All posts by aaas119x527

Dandelion Chocolate, Ethical Chocolate Producer

The chocolate industry is a complex and intricate realm with layer upon layer of details and processes, all of which can be examined in a scholarly and ethical context. Chocolate from the often discussed “Big Chocolate” companies, such as Hershey and Mars, is too commonly consumed with no thought of the route through which it reached the market. When consumers have begun to question where their chocolate bars (as well as other foodstuffs), they have often found that Big Chocolate is problematic from the production of cacao beans to marketing of their product and every step in between. However, as the practices of these large companies have been revealed to the public, there has been a new movement of small-batch chocolatiers whose goal is to simplify the chocolate making process and ensure fairness for both the producers and the consumers. One such company is Dandelion Chocolate, a small chocolate factory that began operation in San Francisco in the last five years. The following video is from the company’s website and provides an overview of their history and their process.

This video will be dissected in detail later on, but at surface level, one can notice that everyone involved in the company feels compelled to make chocolate the “right” way. They use only two ingredients in their chocolate and source their beans from farms they’ve personally visited and assessed. The Dandelion Chocolate model presents a solution to nearly all of the ethical concerns of the modern chocolate industry by working directly with farmers to achieve fair wages, by taking a genuine marketing approach that does not rely on sexism and objectification to sell their product, and by focusing on the taste of the actual cacao instead of adding unnecessary ingredients.

A fundamental concern in the modern chocolate industry is the treatment of the farmers who produce cacao beans. For many Big Chocolate companies that source their beans from Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, or other West African nations, this is a serious problem. While the chocolate companies may not be solely at fault, cacao farmers in these nations are struggling to get by, despite cacao being the foremost export of the region. In Ghana, specifically, Mikell claims that a lack of state support in the form of subsidies or price incentives, along with the failure of producer prices to keep pace with real prices, has led to nearly unlivable wages for farmers (250). Additionally, a lack of diversity in Ghana’s exports means that the vast majority of the working class is forced to put its fate directly in the hands of the Big Chocolate industry (Mikell 250). However, the poor wages for cacao farmers is far from the full extent of the unethical nature of the industry. An often ignored fact of labor in many cacao-producing countries is the exploitation of children in farming. Carol Off discusses this phenomenon, stating, “As I look at the young faces, the questions in their eyes are the measure of a vast gulf between the children who eat chocolate on their way to school in North America and those who have no school at all, who must, from childhood, work to survive” (8). This quote makes it clear that while American children are blissfully enjoying their Hershey’s bars, children in West African cacao-producing regions are forced to work to survive. Off goes on to discuss accounts of boys as young as 9 years old travelling to areas in which they have no relatives and working on cacao farms, sometimes without pay (121). These practices are nominally being addressed internationally by such agreements as the Harken-Engel Protocol. However, there has been a distinct lack of enforcement of such agreements and child labor and slavery still exist in the chocolate industry. An investigation by the BBC in Mali has concluded that not only are children choosing to work on cacao farms, they are being kidnapped and sold into slavery (Hawksley). One child who was freed from his slavery on a cacao farm claimed, “People who are drinking chocolate or coffee are drinking [child slave’s] blood” (Hawksley). If the chocolate industry does not do something to prevent these practices, they may never change and the lives of the rural working class in West African cacao-producing nations may never improve.

This is where companies like Dandelion Chocolate are helping to improve the ethical practices of the chocolate industry worldwide. Dandelion’s website claims that before purchasing any beans, they travel to the farm, examine their process, and negotiate fair prices for their work. The site claims, “We pay a premium far above the world market price and work to strengthen our relationships year after year in order to maintain our collective commitment to sharing the best and most distinctive cacao” (Our Beans).  This practice not only ensures that the owners of Dandelion Chocolate would notice harmful labor conditions, but it cuts out any middlemen that would pull from the income of the farmers. Dandelion has no “Fair Trade” seal, but Deena Shanker explains that a “Fair Trade” certification can cost the farm thousands of dollars. Instead of simply looking for a “Fair Trade” seal, consumers should search for the shortest supply chain to ensure the farmers are truly receiving all of the money the company is spending (Shanker). Dandelion Chocolate sports the shortest supply chain possible, a direct connection between farm and factory, suggesting that they may truly be an ethical solution to the current practices of the chocolate industry.

