All posts by aaas119e66

El Ceibo: How One Chocolate Producer is Redefining Corporate Contribution

In an industry as overcrowded as chocolate, Big Chocolate companies may justify the negative impact they make on cocoa farmers, consumer’s waistlines, and overly sexualized advertisements as necessary evils to beat their competition. El Ceibo chocolate cooperative separates itself from this bittersweet approach to business by creating a culturally informed product and corporate organization that positively affects farmers, consumers, and countries.

El Ceibo’s tree-adorned packaging and name reference the native ceiba tree renown for its strong, deep roots. The tree serves as a worthy metaphor for the cooperative’s mindset and accomplishments. Producing chocolates since 1977, El Ceibo claims to be the only chocolate brand in the world produced entirely by the cocoa producers themselves from tree to bar.[i] The company’s product line includes drinking chocolate, cocoa powder, and chocolate bars. True to their mission of supporting local culture and products, their bars feature other Bolivian ingredients such as uyuni salt from the flats in southwest Bolivia and Andean royal quinoa from the highlands of the country.

From El Ceibo’s official Facebook page, this tree is composed of El Ceibo’s chocolate bar packages. Since El Ceibo was named for the ceiba tree, the metaphor of the product compiled as a tree is powerful.

The cooperative’s innovative and effective management organization has positively impacted the lives of over 1,200 cocao-producing families.[ii] Spurred by a foundational understanding of self-reliance and inclusiveness, El Ceibo introduced an assembly system of representation, equal wage policy, leadership rotation pattern, and training programs. In the rotating governing council, half the members change each year.[iii] Farmers in the El Ceibo cooperative receive a fair wage, optional job training (such as accounting and pruning), and a voice to instruct how the cooperative progresses.

These practices stand in stark contrast to commonplace activities abounding in world cacao production today. Numerous recent reports convict farms in the Ivory Coast and neighboring Ghana of using slave labor, borderline or outright child abduction practices, physical abuse and providing unfair work conditions.[iv], [v] On-site reports claim that most (if not all) farmers interviewed had never tasted the chocolate for which their labor produced the ingredients.[vi] In this practice, the vast majority of bulk cocoa purchased by Big Chocolate is produced in West Africa, then made into chocolate and sold in Europe. Even if wages and working conditions for these West Africans farmers were fair, the fact that they do not know and cannot reasonably afford to purchase the final product of their labor turns chocolate into a product made from the sweat of black bodies, transformed by the factories of Europe, into desserts for white tongues. El Ceibo breaks from this downward spiral and produces chocolates from their homegrown beans that locals and farmers can actually enjoy.

The first stage of breaking this cycle began before El Ceibo became a cooperative. At the time, most cacao farmers in the region were forced to negotiate against one another to win chocolate producers’ business. Now under El Ceibo, farmers’ livelihoods improved through their ability to earn higher returns from their beans. By forming the cooperative, famers have significant leverage over the cacao market in La Paz. The company has been so effective in price stabilization and “spillover benefits” for farmers throughout the Alto Beni region that experts estimate that, “without the presence of their service program and industry, famers would be receiving one half to two thirds of their current cacao income and probably would have abandoned the crop.”[vii] In this way, El Ceibo uses their organizational structure as a cooperative to stabilize the price of cacao and thus enable a more secure livelihood for farmers.

This photo of El Ceibo farmers and leadership together communicates their cooperative’s themes of community-incorporating and tradition-inspired products. The traditional clothing shown conveys that El Ceibo has not allowed their entrance onto the global marketplace to take away the reminders of where they came from.

This market power has also changed farmers’ expectations of fair payment for their product. When La Paz buyers delayed payments or attempted to block price regulation, the then El Ceibo President said, “a taste of higher prices made our people more defiant than ever and determined to resist the efforts by these business groups.”[viii] This “change of taste” for the farmers and their response provides hope to African cacao famers who hedge that if prices go high enough, African farmers’ tastes will change and they will refuse to sell low again, shifting the entire cacao bean market to a level that will reduce the need for unfair labor practices.

