In a recent interview with a childhood friend, I wanted to get his view on what chocolate meant to him, and in what forms did it resonate? I asked, “What are your initial thoughts when you hear the term ‘chocolate’? How do you view this kind of food?” His obvious answer to my question was “a sweet treat usually consumed as a delicious snack or dessert.” And like me, many would probably have a similar response. In lecture, Professor Martin provided a more concise definition where she described chocolate as a preparation of the seeds of cacao, roasted, husked and ground, often sweetened and flavored, as with sugar and vanilla. Justin had the opportunity to share his long relationship with chocolate, in many aspects, and the change of his relationship over a lengthy period of time. During our discussion, my friend remembered his love began to develop at an earlier stage in his life. He initially described his encounter with the sweet and milk chocolaty taste of his favorite candy bars and chocolate milk, savoring the smooth taste. As a child, he recalls eating sugary food snacks and other sweet treats, which were often part of his not-so-nutritious diet. Like many other kids, he could never get enough! As we later discover, this was partly out of necessity. Aside from its food form and the delicious taste, chocolate also resonated with Justin in a more metaphorical sense. For him, chocolate also appeared as a social concern for a people: class, race and health. Indeed, chocolate encompasses social concerns and goes beyond being a sweet treat that we simply enjoy because there are perpetual issues on class, race and health in our local communities that closely resembles communities abroad.
Courtesy of Confectionerynews.com
“Extreme Poverty Ignored in Sustainable Cocoa Drive, Say NGOs.”
Growing up in a large American city at times brings financial challenges for some family residents. And proper clothing, habitable living conditions, and food are difficult to come by. The reality is daunting. I had the opportunity to have a longtime friend share his story. During our interview Justin remembers his life growing up on the darker side of New York City and the poverty challenges he and his family experienced. This was commonplace. Many other households within his predominantly chocolate neighborhood were of the same socioeconomic class. In his youth, there were often times when food in his home was too scarce to support his parents and siblings. The more we discussed I wanted to know how he and his family approached such difficulty during his early years. He was living proof that a chasm among the various social classes existed.
In a newspaper article published in 2013, The New York Times estimated that 1.7 million New York residents were below the federal poverty line, according to 2012 data. An uneven distribution of income among has provided a sweeter lifestyle for some, but a constant nightmare for many others: “A yawning income gap seemed to show a city that has become stratified with wealth concentrated in a small percentage of the population. Citywide, the mean income of the lowest fifth was $8,993, while the highest fifth made $222,871 and the top 5 percent made $436,931 — about 49 times as much as those with the lowest income.” And New York’s poverty levels are only a portion of a larger issue: America’s poverty levels are nearly 14.5% or 45 million residents that are below the official poverty levels as noted by Huffington Post. People of color have a familiarity with low wages and scarce food supply, among other important factors. “The black poverty rate was 27.2 percent, unchanged from 2012 and higher than 24.3 percent before the recession began. More than 11 million black Americans lived below the poverty level last year. About 42.5 percent of the households headed by single black women were in poverty. The Hispanic poverty rate was 23.5 percent. The annual income threshold for being counted as living in poverty was $11,490 last year for a person and $23,550 for a family of four….[And,] The food insecure population of New York City remains immune from economic growth, and it is alarming that nearly two million New Yorkers could see their food stamp benefits cut in the coming weeks — which will make it even harder to put food on the table.” Sadly, the reality of abject poverty for people of color in a rich nation is true and apparent and not much different than less economically powerful nation.
What exactly does chocolate look like for people in contrasting economies around the world? Perhaps, Cuba is a great example: left to ruins in a small town. As highly coveted as cocoa is, the benefits are inadequate for the communities in which they are harvested and produced. In early 1900s, Milton S. Hershey brought his Hershey’s company to Camilo Cienfuegos City just a few miles outside the nation’s Havana capital. A local town resident, Berta Campoalegre, remembers the beginning and the end – the good and bad – for the popular American chocolate brand in her community. When Milton S. Hershey first arrived in town back in 1916 he and “The Americans brought everything to Hershey, including a system of social stratification and racial segregation that Fidel Castro’s revolution would also seek to erase. ‘Black people weren’t allowed to cross into this side of town, and we weren’t allowed to live in these houses either,’ said Berta Campoalegre, 81, who got a job in the mill after it was seized by the Castro government.” The old town was left in shambles and lifeless with no sign of recovery – a recurring theme.