Another well-documented problem with the chocolate industry is the use of gendered stereotypes and sexual objectification in their advertisements. Dhanyashree writes, “Among the various forms of mass communication, advertising is often condemned as the most sinful when it comes to perpetuating sexism and exploiting sexuality” (117-118). Dhanyashree goes on to explain that women’s bodies are a proven, effective way to sell products, but corporations should not perpetuate this culture of objectification. Such advertisements are seen every day by the American consumer and are the primary mode of selling chocolate in the country. For example, in the following advertisement for Godiva chocolate, the consumer hardly notices the chocolate, as the sexually posed woman is the centerpiece of the image.

Dandelion Chocolate, however, does not use any such practices in their marketing strategy. In the above video, there is no discernable difference between the male and female employees of the company. All genders appear to be equally important in the production process and the focus is on the actual product, not the people in the video. Additionally, in all of the images found on the company website, Dandelion Chocolate appears to focus nearly exclusively on their unique chocolate making process for marketing. Below is a typical image from the website which shows men and women visiting a cacao farm and learning about how they beans are produced. Dandelion avoids the use of sexualized and targeted marketing, maintaining its ethical status from production to advertising.

One potentially problematic aspect of the Dandelion marketing campaign is that in the video shown above, nearly every featured employee is white. This is problematic because it may, in some ways, exclude black Americans and other people of color. However, while this remains problematic for other reasons, it may simply be that the demographics of this area of San Francisco necessitate a mostly white employee population. Dandelion Chocolate can be said to have an ethical marketing strategy in that they focus on the production of their chocolate instead of distracting the consumer with sexualized visuals and ideas.

One of the more minor ethical problems of Big Chocolate in the modern world is the bastardization of the chocolate flavor. The majority of chocolate consumed in the United States contains a surprisingly small amount of cocoa. In addition to cocoa, sugar, and milk, a traditional Hershey’s bar contains cocoa butter, milk fat, soy, and “natural flavor” (Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar). Additionally, as is mentioned in Dandelion Chocolate’s video, industrial chocolate companies tend to over roast their beans to standardize the taste of every chocolate bar they produce. Much like wine or coffee, chocolate can have a quality of terroir, hosting a different taste in chocolate with ingredients from different regions. Bill Nesto explains, “The key circumstance that obstructs the expression of terroir in chocolate is the distance, both real and conceptual, between the farmer growing cacao and the factory that transforms the cacao into chocolate” (132). Thus, when the beans used by Big Chocolate companies have to travel through several different people and companies before reaching the factory, they lose their distinctive regional taste. Dandelion Chocolate, however, once again provides a solution to these problems. Every chocolate bar Dandelion produces contains 70% cocoa and 30% sugar. Thus, Dandelion removes all extraneous ingredients and standardizes their bars such that the only differences in taste come from the differences in bean origin. These differences are celebrated instead of hidden and each bar includes a label stating where the bean originated. Dandelion Chocolate seeks to provide its consumers with true, ethical chocolate, and is consistently transparent about its process and ideals.

Dandelion Chocolate is a part of a new wave of chocolate producers that seek to achieve ethical business and marketing practices. This trend opposes the traditional chocolate companies, five of which control to vast majority of the chocolate market. Dandelion Chocolate may be inaccessible to many consumers due to its small scale and high prices, but the chocolate industry would be greatly improved if more companies were to follow the Dandelion model. The high price of their chocolate bars is due in part to the high prices they agree on with their source farms, a justifiable reason for the cost jump between Dandelion and large companies like Hershey. Dandelion Chocolate provides genuine and tangible solutions to the primary ethical issues that have been brought forth in the chocolate industry in recent years and is an excellent model for the future of the industry.

Works Cited

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate; The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: The New Press, 2006. Print.

Mikell, Gwendolyn. Cocoa and Chaos in Ghana. New York: Paragon House, 1989. Print.