Furthermore, the bargaining power in the cacao market has given dignity to farmers and allowed the lower classes to access a new role in society. “Peasant managers had become shrewd negotiators for dealing with a host of institutions, from public bureaucracies to municipal governments, private banks, and business firms,” says El Ceibo observer Kevin Healy.[ix] Seen this way, El Ceibo’s chocolate company is changing not just livelihoods but also the status of farmers as members of society.

The cooperative also provides training that enables the farmers’ future success. A six-week course in accounting, taught by El Ceibo staff, is reportedly always well attended.[x] Through the program for agricultural training called the “Co-Operative Education and Agricultural Extension Division,” twenty-two peasant professionals are taught pruning techniques to fight the cacao-devastating witch’s broom disease. The program also supplies member co-ops and federation programs with “bookkeepers, treasurers, accountants, and savvy officers” who all enable the farmer to focus on his cacao trees.[xi] As a result of these educational investments, El Ceibo had become more knowledgeable about cacao production than the local agricultural research program organized by the Bolivian government. The farmers also practice sustainable farming to invigorate and replenish the cacao trees’ habitats.[xii]

While El Ceibo’s front panel packaging does not list any certifications, this image from their Facebook fan page mentions nine including FDA, USDA Organic, Fairtrade, and Fine Chocolate Industry Association. From our class lectures, we’ve learned that many of these certifications bring satisfaction to consumers more than financial benefit to individual farmers.

El Ceibo’s impact on farmers goes beyond paychecks and training, though. After the cacao beans are sold at market, El Ceibo fills the empty truck beds returning from La Paz with staples not available in the Alto Beni region. This enables stable access to standard goods and helps regulate prices. In this way, El Ceibo fills the gap between what local markets in the outskirts of Bolivia need and what the “invisible hand” or government programs can consistently supply. Taken together, El Ceibo’s cooperative has helped famers financially, professionally, and socially while regulating markets.

Consumers also benefit from El Ceibo’s corporate existence and products. A “Quinu Coa” product made of Andean grain quinoa with cocoa was incorporated into national school breakfast in increase nutritional content in children’s meals.[xiii] Outside of the nation, according to El Ceibo member Gualberto Condori, a Swiss firm sells El Ceibo, “to consumers willing to pay a slightly higher price for Third World products that increase employment and other benefits for small farmers like ourselves. They say it’s a way to rectify some of the major social injustices…and open new markets for them as well, so there is mutual interest involved in these arrangements.”[xiv] The 2.8 ounce bars retail for $13 USD.[xv]

This American Whole Foods employee poses with EL Ceibo chocolate bars to celebrate the arrival of the bars to American shelves in Virginia. While the just over 2-ounce bars retail for $13, high-end health markets like Whole Foods seem to match buyers who are willing to pay more for a great product that enables farmers better livelihoods with El Ceibo, a cooperative that is redefining corporate contribution.

El Ceibo’s success as a cooperative and chocolate producer has extended beyond the borders of its cacao farms. The company has been designated among Bolivia’s top ten most important exporters of non-traditional products making it an icon of Bolivian pride. The company remembers its roots, too. Former president El Ceibo Leoncio Tipuni mentions that ancestral Aymara, Quechua, and Moseten cultural practices153 inspired the company’s organization. The cooperative reinvests in local cultural festivals that bring together music and dance from various highland traditions of the farmers to preserve their unique cultural identities and traditions. Chocolate expert Susan Terrio explains how companies like El Ceibo’s products are able to shape the national cuisine of Bolivia in the minds of foreign consumers, “In an era of global markets and instantaneous linkages, chefs and cookbooks circulate globally, and the national cuisines they represent shape and are shaped by transnational culture and taste.”[xvi] In this way, El Ceibo is not only creating a product from their farmer’s past to maintain their history, they are influencing the current cuisine of Bolivia.