“The Cuban town Mr. Hershey Built”
In contrast to the poverty levels of America, a few of countries on the African continent, where cocoa is the cash crop, are faced with uncertainty. In another example, western African countries such as Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon are rich in cocoa but are victims of low wages and, as a result, challenged with a low quality of living. Again, they are rich in many resources and have the largest cocoa production in the world. Among all four countries, they are responsible for producing roughly 70% of the world’s cocoa – the equivalent of nearly 2.8 million metric tons of cocoa within a year. The annual profits are lucrative. Yet, poverty is commonplace among cocoa farmers who rely on their cocoa income. A portion of Justin’s interview continued to echo those socioeconomic challenges that are also present in western Africa cocoa producing countries, as mentioned in lecture during this semester. Poverties.org states the economic environment where “Decade after decade, politicians and international organizations have failed to reduce poverty. Nor have they been able to help Africa generate growth or build basic infrastructure. Worse, between 1975 and 2000 it was the only place on earth where poverty has intensified. It’s only recently that the situation started to slowly improve.” But what attempts are being made to drive communities to economic sustainability levels. With the many plentiful resources that continent of Africa possesses, the large amount of impoverished families that exists is quite startling.
Courtesy of Confectionerynews.com
A recent ‘Empowering women in agriculture is good for business’ news article from Confectionerynews.com supports my idea by discussing efforts to sustain communities in Africa. I often contend with people of a community being exploited for others’ gains. To build a sustainable community, one must take initiative to invest in that community: culture, economy, health and education. The recent article offers a solution by “Empowering women in small-hold agriculture is essential to boosting productivity, creating new product launches and generating business – and companies are starting to realise this.” We must provide the means to bolster “women’s membership in Small Producer Organisations (SPOs) which is currently 22%. Yet socio-cultural norms and attitudes about women’s suitability for leadership roles can be a common barrier, and the report stressed the need for close collaboration between all players to address this.“ Women in leadership roles are a great solution, provided we can see past such limitations: gender.
Courtesy of Confectionerynews.com
“Empowering Women in Agriculture is Good for Business”
I am often disheartened by the realities of poverty in our communities. We are one community. However, our unity isn’t always self-evident. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with my long-time friend on his past childhood experiences. Indeed, his challenges has shaped his character, given him more self-awareness and confidence as a being. He will never forget those early years of financial hardships where food and clothing was hard to come by. Although chocolate is a favorite snack food of his, there was a point in history when he recalls it as his only food source. Many families in his neighborhood experienced food shortage and this is America, an economic power. Conversely, families in Africa share the same concerns for poverty. And, poverty levels are much higher and graver when compared to impoverished neighborhoods in America. However, poverty is a serious issue no matter its position on a scale. The disheartening reality of cocoa rich countries in Africa is that family owners are poor. If people of color from both economically powerful countries and a resourceful continent, why are the poverty levels quite drastic?
Miroff, Nick. “The Cuban Town Mr. Hershey Built.” Editorial. The Washington Post. The Washington Post,
5 May 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
Michail, Niamh. “Empowering Women in Agriculture Is Good for Business.” ConfectioneryNews.com.
N.p., 13 Mar. 2015. Web. 5 May 2015.
Nieburg, Oliver. “Extreme Poverty Ignored in Sustainable Cocoa Drive, Say NGOs.”
ConfectioneryNews.com. N.p., 6 Mar. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
Nieburg, Oliver. “Paying the Price of Chocolate: Breaking Cocoa Farming’s Cycle of Poverty.”
ConfectioneryNews.com. Confectionery News, 29 Apr. 2015. Web. 13 May 2015.
Roberts, Sam. “Poverty Rate Is Up in New York City, and Income Gap Is Wide, Census Data Show.” The
New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Sept. 2013. Web. 7 May 2015.
Tanenbaum, Sharon. “Is Chocolate Milk Healthy for Kids?” EverydayHealth.com. Everday Health, 6 June
- Web. 2 May 2015.
“Causes of Poverty In Africa: A Lost Continent or Land of Opportunities?” Poverties.org. Poverties, Jan.
- Web. 11 May 2015.
“Hunger and Poverty Fact Sheet.” Feeding America. Feeding America, n.d. Web. 1 May 2015.
Martin, Carla 2015.04.01 AAAS E119 Lecture 9: Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements