour featuring a lesson in making P no Leo I’m NATIVE Nicaraguan drink made of corn and cacao. Sipping the refreshing drink is good but most visitors want to experience the countryside as well. View a photo essay of a day on cacao tour in Nicaragua here.
Around the trajectory of chocolate becoming regarded as the global taste sensation, the beans that end in this tasty bar have traveled the world seeking a home.
“Terroir is increasingly important. The spirit of this age favors the purity of the product, defined flavor, traceability and unique backgrounds.” -Javier Macías.
The consumer now prefers an experience within his chocolate. This supports the growth of new artisanal efforts and this presents an opportunity. It is this craving for an authentic experience that brings people to Nicaraga and the other nations of Central America. There are miles and miles of land where people live off the grid. Farmers who use cacao as a supplemental, patio crop harvest the pods twice a year. Nicaraguan patio farmers often maintain the heirloom varietals, the coveted Criollo. Criollo trees produce cacao beans that are smaller than the average size of brown beans of Trinitario or Forestero trees. Indigenous to the lands of the Maya, Criollo grows slower and is more sensitive to disease. Cacao was reintroduced to Nicaragua in its hybridized form in the 1960s. Cocoa pods contain 20-40 beans in a wet mucilaginous suspension.
Carlos Mann – ‘ just a pot fire and a spoon.’ He is the owner of Momotombo Chocolateros, an up and coming chocolate business in Nicaragua. Mann focused on the Central American market, making Nicaraguan chocolate from Nicaraguan cacao, employing Nicaraguan labor.
Microclimate suitable for cacao at 3000 feet and cloud forest coffee in the higher elevations it grows in the understory shaded by the cloud forest canopy.
Will the artisanal chocolate markets continue to grow, pushed by consumer concern for sustainability and human rights? Or will the higher priced success of finer flavored chocolate be driven by a global chocolate crisis of light and drought? Either way, the quality chocolate market will find its resources of talent and materials in the hills of Central America, the home to which cacao now returns.
Fair trade is a system in which companies pay fair prices to producers in developing countries. As the nonprofit organization Fair Trade USA explains: “Fair Trade goods are just that. Fair. From far-away farms to your shopping cart, products that bear our logo come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated. We help farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities. We’re a nonprofit, but we don’t do charity. Instead, we teach disadvantaged communities how to use the free market to their advantage. With Fair Trade USA, the money you spend on day-to-day goods can improve an entire community’s day-to-day lives.”[i] Fair Trade USA makes some huge promises. First, the organization claims to deliver fair prices and wages, to value long-term direct trading relationships with farmers, and to help farmers build sustainable businesses. It promises to help create a workplace free from child exploitation and gender discrimination. In addition to traceable and transparent financial transactions farmers should receive higher premiums on their products. Overall, Fair Trade USA claims to teach farmers how to operate more efficiently within the supply chain. They also believe community development projects and environmental sustainability are worth an investment. The hope is that consumers will feel magnanimous by purchasing fair trade products. Unfortunately, despite magnanimous intentions, fair trade does not fulfill all of these promises.[ii]
Often fair trade makes promises that it cannot fulfill. First, little money from fair trade actually reaches the developing world.[iii] Farmers are required to shoulder the high recurring cost of certification. As a result, the system benefits independently wealthy farmers and harms non-certified farmers, who are often poor. Second, quality is a concern since there are no incentives to produce high quality beans. A fair trade certified cooperative may produce poor quality cacao and still be paid similarly to high quality certified cocoa. In addition, standards may go unmonitored. Third, marketing may be inefficient or unethical. For example, a company that is not Fair Trade USA certified could print, “This is a fairly traded product” to appeal to consumer interest. Such inaccurate techniques may mislead consumers who often cannot tell the difference between legitimate and dishonest certification. Fair trade intentions are positive, yet the chocolate industry needs more compelling and practical alternatives to fair trade.
Direct Trade is seen as an alternative to some of the fair trade certification problems that exist. Whereas Fair Trade is typified by farmer cooperatives, complicated and expensive certification, and a minor $200 premium per ton of cacao over commodity bulk price, direct trade is an alternative that removes the middleman, reduces certification bureaucracy, and pays a higher premium over commodity bulk price.[iv] Unlike fair trade, individual farms are not required to be part of a cooperative to gain certification; direct trade allows manufacturers to work directly with farmers without excess fees, dues, and surcharges. For example, Taza Chocolate, which is seen as a pioneer of direct trade, produces an annual cacao sourcing transparency report that details its values and practices. For example, Taza builds long-term sustainable relationships by physically visiting each cacao farmer at least once a year; this circumvents any middlemen. Second, Taza pays a premium of at least 500 US dollars per metric ton above the New York International Commodities Exchange price directly to farmers.[v] This is more than double the typical fair trade premium of 200 USD. Lastly, Taza only buys cacao from farmers that ensure fair and humane work practices and never engage in child or slave labor. In general, direct trade is a valuable alternative because it promotes price negotiation, incentivizes quality, and encourages direct communication between buyer and farmer.[vi]
Askinosie is a small batch bean-to-bar chocolate factory located in Springfield, Missouri that focuses on direct trade and community development. The company’s founder Shawn Askinosie sources their cocoa beans directly from farmers around the world, has them shipped to the United States, and then makes and sells that chocolate around the world.[vii] Beans are central to the product, so “dealing directly with these farmers, and paying them directly, and having some influence how they harvest the beans is very important to our process and to our mission.”[viii] As Askinosie explains in the company mission statement, “We at Askinosie Chocolate exist to craft exceptional chocolate while serving our farmers, our customers, our neighborhood, and one another, striving in all we do to leave whatever part of the world we touch better for the encounter.”[ix] As a former criminal defense attorney, Shawn says that he finds directly trading and importing beans and sharing profits with farmers to be his biggest yet most rewarding challenge yet.[x] Overall, a commitment to community lies at the heart of Askinosie’s mission statement.
Direct trade practices can eliminate the complicated and costly elements of fair trade certification. Fair trade requires farmers to organize themselves into a cooperative, to pay a fee to the fair trade certifying body to conduct a survey, and to complete paperwork and pay a large fee to become fair trade certified. Farmer cooperatives shoulder the cost of certification, which often costs from $30,000 to $50,000.[xi] In the end, what fair trade delivers to a farmer cooperative is only a $200 premium above the typical $3,000 for a commodity ton of cacao.[xii] When farmers only receive $200 more per ton the cost of getting certified quickly eats into the profits brought by Fair Trade certification.[xiii] Since cooperatives often negotiate certification, which is a recurring cost, the incomes of individual farm workers rarely increase as a result of fair trade certification. Sometimes money flows back into education or medical facilities but rarely do individual farmers’ incomes increase. Thus, there is a gap between the promises made and the promises kept by fair trade. Askinosie hopes to close this gap. As the “Direct Trade” section of their website explains, Askinosie pays cocoa farmers significantly above the per-ton Fair Trade market price for their cocoa beans and also profit shares with farmers.[xiv] “On top of that, we also profit share with these farmers. At the end of the selling cycle, which also happens to be the time to inspect the new crop, we visit the farmers and pay them directly. Because we also do not use a broker, this is just another example of removing layers of middlemen. With our model, it’s just us and the farmers. This way, we both have more control and the farmers make more money.”[xv] Shawn personally interacts with suppliers like an Uwate cocoa farmers group in Tenende, Tanzania.[xvi] For Askinosie farmers are an essential “piece of the puzzle” that should be honored as “experts and craftsmen” and partners in their business.[xvii]
Askinosie focuses on high quality beans in order to produce award-winning chocolate that people love and recognize as a superior product. “Cocoa bean quality must be perfect and meet our standards for sourcing. The farmers adhere to our very detailed specifications, not those of a broker.”[xviii] Since only two ingredients go into their chocolate—organic cocoa beans and organic sugar—high quality beans are paramount. Askinosie is selective and takes the opportunity to reject defective beans at the farm. Conscious cultivation is also important, since their farmers sign a contract that asserts they are committed to “healthful and responsible cultivation method.”[xix] Their chocolate is 100% traceable, which means the company knows the name of every farmer they work with and can trace beans directly back to those suppliers.[xx] They are a helpful, hands-on company that endeavors to help identify and solve problems before they become unmanageable. Askinosie controls the actual importation of their beans, which is almost unheard of in the chocolate world.[xxi] By sharing a percentage of their profits based on the sales of products made with beans from a specific selling cycle, farmers are incentivized to produce the highest quality cocoa beans.[xxii] In short, higher quality beans leads to more sales, which leads to a higher profit share.
As an adherent of Direct Trade, Shawn not only knows the regions from which its beans come but, more significantly, he builds “long-term and mutually supportive relationships with the farmers.”[xxiii] In his “Cocoa Origin Travelogue” Shawn Askinosie records his travels to farmer sites and comments on poverty, local community council meetings, and company projects. In Davao, Philippines he visited the Malagos Elementary School where his company initiated the Sustainable Lunch Program. In his post on San Jose Del Tambo, Ecuador, Shawn wrote that Direct Trade gave him “a perspective that buying beans from brokers would not allow.”[xxiv] Many companies market single origin chocolate, but Shawn takes the single origin concept a step further and creates bars sourced from individual farms. Askinosie chocolate bar wrappers feature the faces of individual farmers so customers realize Peter from Davao or Vitaliano from San Jose Del Tambo farmed the beans.[xxv] Fostering such close connections between grower, manufacturer, and consumer is something not all companies are willing or able to do—Askinosie is truly a direct trade innovator.
Askinosie wants their farmer partners’ communities to thrive and they aim to do this by profit sharing as well as by asking what communities need and working with them to fulfill those needs. Shawn tries to solve problems through fully sustainable community development programs in his own neighborhood in Springfield, Missouri and in impoverished communities where he buys cocoa beans. For example, in Davao, Philippines, and Kyela, Tanzania, Askinosie’s desire for community development led them to collaborate with school administrations to develop a Sustainable Lunch Program for the students, many of whom suffer from malnutrition. And the results are substantial; Askinosie has provided more than 315,000 meals sustainably since 2011.[xxvi] Shawn also personally participated in building wells to bring a village clean water.[xxvii] Clearly Askinosie is a trailblazer in direct trade and community development because, as Shawn explains, “My business is not just about making chocolate. The ‘why’ of why we’re in business is because of our participation in the neighborhood. And our chance to impact the lives of people 10,000 miles away and 100 yards away.”[xxviii] Shawn pours his heart and soul into his business. As he explains, “I don’t know what would fit so perfectly, make people happy, and would also engage young people and engage communities.”[xxix] Askinosie goes above and beyond business connections to foster personal ties with farming communities.
Askinosie connects communities through their hands-on learning program Chocolate University, which allows American students to connect with children in cocoa farming communities to experience firsthand Askinosie’s promise to Direct Trade and to community service. Shawn engages high school students from Springfield, Missouri in the Direct Trade process by offering active exercises in entrepreneurship. Students travel with Askinosie employees to meet cocoa producers and to directly participate in community projects. The American kids involved in Chocolate University are not tourists they are workers; they work to power classroom laptops, to bag rice, to form relationships with local students. Participants provided younger students in a farming community with a library filled with math, science, and English books.[xxx] Askinosie also focuses on children’s education at home; the company built a study room for homeless children at the local Hotel Missouri shelter in Springfield. These projects prove Askinosie is able to identify and fulfill community needs at home and abroad. As Martha Scott Burton, a Chocolate University Student explained, “Chocolate University has refined my perception of a truly global community.”[xxxi] Shawn agrees that the Chocolate University trip transforms, impacts, and “helps” American and African students alike.[xxxii] Through his company Shawn is able to identify and fulfill community needs both at home and abroad and to educate the next generation about direct trade practices.
