Tag Archives: Brazil

Origins of cacao production and its early development in Brazil (16th-19th century)

  1. The Jesuit Exploration of Brazilian Cacao: The first explorations of cacao

In the 1600s, the small-scale cacao production in Brazil contrasted with the incredible sugar plantations the country boasted. In fact, Brazil was the world’s crown jewel of sugar production in the 1600s (Schwartz, p. 417). The plantation of sugar was concentrated in Bahia, specifically along the coast of Pernambuco. This region is notable because it would over the next centuries would also become one of the main hubs for cacao cultivation.

Brazilian Cacao originated in the Amazon River and flourished through its trenches. As early as in the 16th century, Jesuits exported cocoa they found growing wild near the Amazon, in what it is now the state of Amazon, but originally was Grão Pará and Maranhão. In this period of time, most of the Brazilian cacao production was organized in small plantations. The cacao trade in the country highly relied on enslaved native labor. In the Amazonian basin, wild cacao pods were harvested by exploited Native Americans, specifically Tupi people, one of the most numerous groups indigenous to Brazil (Serafim Leite, p. 262).

Instead of founding cacao plantations, the Jesuits mostly relied on organized expeditions in order to gather cacao pods (Coe and Coe, p. 143). By exploring the native knowledge of the jungle and riverbanks, the Jesuits were able to collect an incredible variety of wild-growing cacao pods. This strategy of cacao gathering, rather than cultivation, did impose a big problem for the Jesuits. It was fairly easy for enslaved people to flee in the midst of one of the expeditions. As such, the Jesuits had to develop a comprehensive system of rewards and incentives in order to motivate the natives to participate in such expeditions (Clarence-Smith, pp. 195). In addition to the use of enslaved people labor and due to the high value of chocolate, the Jesuits did employ “paid” natives, who received their wages according to the number of hours worked. In short, the cacao expeditions organized by the Jesuits encompassed a mix of both enslaved indigenous and “paid” natives.

Fig. 1: State of Brazil in 1750

2. Systematic cacao production: the Portuguese Crown‘s attempt to rival Jesuit production

During the years of 1580-1640, the Spanish crown controlled the role of the Portuguese state and therefore its colonies. In this period, New Spain became the region in the world that most imported and consumed Brazilian cacao (Coe and Coe, p. 194). Even after Portugal reclaimed the rule of its state, New Spain maintained itself as a top importer of Brazilian cacao. However, the production of the commodity of the country was extremely limited. With these lenses, in 1665, the Portuguese Colonial Governor-General encouraged the expansion of cacao production in Brazilain territory, seeking to obtain a share of the growing demand for cacao from New Spain (Walker, p. 83). In 1679, four years later, the Portuguese Crown and Overseas Council in Lisbon issue a directive that reiterated the Crown’s encouragement and support for the plantation of cacao in all Brazilian land (Arquivo Publico do Salvador, Bahia). In 1678, a royal order from King Pedro II in Lisbon demanded the systematic cultivation of cacao in Grão Pará, the birthplace of the Brazilian cacao production, which still followed the traditional Jesuit cultivation practices (Serrão, p. 120). With the Crown support, the systematic production of cacao would then begin in the state of Bahia. While the organized and systematic production of cacao began in the 17th century, most of the cultivation of the commodity still followed the modest Jesuit style until the 1600s (Walker, p. 84).

3. The Jesuit cacao expansion to the northeast

Until the late 1600s, cacao production in Brazil was concentrated in the Amazon basin, in the state of Grão Pará. Although the epicenter of cultivation would remain in Grão Pará, Jesuit missionaries seeking to expand profit would start planting the commodity in the northeast of the country. In 1674, the cacao cultivation would begin in the state of Maranhão, following the foundation of the Jesuit College of São Luís do Maranhão, which sought to maximize its revenues through the cultivation of the commodity (Walker, p. 87). Within less than three years, the state boasted one thousand cacao trees (Russell-Wood, p. 155). With its early success, the Jesuits started exploring the rural interior of the state, sending expeditions to collect cacao pods in a similar manner to their cultivation process in the Amazon basin.

4. The foundation of the Company of Grao-Pará and Maranhão: the Portuguese Crown’s attack on the Jesuits

A significant mark to the Portuguese Crown cacao production in Brazil was the ruling of King José I (1750–1777). His Prime Minister, Marquês de Pombal, aware of the profit the Jesuits and the yet modest Portuguese-controlled cacao production in Brazil, decided to massively expand the systematic production of the commodity. In order to achieve this goal, the Company of Grao-Pará and Maranhão was founded. Owned and regulated by the state, the Company was awarded the complete monopoly of Amazonian-born cacao (Dauril Alden, p. 124). The state-ordered monopoly was already an incredible hit to the Jesuits’ cultivation of cacao and their long-term ambitions. On top of that, in 1759, the Jesuit order would be ordered to abandon Brazil and all of its assets (Walker, p. 88). All the lands previously controlled by the Jesuits were integrated into the Portuguese Crown control. All in all, the cultivation practices employed by the Jesuits were rudimentary and clearly lacked the structure to produce large amounts of cacao, but the Crown-sponsored monopoly and expelling accelerated its downfall. By 1775, cacao exports from Brazil, under the Company of Grao-Pará and Maranhão, amounted to around 10% of the world’s exports, symbolizing the rapid growth of the cacao empire within the country (Clarence Smith, p. 234).


Fig: 2 Area of operation of the Company of Grão-Pará and Maranhão

5. Brazilian cacao in the 19th century: Salvador de Bahia establishes Brazil as one of the global hubs of cacao production

In 1937, Brazil’s total cocoa production reached a peak of 138,000 tons (Knight, 1976). Much of the growth in cacao production in the 19th century is centered around the city of Salvador de Bahia. Over the course of its existence, Salvador would emerge as the leading city in the number of slaves it received. Records estimate that around 1.2 million enslaved people entered Brazil through the Bay of All Saints, the principal bay of the Brazilian state of Bahia (Eltis). The expansion of cacao in Brazil, reaching the aforementioned peak of 138,000 tons, was only possible due to this enormous number of enslaved people. Coerced labor was the main driver of cacao growth in a region already known to exploitation due to the large scale production of sugar that Salvador boasted since the 1600s.

Fig. 3: Slave market in Salvador, Brazil, early 19th century

6. Conclusion

Although the production of cacao started in the early 16th century, the output of the commodity remained extremely modest until late in the 18th century. The Jesuit order was the main driver of production for most of this period, starting off massive expeditions in the state of Grão-Pará by the Amazonian Basin. They are also credited with the expansion of cacao production in Brazil, being the ones who first sought to cultivate cacao in the northeast (in addition to the West Amazonian basin). While there is a credit to their innovative farming strategies and business intuition, the Jesuit order relied on enslaved Native-American and African labor in order to carry out such practices. Over the course of the 17th century, the Portuguese Crown acknowledged the great cacao potential Brazil had and started implementing measures to benefit from the commodity. In addition to encouraging the systematic cultivation of cacao, the Crown sought to undermine its biggest threat: the Jesuit order. By expelling the order and monopolizing the production of cacao, the Portuguese empire was able to effectively increase the output of cacao in Brazil, reaching its peak in 1937. Salvador de Bahia, in the northeast, became one of the greatest producers of cacao in the world and also one of the biggest importers of enslaved people. As such, the history of cacao in Brazil is a subpart of a greater history: the history of exploitation and slavery

Works Cited:

Arquivo Publico do Salvador, Bahia; Seção Colonial e Provincial, Vol. Nr. 1 (Cartas Regias, 148–1690)

A. J. R. Russell-Wood, A World on the Move: The Portuguese in Africa, Asia and
America, 1415–1808. Manchester, U.K.: Carcanet Press, 1992

Coe, S.D., Coe, M.D., 1996. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, New York.

Dauril Alden, “The Significance of Cacao Production in the Amazon Region during the Late Colonial Period: An Essay in Comparative History,” in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 120:2 (1976)

David Eltis, “The Distribution of the Slave Trade in the Americas,” revised manuscript copy of table 4.1, originally published in The William and Mary Quarterly, January 2001.

Joel Serrāo, ed., Dicionário de História de Portugal (Porto: Livraria Figuerinhas, 1979)

Motamayor, J.C. et al. 2002 “Cacao Domestication I: The Origins of the Cacao Cultivated by the Mayas.”

Knight, P.T., 1976. Economics of cocoa production in Brazil. In: Simmons, J. (Ed.), Cocoa Production:Economic and Botanical Perspectives. Praeger, New York

Serafim Leite, S.J., Historia da Companhia de Jesus no Brasil (Sao Paulo: Edições Loyola, 2004), Vol. V, p. 262 and Vol. VIII

Stuart B. Schwartz, Sugar Plantations in the Formation of Brazilian Society: Bahia, 1550–1835. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1985

Timothy Walker (2007) Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil: The Culture of
Cacao Plantations in Amazonia and Bahia (17th–19th Centuries) , Food and Foodways, 15:1-2,
75-106, DOI: 10.1080/07409710701260214

Multimedia sources

Figure 1: Timothy Walker, p. 76

Figure 2: “Amazon River Facts for Kids.” Wikt:Expedition, kids.kiddle.co/Amazon_River.