Inside Bolivia’s borders, the democratic governing structure of El Ceibo teaches good civil education and engagement practices for farmers. The system of self-governed democratic management “derived from local Andean political order”[xvii] and combines democratic assemblies with rotating community leadership. Commentator on democracy and food movements D Schugurensky argues that “one of the best ways to learn democracy is by doing it and one of the best ways to develop effective civic and political skills is by observing them in the real world and exercising them (2003a)”[xviii] Further, academic Charles Levkoe explains how engagement in these governmental structures, “create[s] changes in people that inspire and prepare them to participate in a wider society.”[xix] By teaching good governance, El Ceibo lays the foundation for a stronger democracy and democratic participants in Bolivia.

The cacao-producing cooperative solved another serious government problem—drug production. Farmers report that if El Ceibo didn’t act as buffer and the cacao bean price dropped too low, farmers would cut down their cacao trees and harvested coca. In this way, El Ceibo reduced the supply of regional narcotics by providing legal, alternative forms of income for farmers.

El Ceibo has undoubtedly added great value to the lives, national identity, and taste buds of Bolivians and international customers. However, challenges still persist. Natural disasters such as flooding and tree infections plague farmers. Since only 10% of the total cocoa beans produced annually are fermented and dried in the technical center of Sapecho, the other 90% is fermented and dried by the producers themselves.[xx] While El Ceibo mentions that they visit these farms periodically to check on practices, exposure to nearby dust, rubbish, or fuel exhaust could tarnish the quality and infect the purity of their beans.

As El Ceibo looks to expand to international markets, they may face pressures to change the recipes of their products to match certain national pallets. Further, competing with the Big Five chocolate producers would require slitting their price by nearly $10 or 77%. A 77% decrease in revenue would likely force the company to make many of the poor compromises that the Big Five have—price, cocoa quality, labor payment, purity, and taste would all decline.

The company’s hiring of external auditors to ensure good book keeping and financial prudence[xxi] shows a first step in recruiting outside experts to manage or oversee aspects of the business. According to Oxfam, the average chocolate bar pays farmers only 3% of the final mark-up price while 43% goes to retail and supermarket margin. While El Ceibo’s bean-to-bar business structure may have different ratios, the Oxfam finding shows that retail is the profit sweet spot. If El Ceibo wants to increase profits or expand around the world, they may need experts or partners in the retail realm that could take central decision-making out of its countryside origin and overshadow the opinions of small-time farmers.

As demand for El Ceibo beans and chocolate grows, more talented or highly trained workers may insist on higher wages. This could destabilize the “one famer, one voice” and all-equal pay foundation that attracted so many famers initially. If the better producing or better-trained talent is not compensated for their expertise, they may leave the cooperative and become competitors. This would reduce the bargaining power El Ceibo has over the cacao market in La Paz and incentivize other farmers to set out on their own, effectively returning the region to their original fragmented state. Perhaps the camaraderie and benefits of El Ceibo are enough to keep farmers within the organization, though.

The success of El Ceibo casts chocolate as a tool for developing previously untouched corners of the world. Since lesser-developed nations are the main producers of chocolate today, following El Ceibo’s model of production and organization can serve as a tool for bettering farmers, consumers, and nations. El Ceibo’s example is proof that chocolate can be sustainably produced and sold without the problems of child slavery, unfair wages, and unhealthy products that benefit the chocolate companies at the expense of the supply chain and consumers, as is the case in many cacao plantations in West Africa and their Big Chocolate buyers. Further, ethical practices are not only attainable, but also yield benefits for those outside the direct production. True to the tree in their name, El Ceibo has created strong, deep roots to shade and nurture all those under its canopy. Perhaps as it grows larger, the cooperative will prove that chocolate can truly make the world a better place.

To support the positive impact El Ceibo is making and join in on the sweetness, visit their website at www.elceibo.org.

Special thanks to Carmen Segales and her associate Pastor R Payllo of El Ceibo Chocolates for participating in an interview that informed this paper.

[i] El Ceibo website. Accessed March 25, 2015. http://www.elceibo.org/ceibo/en/catalogue/catalogue2009.pdf

[ii] One World Award by Rapunzel. 2010 Finalist. Accessed March 25, 2015. http://www.one-world-award.com/el-ceibo.html

[iii] Healy, Kevin. Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana. 2001.

[iv] Mistrati, Miki. The Dark Side of Chocolate. 2010.