Askinosie markets its product, values, and projects to consumers in a straightforward, detailed, and transparent manner. The majority of Askinosie chocolate bars go beyond sourcing from one country or region. Bars are comprised of beans sourced from one specific town and packaging often features an individual farmer. For example, the single origin 62% dark milk chocolate bar made of beans sourced directly from farmers in Davao, Philippines features Peter the farmer on its packaging. In a blog post on his Cocoa Origin Travelogue, Shawn wrote he is “honored to call Peter our farmer partner” after working together for eight years.[xxxiii] The 77% Davao Philippines bar also assures consumers that the bar is Certified Kosher product with single origin beans that eliminates the middleman and profit shares with farmers.[xxxiv] In September 2014 Shawn also discussed a profit share meeting with Vitaliano, a farmer featured on the 70% San Jose Del Tambo, Ecuador bar; they have worked together for eight years as well. The main video featured on Askinosie’s website titled “Ozark Mountain Chocolate Makers” shows close-up images of machinery, employees, and chocolate in a way that presents their process and product as meticulous, thoughtful, and excellent.[xxxv] Individual employees finish chocolate bars by hand in one facility is Springfield, Missouri. The video’s message is that the company is homegrown, unique, and luxurious yet unpretentious. Like Askinosie, Chocolatiers George Soriano and Julio Fernandez of Sibú Chocolates in Costa Rica know the story of a product is important. As George says, “We found we could really engage people by telling them we harvested and made the final product and bonbons here… You give them that and have them taste it, and then tell the story that’s attached to it—the story that’s wrapped up in that piece of chocolate.”[xxxvi] By printing the farmer’s portrait on packaging Askinosie puts the farmer’s story, town, and product front and center and offers consumers the epitome of specific, transparent marketing.
Like Askinosie, many small American manufacturers are opening their doors to packed tours of people excited to learn about where chocolate comes from, how it is made, and how to taste it. While many small manufacturers in the United States rely on gourmet shops to promote their chocolate, some are also building their success by appealing to local communities at farmers’ markets, public events, and their own stores, as well as providing factory tours.[xxxvii] Askinosie promises their tour provides a “concise education on how we make our bean-to-bar chocolate, including our ingredients and the type of equipment utilized” as well as background information concerning their Direct Trade practices, community involvement, and bean origins.[xxxviii] Theo Chocolate performs a similar factory tour in which they “entertain you with the story of cocoa” and “touch on the social and environmental issues related to cocoa and cocoa farmers.”[xxxix] Each guest leaves with a specially wrapped Theo chocolate bar as a memento, which encourages visitors to discuss the tour experience long after they leave the factory. Of course, tastings, tours, and other events are limited in how many people they reach and how much they communicate.
To complement factory tours and tastings, manufacturers of bean to bar products offer a great deal of information to consumers about their chocolate; the company website is often a valuable forum for consumer education. Manufacturers like Chocolates El Rey in Venezuela provide details on the flavor components and potential uses of their chocolates.[xl] John Kehoe of TCHO created a Flavor Wheel featuring tastes such as nutty, earthy, and floral to “help consumers understand” chocolate.[xli] Askinosie lists various recipes so consumers can learn and appreciate chocolate beyond its bar form.[xlii] As Richard Callebaut of the Swiss company Barry Callebaut said, “We put a premium on the importance of education so consumers can make the best decisions.”[xliii] In order to make thoughtful purchases, consumers should be able to understand not only a bean-to-bar company’s social responsibility efforts, but also to appreciate its superior product.
Marketing is driving many of the decisions consumers make, so “the importance of truth in marketing is paramount,” as Art Pollard of Amano Chocolate asserts.[xliv] Unfortunately, some marketing is inaccurate or misleading. As Christian Aschwanden, CEO of Felchlin says, “Marketing is sometimes more important than the flavor and quality of a product because the consumer is not in a position or doesn’t take the time to distinguish quality chocolate.”[xlv] As Steve De Vries explains, “The explosion of small manufacturers means a dizzying array” of options.[xlvi] The large selection is made more confusing because manufacturers offer a vast amount of information concerning the bean origins and their chocolate for both marketing and education purposes. This overflow of information makes it more difficult for consumers to select and differentiate between brands.[xlvii] As Joe Whinney of Theo Chocolate explains, “I can’t really think of one major brand that hasn’t made some sort of enhanced claim. So that’s also why I think transparency is important. Products have to be three-dimensional in terms of the product quality, its price, and value proposition, and the impact that it is having on the community and the rest of the world. That’s where the future is.”[xlviii] Transparency is important because companies have a responsibility to educate their consumer, who relies on company marketing to inform purchasing decisions. Although Askinosie does not publish a detailed transparency report like Taza, Askinosie fulfills its responsibility to consumers by providing other marketing information in their online shop such as tasting notes, awards and accolades, and product certification. Although companies are responsible for providing correct information, it is ultimately up to the consumer to educate himself to accurately interpret product labels.
I argue that chocolate is a product consumers should actively—not passively—consume. Postconsumers.com, a “national brand without profit” that endeavors to help society move beyond addictive consumerism, claims to “advocate mindful consumption based on each person’s core values, rather than an endless quest for stuff.”[xlix] In a detailed 2015 post that explained Fair Trade Chocolate Postconsumers.com educated readers on how to recognize Fair Trade chocolate.[l] Although one may rely on a for-profit labeling and certification process like FLO-CERT (the certification and labeling division of Fair Trade International) to promise socially and environmentally sustainable practices, Postconsumers.com urges consumers to assertively go beyond certifications and conduct “a little extra research on your part.”[li] They recommend consumers scan products with the Buycott smartphone app to see the social and environmental rankings of a manufacturer and to get suggestions for alternatives.[lii] Since Direct Trade is a hugely varied system upheld by individual companies and not regulated by an overarching organization like Fair Trade International, it is especially important that consumers take time to research a company’s history and current practices. Ultimately it is the consumers’ responsibility to research a chocolate manufacturer to truly understand the manufacturer’s farming, harvesting, purchasing and manufacturing processes.
Direct trade is a positive arrangement for both manufacturer and farmer, yet direct trade is not particularly scalable. For example, Taza manages a small number of direct trade relationships but they are a small company so they cannot handle that many more. If Taza were to go out of business the farmers with whom they are trading would be left suspended and unsupported. Although the farmers could find another company there is still a lot of risk built into that relationship. Direct trade hasn’t received an overall standardization yet, which means it is practiced irregularly and it can be potentially corrupt. Askinosie appears to fulfill all of its promises regarding fair trade; the company pays above market prices for beans and supports its farming communities in new, creative ways. Still, it would be positive for Shawn Askinosie to produce a detailed Transparency Report similar to the document Taza publishes annually. Although Shawn’s blog is a user-friendly forum, an official document would be an appropriate vehicle in which to list how many tons Askinosie purchased from a farmer cooperative, how much they paid, and how farmers feel about the transaction. Despite varying standards between producers, direct trade practices promote direct communication, encourage price negotiation, and encourage and incentivize quality. Although direct trade is not particularly scalable it allows Askinosie to fulfill many of its promises to improve the financial and social development of communities.
Askinosie has served as a leader of direct and transparent trade in the chocolate industry by paying top dollar for the best beans, investing in education, spearheading community development projects, fostering personal relationships with farmers, and making high quality chocolate. Direct trade is not a cheaper, easier, or simpler way to conduct business and it carries financial risk. Askinosie looks beyond the chocolate when very few chocolate makers do and when few make an effort to be involved every step of the way. Shawn Askinosie personally opts to practice direct trade because he feels it is a moral way to conduct his business. Dealing direct “impacts the flavor of chocolate, and it brings the consumers closer to the producers,” Askinosie says.[liii] At the end of the day, Askinosie recognizes what chocolate is all about: connection. A commitment to community is at the heart of all Askinosie transactions whether financial or social. Perhaps most admirable is how Shawn uses his company to educate communities both at home and abroad. I believe consumer education is key to a thriving bean to bar chocolate trade. The conscientious consumer should be aware of all aspects of a product including the production process, the bean origin story, and flavor notes.
Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” In Food and Culture: A Reader, edited by Carole Counihan and Penny van Esterik. New York and London: Routledge, 2013.
Healy, Kevin. “Cacao Bean Farmers Make a Chocolate-Covered Development Climb.” In Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate: Multicultural Grassroots Development in the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001.
Williams, Pam, and Jim Eber. “To Market, To Market: Craftsmanship, Customer Education, and Flavor.” In Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Publishing Corporation, 2012.
[vi] Carla D. Martin, “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization,” Class lecture, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 8 April 2015, PowerPoint slide 15.
[xxxv] “Ozark Mountain Chocolate Makers,” YouTube video, 1:21, posted by Askinosie Chocolate, June 30, 2014.
[xxxvi] Pam Williams and Jim Eber, “To Market, To Market: Craftsmanship, Customer Education, and Flavor,” In Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate (Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Publishing Corporation, 2012), 155.
The ancient remedy of cacao is reexamined for its potency against modern maladies.
“Chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea, and universal medicine” – Geronimo Piperini[i]
Enlightenment Age physician Felici in assessing the benefits of chocolate observed that just because something cures disease it is not necessarily good for our health.[ii] The challenge of cures being as violent as disease has been with us for as long as chocolate has graced our palates. As frail humans we have learned to survive with the potent chemical aggressors such as chemotherapy that can ironically sometimes prolong our lives. Likewise we often have an uneasy relationship with those things our taste buds relish. Forbidden fruit such as chocolate, perceived as a momentary indulgence, when overdone becomes a health risk.
What if our curatives, our preventatives, and our treats could be one and the same? What a wonderful world it might be if our most ethereal indulgence, as Geronimo Piperini wrote, ‘the sweat of the stars,’ could be the key to solving our deepest health fears?
Research by Zainal Barahum et al shows that the entire Theobroma cacao tree manifests anti-cancer potential. When tested against both estrogen sensitive and non-estrogen sensitive breast cancer cell lines, the root of T cacao shows the greatest antioxidant power of all components of the tree. As the root of a tree is essential to its perpetuation, this may be problematic, but many other elements of the tree contain highly active anti cancer properties.[iii]
Cacao has had a fabled history, making its way from ritual drink to tribute treasure and finally to the treat available to most of the world today. As early as 600 BC cacao was present in the folk medicine of Central American peoples, with its use identified in the Olmec, Maya and Aztec societies. The Florentine Codex, the Princeton Codex and the Badianus Manuscript together offer more than 100 references to medicinal purposes for cacao.[iv] Europe’s Galenic medical beliefs were not enough to keep cacao concoctions from entering the daily pleasure rituals of the wealthy.
As Renaissance turned to Enlightenment and Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution, mankind’s relationship with chocolate progressed from elite treat and arcane remedy to a fashionable possession of upper class society and finally on to more commonplace use as a sweet and as a provider of energy for the masses.[v]
For many decades in western culture cacao has been understood via chocolate, cacao’s sugary construct. But recent interest in traditional medicine inspired investigation into old claims about cacao’s healing potential. With cancer occurrence at an all time high, researchers are turning to folk remedies for clues as to what substances the earth may yield to aide us in our fight against disease.
K.W. Lee et al did complex chemical analysis to ascertain the power of the phenols extracted from cacao bean husks (CBH) to prevent the initiation of cancer cells and in the inhibition of promotion and progression of cancer growth. Their research shows that CBH eacted using ethanol and then purified has a four fold greater inhibiting effect on certain cancer cell lines than another hero of the antioxidant team, vitamin C.[vi]
Might we have our cacao chemotherapy and eat it too? K. W. Lee, et al say yes.