Figure 3: Johann Moritz Rugendas – Diener, Pablo and Costa, Maria de Fátima. Rugendas e o Brasil. São Paulo: Capivara, 2002. (Portuguese)

Overcoming a History of Human Rights Abuses: Cocoa’s Evolution from Contributing to the Slave Trade to Combatting Child Labor

The well-documented history of cocoa tells the story of an industry driven by greed. However, the picture that is often painted does not speak to how this has evolved.

Dating back as far as 1500 BCE to 400 BCE, the period spanning the Olmec civilization, discoveries and research have firmly validated the significant role that cocoa has long-played in both culture and religion (Coe and Coe, 2013). The same history speaks to a past whereby:

  • origins and producers were exploited by explorers, instigating and contributing to the slave trade for years;
  • industrialized nations seeking to dominate processing and control greater market share, sparked proxy wars with the imposition of tariffs on imports originating from colonies other than their own (present and/or former); and
  • saw industrialized nations assume a patriarchal stance that significantly limited powers and diminished the voice of producing origins (former colonies)—lost ground that would take them years to recapture.
Map of Mesoamerica – Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies (FAMSI)

The following seeks to detail cocoa’s dark past—one whose opacity perpetuated years of human rights abuses including forced and child labor. Having evolved as an industry, the following will also outline industry’s transition into an ever-increasingly transparent and responsible global industry that remains challenged by perceptions based on its past and wrestling to break free from its dark history.

Cocoa’s Sordid Past and Contribution to the Slave Trade

Spanning the Pre-Classic (2000 BCE to 300 CE) to Post Classic (900 to 1500 CE) periods, the number and diversity of explorers ballooned, ultimately leading to a dramatic shift in where and by whom cocoa was produced, as well as who (specifically which nations and companies) would profit from its trade, increasingly efficient processing, and mass manufacturing.

Due largely to voluntary and involuntary migration (i.e., the slave trade) the movement of goods and saw Theobroma cacao cultivation spread from its genetic origins of the Amazon Basin and cultural and religious roots which have been traced back to Mesoamerica (present-day Mexico through Central America) (Coe and Coe, 2013).

Global flow of goods and movement of people during the height of the slave trade.

In what is now present-day Central and South America, during the early 1500s, under the encomienda system, Spanish conquistadors were granted rights to force indigenous inhabitants to perform labor in their favor (Martin, 2019). This led to an irreparable deterioration of culture and loss of land (Martin, 2019). On the other side of the Atlantic, chattel slavery, the practice whereby people are treated as property, between 1500 and 1900, it is estimated that up to 15 million Africans were enslaved, of which 40 out of every 100 died in waiting or during transatlantic transport. In both cases, indigenous peoples were forced to cultivate cocoa while seeing little to no profit in return. In addition, favoritism played into economic positioning among industrialized nations as tariffs and quotas sought to control production and supply with demand (Leissle, 2018).

As cocoa’s production footprint broadened, applications and formulations evolved, popularity within consumer markets increased, and its importance as a traded commodity destined for processing units around the world surged.

As competition grew fiercer, regulation became an ever more critical element to ensure the crop’s viability. But most importantly, it was introduced to ensure economic stability for countries and operators who relied on the trade. This period gave rise to regulatory standards and voluntary certification programs in cocoa—both of which grew more diverse and exacting during the late 1980s present day.

Perhaps the most prolific shift, and marking industry’s acknowledgment that improvements were both possible and needed, with the enactment of the Harkin Engel Protocol in 2001, accountability, and requirements to proactively identify instances, address breakdowns, and prevent arrange of defined human rights abuses took center stage. When introduced, regulatory requirements and elements core to voluntary certification systems fundamentally changed how supply chain operators engaged producers, managed their businesses, interacted with the market, and reported.

During the same period, industry associations were established, and collective efforts launched. Among them were groups such as the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), and the Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group (CLCCG), all groups representing interests at every level from all sides.

In due course, regulations and certifications designed to promote best practices, ensure worker (producer), crop, and environmental protections, combat fraudulent claims, and ensure accurate reporting and labeling (i.e., of provenance, certification claims, production practices, quality, etc.) have improved, expanded, and been welcomed.

Adoption, adaptation, replication, and the proliferation of programs, as well as their capabilities and level of sophistication, continue to evolve rapidly. Not glued simply to factors related to compliance, conformity, or competitiveness, companies are investing significant amounts of resources to align with and exceed regulatory, consumer, and commercial standards and expectations. However, despite advances, and an elongating track record of progress and proactive effort, the industry is often chastised for not doing enough, investing enough, or sharing enough.

Stuck in the Past and Unable to Break the Cycle: The Vilification of the Cocoa Industry

Sampling of Collective Industry Efforts – Programs and Reporting

Seeking to address systemic constraints perpetuating or exacerbating breakdowns, the industry has demonstrated its willingness and ability to come to affect change.

For example, after launching, implementing, and learning from the original and subsequent iterations of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) Cocoa Livelihoods Program (CLP), after several years of complex negotiations (balancing risk, exposure, and financial implications), WCF and its member companies launched, and have developed good traction with Cocoa Action, one of several WCF initiatives designed, developed, and implemented with and through its members.[1] While they admit that it took more time to lay the groundwork that they had initially anticipated, they ultimately emerged with a thoughtful and thorough platform that continues to progress well.[2]

Additionally, since its founding in 2002, the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) has significantly influenced positive movement on all fronts concerning child labor, including the development of new tools, systems, and metrics to measure progress. This includes the consultative process that led to the development of standards for collective and individual Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS).

Recognizing that they can only harness so much, Industry has teamed with governments, international standard-setting bodies, research institutions, and others to advance efforts to combat forced and child labor, address its root causes, and improve reporting practices to bolster transparency.

Sampling of Individual Company Efforts – Programs and Reporting

Having worked inside and alongside the world’s leading cocoa companies, I recall several meetings where heads of responsible sourcing and on-the-ground activities expressed concern that not enough was being done to address the root causes. Without taking on migration, land, voting, and school registration issues, efforts would continue to face challenges. To do this, the group discussed land ownership and migratory movements of Burkinabe to Côte d’Ivoire, their inability to secure land, and in many cases, to register their children in school. While it was not the first, and certainly not the last, this was a good reminder that addressing the child labor issue was not as clear-cut as many often like to think.

Beyond programs that tighten controls, incentivize parents for producing school registration certificates, third-party certification audits that verify adherence to specific standards and practices, and collective and individual company efforts to refine and expand CLMRS, the industry continues to improve the technical scope of their programs.

The following list provides a snapshot of reports detailing global efforts to address a wide range of unique challenges faced by cocoa farming communities—including child labor. These are offered in response to comments made during the recent film screening and panel discussion “Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain.” – May 2019 Discussion

Key takeaways from the May 2019 discussion [and report] aligned with similar panels and studies that point to:

  1. The complexity and scope of the issue;
  2. range and number of actors and implications along the value chain at each stage;
  3. need for leaders, officials, and representatives from all sides (public and private), and on all levels (municipal, regional, national, and international) to work together to develop and enact responses that effectively address root causes; and
  4. calls for greater transparency.

Specific to claims around the lack of transparency and access, deficiencies noted during the discussion included the following:

  1. Visibility into supply chain monitoring plans, geographical scope, findings, and improvements; and
  2. the number, frequency, and quality of public disclosures of internal reports.

In practice, the following are evident:

  1. Companies are proactively and thoughtfully engaged in addressing child and forced labor—not merely in response to regulations or calls from consumers or international bodies;
  2. companies are leading in investments in certification programs, traceability systems, coordinating industry-wide efforts and policy formulation; and
  3. the quality and frequency of reporting are there despite claims that it is absent of lacking.
Excerpt from the Cocoa Life progress report outlining Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

These are vital considerations to bear in mind when looking at the balance of what is being done, by whom, how it financed, and what is being said about those leading the way and reporting on it as appeals for greater transparency play into the vilification of cocoa companies instead of praise for their role in realizing progress.

While there is much more to bring into the frame, the above does tell speak to the other side of the story—one that is rarely shared.

Things have come a long way; however, despite grand efforts to date, many forms of forced and child labor still exist, and the number of instances of human rights violations are still far too prevalent. To that end, much more can and will continue to be done. Going forward, stakeholders must move forward together with the mindful that this is an ever-evolving and continuously improving process in terms of design, implementation, and measurement.