[v] Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. 2008. Pages 129-133.

[vi] Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. 2008. Page 7.

[vii] Healy, Kevin. Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana. 2001. Page 138.

[viii] ibid

[ix] Healy, Kevin. Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana. 2001. Page 133.

[x] Healy, Kevin. Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana. 2001. Page 136.

[xi] ibid

[xii] Healy, Kevin. Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana. 2001.

[xiii] Healy, Kevin. Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana. 2001.

[xiv] Healy, Kevin. Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana. 2001. Page 144.

[xv] El Ceibo website. Accessed March 25, 2015. http://www.elceibo.org/ceibo/en/catalogue/catalogue2009.pdf

[xvi] Terrio, Susan. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. University of California Press, London, England. 2000. Page 55.

[xvii] Healy, Kevin. Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana. 2001. Page 137.

[xviii] Schugurensky, D. “Three Theses On Citizenship Learning And Participatory Democracy.” Accessed September 2003. 2003. From Levkoe, Charles. “Learning Democracy Through Food Justice Movements.” From Food and Culture. Edited by Counihan, Carole and Van Esterik, Penny. Routledge. New York, New York. 2013. Page 593.

[xix] Levkoe, Charles. “Learning Democracy Through Food Justice Movements.” From Food and Culture. Edited by Counihan, Carole and Van Esterik, Penny. Routledge. New York, New York. 2013. Page 599.

[xx] El Ceibo website. Accessed April 8, 2015. http://www.elceibo.org

[xxi] Healy, Kevin. Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana. 2001.

Can Sour Valentines Make 2015 Couples Pucker Up?

Chocolate historian Emma Robertson’s research on chocolate ads of the early 20th century explains how marketers attempted to tell women that the type of chocolate box gifted to them was an articulation of the gifting man’s quality.[2] The association between quality men and quality chocolate is challenged today by the emergence of sarcastic Valentines Day chocolate boxes onto American grocery store shelves.

Photo captured by author. SomeeCards image.
This photo, captured in a CVS in Cambridge, MA near Valentines Day 2015 shows the advertisement discussed in this blog as it appeared on shelves. Implications of the 1920’s era imagery alongside modern, simple font and sarcastic words are discussed here.

One key example is a cherry-red with white outline heart-shaped chocolate box found at CVS in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In simple Helvetica font, the heart reads: “There’s no one else I’d rather spend this annual obligation with.” To the right of the words is a black and white, unfinished sketching of an embracing white couple dressed in tuxedo and fancy dress, respectively, starring deeply into one another’s eyes. Both appear attractive and the woman’s sleek, up-doo or bob haircut alludes to 1920’s era haute style. The images are similar to those used by Cadbury and Rentree in post-WWI period, but accompany different contexts and words—instead of judging a man on the quality of the chocolate he gives you, now the intention of the man is under consideration. This new application of historical imagery addresses a modern sociohistorical context of commercializing Valentines Day and gender-neutral messages that could apply for a woman giving the chocolates to a woman as much as a man to woman.

The box’s cover art belongs to SomeeCards, a sarcastic website that posts holiday-specific images mocking traditional cards that visitors can email as e-cards. The casual, familiar, conversational tone of the SomeeCards chocolate box message is conveyed through the type of grammar used. Formal writing would read, “There is no one else with whom I would rather spend this obligation.” The way it appears on the box implies a more spoken or familiar association between the giver and recipient—hardly the same stilted, expectation-setting milieu of the 1920’s.

Also significant about the box cover is the innuendo accompanying the word “spend.” At first read, the “spend” refers to spending time with the recipient of the chocolates. However it could also be understood as spending money, as in, “There’s no one else I’d rather spend money on in participation of this obligation.” In that case, the chocolates are not just keeping up with expectation but also a reminder that the giver has literally “invested” in this relationship. In that case, perhaps the investor expects a form of repayment. As another online SomeeCards image jokes in direct response to this assumption: “Commercializing our sacred love is the least we can do for our country.”[4]

Property of SomeeCards.com
This e-card is from SomeeCards.com and offers a sarcastic response to the pre-made card industry. The wording of the e-card references the sociohistoric modern trend of commercializing Valentines Day.