The husks of the cacao seed are removed to create the cacao liquor from which our chocolate is made. The husk accounts for 15% of the bean by weight. When 2.5 million tons of beans are husked or winnowed annually to meet our desire for chocolate, 400,000 tons of husk remains as waste.[vii]
The process of creating extracts for use against cancer utilizes CBH, a byproduct of chocolate that otherwise has few uses. CBH tea is produced and sold to a limited extent, but the volume in no way uses the quantity of husk available worldwide.Using CBH for anti cancer therapies improves the sustainability of chocolate production by minimizingthe waste products in the process.
The process and the by-product used to create CBH extract carry a much lower production cost than synthesized anti cancer pharmaceuticals. Finally, because CBH extract is still a food product, it can be offered to cancer patients without much of the concern for toxicity that is common to chemotherapeutic products.[viii]
In reality an individual patient’s reaction to any anticancer treatment is as varied as the ways we take our chocolate. But components of Theobroma cacao are offering promising cancer inhibiting properties that greatly warrant continued study. [ix]That said, chocolate in its well-known form offers palliative care to many patients as well. A taste treat cheers us, particularly when given as a gift or with a smile. A cheerful outlook is a powerful antidote to the terrors of cancer.
Dr. I Min Lee investigated whether sweets were somehow correlated to longevity. The study showed hat the longest lives were lived by those who eat candy regularly and in moderation.[x] Physically and emotionally we can be said to live by the sweat of the stars.[xi]
Zainal Baharum, e. a. (2014). In Vitro Antioxident and Antiproliferative Activities in Methanolic Pland Part Extracts of Theobroma cacao. Molecules, 19 (11), 18317-18331.
Carlota Oleaga, e. a. (2012). CYP1A! is overexpresed upon incubation of breast cancer cells with a polyphenolic cacao extract. European Journal of NUtrition, 51, 465-476.
I Min Lee, R. P. (1998). Life is Sweet; Candy Consumption and Longevity. British Medical Journal , 317 (7174), 1683-1684.
Ki Won Lee, e. a. (2005). Extraction and chromagraphic separation of anticarcinogenic fractions from cacao bean husk. BioFactors (23), 141-150.
Sophie D. Coe, M. D. (2013). The True History of Chocolate (3rd ed.). London: Thames & Hudson.
The allure of cacao and the lure of its profits have been felt throughout its history, from Mesoamerica to modern day. It is the drink of royalty, the food of the common people, and the foundation of economies and personal fortunes. Cocoa and chocolate are a part of everyday life for many people across countries, and the marketing and advertising world has not only made a note of this, they have made it part of their portfolio. From healthy chocolate to over the counter medication, from incredibly expensive artisan chocolate to inexpensive treats, and from body spray to diamonds, chocolate is everywhere when you simply pay attention. How has it become so prevalent? The marketing of chocolate over the years is one of the main reasons chocolate is as omnipresent as it is today. In the United States specifically, chocolate’s historical and problematic advertising practices, including sexism, classism, racism, and the over sexualization of women are so integrated into the country’s consumer consciousness that these patterns are now being remixed, recycled and regurgitated by companies looking to profit from the universal appeal of chocolate with an added dash of nostalgia. By involving chocolate in some form, manufacturers and advertisers are trying to add a level of comfort, luxury and value that is inferred by the general public, even when it is wrapped in a not so attractive package.
By connecting chocolate advertising to other long standing advertising devices, such as body image, weight issues and general health, new products and companies build marketing strategies around patterns familiar to the general public. ‘Healthy’ chocolate overlaps body image, weight control and the desire for chocolate. The addition of marketing buzz words like ‘superfoods’ and ‘phytonutrients’ increase the common person’s buy in that this product is good for you, even though the fine print usually says that none of the health claims are verified by the Food and Drug Administration. Companies selling ‘healthy’ chocolate such as Aloha Chocolate (https://aloha.com/shop/superfood-chocolate), and Xoçai (http://xocai.xocaistore.com) have appeared in the marketplace to fill the created niche. Both products’ marketing says that their chocolate is high in antioxidants, low in sugar, and nutritious. The flip side of ‘healthy’ chocolate coin is chocolate for health, products that use chocolate as a vehicle for supplements or over the counter medicines. Mars, Inc. has created the CocoaVia® cocoa extract supplements through the Mars Symbioscience (http://www.marssymbioscience.com/about-us) company segment that creates consumer products based on ideas generate throughout Mars, Inc. CocoaVia® was created from an idea that came from research done by the Mars Center for Cocoa Health Science (http://www.marscocoascience.com/). The website (http://www.cocoavia.com) fills a lot of space on each page about how cocoa flavenols are good for you and how a new patented cocoa extract process preserves and provides the most flavenols for the supplement. All of the ‘healthy’ chocolate and chocolate for health brands mentioned reflect the inherent classism present in chocolate advertising, because the products would be too expensive for the lower class, and even some middle class consumers would have to choose between spending extra funds on them instead of other essential and non-essential items.
Another chocolate for health product is Dr. Cocoa®, a line of over the counter children’s cough and cold medications launched in 2014. The company uses the ingredient real cocoa as a method to get children to take medication, taking a page from the book of a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. The FDA approved medications have been combined with 10% real cocoa and other ingredients for a “rich, soothing, chocolate taste” (http://drcocoa.com/about/).
The cute packaging with the cartoon owl is reminiscent of animated cocoa and chocolate candy advertisements. The product does not make any statements that the real cocoa adds health benefits, just flavor.
Inedible products are also tapping into chocolate’s fountain of appeal. One of the most expensive products in this category has candy coated an unpalatable gemstone color with a layer of much more appealing chocolate. Brown diamonds, which are “the most widespread colored diamonds. They were used only a few years ago almost exclusively for industrial purposes, now they are invading the [gem] market” (MinBlog) have entered the marketplace on a wave of glossy chocolate. Brown diamonds are classified by their color, which ranges from the lightest shade of brown, champagne, to the darkest shade, coffee.
The most well-known purveyor of brown diamonds, the Le Vian® Corporation, “branded Chocolate Diamonds® in 2000 and achieved registration by 2008 and now enjoys worldwide trademark registration and rights” (Stewart). Le Vian® has bound together in the minds of consumers the two products and made them much more marketable to the public, even though the gems themselves have not increased significantly in value. As seen in the below commercial “the Kiss”, Le Vian® has put forward that the gift of a Chocolate Diamond® is the way to a woman’s…heart.
The commercial recycles some of the most sexist tropes of chocolate advertising. The way the woman’s libido is fired by the chocolate (diamonds), and the way that, after she kisses her man, her lips are coated to overflowing in dark, luscious chocolate, are both repetitive themes in chocolate advertising. The implication that a woman and her favors can be bought with some form of chocolate is something that we have all seen before. Jewelry stores that carry the line, however, have been moving away from the ‘he bought her’ framework and have created marketing specifically around women buying their own jewelry. These new commercials, however, continue the ‘women can’t resist chocolate’ and ‘buy yourself a nonfattening treat’ tropes. Again, the pricing of the jewelry is out of range for many people, and the commercials feature predominantly white customers, with the only people of color presented as the sales people.
The inescapable advertising of chocolate in the U.S. has set up a rocky foundation for other commodities to build on. As the consumer public provides feedback to chocolate companies that their advertising is problematic, whether its from issues of race, gender, class, etc., the tropes just move on to the next product campaign. Are the same companies or individuals responsible for the repurposing of old ideas? What are the policies involved, if any, in the reinforcement of negative media images of women and people of color? Or is any publicity is good publicity the modus operandi? Future research into the marketing companies who help create the campaigns needs to be done.
Carla Martin. AAAS E-119. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Lecture 9. “Issues in Advertisement”. April 1, 2015.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
What is chocolate? Seriously, what is it? Consider what you know about the commodity. How much do you actually know? Well the fact of the matter is that there are people out there who do not know very much about chocolate, and that may be due to the current situation which has developed in the world, where the historical value of chocolate has diminished due to a variety of factors. Is chocolate still valued with such regard? It appears that these factors have led from chocolate being prestigious to being an average everyday food.
Historically, chocolate has been very significant. The Olmecs are believed to have been the first to create chocolate from cacao beans; however, the popularity of the beans did not increase drastically until much later (Coe&Coe 1996.26). The Dresden Codex, a series of Mayan books, features cacao quite frequently as something consumed by the gods (Martin, Lecture 2/4/15). This is evident of just how important cacao was in the ancient Mayan society. Marriage ceremonies also involved a good amount of cacao as it was used in the form of a dowry as well as to help smoothen proceedings between families looking to become united (Martin, Lecture 2/4/15). Other beliefs held at the time consisted of the cacao tree as being the source of life and very important in linking all of the worlds together. One can begin to realize just how integral cacao was and the level of importance and reverence cacao was treated with in the times of the Mayans, which compared with today’s treatment, seems ridiculous. With the ‘discovery’ of cacao in Latin American communities by explorers seeking new wealth in foreign lands, chocolate made its debut on the world scene. The initial reactions to cacao beans and rituals surrounding them were less than those of reverence or outright acceptance, as the foreigners had never before encountered what they were witnessing in the Latin American villages. One Spaniard, upon observing the natives of the land, described the cacao beans as almonds which were held in such high esteem that in the event of spillage, quick recovery would be mandated (Martin, Lecture 2/11/15). The conquistadors did not immediately realize the value of the beans, save that of when dealing in trade, until much more time had been spent dealing with the natives, and as such hybridization and other cultural mixings had taken place. This change was gradual, with people who would normally abstain from a beverage created from cacao beans eventually shifting to accepting the drink instead of branding it only fit for pigs (Coe&Coe 110). Currently the world holds chocolate as neither something so primitive and distasteful that it is only fit for those of low birth, neither is it held in such high regard that people get together all for the sake of drinking chocolate and making decisions which can have lifelong effects.
Moving forward, as chocolate began to spread throughout the Old World, so too did the controversy associated with it. Indeed, chocolate became such an important topic of discussion for some that letters to the pope were written as well as letters to decide how chocolate should be treated or viewed according to religious faiths and other conservative and regulatory criteria (Martin, Lecture 2/11/15). Although there is currently something about chocolate that may be viewed as sinful or seductive, the qualities of chocolate are not so depraved as to warrant discussion of its moral characteristics. Chocolate began to move throughout Europe much like sugar in the colonial era, and as well it followed the gradual trend of becoming increasingly prominent in the European food experience (Mintz 1985.5). As with sugar, chocolate began as a luxury good due to different factors; however, one of the major factors which made chocolate so valuable was that it was difficult to produce. Modern production would still be incredibly difficult, after all the processes needed have not changed, but we have methods of making production easier which did not exist in the past. The harvesting of cacao is labor intensive and required the involvement of significant manpower to be accomplished successfully (Martin, Lecture 2/18/15). Unlike cane sugar, there were two well-known varieties of cacao: the Criollos and Forasteros varieties. The forasteros have qualities which aid in survival and resistance to disease; however, the criollos are thought to be of higher quality although they require extremely delicate and dedicated care as they are much more susceptible to disease. The already difficult production of chocolate would have been made even more strenuous when cultivating the criollos variety. Tools definitely helped with the cultivation process along with other processes. Early chocolate drinks were made using archaic and labor intensive means, with individuals grinding up the beans and adding them to water with a few other ingredients to create their beverages. These tools, although developed to lessen the burden on those utilizing them, were still far from capable of doing what the machines we have today can do. The call for the necessary labor was answered in a way that today is frowned upon; however, in the past was widely accepted.