So while independent company activities and collective industry-wide efforts have evolved and improved with learnings over the years, there are programmatic gaps and blind spots that must be proactively and constructively addressed.

Works Cited

Casara, M., Dallabrida, P., Martin, Carla D. “Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. April 24, 2019. Film Screening and Discussion.

Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. March 6, 2019. Lecture.

“Child Labor in the Production of Cocoa”. March 22, 2018. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs. Accessed April 30, 2019. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/child-labor-cocoa.

“Child Labor in the Production of Cocoa”. March 22, 2018. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs. Accessed April 30, 2019. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/child-labor-cocoa.

“Cocoa Life 2017 Progress Report”. 2017. Mondelez International. Accessed April 28, 2019. https://www.cocoalife.org/~/media/CocoaLife/en/download/article/Cocoa_Life_Progress_Report_2017.pdf.

“How We Measure Progress”. Mondelez International. Accessed April 28, 2019. https://www.cocoalife.org/impact#.

“Assessment of Forced Labor Risk in the Cocoa Sector of Côte d’Ivoire”. Verité, 2019. Accessed April 23, 2019. https://www.verite.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Verite-Report-Forced-Labor-in-Cocoa-in-CDI.pdf.

“Nestle Cocoa Plan, Tackling Child Labour 2017 Report”. Nestle. 2017. Accessed April 29, 2019. https://www.nestle.com/asset-library/documents/creating-shared-value/responsible-sourcing/nestle-cocoa-plan-child-labour-2017-report.pdf.

Picolotto, A., Giovanaz, D., Casara, J., Loth, Laura W., Lambranho, L., Casara, M., Dallabrida, P., Sabrina, R., and Kruse, T. “Cocoa Supply Chain: Advances ad Challenges Toward the Promotion of Decent Work”. 2019. International Labour Organization (ILO), Public Labour Prosecutor’s Office (MPT), Papel Social. https://cocoainitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Cocoa_EN.pdf.

“2017 Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group Annual Report”. United States Department of Labor. 2017. Accessed April 23, 2019. https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/CLCCG2017AnnualReport.pdf.

“Harkin-Engel Protocol”. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs. 2001. Accessed April 24, 2019.

https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/Harkin_Engel_Protocol.pdf.

“Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain: Film Screening and Discussion, Part 1” [Multimedia Video]. Retrieved from the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute YouTube Channel. April 27, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKr2_0egfzA.

“Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain: Film Screening and Discussion, Part 2” [Multimedia Video]. Retrieved from the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute YouTube Channel. April 27, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKr2_0egfzA.

“Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS) in the Société Coopérative Ivoirienne du Négoce des Produits Agricoles (SCINPA) Cooperative”. Olam International. 2017.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd Edition, Thames & Hudson, 2013.


[1] Initiatives, World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), https://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/initiatives/

[2] CocoaAction 2017: What We Have Learned, World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), https://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/2017cocoaactiondata/

The Chocolate Supply Chain: Strive for Conscious Cravings

Picture this: it’s Friday night, and after a long week of work, you are finally preparing for a nice, relaxing movie night with your family. You sit down, put your feet up, and start unwrapping a luxurious chocolate bar in the comfort of your own home. At this point, most of you are probably not thinking about the thousands of hands that went into harvesting, preparing, and producing the chocolate you’re now cuddled up with on the couch. Additionally, many people are completely unaware of the harsh reality and inhumane conditions that the cacao farmers face on a daily basis. This is partially due to the lack of knowledge regarding the chocolate supply chains, as well as the lack of conversation around hardships and unethical labor standards the farmers have to endure. Many of the farmers producing this delicious, luxury product are actually living on less than $2 per day (Granit 2017). Not only does it seem impossible for one person to survive on a mere $2 per day, but these farmers are also trying to support their families and the surrounding community. With these wages, “they earn just enough money from cocoa sales to pay for rice and cooking oil. There’s usually nothing left over” (Off 5). Clearly, this is unsustainable, unethical, and unfair. Eventually, if changes are not made, more and more of these poor farmers will be forced to turn away from harvesting cacao and move towards other crops. If that happens, the industrial, environmentally harmful, production will continue to take over.

When we walk into a store to purchase a chocolate bar we are greeted with a plethora of attractive, colorful, interesting labels riddled with buzz words such as “natural” or “raw” and enticing brand names. However, what seems to be constantly left out is transparency –-basic transparency regarding how much money the farmers are actually earning, what farming methods were used, where and how the chocolate was produced, etc. If that information was highlighted in the advertising of each chocolate bar, it would be almost impossible to avoid, and it would most likely influence the consumers’ purchasing habits. The history and stories of enslaved cocoa farmers are horrific, and many times, unbearable to read. To paint a picture of what many laborers have endured in Angola, the western coast of Southern Africa, “Human bones littered the sides of the trail, so many that it ‘would take an army of sextons to bury all of the poor bones which consecrate that path.’ The bones in the dust were those of slaves who could no longer march, who were too weak to walk. Some captives were simply left to die; many others were killed by a blow to the head” (Satre 1). This is the kind of information that isn’t advertised, the information that many large chocolate companies and manufacturers don’t want the general public to consider when purchasing their product.

I believe it all starts with education – increasing the awareness regarding the injustice within the industry is the first, extremely important, step. This post aims to educate and encourage chocolate consumers to ask questions about the chocolate they are consuming: Where is it coming from? Who produced it? How much are the farmers getting paid? What are their living conditions like? And if we really knew all of the answers to the questions listed above, would we still be able to indulge in chocolate luxury knowing that so many farmers and their families are suffering in order to produce the chocolate bar we are consuming? The answer is not to completely eliminate chocolate consumption, but rather to encourage conscious consumerism through education and brand transparency.

Many misconceptions have formed around this issue of unethical labor standards, and many of those misconceptions formed false biases. For example, the image below shows a young boy struggling to carry a sack of cacao pods. He is unnamed, it wasn’t clear who took the picture, but clearly, the situation appears to represent unethical labor standards. This image has somehow given consumers the incorrect idea that if they just avoid chocolate manufactured with cacao from Africa, the majority of the problem will be solved. Clearly, this idea comes from a lack of education regarding the cacao supply chain as a whole. I think this bias can be improved through education about The Global Slavery Index, research conducted in different parts of the world, and increased transparency across all brand labels.

As stated above, it is unclear who took the picture, but it clearly portrays a young boy carrying an extremely heavy bag of cacao pods under unethical labor standards.

When I first saw the image above, I was absolutely shocked. Many questions came to mind; one of them being, why wouldn’t the parents protect their children against such harsh labor conditions? Well, as it turns out, “children in cocoa households can fall victim to micro-level pressures (such as family breakdown) which undermine their ability not to enter the workforce and thus make them ‘unfree’. Because this ‘unfreedom’ is part of much wider processes of societal change, it is often undetected in policy circles and is extremely difficult to address” (Berlan 1088). On top of that, arguments have been made that the reason why the attempts to address this issue haven’t been effective is due to the fact that children have different rights in cocoa-producing communities that make it difficult to take action and solve the problem altogether (Berlan 1088).

When striving to satisfy chocolate cravings in a conscious way, there are already a handful of companies on their way to helping us on this journey: Theo Chocolate, Taza Chocolate, eatingEVOLVED, Alter Eco, and Sweetriot to name a few. However, I would like to discuss two companies in depth: Taza Chocolate and Alter Eco.

Taza Chocolate

Not only is Taza Chocolate produced right next door in Somerville, MA, but the company is really diving in and striving to solve the ethical issues around child labor, workers’ rights, and transparency throughout their bean-to-bar process. They created the chocolate industry’s “first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all. We have real, face-to-face relationships with partners who respect the environment and fair labor practices. They provide us with the best organic cacao, and we pay them prices significantly higher than Fair Trade. In fact, you can see exactly what we pay them, right here in our 2018 Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report” (Taza Transparency Report 2018). This is the information that every chocolate company should be required to produce and deliver to the public.

Photo from Taza Wesbite — 2018 Taza Transparency Report — delivering data to the public regarding the exact amount they pay their “partners.”

On the website, they explicitly explain their commitment to quality, Fair Trade prices, and openness to address issues throughout the supply chain. “Our commitment to cacao quality and ethical trade is matched only by our belief in transparency. In 2012, Taza published the industry’s first Transparency Report and reported the higher-than-Fair Trade prices we pay our partners as part of our Direct Trade program. We do the same every year, and in 2016, we upped the ante again when we published farm level pricing and tackled tough issues of value and fairness in the supply chain. We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we aren’t afraid to ask hard questions around what it takes to be seriously good and fair for all and to share what we learn with others” (Taza 2019).  It’s so important to increase awareness about companies such as Taza because they truly lead by example by showcasing their strong values and great mission statement. Their transparency is incredible, and the best part is that they are ready and willing to share their information with others and inspire them to take action.