Robertson explains that, “Advertising has created, and reinforced, particular uses and identities for each type of product…a box of chocolates may be bought as a gift (with all the social implications of the gift relationship).”[1] The power of these sarcastic chocolate boxes lies in their addressing what many consumers actually feel when buying Valentines Day chocolates: guilt and compulsion. Yet however conned they feel, they actually care enough about the recipient to participate. Giving a sarcastic box of chocolate thus shows that the giver is complying with the holiday’s compulsion while simultaneously mocking it. The fact that the couple can recognize the coercion demonstrates stability within their courtship because they can joke about the context of giving the chocolate without threatening the state of their relationship.

Messages on chocolate boxes speak to the buyer’s intent and receiver’s understanding of the gift. When the message is altered to state sarcastic comments, the context, intention, and outcome of the gift can change. To respond in kind with the sarcastic nature of SomeeCards, I created my own SomeeCards chocolate box cover that reads: “Chocolate: official sponsor of all holiday obligations.” I chose a pink background and featured women to address the reality that women are the key consumers of chocolate and most ads target their demographic.

This new ad, created by the author, also addresses the motivations consumers harbor when buying chocolate and unveils the role of Big Chocolate in setting expectations. Further analysis can be found within this blog.
This new ad, created by the author, also addresses the motivations consumers harbor when buying chocolate and unveils the role of Big Chocolate in setting expectations. Further analysis can be found within this blog.

Like the effect of the original ad, I uncover the purpose of the chocolate purpose–to fulfill an obligation–as well as Big Chocolate’s accomplishment in finding a way to intimately involve chocolate in every major holiday. My ad maintains the same simple Helvetica font and to the right of the words are four mid-twenties, white partygoers depicted in the same black and white sketch format. All are dressed elegantly. Three hold glasses of champaign while the fourth blows a party horn, conveying a ritzy celebration is at hand. The two men smile at the horn-blowing female while the first female looks directly at the viewer. Her shoulder slumps under the weight of the larger male’s hand while her eyes and smile convey a weakness, perhaps of fatigue or insincere enjoyment.

When the words of the ad combine with the lead female’s eyes and posture, we understand the pressure to meet the expectations of enjoyment, glamour, or impressiveness. Buying chocolate to fulfill holiday obligations is thus using the product to overcome the inadequacies felt by the lead female and convicts the buyer of motivations that traditional ads would ignore. Here too, the honesty of the ad reveals the underlying associations and feelings that women consumers harbor but ignore or cannot hear beneath the noise of stereotypical ads which tell them that their sexuality, satisfaction, and access to diva-hood all hinge on their decision to consumer chocolate.

Chocolate expert Lawrence Allan explains that, “To successfully capitalize on impulse [chocolate] puchas[ing] behavior, packaging must make an immediate and distinctive impression.” [7] In this study, both ads work to the disinterest of selling the product they accompany by unveiling the buyer’s actual impulses. Ironically, this may lead to increased sales of the boxes because the buyers find the honesty refreshing or humorous. Said a 24-year-old woman who bought the original SomeeCards box in front of me, “I’m buying this for my boyfriend. He’ll think it’s funny and it emphasizes what we love about our relationship–honesty.”

[1] Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. 2010. Pg 15.

[1] Martin, Carla. AAAS E-119 lecture. February 10, 2015.

[2] Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. 2010. Pg 31.

[3] http://www.someecards.com/

[4] http://www.someecards.com/ecards/valentines-day/

[5] Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. 2010. Pg 15.

[6] Allan, Lawrence. Chocolate Fortunes: the Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. 2010. Pg 31.

[7] Allan, Lawrence. Chocolate Fortunes: the Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. 2010. Pg 31.