Slavery was a means to use cheap labor to produce a highly valuable commodity, but as slavery was introduced, the value of chocolate began to fade due to production becoming easier for the colonial masters at least, since they themselves did not have to go out and get physically involved in production. Slavery was often brutish and slaves were often treated as cargo or goods themselves rather than as human beings. Slaves were even listed as commodities or property in the records of what the masters owned (Satre 2005.9). The production of chocolate from the cacao beans was no easy task and as was stated before involved several processes requiring a large amount of manpower. To produce chocolate, the trees had to first be cultivated and delicately cared for before the pods were harvested and the seeds were removed from the pod and allowed to ferment for some time. After these steps the seeds are dried, roasted and winnowed or de-husked to allow for the nibs to remain (Martin, Lecture 2/25/15). This process would be incredibly difficult for the colonial masters if not for their slaves, and very likely difficult for chocolatiers of today if not for the machines they use. Innovations soon made their way into the chocolate process as new ideas on how to produce chocolate drove men to invent new methods for the production process. One such idea was the hydraulic press invented by Van Houten (Martin, Lecture 2/25/15). This machine was used to apply enormous amounts of pressure to raw ingredients which enabled the separation and compaction of the nibs which had been ground into chocolate liquor as they were introduced into the internal environment of the machine. This invention drastically changed the chocolate making process and made things easier for producers who were able to afford it. The price of chocolate also declined with this technological innovation making production easier and cheaper. As time moved forward more and more changes were made in the chocolate industry which brought the processes at the time, closer to what the processes of today are.
Another big development stemming from and expanding the increased demand of chocolate was the creation of the first chocolate bar by Joseph Fry (Martin, Lecture 2/25/15). This creation along with the development of powdered milk by Henri Nestle as well as the milk chocolate bar by Daniel Peter greatly influenced the way chocolate is consumed today. Many stores have isles specifically dedicated to chocolate bars and milk chocolate which can be kept at room temperature without melting for extended periods of time. One of the last and most important inventions of the time was the creation of the conch by Lindt (Martin, Lecture 2/25/15) This device was used to smoothen the chocolate and break down and heat up molecules releasing qualities which improved the overall experience of chocolate. These inventions have had a large influence on chocolate today.
The chocolate of today is much cheaper and that is due to a number of different factors. Inventions and innovation have played a key role in advancing the chocolate production process, making production and distribution of chocolate much easier as well as much cheaper than it was in the past. Previously required physical labor has been done away with since machines can more efficiently take care of tasks which humans would need a much longer amount of time to complete. Something that assisted the implementation of mechanized production was also a shift from the mindset which allowed slave labor. With increased amounts of people being concerned with how the chocolate they consume is produced, companies or chocolate producers who wished to retain some level of transparency were forced to adopt methods which were more socially acceptable, which involved making mechanical adjustments as well as increasing the pay to farmers who grow cacao; however, many farmers still make considerably low income, even though the chocolate industry is worth a lot of money.
Although the chocolate industry is worth billions of dollars, chocolate is mostly relatively inexpensive. This is made possible by historical changes over history in chocolate production including improved methods of production, improved and increased technology and innovation, and shifting mindsets. The combination of all these factors has allowed for not only the price of chocolate to decline, but also the prestige that chocolate gives off. No longer is chocolate a food fit for gods, or necessary in dealings, one cannot even use chocolate to buy other goods like in the past. Chocolate has become just another food, and its importance will continue to decline with more technological advancements, all other things being equal.
Carla D. Martin, “Lecture 2: Mesoamerica and the ‘food of the gods’” February 4, 2015.
Carla D. Martin, “Lecture 3: Chocolate expansion” February 11, 2015.
Carla D. Martin, “Lecture 4: Sugar and Cacao” February 18, 2015.
Carla D. Martin, “Lecture 5: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal’” February 25, 2015.
Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
Satre, Lowell J. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens, Ohio: Ohio UP, 2005. Print.
“The Sweet Science of Chocolate.” QUEST. Web. 13 May 2015.
“Big Hershey’s Coupon – Cheap Chocolate At Publix!” I Heart Publix. 29 Apr. 2015. Web. 13 May 2015.
“The World of Chocolate.” The World of Chocolate. Web. 13 May 2015.
Resistance to the Historical Accumulation of Injustice
Next to something called a “Chia Squeeze Smart Snack Pouch,” I found a nine-dollar chocolate bar. Made with pepper sourced from a single remote valley and possessing enough Fair Trade certification stamps to nearly cover the back of the packaging, it looked both mouthwatering and virtuous. I had come into this Whole Food knock off to get a couple onions and some greens, I just couldn’t bear to spend most folks hourly wage on a chocolate bar. I didn’t walk away though. I spent another minute staring longingly at that bar and its artisanal cousins that sat, in all senses, a few feet to the left of the mainstream bars.
Many of the struggles to remake the modern chocolate and agrifood supply chains are contained in my moments of both indecision and longing. Successful branding, educational and cultural shifts have encouraged me both to value offbeat or “foodie” flavors like pink pepper while creating moral imperatives for virtuous and globally responsible individual level purchasing decisions. Yet those values, simultaneously moral and aesthetic, are associated strongly with a desire for the rare, obscure, limited and small. Desire for multiple levels of assurance of the ethical and environmental cleanliness of an agricultural commodity like cacao significantly and maybe necessarily prevents economies of scale, while the aesthetic values of “artisanal” and “small batch” explicitly discourage it. Combined with ethical global labor demands to pay a higher up front cost for the commodity itself, the price of that nine-dollar bar isn’t just hipster bait, it is likely a necessary result of trying to balance this variety of competing values within an entrepreneurial, consumer capitalist model.
My chemical reaction to chocolate’s theobromine stew and my bank account balance are both moderately low so it is perhaps little surprise that I chose not to buy the bar. Other factors like taking this class, strong concern for global labor conditions and a conscious attempt to unlearn the dominance of conventional food price-points make me an ideal potential customer for similar tokens of virtuous consumption. The non-essential nature of high end chocolate and their small maximum market share due to high price points speak to the potential limitations of these transformations but demand to be compared to alternatives in dealing with chocolate’s dark global history.
How successful can changes in modern production and consumption practices be in altering patterns of racial, gendered and economic inequality embedded in the history of chocolate? I conceptualize the scope of the problem of chocolate’s history within the larger structural phenomena of slavery, expropriation and export oriented restructuring. It is perhaps unfair to evaluate relatively small resistance tactics within global capitalist civil society against the massive weight of historical, structural violence but I do this here for a reason.
“Time does not pass but accumulates” (Baucom 2003, 23-8). The super highways of modern food networks have been laid down in the ruts of colonialism’s cart paths. Cacao’s introduction to the West was through the violence of colonialism, its initial post-Columbian cultivation based in the networks of West Indies chattel slavery, and its introduction to West Africa was driven by the colonial need for export oriented agricultural and the mechanisms of “War Capitalism” (Beckert 2014, 12). These various violences did not end with the passing of the years but leave scars on the land and bodies that persist. Particular forms of poverty, inequality and violence within the food system often act as positive feedbacks for others. Tales of migrant labor exploitation in Ghana cannot be considered outside of colonial Germany’s reshaping of neighboring Togo to end subsistence farming and switch to cotton monocroping, leaving farmers directly exposed to global price fluctuations (Beckert 2014, 501). It was Ghana’s own colonial history that originally helped spark cacao growing through increased demand for export oriented crops.
A cacao pod or a chocolate bar can hold no moral responsibility for these horrors. In fact, the resistance of Theobroma Cacao to intensive, large scale monocroping probably worked to prevent its integration into colonial economies on the scale of cotton or sugar. Even the largest scale corporate agents in the modern chocolate supply chain like Nestle or Hershey’s can only be held responsible at most for the labor exploitation that have existed directly within their historical supply chains. But the path that chocolate has cut through out the globe, like so many export-oriented commodities, needs to be considered in its total historical scale. Because, sadly, we will not find a bad actor to hold responsible or pay restitution, historical structural level analysis is avoided. Accepting the scope of the problem is necessary to evaluate tactics for resistance.
Obviously current volumes of fair trade consumption, even including the many products outside of chocolate, cannot overcome this scale of historical inequity in global agrifood systems, but what is the maximum potential from virtuous consumption given time to grow? The direct results of fair trade chocolate and other products as a unique consumer items for reversing the problems of the past will be very limited but could have positive effects in two ways. First, their role in providing the short term survival of already export dependent populations which, though fostering mutually beneficial relationship with small producers in the US and elsewhere is not inconsequential. But second and more generally, fostering a culture that is aware of the basic structure and existence of global supply chains, which could demand increasing layers of transparency from all levels of food producers could be a first step towards meaningful change in the sector. As I’ll discuss later, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act is a small baby step in this direction.
Much like Guthman’s organic salad mix, I think that even in the long term artisanal and fair/direct trade chocolate represents a “niche product not necessarily representing a critique of industrial food” (Guthman 2013, 497). The significant price limitations discussed above pose some further problems. Chocolate’s long history as an object of desire only became an easily accessible commodity though global economic transformation. Access to chocolate was demanded not simply for its pleasurable input of caffeine, sugar and theobromine but because of the rare and exotic treat it represented. Mintz would go so far as to say that access to sugar and the like “may have been one of the very rare ways in which British workers of the mid-nineteenth century achieved the fulfillment of the promises implicit in the political philosophy of a century earlier” (Mintz 1983, 163). Even if there were attempts to put into place an increased payment-to-farmer structure throughout the industry, if it lead to driving chocolate access out of reach of practically any segment of the population consumer backlash would cause new lost cost producers to sprout up. The ability to purchase low-cost chocolate is relegated to the lowest rung of perceptions of reasonable capitalist consumer access and so, as a core pleasure food for many, any price increase caused by increased fair trade must be minor to take hold industry wide. Not to mention that any direct collusion on the part of major market players agreeing to increase the global market price of cacao, through even indirect means, could be vulnerable to anti-trust claims.
If intentional higher pricing to cacao farmers on a broad scale is infeasible, companies could still increasingly adopt increased certification standards as a value-added marker to attract consumers. This, however, still relies on an ultimately limited amount of consumer demand. That is, the number of people who are willing and able to pay a premium for a “more just” chocolate product limits it. It is possible that increased diffusion of labeling and product information could increase that demand but that would have to happen though external means, not just by increasing the proportion of chocolate on the market labeled “fair trade.” Increased fair pricing for a sole commodity like chocolate does not guarantee an increase in distributive justice let alone other metrics of overall success. Like that organic salad mix, increased prices could fuel increased production and crop switching “contributing to the logic of intensification” (Guthman 2013, 501).
Many critics of other form of virtuous consumption like “green consumerism” charge that it merely reinforces existing market ideologies that allow consumers to feel virtuous while doing nothing to address underlying structural problems (Scales 2014). Because I think that new consumer offerings that use their “justness” as a value added selling point have very little potential to challenge the current terms of the chocolate system broadly I agree with these critics in part. Yet their assumption seems to be that but for these small steam valves of virtuous purchasing the average upper-middle class consumer might otherwise participate in some other, more radial or anti-capitalist rebellion. I find that unlikely. While it is true that many of this access to fair trade certified products and the rise of slow food/locavore food movements came after the fall of the more radical anti-globalization movements at the turn of the century, I believe that they are more likely to be echos of the incomplete success, rather than causal failure, that those movements represented. Intersecting concerns over environmental, labor and cultural preservation have been increasingly mainstreamed in consumer capitalism for good or ill. My own sense is that this aesthetic turn towards quality, authenticity, and uniqueness in food networks is an exploitable moment for food justice activism, though one that could easily turn conservative.
Lead by a white upper middle class, the foodie revolution does not have the type of leadership that bends towards justice. Much like Slow Food, there is an inherent conservativism in the focus on the artisanal and homemade (Levkoe 2013). To re-site labor hours into the home traditionally means feminized labor and, despite different gender roles being taken on by variously sexed people in alternative argifood movements, racial exclusions from the benefits of these movements are prominent (Slocum 2007; Guthman 2008). Flipping though the websites of artisanal chocolate makers shows a range of smiling white faces under 50, mostly making goods priced only for the upper middle class. Here we find a problem with integrating chocolate in particular into rebellious food movements: the non-essential nature of the food crop and its export oriented cultivation.