This video from YouTube describes Taza’s values and Stone Ground Organic Chocolate production

By practicing Direct and Fair Trade, developing real relationships with the human beings behind the harvesting, and sourcing from Middle and Latin America, Taza not only ensures high-quality ingredients but also shortens the supply chain, and therefore eliminates slave-labor from their production process. Taza is a company I am proud to support.

Alter Eco

Alter Eco is more than just another delicious chocolate company, it’s a company on a mission to promote “activism through food” (Alter Eco 2019), by producing Fair Trade, organic chocolate, while also improving the lives of the cocoa farmers and using environmentally friendly packaging. And, it’s free of preservatives, palm kernel oil, and soy. Talk about the perfect opportunity for conscious consuming! By creating and sustaining this full-circle approach, Alter Eco is changing the chocolate game as we know it. “Our products and packaging have evolved over time, but our values continue to guide every step forward. Together with our farmers, employees, investors, and customers, we’re taking an adventure through food, and creating a vision of the future that’s fair, prosperous, healthy and mouth-watering. Though we can’t all break bread at the same table, we like to think that every time we crack open a bag or bar of Alter Eco here in the States, we’re sharing a nourishing moment with Maria in Peru, Gustavo in Bolivia, Grover in Ecuador – and you” (Alter Eco 2019). I love the sense of community, equality, and inclusivity that Alter Eco embodies.

Photo from Taza Website — This is co-founder Ed, digging into a cacao pod during a meeting with cacao farmers in Peru in 2009

Medical Care — Alter Eco strives to create a healthy, and enjoyable, environment for their employees which includes providing the benefits and resources they deserve. For example, Alter Eco’s Fair Trade Funding goes towards member training, improved facilities (new kitchen stoves, etc.), medical exams, education advancement, financial loans, and reforestation. Because most of the farming communities are located in remote areas that can be difficult to access, medical funding is provided to ensure that farmers and their families are receiving the care they need and deserve. The medical funding includes Cholesterol, Triglycerides, and blood pressure analysis, as well as female wellness exams to prevent cervical cancer (Taza 2019).

Photo from Taza Website — One of the members of the farming community receiving medical care

Education and Training — Having the opportunity to receive an education is so important, and not having that opportunity is absolutely unacceptable. In one of the required readings this semester, I read about a lot of instances in which children were unable to receive a formal education. For example, “One man, who was kept out of school to work for his father, told me: ‘Being illiterate, people wouldn’t give me a chance; I feel like I am missing a lot’” (Ryan 46). Improving education through member training is also a priority at Alter Eco, so Fair Trade funding also offers workshops and training sessions that cover subjects such as agricultural practices, biodiverse crop formations, organic compost and agricultural practices, quality control, and even talking to parents about the importance of providing their kids with the proper education. Entrepreneurial ideas are supported and encouraged as well.

Photo from Taza Wesbite — Training provided by Fair Trade Funding

There is still a long way to go when it comes to solving the inequality, unethical labor standards, and inhumane working conditions in the chocolate industry today. Although, as demonstrated by the examples above, there are already a few companies striving to make a positive difference by shortening the supply chain, implementing Fair Trade and Direct Trade practices, and using that funding to better the lives of the farmers and their families. From now on, I will do my best to do my research before purchasing chocolate as well as food in general, so that I can be sure my money is being used to fight for a cause I believe in. I hope you will consider doing the same. R

References:

  1. Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” 2013.
  2. Granit, Maya. “Opinion: Getting to Know the Chocolate Supply Chain.” Devex, 6 Oct. 2017, www.devex.com/news/opinion-getting-to-know-the-chocolate-supply-chain-91182. Retrieved May 3, 2019
  3. Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2008.
  4. Ryan, Órla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.
  5. Satre, Lowell. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens: Ohio University Press. (2005).
  6. Taza Website: Taza Chocolate. (2018). 2018 Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Taza Chocolate Website. [Online image]. Retrieved May 3, 2019 from https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2018-transparency-report

Media Sources:

  1. Grommet, The. “TAZA – Stone Ground Organic Chocolate.” YouTube, YouTube, 2 Nov. 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sClYF2PB9nY.
  2. http://jeromepowers.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Cocoa-Child-Laborer.jpg Image from: “Jérôme Powers Blog.” Jérôme Powers Blog | Jérôme Powers, jeromepowers.com/wp/.
  3. “Our Story.” Alter Eco, http://www.alterecofoods.com/pages/our-story.
  4. Posts, Blog. “You’re Not Only Buying Chocolate, You’re Supporting Communities around the World.” Alter Eco, Alter Eco, 10 Oct. 2017, http://www.alterecofoods.com/blogs/blog/youre-not-only-buying-chocolate-youre-supporting-communities-around-the-world.
  5. Taza chocolate transparency report photo: Taza Chocolate. (2018). 2018 Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Taza Chocolate Website. [Online image]. Retrieved May 3, 2019 from https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2018-transparency-report

The Keys to Cacao’s Battle With Disease: Technology & Propaganda

The ordinary consumer does not usually pause to reflect on the origins of the chocolate he/she consumes. Yet, the ingredients of chocolate undergo a lot of processing before they are ultimately turned into a final good. And, before all human-induced processing can ever happen, a growth and reproduction cycle of cacao is absolutely necessary. However, cacao’s future may be under question. Though humans may continue supplying the arduous hand labor required for cacao tree cultivation, cacao diseases prove to be at cross purposes to a threatening level. Plus, with the looming advent of climate change, these diseases may potentially gain more traction, and put at risk global, and not just local, cacao production. Hence, it is an opportune moment for humanity to pool resources into the research and development of barriers to cacao diseases. That is, if it is still in the best interest of society to help cocoa trees survive.

At the heart of this problem is the botanical and natural history of cacao. Theobroma Cacao (theobroma translating to “Food of the Gods”) is the scientific name the naturalist Linnaeus gave to the cacao tree, which bears the fruit essential to the production of chocolate.[efn_note] 1) Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, (Thames & Hudson Inc: 2013), 18. [/efn_note] Cacao’s origin is very likely to have been the northwest Amazon basin.[efn_note] 2) Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 37. [/efn_note] Though there is no consensus on the roots of cultivated Theobroma cacao, the oldest known traces of domesticated cacao date back to 1800 BC, and the Olmec civilization is thought to have been the first to either domesticate the plant or discover the process of using cacao beans to make chocolate. [efn_note] 3) Ibid, 35. [/efn_note]

Theobroma cacao species are very similar regarding their fundamental reproductive cycles. Along the trunk of a cacao tree, small flowers bloom. The lucky ones – those which end up pollinated only by midges – end up giving birth to cacao pods: these contain a sweet, white pulp, which engulfs so-called “beans” (actually seeds), and these beans are the parts which ultimately are used to produce chocolate as we know it today. Wild animals actually seek the sweet, white pulp (which humans remove via fermentation in the chocolate production), and inadvertently end up distributing the beans, aiding the natural cycle. But, the “food of the gods” is quite particular about its preferences: A cacao tree loves the shade, will demand year-round moisture, will not tolerate temperatures below 16o C, and will typically not yield its fruit unless it is within the band of 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the Equator.[efn_note] 4) Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 19. [/efn_note] If cacao pods are in the right conditions to grow, they will take between four to five months to reach maximum size, plus one more month to fully ripen.[efn_note] 5) Ibid, 21. [/efn_note]  Cacao’s diffusion across the globe and human selection have together resulted in an understanding of two main subspecies of Theobroma cacao which may interbreed and form fertile hybrids (e.g. the trinitario hybrid): criollo and forastero.[efn_note] 6) Ibid, 26. [/efn_note] While criollo cacao is considered to have a more superior quality, with more flavor and aroma, the forastero cacao is more prolific and accounts for more than 80% of the world’s cacao crop.[efn_note] 7) Ibid. [/efn_note] 

This burdening list of demands does not diminish the historical, standing desire for the food of the gods. Indeed, these demands might as well add to the value of cacao. A cacao bean mostly consists of fat, while less than 10 percent of its weight is protein and starch.[efn_note] 8) Ibid, The True History of Chocolate, 28. [/efn_note] Regarding chemical composition, cacao contains two alkaloids (methylxanthines), theobromine and caffeine. Caffeine is addictive, as is sugar, a relatively recent addition tied to European chocolate consumption. Cacao is known for containing hundreds of compounds, among which stands out the antioxidant flavonoid compound, quercetin, “known to have not only antioxidant but also anti-inflammatory activity.”[efn_note] 9) Ibid, The True History of Chocolate, 31. [/efn_note]  Given the chemical complexity of cacao, it is perhaps less surprising that it has been associated with numerous different purposes, such as a unit of currency, medicine, sacred symbol, supposed aphrodisiac, congregational drink, and even source of energy and strength. But, the array of diseases cacao is prone to, including “witches’ brooms,” pod rots, and wilts, puts the entire world supply at risk, especially given the small diversity of species.