Slavery Then, Slavery Now: History Repeats for Big Chocolate

In 1879, Cadbury Brothers, Limited chocolate company shunned the stereotype of cold, inhumane industrialized factories and instead built a village for its employees complete with sanitized working conditions, childhood education, dental and medical care, and worker housing. Through publicizing these amenities and the Cadbury family’s Quaker roots, the chocolate company projected an image of ethical, idealistic management. That was before anyone looked beneath the wrapper. Analyzing the historical challenges to Cadbury’s business ethics reveals the origins of a supposedly concerned chocolatier and the hardships he endured to ensure fair business practices over the entire production cycle of his chocolates. Studying these trials and the changes they inspired raises concerns over chocolate producers’ main motivations and whether modern day consumer and corporate ethics have evolved.

Cadbury’s “factory in a garden” village served as an idealistic response to cold, impersonal factories of the time. It’s inauguration served as a symbol of Cadbury’s dedication to employee wellness, at least in England.
Cadbury’s “factory in a garden” village served as an idealistic response to cold, impersonal factories of the time. It’s inauguration served as a symbol of Cadbury’s dedication to employee wellness, at least in England.

Despite Cadbury’s marketing of morality, chocolate historian Emma Robertson  contends that the, “perceptions of…Cadbury and Fry as ‘enlightened,’ ‘model firms’ may be held in tension with the imperial and colonial origin of key factors of production such as sugar and cacao…. The buying and selling of cocoa for use in ‘British-made’ products …was thus clearly conducted under the inequalities of colonial rule and its consequences.”[1] Indeed, while Cadbury advertised morality, it purchased cacao harvested by poorly treated laborers in Sao Tome and Principe.

A ceramic marker for Richard Cadbury of the Cadbury Brothers Limited chocolate brand. The Cadbury family relied on their Quaker ethics to guide business and employee relationships.
A ceramic marker for Richard Cadbury of the Cadbury Brothers Limited chocolate brand. The Cadbury family relied on their Quaker ethics to guide business and employee relationships.

 

Historian Catherine Higgs frames William Cadbury as an anti-slavery man who went to Sao Tome and Principe to prove the reality of inhumane treatment occurring on cacao farms but who was made practically powerless by political and business rivals. During one trip, Cadbury reported that, “workers enjoyed excellent treatment on many estates” [2] but insisted, “that their death rates were too high and that the recruiting methods in Angola bordered on slave trading.”[3] How workers could have “excellent treatment” and yet a “too high” death rate conveys that Cadbury wanted to be factual in his reporting but political in his cause. Effectively, his report could be read to mean that all is not well, but well enough that he can keep buying from the plantations.

Cadbury’s rival newspaper, The Standard, libeled the company by insisting Cadbury was not investing in the plantations they sourced. Since Cadbury’s trips occurred at the same time as the libel lawsuit, it is unclear whether his trips were motivated by genuine concern or a pressure to uphold public relations. Considering the rivalry between Cadbury’s newspaper and The Standard, the harsh convictions seem more intended to tarnish the reputation of Cadbury than to champion fair labor practices. The jury sided in Cadbury’s favor and rewarded him less than a penny in damages. In this way, they communicated: “We agree that you were libeled. But you were also busted for buying inhumanely produced materials, so you do not deserve to profit from this suit.”

Cadbury’s findings of unfavorable conditions evoked hatred from Portuguese royalty who believed Cadbury’s motivation was to instigate a boycott of Portuguese cacao producers in favor of Britain’s Gold Coast producers. Indeed, as soon as Gold Coast cacao trees reached production age, Cadbury boycotted Sao Tome cacao and switched sources to mainland Africa. He attempted to stay in Portugal’s good graces by not publically releasing his findings. This supports a conclusion that Cadbury’s actions were politically or PR-inspired all along. He simply needed to be seen caring about the workers’ conditions not actually changing them.