For reasons open to debate, the commodities that are most deeply embedded in slave labor and colonial plantation agriculture are non-essential food crops. Sugar, cotton, cacao and spices all have unique ecological niches, mostly tied to the global south and cannot be integrated into growing locavore movements. Attempts to reduce both labor abuses and ecological damage by re-siting food production with a small radius of its consumption simply isn’t possible for these commodities that have caused and continue to cause great harm. This is not to diminish serious labor abuses that take place with the labor-intensive US produce and meat production sectors. That is simply a newer manifestation of the ongoing themes of high demand for agricultural labor coupled with strong power of purchasers leading to strong downward pressure on wages and working conditions. Much of what was true for kidnapped Africans in sugar and cacao production under War Capitalism is now true for undocumented immigrants in tomato and celery production under Late Capitalism. Only the violence that regulates labor has changed; from the non-state whip to state regulated scarcity.
When defining the food justice platform Levcoe states that “food is an essential commodity” yet chocolate is not. Unlike the produce and grains that the locavore movement attempts to recapture, chocolate is not the bread of life. It is not a source of significant survival calories, rare nutrients or proteins. It’s possible health benefits are marginal gains that could be experienced only by individuals who have already overcame the core caloric and nutrient deficiencies that have plagued all of humanity until the last century and avoided accidental death or health problems from the overconsumption of calories. Levcoe’s definition of food justice movements holds that they “promote a strategy of food security where all people have access to adequate amounts of safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate food produce in an environmentally sustainable way and provided in a manner that promotes human dignity” (Levcoe 2013, 589). This leaves little room for a progressive chocolate politics. I think Levcoe’s definition is overly restrictive however if its read to exclude the labor practices that make possible survival in parts of the world already racked by expropriation and export oriented economies.
A demand for fair trade in chocolate and all other non-essential agricultural commodities is necessary for local food security, especially where subsistence agriculture is not possible due to legacies of colonial expropriation and proletarianization. Understanding the structural legacies of global agricultural transformation is crucial to see the accumulation of history, the repeating and deepening paths of racism and inequality. In this way, despite the massive limitations of demands for particular fair trade products I think it is worthwhile if only because it begins to make visible the limitations of current supply chains and the very real material challenges that any globally integrated trading revolution will have in creating macro-level change. I want to conclude this post with a discussion of the challenges and promises of supply chain visibility projects.
Despite being fueled largely by racialized panics over human trafficking and child slavery (viewed as cultural practices separate from the daily workings of international capitalist commodity production), legislation and activism to put pressure on companies to take responsibility for their global supply chains is increasing. The mostly-toothless California Transparency in Supply Chains Act is an interesting example of how legislation can start to demand increased disclosures of supply chain management practices and can assist activists in investigating particular labor abuses. Obviously this does little to address the basic global inequalities that fuel under compensated labor in countries with little regulatory oversight, but it does point towards a possible political opening to strategically exploit the human trafficking discourse to gain mechanisms for increasing fair trade and general labor practices globally.
The increased presence of country of origins labels of artisanal chocolate has the possibility to spill up into the broader market much like formerly irrelevant strain details like “Arabica beans” have become a staple of McDonald’s commercial or how “GMO-free” has become Chipotle’s new mantra. A food culture surrounding chocolate that expects more details, even if not at a higher price point, can mean a slow unveiling of supply chains. This visibility politics could allow for increased global solidarities between activists, increasing digital linkages, and more opportunities to hold particular actors responsible for their horizontal integration. Success in this arena seems deeply distant though perhaps still slightly closer than scaling up international fair trade pricing regimes. It will require both increased voluntary compliance from industry groups as a results of changing consumer expectation trickling in from elite chocolate bars as well as broader legislative moves to decrease trade secret laws surrounding supply chains.
Visibility is not an absolute solution to anything however as Leissle so well shows in her article on West Africa and artisanal chocolate. Despite it being “the foundation upon which the modern candy industry grew,” West Africa suffering from existing racialized biases that make it unattractive sadly particularly to those “conscious consumers” that direct trade chocolate tries to court (Leissle 2013). This problem’s “complex imbrication of trade logistics, bean strain, and representational politics” is one of the finest example of the problems inherent in attempting to reverse the accumulation of histories of inequality. These economic and racial problem don’t layer neatly but mix and sediment in material and cultural feedbacks. The farmers of Ivory Coast cannot simply change their cacao strains more than the consumers of America can stop associating Africa with violence and disorder. A politics of resistance based solely on visibility will fail to produce radical change and will fall prey to existing biases of representation.
There is a further crucial tension here between the values of local, small scale, artisanal and those requiring detailed compliance with an extensive regime of traceability, labeling and data access. The spread of extremely low cost RFID chips, smart phones and internet connectivity to even extremely remote regions makes this perhaps not an insurmountable task but one that is parasitic upon the spread of various new forms of capitalist dependency even as it tries to clean up some of its historical legacy. I mean that not as a rejection of these tactics but to point out that there is no pure tactic of resistance. The phone we use to scan a barcode to investigate its origin or tweet to a farmer halfway around the world may have been assembled in exploitative conditions using rare earth minerals extracted from environmentally destructive mines. We are all constantly caught in a world of commodities, a world created by networks of capital so complex that we can’t grab hold. We have to resist from the messy places we are in. A politics of visibility and transparency in supply chains is a light in the darkness, but only so that we can see the dirt on our clothes.
Fair trade labeling and small scale, direct trade, artisanal production of chocolate will not undo the structural history of inequality within the industry but they may at least hold place for us. The nine dollar white pepper bar will not alter histories of colonialism but they may provide a better livelihood for a few while we continue to fight to change the overwhelming structure of the global food system. They may help slowly change consumer expectations and change the behaviors of large producers, if only in ways that do not change the bottom line. These gains are drops in the bucket but we need every drop.
Baucom, Ian. 2005. Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery and the Philosophy of History. USA: Duke.
Beckert, Sven. 2014. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Knopf.
Guthman, Julie. 2008. “If They Only Knew”: Color Blindness and Universalism in California Alternative Food Institutions. The Professional Geographer, Volume 60, Issue 3.
Guthman, Julie. 2013. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow’”. In Food and Culture: A Reader, edited by Carlole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge.
Leissle, Kristy. 2013. Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 13, No. 3, pp. 22-31.
Mintz, Sidney W. 1985. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. USA: Penguin.
Pilcher, Jeffrey. 2013. “Taco Bell, Maseca and Slow Food: A Postmodern Apocalypse for Mexico’s Peasant Cuisine?”. In Food and Culture: A Reader, edited by Carlole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge.
Scales, I. R. 2014. Green Consumption, Ecolabelling and Capitalism’s Environmental Limits. Geography Compass, 8: 477–489.
Slocum, Rachel. 2007. Whiteness, space and alternative food practice. Geoforum. Volume 38, Issue 3, May 2007, Pages 520–533
Over the course of the semester, I’ve found myself chiefly concerned with the appropriation of Indigenous cultures within the production of goods for non-Indigenous consumption. To be clear, my concern is not with the sharing of culture, taste, and economies of people across land and oceans. Rather, the dilemma with chocolate exists in the historical institution of slavery and continued poor labor conditions ingrained in its industry, as well as the present appropriation of culture evident specifically in craft or artisanal chocolate and its advertisements. In order to observe how this subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, appropriation of culture interacts with the modern day consumer, I decided to host a chocolate tasting party and record the social and individual responses. I found that, regardless of the individual’s personal connection, chocolate served to highlight the importance of food both as culture and as shared community in their connection to sense memory; additionally, the chocolate tasting also revealed how food reflects the transformation of culture in displaced communities that have experienced forced assimilation and adaptation.
As this class knows by now, the theobromine cacao tree originates from the equatorial region, primarily within 20 degrees north and south of the equator (Presilla 8), that encapsulates modern-day Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. From this magnificent tree, the Indigenous peoples from the region were able to use cacao from the pods that grew on the theobromine’s trunk to produce chocolate. You might be thinking, “So what? Some Indians figured out how to make chocolate products.” We’re not talking about a discovery of plant use and food product within the last hundred years; we’re talking about the use of a plant to make chocolate products by, at least, 300 B.C., which dates chocolate production and consumption by more than 2,500 years. Anthropologists and researchers have found that the Olmec civilization (1200 B.C. to 300 B.C.), from the southeast coastal area of what is now Mexico, were most likely the first peoples to regularly use cacao for commerce, food, and religion. (Coe and Coe, Fash, Presilla). The Maya, who wielded great influence throughout the region from about 250 A.D. to 900 A.D., learned much about cacao from the Olmecs and continued to rely on it for their commerce, short and long distance trade, ceremony, and food. Their connection to cacao and chocolate is well-documented via burial chambers, pottery (including pottery from Chaco Canyon in the southwest U.S.), glyphs, and stories that survived European invasion and colonialism. (Presilla, Fash)
The Aztecs (more accurately known as the Triple Alliance) who politically and militarily dominated much of present-day Mexico at the time of Spanish arrival, intensified the reliance on cacao as an economy, using it for actual currency and building a highly stratified system wealth around cacao. The evidence is clear: cacao and chocolate predates European contact with the America, and was deeply embedded in the lives of Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas for their consumption, economies, and ceremonies.
When the Spanish arrived, they quickly gleaned that cacao was highly valued within Indigenous society. Ever interested in political, religious, and economic dominance, Europeans quickly organized to control over the region and, in particular, cacao. In Bernardino de Sahagun’s “Historia general de las cosas de nueva España,” chocolate was observed to be grown at a large scale, used as money, and, under Aztec leadership, was limited for consumption by only nobility and those who were granted permission. (Presilla)
More accounts would be written and documented: the 1544 presentation of chocolate to Prince Phillip by a delegation of Kekchi Maya nobles; the first large shipment of cacao from Veracruz to Seville in 1585; an English traveler, E. Veryard, and his account of the production of chocolate; and the general, widespread European fascination and inclusion of chocolate across its courts, medicine, art, and social settings. (Coe and Coe) Europeans encountered chocolate in a big way; they fell hard for chocolate and “sought to re-create the Indigenous chocolate experience.” (Norton 1) In fact, Presilla writes that “within fifty or sixty years, the [habit of drinking chocolate] had spread to France, Italy, England, and most parts of Europe.” (24) Of course, this intense spread of chocolate was powered by the trading and brutalization of Indigenous and African peoples in the transatlantic slave trade. (Mintz) Although the chapter on slavery and colonization in chocolate’s history is critical, I have previously written on it and will continue to focus this paper on the exploration of appropriation.
Chocolate, like any other food, is an edible heritage, a tangible thing that we can savor, smell, bond over, learn from, and have deep feelings about. (Mintz) It is a vehicle through which we can remember the past and create a future. People all over the world have tied their well-being, income, and sense of community to it. Today, the craft chocolate industry has seemingly awakened from a long history of unethical practices, and is creating space within the industry to produce goods in a sustainable way and to employ fair labor practices. While this is a welcome shift in paradigm, this ethical or fair trade and organic chocolate movement has brought with it an inclination toward “Aztec” or “Mayan” chocolate making. At best, chocolate makers are paying homage to Indigenous traditions, and, at worst, they are appropriating Indigenous culture for capital, as has been common practice since Europe encountered the Americas. To explore this problem of appropriation, I conducted a chocolate tasting with some friends. The following chocolates were sampled:
Cadbury’s Royal Dark;
Nirvana’s Aztec Chocolate;
Hershey’s Milk Chocolate;
Ritter Sport Milk Chocolate with Hazelnuts;
Chuao’s Spicy Mayan Chocolate;
Three Taza Chocolates from their Chocolate Mexicano sampler pack (specifically, Pura Cacao, Cinnamon, and Guajillo Chili).