The Witches’ Broom Disease is caused by the fungus Moniliophthora perniciosa, and prevents cacao trees from reproducing. In Brazil for example, the “Witches’ Brooms ” cocoa disease – spread as part of a malicious political campaign in a late 1980s sabotage against landowners  – resulted in a dramatic downfall of national cocoa production, changing Brazil’s role as an exporter of cacao into an importer. In Ventania, a 900-person village in the northeast of Bahia which once flourished with cacao plantations, tragic consequences were visible, and remain evident to this day. Unemployment rose as cattle jobs were far fewer than cocoa jobs. Crime escalated and adolescents were, and continue to be, drawn to drugs and prostitution. Surely, the world has since seen more security checks in airports to help prevent transport and contamination of agricultural crops. Yet, if any disease like witches’ broom disease somehow were contracted in a major cacao-producing country, such as the Ivory Coast, that would provoke disastrous ripple effects.

Many of the technologies taken for granted today are in some way or another a consequence of the homo sapiens’ control over fire and ignition.[efn_note] 10) Harari, Yuval N., Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, (New York Harper: 2015) [/efn_note] To draw an analogy, in the same way that fire plays a critical role in the cooking of a raw meat to be eaten, most of the technology in the business of cacao is concentrated on the processing of cacao into a consumable, desirable chocolate. But, fire is also employable in the defense of a tribe’s piece of meat from a hungry lion, and so must be technology in the face of disease. Extrapolating from this analogy, technological advances have helped civilizations make the most of cacao as a resource for consumer’s demands, but now should ideally begin to shift towards the priority of protecting cacao in its raw form. As Kristy Leissle puts it, accounts for “the world is running out of chocolate” are generally published to increase the supply of cacao and drive down prices for the largest chocolate producers.[efn_note] 11)  Leissle, Kristy, (Polity Press: 2018), 178. [/efn_note]  Yet, this is not a debate of merely increasing supply, it is about diversifying to diminish risk, and increasing cacao’s immunity to diseases.

That is where genetic modification comes in with a promising future. In September 2018, “the 35 billion dollar corporation [Mars] pledged $1 billion as part of a plan to reduce the company’s carbon footprint by 60 percent or more by 2050.”[efn_note] 12)  Vandette, Kate. 2018. “Genetically Modified Cacao Could Stop Chocolate from Running out,” Earth.Com (blog). January 3, 2018. [/efn_note] In the face of climate change, Mars and UC Berkeley are using CRISPR technology to begin exploring gene editing. This information is also supported by Erin Brodwin’s account in the World Economic Forum.[efn_note] 13)  Brodwin, Erin. n.d. “Chocolate Could Be Extinct by 2040.” [/efn_note]  Human intervention may prove to be essential to the survival of cacao as well as the efficiency of its production.

Benefits of GMOs are already apparent in the cultivation of “gold rice” and potatoes. But, media is a challenge: the wave of non-GMO pressure must be confronted with rational, data-driven evidence along with more personal stories and appeals pathos with which consumers will more sentimentally connect. For example, one way of framing the argument follows:

Harmful pesticides in potato fields are avoidable when gene edited potatoes are immune to pests. In turn, this prevents workers on the field from getting brain damage from the toxic pesticides they spread.

The example above demonstrates an underlying truth: Propaganda and public interaction have a tremendous power to influence people. Seemingly aware of this notion, and with the purpose of diminishing the negative image of GMOs, “an advocacy group for genetic crop modification is giving away 4,000 pro-GMO chocolates for free in the run-up to Valentine’s Day,” reported Jeremy Hill on February 13, 2019.[efn_note] 14) Hill, Jeremy. 2019. “Genetically-Modified Love? Free Chocolate Pushed as Climate Boon,” February 13, 2019. [/efn_note]  Yet, because there are still uncertain long-term effects of GMO plants, and some GMOs have negatively impacted butterfly populations, cacao producers should invest in the research and development of GMOs, albeit with caution for unexpected effects.[efn_note] 15) Glass, Emily. n.d. “The Environmental Impact of GMOs – One Green PlanetOne Green Planet,” Accessed in 2019. [/efn_note]  Ideally, it would be best if the flora and fauna where GMOs are put in place could be replicated into a sample environment for experimentation. This way, unintended effects may be mitigated, and the public perception of much-needed GMOs may ameliorate. Ultimately, genetic modification may serve humankind as a wall of fire. But, it must simultaneously be supervised, as an unwatched fire may get out of control and cause serious damage.


WORKS CITED

Brodwin, Erin. n.d. “Chocolate Could Be Extinct by 2040.” World Economic Forum. Accessed March 15, 2019. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/01/chocolate-is-on-track-to-go-extinct-in-40-years/.

Glass, Emily. n.d. “The Environmental Impact of GMOs – One Green PlanetOne Green Planet.” One Green Planet Organization. Accessed March 15, 2019. https://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/the-environmental-impact-of-gmos/.

Harari, Yuval N., Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind, (New York: Harper: 2015).

Hill, Jeremy. 2019. “Genetically-Modified Love? Free Chocolate Pushed as Climate Boon,” February 13, 2019. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-13/genetically-modified-love-free-chocolate-aims-to-flip-opinions.

Kristy Leissle, (Polity Press: 2018), 178.

Vandette, Kate. 2018. “Genetically Modified Cacao Could Stop Chocolate from Running out • Earth.Com.” Earth.Com (blog). January 3, 2018. https://www.earth.com/news/genetically-modified-cacao-chocolate/.

Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, (Thames & Hudson Inc: 2013), 18.

Meet Theo

Theo Bromine. He’s bitter, but sometimes he can cheer you up if you’re having a bad day at work. Others call him an alkaloid. His real name is Theo Bromine. Those in the cacao industry know him as one word – theobromine. Traces of theobromine can be found in cacao. Cacao is the raw product, it takes ten stages before it becomes chocolate. The effect of consuming cacao is similar to caffeine, it gives you that instant boost of energy. The origin of Theobroma cacao trees can be found in the Brazilian Amazon where cacao is a big part of Brazil’s economic and cultural history.

Cacao trees are pretty finicky. They need warm climate, hot, but not too hot. Most of the production of cacao is in West Africa – 72%, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana to be exact. Because of climate change, there are elevating temperatures and a possibility that the cacao crops could be eliminated. If you’ve avoided the conversation around climate change, scrolled down when you saw the crying polar bears on social media, grimaced when you heard your neighbor bought a Prius,  and slept through a class showing of An Inconvenient Truth, now is the time to pay attention to climate change. Why? Because your chocolate consumption could be seriously affected.

cacao tree
Cacao Tree

Factors affecting the cacao industry:

Many factors, not just climate change, affect the cacao industry: droughts, floods, infestation, demand, and evapotranspiration. Rising temperatures alone will not impact cacao production, evapotranspiration (loss of moisture because of the high temperature) does. With the higher temperatures expected by the year 2050 precipitation/rainfall isn’t a guarantee. Brazil was once ranked second as the largest cacao producer, today they rank sixth. The decline in cacao production is due to the fungus that causes witch’s broom. In order for a cacao farmer to have a successful crop, trees have to be disease resistant. Hershey’s and Mars, Inc. have already classified the cacao genome which could improve the resiliency of cacao trees.

The Rainforest Alliance is a non-governmental organization/NGO that assists farmers with sustainable lifestyles. Its mission is to work with the smallholder cacao farmers to help with these issues. Some cacao farmers have already taken the suggestions to switch to alternative crops, lucrative ones such as rubber and/or palm oil. What if all farmers in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana switched at the same pace? The world could face the possibility of a million ton cacao shortage by 2020, this according to The Earth Security Group, a sustainability consulting firm registered in the United Kingdom.

Global demand for chocolate is another factor because of their interest in confectionery. The chocolate market has been trending towards higher prices over the last 10 years with the market increasing by 13% between 2010-2015, farmers’ share has decreased during this time. It is estimated that by the year 2030, chocolate will be a delicacy, like caviar, and your average Joe, or Jane, won’t be able to purchase it. Heavy marketing leads to heavy demand. How do we equate the 13% to a dollar value, try $100 billion, according to Euromonitor, a market research firm.

Unfortunately, cacao trees cannot keep up with the rapid demands of consumers, it takes three to five years at best to produce cacao beans, the end result of this long, strenuous process is chocolate. The amount we consume (11+ pounds of chocolate is consumed annually by individuals in Europe and the United States) far outweighs the amount that is produced, leading to a shortage of chocolate. In the news lately, Necco, the company that manufactures Necco Wafers, Sky Bar, Mary Jane, and Sweethearts is filing for bankruptcy. If we are heading towards chocolate becoming a delicacy I must warn you: start hoarding all of your candy because it will cost you a pretty penny in the not-so-distant future. Call me Ms. Gloomanddoom, but remember the recent avocado crisis in Mexico, we may have a chocolate crisis next.

Global warming and climate change have been topics widely discussed for years. In a recent TED Talk with Mark Bittman, he commented that global warming is real and dangerous and reminds us that we should stop eating things thoughtlessly. This includes chocolate. Greenhouse gas, methane gas, water shortages, oh my!

How’d we get here? Well, it all started with British commodities: sugar, tea, and tobacco. These were popular due to the transatlantic movement, transporting these commodities by African slaves. Chocolate began in Mesoamerica and dates back to 350 BC. It was consumed as a hot beverage served in ghourds and as time progressed in fancy porcelain cups by the most affluent during the Baroque Age. The British didn’t like the bitter taste of the chocolate so they re-created the taste by adding sugar to it. 

Early entrepreneurs:

I would have loved to interview the early entrepreneurs like Dorothy Jones who was granted a license to operate a coffee house in Boston in 1670. Women wouldn’t be caught dead in a coffee house and she got a license. Slay girl slay. Despite my research at the Massachusetts Historical Society I was not able to locate the actual license or the coffee house, but I did find one reference to it in the Record Commissioners City of Boston records from 1660 to1701. It may be that Dorothy Jones was a vendor and did not actually have a storefront. If there was a storefront, I would have to guess that it was located in the area of what’s now known as Downtown Crossing in Boston. Newspaper Row was in that area during 1670 and it makes sense that the coffee house would be close by. To be continued.

IMG_7359
Dorothy Jones, 1670

 

The role of chocolate:

Liquid consumption of chocolate morphed into candy consumption and as time went on the global market consumed it. Pun intended. Chocolate consumes us and plays a variety of roles in our lives. Part of my research included interviews with three females, all of whom are my closest friends spanning four decades, who gave me permission to share their stories. Names have been changed. Three questions were asked of each woman: what is their relationship with chocolate, what role it played in their life, and how chocolate’s significance has changed or stayed the same over time. Analysis of the social and historical issues were revealed during these interviews. 

I begin my interview with Pepper, 40-something. We’ve been friends for 15 years, so when she said “you’ll be disappointed, I don’t have a relationship with chocolate, at all. I can take it or leave it”. I thought, um what? Was I dreaming that she ate the special occasion, Halloween,Valentine’s Day, Christmas, because-it’s-Friday chocolate our coworkers brought in and placed in that fancy bowl they bought at the dollar store. When I asked her to elaborate on her statement I mentioned the documented ties to slavery, child labor and human trafficking, and the YouTube video The Dark Side of Chocolate, she said she “had no idea chocolate was involved in so much trauma and political unrest”.

Pepper went on, “I do eat it, but I don’t crave it. I like it sometimes; hot chocolate, candy bars with other things mixed in, the very occasional Dove piece, alone, but only when it happens to be laying there… I just don’t crave it. If I have any cravings, it would be the occasional hot chocolate, but only because it comforts me and makes me feel like autumn and of course, I am addicted to mochas which are chocolate and coffee together. So in that, I suppose it does play a role. But I still drink regular coffee too”.

“I always think the cultural references to chocolate/women/weakness/food orgasm are ridiculous. I’ve always thought to myself what’s the big deal, it’s just chocolate. It’s probably because I hate being stereotyped and the chocolate/women/weakness/food orgasm stereotype that society and commercials seem to paint just piss me off because I like to feel like I’m more dimensional than that. It makes women seem weak and easy to manipulate and shallow”.

“If you’re telling me that the chocolate trade perpetuates and supports slavery then I’m quitting it. My husband says I now have chocolate angst, or chocolate rage”.

imgres
Stereotype

I was curious as to why Pepper immediately responded with “craving” when I asked about chocolate. I love how she mentioned hot chocolate and frothy drinks and her addiction to mochas. There’s some truth to why we love frothy drinks. In ancient times, drinks were put in vessels and buried with loved ones who have since passed on. It was said that the froth went with the deceased to the afterlife.

nha-benta-chocolate-quente-748x499
Frothy cacao drink

Culture also played a role in Pepper’s response when she said she ate chocolate “alone”, as did her anger when she felt the stereotype which reminded me of the article I read by Kristy Leissle, Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements. Ghanaian women were photographed, not your typical glamour-shot, but were depicted as strong powerful business leaders, not in binary terms. These pictures reflect the necessary change in the narrative. Viewers are able to look beyond the exploitative market and view these women as they should be viewed, strong and powerful leaders in a transnational community. Many of the ads you see in the United States show women eating chocolate, alone, sinfully displayed like in the movie Chocolat, and almost always with some sort of sexual undertone throughout the ad. The ancient Aztecs believed chocolate was an aphrodisiac, science wasn’t quite onboard with that theory. Advertisers still link romance with chocolate.

Key words: comfort, craving, frothy drinks, stereotypes

My second interview was with Sunny, 60-something. Sunny said that she “definitely has had a relationship with chocolate throughout her childhood and adulthood and as a mom. Chocolate has been present in celebratory events, holidays & vacations. For holidays, chocolate snowmen & coins were placed in her children’s Christmas stockings, at Easter, chocolate eggs & bunnies were found on Easter egg hunts, and on Valentine’s Day chocolate hearts were given out as gifts. I have such happy Halloween memories as a kid trading candy bars” Sunny said with a beaming smile; kid’s birthday gift bags full of candy, & candy store visits while on vacation. And Hershey kisses, just because! Chocolate is present at happy events, there to cheer up, decrease stress and soothe a foul mood. At this point in my life I have less consumption/purchase of chocolate, children have grown and they are more health conscious and do not consume. I currently eat it more out of stress reduction and comfort while at work”.

“In chatting, this makes me take pause reflecting on the important role chocolate has played in my life. I think of my all-time favorite candy bar….”Sky Bar”! Sadly, I hadn’t chatted with Sunny about the recent Necco bankruptcy. She better stock up on Sky Bars or they will be a literal memory.

For Sunny, chocolate was a staple in her life until recently. It explains why she can’t pass up a Hershey’s Kiss. These sweet kisses are known as a “cradle-to-grave brand loyalty”. Once you consume them you pretty much do so for your entire life. Great marketing, for a kiss that contains only 11% cacao.

Sunny mentioned that chocolate was used a reward for good behavior with her children. More importantly she eats it when stressed and that it provides her comfort. Sunny has fond memories of chocolate, her visits to candy shops while on vacation and the role candy plays during holidays. I could see the melancholy in her eyes when she described her favorite candy bar. I think the melancholy was also related to her children growing up and that the fun role of chocolate was outweighed by her stressful days at work. Chocolate has been known to have therapeutic properties dating back to ancient times.

Key words: comfort, childhood, vacations, holidays

Raspberry Rose, 20-something was my last interview. “So I’ve never been a HUGE chocolate person. I’ve always preferred sweet candy over chocolate, but I definitely indulge when I’m craving it! Chocolate tends to play the role of a comfort food…there’s always that time of the month where all I want is some chocolate caramels and a glass of wine 🙂 it also has some memories tied to it – for example I remember when I was growing up, my mom and I loved to eat 3 Musketeers bars and none of my friends liked those so on Halloween I would take them from all my friends to give to my mom 🙂 My relationship with chocolate has stayed the same!  I definitely eat less of it than I did when I was younger, but that’s the only change”!

My thoughts after chatting with Raspberry Rose was wow, she too used the words craving and comfort and had similar feelings and fond memories of chocolate while growing up.

Key words: craving, comfort, childhood memories, halloween

Statistically, women do crave chocolate more than men. While it’s not the chocolate per se, it’s the ingredients like magnesium and antioxidants you may be lacking that make you crave it. The calming qualities that come from consuming chocolate is because of the increased levels of serotonin #instanthappiness. Culture plays a factor in cravings, it’s a trend here in the United States and frequently talked about that women crave chocolate, one major reason chocolate companies target women.

According to the article Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain by Ashtrid Nehlig, there was one chapter by David Benton devoted to The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving. While many people associate themselves with being a chocaholic, there is no scientific evidence to show that chocolate is addictive. It has “drug-like” qualities though and can cheer you up if you’re sad or had a bad day at the office.

All of my friends were shocked that chocolate had ties to slavery, child labor, and human trafficking and were unaware of the cacao process. I am happy to report that  they are very interested in learning more. I  realized that I  need to spread the word about the cacao industry and this inspired me to create a podcast which should be on iTunes very soon. It’s about my three favs, Coffee, Chocolate & Cats.

Key words correlate with the research that I found. I do hope that one day the cacao farmers are paid at a more equitable rate, that we help the environment and know more about the bean to bar process, and that we can enjoy our chocolate, complicit-free.

Works cited

Kristy Leissle (2012): Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24:2, 121-139

Emma Robertson (2009): Chocolate, women and empire. A social and cultural history. Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York.

Norton, M. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review, vol. 111, no. 3, 2006, pp. 660–691., doi:10.1086/ahr.111.3.660.

Hudson, Bradford. “The Cradle of American Hospitality » Boston Hospitality Review | Blog Archive | Boston University.” Boston Hospitality Review RSS, 2012, www.bu.edu/bhr/2012/09/01/the-cradle-of-american-hospitality/

Bittman, Mark. “What’s Wrong with What We Eat.” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, Dec. 2007, www.ted.com/talks/mark_bittman_on_what_s_wrong_with_what_we_eat.

“Scientists Say Climate Change May Make Chocolate Extinct By 2050.” YouTube, 2 Jan. 2018, youtu.be/sm9kQdKOnKE.

City of Boston (1881). A Report of the Record Commissioners of the

City of Boston, Containing the Boston Records from 1660 to 1701.

Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, Page 58

(Mass.)., Boston. “A Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston Containing the Boston Records from 1660 to 1701.” HathiTrust, 2018, babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=bc.ark%3A%2F13960%2Ft3514s13f%3Bview.

Nehlig, Astrid. Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. CRC Press, 2004.

“Challenges.” Challenges | World Cocoa Foundation, 2018, http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/about-cocoa/challenges/.

CNBC’s Katy Barnato and Luke Graham. “Future of the Chocolate Industry Looks Sticky.” CNBC, CNBC, 24 Mar. 2016, http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/24/future-of-the-chocolate-industry-looks-sticky.html.

“Chocolate Makers Warn That the World Is Running out of Chocolate.” Fox News, FOX News Network, 17 Nov. 2014, http://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/2014/11/17/chocolate-makers-warn-that-world-is-running-out-chocolate.html.

“Cocoa Bean Production” , Cargill, 2018, http://www.cargill.com/sustainability/cocoa/the-changing-world-of-cocoa

“The Dark Side of Chocolate – Child Slavery.” The Dark Side of Chocolate – Child Slavery, Brethen Voices, 2012, youtu.be/p8j2l-3TxTg.

 

From Producers and Consumers to Producing Consumers: Nestlé and the Weaponization of Brazilian Women

In a dense Rio favela or small Amazonian village at current day, you might meet someone much like Celene da Silva, who at 29 manages her own small business. This is no small feat for a woman from one of the most impoverished areas in the world. Armed with only a pushcart, da Silva travels door to door, selling infant milk products, candy bars, puddings, and cereals to her many clients.[i]

In the small town of Vevey, Germany (now Switzerland) at the turn of the 20th century, you might have stumbled upon Henri Nestlé, also a small business owner. Using his pharmaceutical background, Nestlé invented a milk alternative known as infant formula by combining cow’s milk, flour, and sugar.[ii] What, then, links a modern-day Brazilian entrepreneur to small-town German pharmacist? What if I told you they worked for the same company?

Da Silva, along with thousands of other Brazilian women, has been recruited and trained as a door-to-door vendor for Nestlé–the world’s largest food conglomerate with some of the most aggressive marketing practices in history. Vendors are dispatched throughout Brazilian cities and countrysides, offering “nutrient-rich” processed foods from a selection of over 800 products.[iii] Even in hard to reach areas, where geography or social stigma prevent women from vending, Nestlé has found a strategy. Pictured below is a Nestlé-sponsored boat, which travels remote Amazonian tributaries as a floating supermarket offering products to “isolated” consumers.[iv] Clients are often only interested in a handful of these products, however, with foods like Kit Kat bars, Nescau 2.0 (a sugary chocolate powder), chocolate pudding, and cookies being ordered the most.[v]

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What complicates matters is Brazil’s tortured history with chocolate–once one of the top producers of cacao, the country has faced severe drought in recent years.[vi] Look at the country’s historic disconnect between production and consumption, namely due to slavery, and Nestlé’s door-to-door program appears particularly menacing. The anthropologist Sidney Mintz most accurately encapsulates this divide in his 1985 seminal work Sweetness and Power, writing of 20th century “It is not ironical to point out that the white migrants would soon be eating more sugar, produced by the nonwhite migrants at lower wages, and producing finished goods at higher wages to be consumed by the nonwhite migrants.”[vii] Many of these “finished goods” are now sold by Nestlé, who while relying on the labor of cacao farmers in countries like Brazil then dilutes products with sugar and milk to sell them at a profit. While Nestle’s door-to-door vendor program has disrupted the feminization of poverty, its attempt to turn sites of production into sites of consumption has come with devastating health effects.

Nestlé’s strict hiring quotas have allowed it to conceal its aggressive marketing efforts under the guise of gender equity. By employing over 7,000 saleswomen and 200 microdistributors,[viii] all women with little to no previous job experience, Nestlé has established a strong relationship with the Brazilian government and managed relatively little international oversight. In fact, in 2014 alone food companies donated a total of $158 million to Brazil’s National Congress.[ix] For women on the ground like Celene da Silva, the program has also brought much-needed economic empowerment. As the New York Times details, “With an expanding roster of customers, Mrs. da Silva has set her sights on a new goal, one she says will increase business even more…’I want to buy a bigger refrigerator.’”[x] Da Silva’s strong relationship with the women in her neighborhood, coupled with Nestlé’s one-month layaway plan timed to match the government-funded food stipend program, has stabilized her income.[xi] Despite the fact that she herself is 200 overweight with high blood pressure, da Silva, like many vendors, believes in her employer’s commitment to health. The question then becomes, however, the limit to employing women whose life spans will be shortened by their own products.

Nestlé’s marketing practices rely on notions of their products as healthy in order to attract the support of governments and consumers alike. Along with lobbying and employing women as door-to-door vendors, the company aligns its brand with nutrition and exercise to garner attention. As consumers in the U.S. have given up sugary chocolate products in favor of healthier foods, Nestlé has moved to introduce these same products to even the most remote parts of the Amazon by adding commonly deficient vitamins and minerals. The chocolate powder Nescau 2.0, for example, claims to be “packed with calcium and niacin.”[xii] As Professor Susan George writes in “The Limits to Public Relations,” Nestle is one of the only companies to so publically document these efforts. She says, “Very rarely do multinational corporations provide details of their activities in underdeveloped countries. Nestle is an exception.”[xiii] This distinct tactic is what has strengthened the trust between vendors and their company. As da Silva explains, “Everyone here knows that Nestlé products are good for you.”

Brazil serves as a case study in the transformation of a country from cacao producer to chocolate product consumer. The public health effects of Nestlé’s aggressive marketing campaigns are only beginning to be studied, as are alternatives. As one Nestlé consultant points out, “If I ask 100 Brazilian families to stop eating processed food, I have to ask myself: What will they eat? Who will feed them? How much will it cost?”[xiv] Processed foods have undoubtedly provided a solution to the issue of overpopulation, but have failed to nutritionally benefit consumers. The story of Nestlé and Brazil has often been one of deceit, in which sugar-laden chocolate products are billed as nutritional through women’s empowerment programs in an effort to target communities with poor records on gender equity and public health. The question then becomes how to balance demand with accessibility, affordability, and nutrition–without exploiting vulnerable populations.

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Jacobs, Andrew. “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” The New York Times, September 16, 2017, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html.

[ii] Owles, Eric. “How Nestlé Expanded Beyond the Kitchen.” The New York Times, June 27, 2017, sec. DealBook. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/27/business/dealbook/nestle-chocolate-milk-coffee-history.html.

[iii] Jacobs, Andrew. “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” The New York Times, September 16, 2017, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html.

[iv] Garfield, Leanna. “Nestlé Sponsored a River Barge to Create a ‘floating Supermarket’ That Sold Candy and Chocolate Pudding to the Backwoods of Brazil.” Business Insider. Accessed March 20, 2018. http://www.businessinsider.com/nestl-expands-brazil-river-barge-2017-9.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] “Chocolate Has New Latin King as Ecuador Overtakes Brazil.” Bloomberg.Com, January 21, 2014. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-01-20/cocoa-has-new-latin-america-king-as-ecuador-beats-brazil.

[vii] Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. Penguin, 1986.

[viii] “Door-to-Door Sales of Fortified Products.” https://www.nestle.com. Accessed March 19, 2018. https://www.nestle.com/csv/case-studies/allcasestudies/door-to-doorsalesoffortifiedproducts,brazil.

[ix] Jacobs, Andrew. “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” The New York Times, September 16, 2017, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] George, Susan. “Nestle Alimentana SA: the limits to public relations.” Economic and Political Weekly (1978): 1591-1602.

[xiv] Jacobs, Andrew. “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” The New York Times, September 16, 2017, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/16/health/brazil-obesity-nestle.html.