Nesto, Bill. “Terroir in the World of Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 10.1 (2013): 131-135. Print.

Dhanyashree, C.M. “Objectification of Women in Advertisements: Some Ethical Issues.” Research Journal of English Language and Literature 3.1 (2015): 117-120. Print.

“Our Beans.” Dandelion Chocolate. n.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2015.

Shanker, Deena. “A Guide to Ethical Chocolate.” Grist. Grist Magazine, inc., 13 Feb. 2013. Web. 2 May 2015.

Hawksley, Humphrey. “Mali’s Children in Chocolate Slavery.” BBC News. BBC, 12 Apr. 2001. Web. 2 May 2015.

“Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar.” Hershey. The Hershey Company, n.d. Web. 4 May 2015.

Rape Culture in Chocolate Advertising

The above clip is an advertisement from India created by the Schmitten Chocolate Company. The video features Priyanka Chopra, a famous Indian actress and vocalist, singing in a Broadway-style performance with the catch-phrase, “Taking my Schmitten, let’s make it a crime.” The ad’s goal is to portray Schmitten chocolate as a luxury, the stealing of which would be a major, crime-worthy offense. This is again highlighted in the still-image advertisement below.

schmitten

While the advertisement seems light-hearted and well-intentioned, there are several layers of problems relating to gender and sexuality associated with it. At surface level, there is the certain degree of sexism seen in many chocolate ads; the common stereotype used here is that of a woman who is overly protective of her chocolate and will get hysterical if it is taken from her. However, there also exists a deeper-seeded offense. This advertisement presents a problematic depiction of the fabled “tease” or “jailbait” in a culture with a history of victim-blaming and passive attitudes toward rape; however, through the utilization of parody, we can attempt to expose the ad and shift its focus toward the predators that propagate this culture.

The nation of India is one with an unfortunate history of allowing rape culture to persist in many areas of life. Throughout the world, women are view by men as sources of entertainment. In a rape culture environment like the one that exists in India, men are allowed to believe that women’s presence in a space comes for the purpose of serving them, and this power dynamic leads to a belief that men have the right to sexually harass women in their space (Argiero 33). In India specifically, there is a distinct problem of victim blaming-women who have been raped. For example, if a woman accuses a man of sexual violence, some of the first questions she is asked are, “what were you wearing?” or “what were you doing?” These questions put the onus on the victim, implying negligence in the crime committed against her. Ruchira Gupta writes, “The desire to blame women is fed by a cult of masculinity promoted by corporate and political leaders who serve as role models for the rest of society.” This culture is endemic in India and its effects are seen in the above advertisement.

The Schmitten advertisement uses chocolate as a metaphor for sexual activity. Here, the only woman in a room full of men waves here chocolate around in a teasing and highly sexualized manner. Robertson writes, “Whilst men may be the bearers of chocolate, women are positioned as consumers early in the narratives [of chocolate advertising]” (68). Similarly, here, the woman is the owner of the heavily desired chocolate and uses it to tempt the men in the room. This plays into the trope of the female temptress who draws in the men, only to deny them at the last minute. In India, this is exactly the type of victim that is blamed when sexual violence occurs; men feel that if they were led on too heavily, they deserve some sort of sexual activity and use this as a defense against their crime. Thus it is problematic to portray Priyanka Chopra in this way, as it reinforced the rape culture that exists around “teases.”

In order to counter the problems embedded in this advertisement, we have created a parody of the ad that, instead of portraying the woman as a temptress, shows a man engaging in predatory behavior. The man in this image is trying to force his “chocolate” onto a woman that clearly is not interested. It is this type of behavior that needs to be highlighted and fought against if India’s culture around rape is to change, not the behavior of the victims involved. The suggestion of “just give it a try” is held in contrast to the woman who wants to criminalize the taking of her chocolate and highlights the lopsided gender dynamic of this culture and many cultures around the world.