The four people surveyed covered a range of tastes and habits around the consumption of chocolate:
Person 1 stated that they did not care for chocolate;
Person 2 said they prefer 80% dark and fair trade chocolates;
Person 3 said they love chocolate and crave it often;
Person 4 consumes chocolate a few times a week, mostly as the sweetener to their coffee.
Each person saw the chocolate and the packaging before sampling. As they ate, I asked them to be cognizant of the feel or snap of the chocolate, the smell, the texture, the taste, and after taste of the chocolates.
Though they had clear instructions to analyze the flavors, textures, and smells they experienced, my tasters were more eager to talk about how the chocolate made them feel. Amidst all of the mmm’s and ew’s, one of the more interesting responses was from a Native American female from White Earth, Minnesota, whose favorite chocolates were the Ritter Sport and the Nirvana. Here is her response:
“[The Ritter Sport] reminds me of home, and growing up on my father’s reservation, harvesting hazelnuts. I didn’t realize how expensive they were until I arrived here [Cambridge] and had to buy them for the first time. They grow naturally in White Earth, and in where I went to high school on the Lac du Flambeau reservation. Every August, usually in the second week, the hazelnut trees (which look more like overgrown bushes) start getting ready to drop the clusters. That’s when you want to grab them, when the leaves covering them have turned from green to brown, but before they drop to the ground. My father and I would take these giant burlap sacs and go and fill them up; my favorite spot by the refuge has almost an entire acre of them. It’s a hassle to harvest them, and most of the time we leave them raw in their shells in order to savor them until next year’s harvest.
I also liked the Mayan chocolate for much the same reason–I grew up with the flavors. My mom is a spice nut, so if something isn’t spicy it’s not in our house. She says it’s from going to boarding school in New Mexico and having to learn how to cook with what you’re given out there. We still have relatives who live in the Southwest and ship us ingredients on the regular.”
When prompted to comment on the fact that the spicy Mayan chocolates were not, in fact, made by Mayans, a chorus of “UGH” ensued. One Native American male commented that hearing that didn’t surprise him and that the clothing industry appropriates Native American culture often. Another taster, a Mexican-Native American female said, “I love the flavor of this chocolate, and that I can go buy this whenever I’m in the mood for spicy chocolate, but I do wish that it was actually Mayan chocolate.” I mentioned that Taza chocolates are also not Mexican made and that the factory is right down the street. The fourth taster responded, “It doesn’t bother me that they are White-owned, but I do wish they gave back to community that they got this product, or method of chocolate making, from. Like, don’t appropriate, please. Native people are still around.”
While I didn’t observe the overwhelming negative reactions to instances of appropriation as I expected, I did observe how ingrained issues of identity are in our every lives. They may not be explicit in their connection, from a broader perspective, but these instances reveal some of the long-standing effects of interactions between communities and their cultures. For instance, the woman from White Earth preferred, over all others, the chocolate with hazelnuts, as it took her home, in her mind, to a place that is deeply involved with long-standing traditions around harvesting nuts. Maybe my findings point more to issues of being directly involved with one’s culture versus being a product of a multicultural environment. Or perhaps at this day and age, we’ve become so comfortable with cross-cultural exchange that we are not always mindful of which products are Indigenous modeled instead of Indigenous made. We might also be so inundated with examples of cultural appropriation, that having to identify whether or not our foods are examples of appropriation would make it impossible to feel comfortable or at ease in our own neighborhoods. Either way, in my ideal world, the craft chocolate or bean-to-bar companies would do more to serve the Indigenous communities that remain connected to this delectable food and culture that we seem to love.
Author’s note: If I were to do this again, I would want to shift perspective and explore the preconceptions and misconceptions of chocolate in connection to Indigenous roots and Latin-American usage. I would also use more than just chocolate bars, and incorporate foods like traditionally made mole and pozol!
Fash, William. Entry on the Maya. Moctezuma’s Mexico: Then and Now Course Reader.
Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. Kindle Version
Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics” American Historical Review: The Oxford Journal, 2006. Online. Accessed March 17, 2014
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised: A cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print
Theobroma Cacao, the scientific name rooted from the Greeks as “food from the gods”¹ maintains its popularity as a food loved by all. Consumed as a drink, a dessert and even a breakfast staple, chocolate has earned its place on supermarket
shelves throughout the world. Regardless of geographic location, socioeconomic status and cultural tradition, the demand for chocolate continues to rise. “Chocolate Industry analysts M&M predict the global chocolate market will experience annual sales of $98.3 billion by 2016 — the result of an annual growth rate approaching 3 percent.”² Subsequently this industry growth. In order to keep up with this rise in demand, the chocolate production industry has exploded. And so has the need for cheap labor and price gauging: antiquated unscrupulous practices that produce over 50% of the world’s chocolate.
An estimated guess of up to 800,000 children are thought to work in the cocoa sector across the Ivory Coast³. They endure long days of hard labor that include the climbing of trees to reach cocoa pods, the use of machetes to open these pods, carrying up to 100lbs. of harvest and exposure to industrial toxins when spraying cocoa crops. Often these children are lured with meager wages as means to support their families and are deprived of very basic needs (access to clean water, living quarters, sufficient food etc.) Since a majority of them are restricted from receiving a basic education, their potential to progressing beyond their agricultural slavery is imperceptible.
“Fair Trade USA is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that serves as the, leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States. Fair Trade USA audits and certifies transactions between U.S. companies and their international suppliers to guarantee that the farmers and workers producing Fair Trade Certified goods are paid fair prices and wages, work in safe conditions, protect the environment and receive community development funds to empower and uplift their communities.”⁴
Providing certification for both importers and manufacturers, the Fair Trade USA certification can be seen on a broad range of products such as edibles, beauty products and textiles. Fair Trade USA certified products can be found in both smaller specialty retailers and large corporate speciality retailers like Whole Foods. But how prevalent are they to be marketed and sold in non-specialized retailers and what variables contribute to this?
Whole Foods Market, a large corporate specialty supermarket chain can be commonly found near urbanized areas throughout the united states. They offer a wide array of organic and non-organic products, locally sourced and international products and other specialty items. Their mission statement, “healthy” means a whole lot more. It goes beyond good for you, to also encompass the greater good. Whether you’re hungry for better, or simply food-curious, we offer a place for you to shop where value is inseparable from values.”⁵ is indicative of their desire to provide not only a healthy product option but one that is ethically sound. They are actively involved consumer education regarding their products and have made efforts to keep communication transparent between consumer needs and retailer. Going further than just their mission statement, the Whole Foods Market website clearly states where their values lie in the products they sell, how they sell them and to whom.
Location of any retail store can be considered one of the most crucial and indicative variables relating to its market demographic and correlated success. The location of the Whole Foods Market that is observed in this comparative analysis is in the Northeast Yonkers neighborhood, outside of the New York City metropolis. It is leasing a large single level space in an upscale, mixed-use lifestyle center that encompasses both residential property and commercial property all in one semi-isolated development. According to the Ridge Hill property management website, “Creatively designed to be gracious and magnificent, yet comfortable and charming, Westchester’s Ridge Hill is the ideal environment for shopping, dining, strolling, lounging and enjoying. A captivating village green sets the stage for evening entertainment. Comfortable outdoor furniture and lively fountains offer a sense of both engagement and tranquility to nurture the spirit and prolong the visit.”⁶ In lamens terms, you can live at the mall for the price of $2,500.00 for an 800sq one bedroom and be within 3 block walking distance of shopping heaven. Other retailers that share this development include Apple, REI, Lord & Taylor, Sur la Table, Sephora, Grand Luxe Cinema and Cheesecake Factory. There is no access by public transportation, thus relegating shoppers the necessity for a car and parking comes at a $3.00 premium. Where as the nearest shopping center can be accessed by over 5 bus lines and does not charge for parking.
Within a 5 minute driving radius of Whole Foods Market, the average household income is recorded at 88k per annum. Approximately 3,000 non-family households are located within this radius, thus concluding that majority of Whole Foods Market at Ridge Hill demographic is probably family oriented households. Which explains the abundance of children observed in the supermarket during both peak and off-peak hours. White collar employment makes up 70% of this demographic. Being that the area is predominantly residential with only retail employment nearby, most of these white collar employees are commuting via car to work. The lack of mass transit further propagates this observation. The average consumer observed shopping inside this Whole Foods Location are aged 30-55. With 84% arriving by car and 9% appeared to have walked from the Ridge Hill Residential community. This demographic was observed to more likely pay with credit card and apple pay than with cash. Upon asking consumers if they were aware of what Fair Trade USA certified was, 60% were aware of the organization and its efforts. And upon being informed about the harsh reality behind cocoa production and its link to child slavery and labor, most were willing to switch brands.
Now with a clearer consumer demographic for this particular Whole Foods Market, let’s observe the marketing strategies towards this consumer.
The entrance is open and airy with censored sliding doors. The Aisles are wide enough to span approximately 4 people/3 shopping carts. You are greeted by an employee from their customer service desk and the sound of the birds who’ve taken residence inside the supermarket. The chocolate that is produced into candy and cocoa form is located in the 7th aisle to the right, from the entrance. There are approximately over 20 brands of chocolate bars, neatly stocked and clearly labeled. Some
of which include the popular Fair Trade USA certified brands such as Alter Eco, Divine chocolate, Equal Exchange and Theo Chocolate Regular store prices and sale prices are clearly visible. When employees are asked about Fair Trade USA certified chocolate, they are knowledgable and eager to communicate.
According to an official blog post from their website “the fair trade chocolate category in grocery at Whole Foods Market alone has grown by more than 350 percent over the last five years…Over the past few years, our national grocery team has only brought in new chocolate bars from ethical sources. We have encouraged dozens of our chocolate brands to obtain Fair Trade Certification, which guarantees a higher price to grower communities.”⁷ This sort of transparency is evident throughout Whole Foods Market company ethos and marketing efforts.
A 15 minute drive away from this Whole Foods Market, is a local neighborhood supermarket (which is part of a larger tri-state supermarket chain) that is commonly seen in this borough of New York City. It’s location and the surrounding neighborhood it serves, Jerome Park, Bronx is nestled under a large condominium building. Neighboring retail stores include, a dry cleaners, a pharmacy, a Korean woman’s salon and a private cardiologist’s office. The area is a mix of various international races that range from Caucasian, European, Asian, African and Latino. The average household income is 58k per annum and 19k of those are non-family households. As a result of the nearby Lehman College campus and two magnet charter high schools, a good portion of these single households are professors, teachers and students aged 18-40. According to neighborhood demographics, 69% are white collar employees. Mass transit is very accessible, with 3 subway lines and 9 bus routes. There is some nearby street parking if one is available and a nearby parking garage that charges $7.00 for a daily rate.
The marketing strategy of Fine Fare is relatively simple: providing the best variety of international products at the best value. As quoted from their website mission statement, “When you shop your friendly neighborhood fine fare you can expect to find a full service supermarket with great prices and amazing variety of products. Fine Fare Supermarkets are a group of independently owned and operated supermarkets. each store prides itself on fresh quality food, competitive pricing, huge
product selections and a broad range of ethnic foods geared toward its local community.”⁸ It is evident that their corporate mission is to provide a broad variety of products at reasonable prices for their consumer.
The entrance is a bit cramped, only allowing two people at a time. Sliding doors open to a produce section and a small customer service front desk that is rarely occupied. The chocolate is located in the second aisle to the left of the entrance aisle. Thus giving it importance in consumer shopping preferences (ie: snacks are more important to this demographic than the laundry detergent in the farthest aisle). It’s surrounding product neighbors include cookies, crisps, fruit snacks and Entenmanns confections. Most popular brands include Nestle, Hershey’s, Cadbury and Mars Inc. The labels are clear and concise but the prices are unorganized at best. Consumers seem to peruse less and simply grab the specific chocolate product they initially came in for. Few children are seen and the busiest time slot s the after work rush hour when consumers are on their way home.
Whilst the selection of international cocoa products is very prevalent, there are no Fair Trade USA certified options. Upon inquiring with the staff about Fair Trade USA certified chocolate, one is rerouted to the international food section for the imported european chocolate brands. In fact, one staff member who immediately responded enthusiastically, quickly pointed to the Nutella. When confronted by the managerial staff, they are not aware of any Fair Trade USA certified brands and fail to express any interest in stocking.
The stark contrast between the two companies is apparent. Everything from their company ethos, to their marketing and ultimately their retailing is vastly different to the other. However the demographics do not seem that marginally different and it is common for consumers to shop at both supermarkets. Whilst it is clear which supermarket is more successful, why would not the other attempt to emulate said success? When consumers were asked if they would be interested in purchasing Fair Trade USA certified products for the relatively same price, 9/10 said they would. But only one supermarket has demonstrated a continued interest in being corporately conscious of the products they sell. If corporate consciousness and social responsibility can come at the same price as not [having them], then why aren’t we?
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. Thames and Hudson, 1996. 18. Print.
“How Large Is the Chocolate Industry?” Small Business. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.
“Cocoa-nomics: Does Chocolate Grow On Trees.” Web. 9 Feb. 2015.
The origins of cacao consumption can be traced back to Mesoamerica, within the earliest period of Mayan culture, 250-900 CE. Within some of the earliest found writings, articles, and books known as the Dreseden and Mayan Codicies, the glyphs for cacao were present throughout the texts (Martin, 2015). The Latin name for cacao—Theobroma—literally means, “food of the gods” and cacao was heavily involved in various rites around marriage, birth, death, and fertility. For example, within the Madrid Codex are images of the goddess of the moon and the god of rain exchanging cacao to maintain the fertility of the earth. With the arrival of Europeans to the ‘new world’ cacao and chocolate were introduced to a new audience in the 16th century. Although dismissed as a low-brow consumption, something only ‘good enough for pigs’ (Martin, 2015), interest and a taste for chocolate grew, which in turn created a new economic stream which impacted the history, culture, society, and economy of almost every developed nation of that period.
The increase in demand for cacao led to a need for increased labor on plantations. The Spanish led the usage of indigenous populations first through a broken encomienda system, where colonists were able to demand tributes and labor in exchange for their ‘protection’, then through a system of repartimiento – a form of tribute-labor system where indigenous members were to do low-paid or unpaid labor for a fixed period of time on Spanish-owned properties – both of which were failed policies. This led to the advent of chattel slavery where, between the years 1500-1900, approximately 10-15 million enslaved Africans were brought to cacao producing colonies (Martin, 2015).
The majority of enslaved Africans were taken to the Caribbean and South America (Brazil). Travel to these destinations was harsh, slaves were stacked into ships, without concern for health or welfare; approximately 40% of slaves died on the voyage. For those who survived onto the final destination – their life expectancy was 7-8 years (Martin, 2015). The economics of slavery were diverse – colonists had varied interests in sugar, tobacco, cotton, and cacao – and the need to supply labor for these initiatives fell on the shoulders of African slaves. However, it has been argued that this was not based on racism or prejudiced beliefs, but the ‘logistic availability of cheap labor. As shared in class, Eric Williams, a historian and the former Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago wrote in his book Capitalism & Slavery (1944),
“ …white laborers in the colonies would tend to create rivalry with the mother country in manufacturing. Better black slaves on plantations than white servants in industry, which would encourage aspirations to independence. The supply moreover was becoming increasingly difficult, and the need of the plantations outstripped the English convictions. In addition, merchants were involved in many vexatious and costly proceedings arising from people signifying their willingness to emigrate, accepting food and clothes in advance, and then sueing for unlawful detention. On the plantations, escape was easy for the white servant; less easy for the Negro who, if freed, tended, in self-defence, to stay in his locality where he was well known and less likely to be apprehended as a vagrant or runaway slave. The servant expected land at the end of his contract; the Negro, in a strange environment, conspicuous by his color and feature, and ignorant of the white man’s language and ways, could be kept permanently divorced from the land. Racial differences made it easier to justify and rationalize Negro slavery. Finally, and this was the decisive factor, the Negro slave was cheaper. The money which procured a white man’s services for ten years could buy a Negro for life. Here, then, is the origin of Negro slavery. The reason was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the laborer, but the cheapness of the labor. As compared with Indian and white labor, Negro slavery was eminently superior.”
Perhaps this was written to share a neutral and unbiased perspective, as Williams was a Black man raised in the colonial era. However to read this rationalization, can lead one to believe that there was a willful blindness to the inherent biases against Africans, which were based on their race. Williams ignores the forced box that Africans were placed into once on plantations (their skin tone makes them easily identified as ‘other’) and ignores the prejudicial mindset of other colonists: If they saw a black slave, then he must have escaped; whereas a white slave/servant would be more difficult to identify on the presumption that all white men are inherently free. He does not acknowledge the systems in place that forced slaves to have few options towards personal or professional growth; as language and cultural educations were purposefully denied. Finally, he overlooks the basic human rights denied to African slaves because they were dehumanized and referred to as ‘goods and property’. Yet, this mindset prevailed among colonial plantation owners, seeped into societal views leading to periods of civil war and political unrest, and unfortunately; still persists over seventy (70) years later. Those enslaved may have changed – women, children – but the ‘rationalization’ remains: they are cheap labor, easily controlled, with nowhere to go. Though slavery has been banned for centuries (or decades depending on geographic location), it is still practiced in several industries, cacao among them.
Côte d’Ivoire, historically, has been reliant on exports. In the latter half of the 19th century, Europeans owned cacao plantations. After the World War I, ownership and growth shifted to African nationals. Cacao growth rapidly expanded through 1939 when production was once again halted with the advent of World War II. After this conflict, cacao production resumed, along with an emphasis on coffee. It was not until the ‘cocoa boom’ in the 1970s, where several government programs were created to support and encourage cacao growth, did it become the leading good of Côte d’Ivoire that it is today. (Gbetibouo and Delgado, pp. 121-123). Today, Côte d’Ivoire produces over 40% of the cacao consumed in the world. As shown in the chart below, the country’s lead in production is increasing year-on-year with cocoa bean production in the country expected: in 2013-14 they produced an estimated 1.730 thousand tonnes for, an increase from the 1.449 thousand tonnes recorded in the previous year.
Though reports share that this year (2015) cacao farms are ahead of schedule in growth and output compared to last year, this is not universal across the country. April to September is considered the mid-crop period for farmers; during June and July, most plantations begin preparing the land for the next, upcoming crop to start in October. However several plantations are behind schedule this year; due to issues with drought, fungus, and an overall, low growing season impacting their land. Further, due to the lack of product, they are also short on cash needed to buy additional labor, pesticides, treatments, and fertilizers, to prepare for the upcoming season (Zawya Reuters, 2015).
Further, issues of investment revenue, farming interest, and access to land have all contributed to questions around the continued sustainability of long-term cacao production in Côte d’Ivoire. How the country and government choose to overcome these issues is still a piece in ‘progress’, but as various rights organizations continue to call for greater responsibility – of chocolate producing companies and of governments – the status of cacao farmers may change. In the interim, supplemental forms of cacao production exist, which have greater impacts on the land and surrounding wildlife.
A recent article shared a discovery of ‘rogue’ cacao plantations in Côte d’Ivoire. They are found within, what are supposed to be protected areas (PAs) of national forests, parks, and reserves. However, interviews with farmers highlight that they have existed in these areas for years, and though they provide a modest contribution to cacao output – the estimated annual yield of cacao from farms within these protected areas is 195,600 tons – the greatest area for concern, is the impact that they are having on the ecosystem, specifically the region’s unique space as a home for a variety of primates. A group of researchers specifically studied the impact of illegal cacao farms on the regions biodiversity.
“Côte d’Ivoire comprises part of West Africa’s Guinean Forest Region, an ecosystem of great biological richness, species diversity, and endemism. The region is a World Biodiversity Hotspot, hosting over 2,250 endemic plant and 270 vertebrate species. Côte d’Ivoire is home to twenty-two primate [classifications], including 18 [narrow-nosed] species, and ranks second among West African countries in terms of primate diversity” (Bitty, p. 96). The research team spent three years collecting and recording data from twenty-three (23) protected areas (PA) – eighteen (18) forest reserves and five (5) national parks – within Côte d’Ivoire, found in the central and southern forest zone of the country. The team focused on how many different primate classifications were living in each region, how many human inhabitants were in each region, and the levels of degradation of the land and surrounding flora and other fauna due to cacao farming. Included in the assessment of degradation was secondary forests of any age, villages, cultivated fields, roads, pathways, etc. (Bitty, pp. 98-99). Their final assessment:
1) Primate encounters:
Within the twenty-three (23) protected areas: five had lost half of their primate species and thirteen (57%) had lost their entire primate population.
Each of the twenty three (23) protected areas is characterized, by (at least) one primate local extinction, but most are missing many more primate classifications.
Of twelve (12) anthropoid primate species expected within the survey areas, eleven were encountered in at least one protected area.
In PAs that had primates, (at least) the same three classifications were always encountered.
Two specific species were not encountered in any park or reserve surveyed leading the researchers to the possibility that they are extinct in the wild.
Researchers were able to make a direct relationship between the presence of cacao farms and absence of primates within protected areas.
2) Human ‘footprint’:
15 of the protected areas had settlements with an average population of 4,400. Some of the largest settlements had populations over 10,000.
Based on interviews of farmers within these PAs, most residents had settled there within the last twelve years (12), which corresponded to a period of political & military unrest in Côte d’Ivoire.
Poaching was an additional concern within the PAs – primates are either killed or kept in captivity.
3) Economic degradation:
Using a mathematical quotient to define levels of degradation, the researchers found that the levels within sixteen (16) forest reserves exceeded 65%.
The majority of forest degradation was a result of cacao farming.
Cacao farms were found within 20 protected areas
Within the protected areas, between 10% to 100% of the land was converted for cacao farming
Cacao makes up 93% of illegally grown agricultural products in PAs (The other crops encountered were subsistence crops – bananas, yams, maize, rice – and miscellaneous vegetables associated with young cacao trees)
Approximately 74% (1250 mi2) of the total area of PAs surveyed had been turned into cacao plantations. This is equivalent (thought slightly larger) to the land area of Rhode Island (1045 mi2)
Primates habitats and food sources are especially endangered due heavy reliance on full-sun farming technique – removal of all trees – in cacao production. (Bitty, pp. 99-101)
The impact that such illegal farming has on the environment is not new, however with recent trends in chocolate production and a greater, general awareness by the public of ‘fair’ products and the ‘impact’ their goods have, concerns around the razing of forests and loss of habitats are gaining prominence.
Returning to the particular case of Cote d’Ivoire, and the high rate at which this is occurring begs the question: why is this happening? According to the Bitty research group, it goes back to the country’s history. A vast population increase in the last fifty (50) years is a major cause of the expansion into protected areas for settlement, farming, and/or hunting. Part of this growth has occurred due to natural population increases (births), however a larger portion is due to a ‘large influx of migrants’ (Bitty, p. 102) due to the peace and economic prosperity that Côte d’Ivoire experienced between the late 1950s and the early 1990s. The 1970s coco boom started in the southeastern part of Côte d’Ivoire and gradually shifted to the central west and southwestern parts of the country as need to access of land and stronger yields became greater. As previously shared, this expansion was greatly promoted by President Felix Houphouët-Boigny (in office 1960-1993) as the country’s revenue greatly benefited from the taxes on commodity exports, of which cacao provided its greatest profit. As part of the investment in cacao production President Houphouët-Boigny’s government encouraged a process to allow ‘rental’ of land for cacao growing. The government unabashedly allowed migrant and foreign laborers to move into the nation’s forests. Further, in exchange for work, laborers were also allowed to plant their own crops and to sell a portion of the cacao they helped to produce – this created a wasteful cycle in which new labor could only be made available from further migration into the forests and clearing of land. This cycle continued until the government belatedly realized that the forest was a finite resource and began to set aside regions as protected areas (Woods, pp. 645-646).
However, the death of Houphouët-Boigny in 1993, plunged the country into a tumultuous period (~1993-2011) of political, social, and economic unrest. This included a civil war which caused hundreds of thousands to move into central and southern Côte d’Ivoire from other portions of the country and from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso. This southward shift was heightened following the contested presidential election of 2010, with many migrants fleeing into neighboring countries or taking up residence adjacent to or within forest reserves and national parks (Cross, p. 44), continuing the deforestation of the land that occurred from the 1960’s-80s. Because of this, Côte d’Ivoire has the highest deforestation rate in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated loss of 1023mi2 (again, equivalent to the state of Rhode Island) per year (Fairhead and Leach p. 22).
Bitty concludes, “Given the government’s concerns with national security, safeguarding habitat and wildlife inside parks and forest reserves was likely not a high priority; and thousands of migrant’s readily occupied protected areas. Most conservation staff charged with monitoring and protecting fled their parks/reserves and south-moving migrants encountered little – if any – resistance. The result was the rapid establishment of permanent human settlements, an increase in cocoa farming, and an escalation of hunting within the country’s protected areas” (p. 102).
In recent years, the government of Cote d’Ivoire has stabilized and taken steps to remove these ‘illegal residents’ especially as regulations around illegal farming are strengthening.
However, the environmental impacts of cacao farming are still a cause for concern and have not become a part of the government’s focus. It has however gained the attention of various environmental rights groups, researchers, and even chocolate companies. Endangered Species Chocolate is an interesting company who connects consumer advocacy with every purchase of their chocolate. To consumers, they share that “choosing our chocolate is one way you can honor farmers and support sustainable farming practices. We pay a social premium for our ingredients to ensure that farmers are supported and species are protected.” (Endangered Species, 2015). A partner who receives 10% of the proceeds is the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), which focuses on conservation and extinction avoidance of Africa’s unique species. Though there presence does not currently extend into Côte d’Ivoire, this could change in the future. Further, organizations like the AWF and conscious cacao companies like Endangered Species Chocolate could begin the dialogue on how cacao production and protection of ecosystems could be harmonious.
As for how the biodiversity of the region can be protected in conjunction with the existence of the cacao farms, the importance of these critical areas in ensuring the biodiversity of Côte d’Ivoire has been emphasized, however it the threat of the continual agricultural encroachment of the cacao farms is recognized. And although the government has shifted its focus to removing the farms, the government currently does not have the resources needed to completely halt cacao production and poaching within all of its protected areas (PAs), which is a concern for continual extinction of unique floral and fauna (especially primates) in the future (Bitty, p. 104). Specifically regarding the primates, Bitty et. al shared that the absence of primates in various protected areas directly correlates to the existence of cacao farms and the technique of full sun cacao farming. They continued:
“In contrast, shaded cocoa agroforestry, which does not involve the total removal of trees, has been shown to provide comparable revenues for farmers while preserving elements of habitat critical for primate populations. Several recent studies have tabulated those tree species known to thrive in West and Central African cocoa farms where shaded agroforestry is practiced, and cocoa farmers recently interviewed in Cote d’Ivoire expressed their desire to retain some tree diversity on their farms, noting that certain trees are compatible with cocoa because they help promote soil moisture retention and improve soil fertility.
Studies in Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere in Africa have demonstrated that cocoa production and biodiversity are not mutually exclusive entities. Going forward, it will be essential to promote policies that do not involve complete deforestation, and we are encouraged by the work of Schroth and Harvey who note, “traditional cocoa agroforests with diverse and structurally complex shade canopies are among the agricultural land uses that are most likely to conserve a significant portion of the original forest biodiversity (2007:2238).” Our suggestion of shade-cocoa farming applies to remaining intact forest outside protected areas, and we emphasize that we are not advocating new agriculture – shaded or otherwise – inside protected areas. For degraded PAs, forest regeneration focusing on native tree species should be encouraged” (Bitty, pp. 104-105).
The issues of illegal farms in Cote d’Ivoire are greater than simply changing the method by which farming occurs, but this is a suggested solution that can be implemented as the government, ecologists, cacao buyers, farmers, etc. work to bring about a solution that is beneficial for all. However history – historical actions, mindsets, policies – as has been shown here, can have a great impact on the present – livelihood, rights, and process – of a country’s inhabitants. Hopefully, Cote d’Ivoire will recognize the opportunity it has to change the way in which the producers of its greatest export are treated; that farmers receive greater financial support and rights to the land; but also recognizes the importance of its ecosystem and how to harmoniously merge cacao production with environmental protection.
For an adult, chocolate is seen as a decadently delicious sweet treat, but chocolate is not something thatmost adults would indulge in on a daily basis.This is because adults understand that chocolate is not the healthiest food option, and they tend to limit their consumption.However, children’s’ attitudes towards chocolate and chocolate consumption are very different.Children equate chocolate with sweetness and fun.Chocolate is something that they are given on Halloween, Valentines Day, Easter, Christmas, during Birthday parties, and when they can convince their parents to buy it for them at the store.Children are notorious for demanding sweet things from their parents, and many chocolate companies are capitalizing on this demand by advertising their chocolate to children in a variety of ways.While marketing to children is quite lucrative, it can also be quite harmful, as there is a growing obesity epidemic both in the US and around the world, and children are uniquely vulnerable to advertising and marketing strategies.
Historically, chocolate makers have advertised their drinks and confections as healthy, nourishing, and a good source of energy for growing children.In an effort to convince families to choose his chocolate bar, Milton Hershey even went as far as to advertise that Hershey’s milk chocolate bars were “more sustaining than meat”.
Defining the Problem
This begs the question, exactly how healthy is chocolate?The answer to this question is fluid, as not every chocolate bar is made the same way.A basic chocolate bar contains cacao, cocoa butter, and sugar, which is basically cacao, fat, and sugar.The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that “children, adolescents, and adults limit intake of solid fats (major sources of saturated and trans fatty acids), cholesterol, sodium, added sugars” (CDC, 2015).As even the most basic chocolate bar is loaded with fat and sugar, chocolate bars are not considered to be a healthy food by CDC standards.These CDC nutrition standards are a direct response to obesity.
The CDC defines obesity is as having a weight greater than “is generally considered healthy for a given height”.There has been a marked rise in obesity rates in adults from 13% in 1962 to 34.9% in 2012.Children’s obesity rates have also been on the rise, and obesity rates have “doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years” (CDC, 2015).This rapid rise of obesity in the US is a problem, because obesity increases a person’s risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancers, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and in some cases, infertility (CDC, 2015).A rapid rise in obesity amongst children means that these children live with these conditions for longer, and they are likely to live shorter lives and fewer children of their own.
With so many bad effects stemming from the obesity epidemic, the government should have some kind of regulations in place to protect children from the advertising an marketing of chocolate products to children.Unfortunately, these regulations are slow in coming, if at all.Chocolate corporations are allowed to advertise their products specifically towards children and adolescents using the media, television, radio, internet, games, product placement in stores, vending machines in schools, chocolate milk in school cafeterias, and on school buses.Children and adolescents are literally bombarded with advertisements and marketing campaigns all the time (Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, 2015).Children see ads like the ones below, that promote the health of chocolate flavored milk, and children are led to believe that chocolate milk is healthy, full of vitamins and nutrients, and an essential part of their day.
This advertisement for chocolate milk shows children that they should undermine their parents in order to get them to buy them the healthy chocolate that they both need and crave.Notice that the mother gives in to the child after the milk man “angel” explains all the healthy benefits of chocolate milk.
This advertisement for Barny snack cakes plays on the fun that children have when they eat Barny snacks.Notice that the Barny snacks use a cartoon teddy bear to lead the boy around a Wonka-esque fantasy world of chocolate where they jump on a trampoline mountain made of cake.Once again, the child has undermined parental authority, as the bear shows that the adventure was a secret when he winks at the boy.Then, the Barny snacks are shown to be a healthy wholesome food, as they are made with “wheat, chocolate, and eggs”.When the snack is finally shown, it is a cake filled with chocolate cream, which is obviously not the healthy snack that Barny is trying to promote.
The biggest problem with the marketing strategies listed above is that “until the age of about 8 children do not understand advertising’s persuasive intent” (Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood).While some companies, such as the Mars corporation, claim that they do not target audiences under 12, ad campaigns, like the one shown, below paint a very different picture.Campaigns with licensed characters like M&Ms may not be targeted for a younger audience, but the cartoonish nature of the characters themselves make it look like children’s programming.According to the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood’s website, “very young children can’t distinguish between commercials and program content” when they are watching television, so the M&Ms commercials would likely just look like another cartoon that makes them want to eat M&Ms (Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, 2015).
Many solutions have been thrown around to fix the problems with marketing chocolate and other junk foods to children and adolescents.These solutions include removing vending machines from schools altogether, regulating how companies market to children, regulating the types of food found in vending machines in schools, and a ban on chocolate milk.However, food lobbies in the US have tremendous political power, as witnessed during Michelle Obama’s Lets Move! campaign.This campaign started out as a campaign that was supposed to not only get children to be active and play, but to transform the school lunch system in the US into a healthier and more nutrition program.Unfortunately, Michelle Obama was not as powerful as the food lobbyists who did not want to see the drop in profits that the removal of processed foods from the school lunch system would have caused (Fed Up, 2015).
Oregon was able to ban chocolate milk from its state school system in 2011.The chocolate milk ban has been considered a huge victory by advocates of healthier U.S. lunches, but a 2014 Cornell study has criticized the banning of chocolate milk due to the fact that children waste more of the skim milk that chocolate milk was replaced with (Hanks, et al. 2014).Hanks argues that the loss of “one gram of protein, a decrease of 5 percentage points in the daily recommended intake of calcium, and an additional 1/2 gram of fat per average student’s lunch” is a huge failure on the part of the Oregon state school lunch program, as many US children that use the state school lunch program live in food insecure homes (Freedhoff, 2014).
With so much political backlash when solutions are proposed by the government, how will we ever be able to regulate how chocolate and food are marketed to our children?The answer is that there are no easy solutions.
First, the country needs to admit that we have a problem.Yes, we live a much more sedentary lifestyle than we did 30 years ago, but we also eat a lot more added sugar.No, chocolate is not the only villain in the US’s struggle with childhood obesity, but chocolate companies have been using our schools to market their products to our children.
Parents can limit the use of technology in their homes in order to manage how many advertisements their children are bombarded with, but parents have little to no control over how products are marketed to their children at school.Children are required to attend school in the US, most parents work outside the home, and private schools are fairly expensive.So many parents have no choice but to send their children to the same public schools that allow this pervasive marketing to their students.
The CDC believes that limiting our outright banning marketing to school students may reduce the rates of childhood obesity in the US (CDC, 2015).However, we need strict regulations on how children’s products and food are advertised.Chocolate companies may feel the need to have “cradle to grave brand loyalty” (Chocolate Class, 2015), but how do they plan to profit off of people who have a drastically reduced lifespan.You cannot make profits off of someone who has died at an early age from obesity.
Andrew S. Hanks, David R. Just, Brian Wansink.“Chocolate Milk Consequences: A Pilot Study Evaluating the Consequences of Banning Chocolate Milk in School Cafeterias” in PLOS One.April 16, 2014.
Carla Martin.AAAS E-119.Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Lecture 9.“Issues in Advertisement”.April 1, 2015.
Mike Hughlett. “Few companies got high marks on food marketing to children:
As childhood obesity grows, so does concern over food companies’ marketing tactics”. in The Chicago Tribune.March 10, 2010.