Sadly, the history of slavery in cacao plantations has repeated itself. According to Higgs, today’s chocolate production in Cote D’Ivoire regularly involves child slavery. [4] Big Chocolate has ignored these findings or not responded compassionately. During Cadbury’s campaign, the Marquis of Vale Flor defended Portugal’s humanitarian record dismissing Cadbury’s photos as “fakes” and could have been, “taken in any part of the black Continent, even in London.”[5] When current US chocolate manufacturers saw reports of child labor on the plantations they sourced, they “expressed shock” and insisted, “that they had nothing to do with the practice” before concluding that the production chain was “outside of their control.”[6] When asked for a solution to these injustices, one cacao dealer suggested, “People should eat more chocolate instead of boycotting it so that farmers in Africa can make more money and poverty in West Africa will be eradicated.” [7] Another cocoa industry expert explained the “hazardous working conditions for children are just part of the culture of those countries.”[8]

This modern image references unaddressed child slavery issues on cacao plantations that persist today. Unfair labor practices on cacao plantations were brought to Europeans’ attention by Cadbury’s writings and sponsored reports from Sao Tome and Principe. Despite Cadbury’s protest of Sao Tome and Principe cacao production, chocolate producers simply sourced from other African countries where unfair labor was only less cruel or less publicized. Hence, the practice continues today.
This modern image references unaddressed child slavery issues on cacao plantations that persist today. Unfair labor practices on cacao plantations were brought to Europeans’ attention by Cadbury’s writings and sponsored reports from Sao Tome and Principe. Despite Cadbury’s protest of Sao Tome and Principe cacao production, chocolate producers simply sourced from other African countries where unfair labor was only less cruel or less publicized. Hence, the practice continues today.

Today, the vast majority of cacao is grown a continent away and marketed as a final product made “just down the street” by patriotic, moralistic chocolate corporations. Studying the history of Cadbury’s ethical challenges in Africa raises modern questions of who should bear the burden to relieve cacao farmers’ hardships. Should governments set—and enforce—standards so that all cacao buyers are required to play along? Is it the chocolate corporations who must self-enforce? Or should consumers be to blame for their unwillingness to pay more money for chocolate bars that could give companies a higher profit margin with which they could afford more expensive beans produced by farmers who can pay higher wages and live above subsistence level? Seen from any of these angles, beloved desserts produced in unfair conditions will always taste bittersweet.

 

[1] Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. 2010. Pg 7.

[2] Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. 2012. Pg 141.

[3] Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. 2012. Pg 141.

[4] Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. 2012. Pg 135.

[5] Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. 2012. Pg 155.

[6] Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. 2008. Pg 140.

[7]Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. 2008. Pg 153.

[8]Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. 2008. Pg 153.

Devil in the Dark? Antagonism between Chocolate and the Church in 17th Century Spain

Chocolate has overcome not only thousand-mile journeys from its original cacao trees and centuries of evolution in preparation styles but also a grand joust with the Catholic Church. Analyzing the spar casts light on modern-day challenges that occur at the intersection of food, society, and governing powers.

Property of https://www.pinterest.com/pin/469711436109740538/
A modern creation of chocolate molded into a church. As this article questions, which did citizens value more–their chocolate or their church?

Cast as a “daemonic Diablo,”[1] chocolate was originally introduced to Spain as a drink of prepared and rolled cocoa disintegrated in water (later, milk) and mixed with spices such as sugar, vanilla, or cinnamon to the delight of nobility. In 1569, Pope Pius V sampled a cup of the hot liquid but found it, “so foul that he decided there was no need to ban it.”[2] Many Spaniards thought differently of the beverage. In particular, church-going ladies in the late 1600’s were so hooked on the frothed chocolate that they ordered their servants to deliver it to them during Catholic mass.[3] Church leadership immediately objected to the interruptions and offered an ultimatum to the accused: stop drinking chocolate during mass or stop coming to mass. Unfortunately for the church, the devil won out. Members of the congregation switched churches[4] or attended mass at the convents instead. In this circumstance, it appears that people left the church because they “worshipped” chocolate more than their religion. The historical role of drinking chocolate as an Aztec food offering for the gods is quite relevant in this case because it shows a historical evolution of chocolate being used to honor one’s god into chocolate tearing a man away from his god.

A modern day chocolate sales campaign to raise money for a church in America. In 17th century Spain, this would have been very ironic.
A modern day chocolate sales campaign to raise money for a church in America. In 17th century Spain, this would have been very ironic.