Screenshot 2015-04-08 03.07.52

The Schmitten advertisement presents a significant problem in the way women are represented in chocolate advertising and Indian culture, and exacerbates a pervasive and poisonous culture around rape and victim blaming. Through the use of parody, our advertisement attempts to shift the conversation toward the male predators, wherein the true solution to preventing rape lies.

works cited

Argiero, Sarah J. et al. “A Cultural Perspective for Understanding How Campus Environments Perpetuate Rape-Supportive Culture.” Journal of the Indiana University Student Personnel Association. (2010): 26-40. Print.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women, and Empire. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009. Print.

Gupta, Ruchira. “Victims Blamed in India’s Rape Culture.” CNN. Cable News Network, 28 August 2013. 7 April 2015.

http://realquiz.blogspot.com/2014/10/schmitten-luxury-chocolates.html

Chocolate as a Luxury for the Elite Throughout Time

Chocolate has been a defining food for several cultures throughout its history. From early Mesoamerica to modern Europe, it has been celebrates as, not just a rich and delicious dessert, but a significant cultural symbol. With the exception of Christopher Columbus and his compatriots, chocolate has almost always held a place among the elites of almost every society it has been a part of. This post will attempt to compare the treatment of chocolate by the elites of societies across time and space, from the Maya to renaissance Europe to present-day America.

While consumption of the cacao plant began with the Olmecs, centuries before the Maya civilization came to be, very little written record exists from that time, and those that do exist are somewhat indecipherable (Coe & Coe 39). Therefore, in the study of chocolate, historians often begin their discussion with the Maya. An understanding of the importance of the Cacao plant to Mayan society can be seen in its inclusion in their creation myth, the Popol Vuh. There remains some contention as to what level of significance cacao actually played in this story, but the fact remains that it must have been a relevant crop to be included at all (Coe & Coe 40). In Mayan civilization, cacao was accessible to many, but it was considered a food of the gods. One example of this is the Dresden Codex which says of the Rain God, “cacao is his food” (Coe & Coe 41). Many of the elites of Mayan society would be buried with cacao, a symbol of their wealth.

Among the Aztec elites, chocolate held an even more significant place than it did with the Maya. When the Aztecs discovered chocolate in Mayan civilization, it quickly became a favorite drink, replacing the traditional octli, which was mildly alcoholic (Coe & Coe 75). Additionally, the cacao bean became regarded as legal currency, signifying the stronghold the food had in Aztec society (Presilla 17). Cacao’s significance among the Aztec elite can be seen in its prevelance in Aztec art. The following is an Aztec sculpture of a man holding a large cacao pod.

Aztec sculpture of a man holding a cacao bean

Since the cacao tree was not native to the area of modern-day Mexico inhabited by the Aztec, it was imported from further south, restraining the product to the most elite members of society. Thus, in Aztec society, chocolate came to be revered more heavily than among the Maya, and drinking the beverage was a sign of great power and wealth.

Almost as soon as chocolate arrived in Europe, it became a drink of the elites. Maricel E. Presilla writes, “Chocolate arrived in Europe with the aura of an exotic luxury for the cognoscenti” (25). While chocolate eventually made its way to the lower tiers of European society, it was very much considered an extravagance for centuries. As shown in the following painting, English gentlemen would gather in coffee and chocolate houses during the 17th century to discuss politics. Chocolate did not truly become of food of the people until the introduction of “big chocolate” sometime later.

Painting depicting an English coffee and chocolate house

Throughout history, chocolate has been seen as a food of the gods, or at minimum, a food of the elite. The wealthy of every society with access to chocolate have taken it in as a standard part of their lives. Even today, chocolate preferences among leaders are interesting subjects of discussion. When asked what his favorite chocolate was, President Obama was prepared and immediately replied with the Seattle-based Fran’s Chocolate (Guzman). In the modern era, chocolate is highly accessible to many, but it has historically been a treat meant for the elites of society.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Greer, Rita. The Coffee House. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

Guzman, Monica. “How the Obamas Fell for Seattle’s Fran’s Chocolates.” Seattle Pi. Hurst Seattle Media, 18 July 2008. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

“Holding a Cacao Bean.” Latinamericanstudies.org. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.