After considering both the erotic desires it evoked and the fatigue it suppressed, the Catholic Church’s biggest chocolate debate centered on whether the drink should be allowed during fasting. Scrutinizing the effects of the beverage was Solorzano y Pereyra who, around the year 1629, claimed that chocolate defeated the principle intent of fasting because it “excited the venereal appetite.”[5] Spaniard Antonio de Leon Pinelo redirected focus to the contents of the drink by offering that, “the theological problem depends on how much nourishing material is added.”[6] Meaning, if the base of the drink is water and not breadcrumbs then the final drink is not a food. The Italian Francesco Maria Brancaccio changed focus yet again by debating the law, not the application: “fasting is not divine law, but ecclesiastical law, and thus subject to change.”[7] Given his perspective that the drink had medicinal benefits, he believed changing the ecclesiastical law for chocolate was appropriate because taking the drink while fasting is equivalent to taking medicine. In 1662, Pope Alexander VII settled the matter with a single sentence: “Liquidum non frangit jejunum [Liquids [which would have included drinking chocolate] do not break the fast].”[8] With that decree, the varied perspective of drinking chocolate as a “medicine appreciated for its taste, its filling nature, and its stimulation,”[9] relieved the need for God-fearing Spaniards to choose between pleasing the established Catholic Church and enjoying the pleasures of chocolate.

Pope Alexander VII settled the debate over chocolate and fasting with a single sentence: "Liquidum non frangit jejunum [Liquids [which would have included drinking chocolate] do not break the fast]."
Pope Alexander VII settled the debate over chocolate and fasting with a single sentence: “Liquidum non frangit jejunum [Liquids [which would have included drinking chocolate] do not break the fast].”
Familiarity with the Spanish-chocolate debate discussed herein casts light on the ways in which substances (particularly those with addictive or abnormal side effects) penetrate society and how citizens and formal institutions can respond. For example, the current case of marijuana in Colorado mirrored chocolate’s progression in 17th century Spain. What began as an imported substance soon infatuated the public. Adoption of the substance in everyday life disrupted common practices, provoking the government to outlaw it. When public demand grew too high, debates centered on whether society should change the classification to fit the laws (“medical substance”) or change the laws to fit the demand. In marijuana’s case, a successful vote for legalization made the plant available for sale in Colorado dispensaries. The state of Colorado’s tax revenue has since skyrocketed[10] while citizens moved in and out of the state according to their disapproval or support of the substance’s status.

From a meta-analytical approach, the historic antagonism between chocolate and the Catholic Church in Spain demonstrates the impact that foods can make on the culture and priorities of citizens. The choice to drink chocolate instead of going to church reminds us to question our priority of influences—would we rather enjoy the taste and energetic effects of chocolate than worship our creator? Taken a step further, is the pleasure of consuming a substance more influential than the fear of angering a ruler (whether political or religious)? The answer to this question could change a generation’s leadership style from raising squadrons of fear-mongerers to instigating policies of positive rewards. The latter outcome would be yet another way that chocolate has brought goodness to the world.

[1] C-SPAN. “Discussion with Marcy Norton.” August 12, 2011. http://www.c-span.org/video/?301403-6/book-discussion-sacred-gifts-profane-pleasures

[2] University of Pennsylvania. “The Story of Chocolate.” Undated.

[3] Ball, Ann. “When the Church Said ‘No’ To Chocolate.” Mexconnect. January 1, 2000. http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/1469-when-the-church-said-no-to-chocolate

[4] Evans, Holly. “The Chocolate Chronicles: The History Behind the Food of the Gods.” The Examiner. February 14, 2011. http://www.examiner.com/article/the-chocolate-chronicles-the-history-behind-the-food-of-gods

[5] Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson. Page 152.

[6] [6] Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson. Page 152.

[7][7]Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson. Page 153.

[8] Ball, Ann. “When the Church Said ‘No’ To Chocolate.” Mexconnect. January 1, 2000. http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/1469-when-the-church-said-no-to-chocolate

[9] [9]Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson. Page 156.

[10] Ingraham, Christopher. “Colorado Marijuana Tax Revenues Surge as Recreational Sales Surpass Medical for the First Time.” The Washington Post. September 9, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/09/11/colorado-marijuana-tax-revenues-surge-as-recreational-sales-surpass-medical-for-the-first-time/