Somerville, Gentrification, and Chocolate

Union Square, Somerville has experienced growth over the last decade as trendy stores and restaurants have sprung up along its main streets and young professionals have moved into the neighborhood. It sits in that perfect nexus of affordable and cool, offering coffee shops that serve fair trade pour overs and apartments cheap enough that you can fit that pour over into your budget. Union Square’s changing scene has recently caught the notice of the rest of Boston. In 2014, The Boston Globe ran an article titled “Union Square is Hipster Central.”  This article describes the neighborhood using the following phrases: skinny jeans, millennial, fixed-gear bike,”house-made bitters,” artisanal, and “classic ’90s hip hop.” Vocabulary like this can only point to one thing: gentrification.

Somerville has been home to shifting communities for a long time. A Boston.com article from 2014, right in the same time frame there was a flurry of articles and op-eds about how Somerville was changing into a hipster’s paradise, points out that this group is the second to gentrify the area. The article explains that there are waves to gentrification. The hipsters (have to take an aside and say I’m adverse to that word because of it’s overuse and implication of obnoxious pretension and because maybe I feel some self hatred about being a little bit of a hipster myself. But I am going to keep using it in this post because it provides a clear way to talk about a group of people.) So, as I was saying, the hipsters who are moving in now are pushing out the first group that gentrified Unions Square: starving artists and broke graduate students. Before this group moved in Somerville was predominantly home to a large immigrant community. Many of these immigrants came from Brazil to learn English and make money and in the process they ended up making Union Square their home. This community has not been entirely displaced through the generations of gentrification. It lives on actively in certain pockets of the neighborhood. One of these safeholds is Mineirão One Stop Market.

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My phone camera is responsible for the fogginess of this picture. If you want to see what Mineirao looks like behind this haze you can venture down to 57 Union Square, Somerville.

Mineirão is a small Brazilian grocery store and cafe. When you walk in the front door, plastered with want ads and concert posters written out in Portuguese, you’ll see in front of you about five rows of groceries: aisles of cans and cookies and dried spices. The very back wall is a small refrigerated and frozen section that stocks Brazilian sodas, ice creams, and fruit. If you turn to your left you’ll see the small cafe area. You can buy cheese-filled pastries like coxinhas and pastels or pile up a place with rice and fried plantains and sit at one of the little round tables that seem to function as hang out spots for the local Brazilian community to sit and gossip.

This small cafe serves Brazilian desserts, including chocolate truffles and cakes, and if you move over to the market side you can find a wide variety of chocolate bars. Aside from Nestle, the brands differed from what you could find at CVS or Stop and Shop. Their labels are in Portuguese and Spanish. They all look unfamiliar to me. You can see that Mineirão is catering to the Brazilian community that has a long history in Union Square. Amidst the new specialty stores that have popped up around it selling trendy donuts and $60 bottle openers, clearly catering to the new hipster crowd, Mineirão serves as a store that still caters to the existent immigrant population.

It’s important that Mineirão fill this niche. With construction underway on the Green Line extension into this area of Somerville, the immigrant community’s concerns about being entirely displaced by new development and a shifting cultural scene are higher than ever. A group of business owners, including representatives of immigrant communities, came together to address the issue of development without displacement. The coalition is called Union United, and they aim to preserve the community that fostered and nurtured Union Square from the beginning so that they can partake in everything the neighborhood has become. Organizations like these are helping to preserve the community that lives on in Union Square.

Now let’s get to the chocolate!

I asked the young girl working the cash register what her favorite chocolate was. She walked me over to the aisle where all the tempting bars were laid out and, to my disappointment, pointed to one white chocolate bar and another that was half milk, half white chocolate. I like dark, rich candy. But I trusted that she knew best so picked up the half and half bar, called Suflair from Nestle, to try later at home.

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The Nestle products.

Some quick research told me that this product is known as an Aero bar in other parts of the world. When I ate it it was sweet and milky and full of porous bubbles that dissolved pleasantly on my tongue. She had led me in the right direction, I liked it! Nestle chocolate is definitely not upscale, and that was reflected in the price. It was $2.99 for the 110g bar.

All of the chocolate bars fit into a similar price range. None of the bars showed the trappings of higher priced chocolates. They were not fair trade or organic, their labels weren’t elegantly designed or made of expensive materials, and there was no mention anyways about these chocolates being artisanal. Chocolate like that is available in the newer stores that have opened in Union Square. And the lack of them in this long-standing market suggests that the Brazilian immigrant community has different priorities, food-wise, than the hipsters of Somerville and Cambridge.

Without assuming that this applies to every person in this community, it seems like a reason for the lack of higher priced chocolate could have to do with greater concern about saving money, about not spending in excess on luxury goods. In a paper on the Brazilian immigrant population in Somerville, researcher Daniel Becker writes:

Fausto da Rocha related the motivation behind his migration experience to that of other immigrants, asserting, “I came, like everyone else, to work. At the beginning, I always thought about going back. After four or five years, I’d save up enough to go back and start up my own business, buy some land, or a store.” (Becker, 41)

In a class lecture we discussed how higher priced chocolates that bear socially conscious labels sometimes benefit the consumer more than they do the producer. And maybe this immigrant community that is getting priced out of their neighborhood, that is concerned with their displacement, is not as pressingly concerned with the satisfaction that comes along with buying a fair trade chocolate bar.

Mineirão offers many Brazilian candies, but I didn’t have the stomach to try them all. I bought a chocolate covered cashew butter truffle called Serenata de Amor by Garoto, and it was nutty, crunchy and sweet. I would recommend it! I’ve included below pictures of all the tasty-looking treats Mineirão sells that I hope to return and buy someday soon.

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In addition to selling candies and cookies made with the cacao bean, Mineirão sells bags of frozen cacao pulp.

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frozen cacao fruit

This is indicative of the clientele they cater to. Many North American consumers are unfamiliar with cacao pulp. Until I took this class I had no idea what a cacao pod looked like, and actually had a half-formed idea that chocolate grew in berry clusters. Not to get too tangential about this, but I had a drawing of tropical fruits as my computer background for long time, and it was only midway through a lecture for this class that something clicked and I realized that the drawing included cacao pods, and that I had been staring at this fruit for about a year without having any idea that it was related to chocolate.

The cultural understanding of cacao differs in Brazil. According to the International Cacao Organization, Brazil is both a large producer and consumer of cacao products. Those who live in a country that grows great quantities of cacao are going to be more familiar with the plant. The presence of this cacao pulp in Mineirão’s freezer section substantiates the idea that the market is not here to cater to the hipsters and artists who have newly moved into the neighborhood, but for those who already call it home.

Union Square has long been home to a thriving Brazilian community. It’s in places like Mineirão One Stop Market that, even in the face of gentrification and impending development because of the Green Line Extension, that this community is preserved.

Works Cited

Becker, Daniel Brasil. “The Brazilian Immigrant Experience: A Study on the Evolution of a Brazilian Community in Somerville and the Greater Boston Area.” 2006. Web. 11 May 2016. <https://dca.lib.tufts.edu/features/urban/MS083.005.024.00003.pdf&gt;.

Simon, Clea. “Union Square Is Hipster Central.” BostonGlobe.com. The Boston Globe, 30 Aug. 2014. Web. 11 May 2016.

“Our Story.” Union United. Web. 12 May 2016.

“The World Cocoa Economy: Past and Present.” International Cocoa Organization. 26 July 2012. Web. 12 May 2016.

Vaccaro, Adam. “Cafe Closes, and It’s Wave 2 of Gentrification in Somerville’s Union Square.” Boston.com. The New York Times, 10 Sept. 2014. Web. 12 May 2016.

 

Tasting Change: The Evolving Desire for Premium Chocolate in Brazil

The country of Brazil is known for many things, including samba, sandy beaches, and of course, beautiful women. True, the country has all of these things in abundance, but beneath the surface there exists many more wonderful attributes. I discovered Brazilian chocolate on my first visit to Brazil, in June of 2007. Newly married, my husband took it upon himself to introduce me to his culture and heritage, and so one of the very first places we went was his neighborhood candy and newspaper shop. I recall the selection being enormous, and I tried many different types of candy, but it was the chocolate that kept me coming back daily for more. My favorites at this time were all made by a company called Garoto, under the parent company Nestle (they own Garoto but operate separately).

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Garoto, a bean-to bar company that was established in 1929, is today one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in Brazil, along with Barion and Mondélez. These three companies own nearly 75% of the market share in Brazil. The remaining 25% is shared between several smaller, premium chocolate companies, including Kopenhagen and Cacau Show. It is only in the last ten years or so that premium chocolate has become desirable for the Brazilian market, and only very recently has organic and fair trade chocolate even been introduced to the country. And this is for a country that produces over 350 thousand tons of cocoa per year, is home to more than 50 thousand cocoa farmers,and is in the top four chocolate producers in the world (Brazil Business, 2015).

***

To get an idea of the role chocolate played in Brazilian culture, I interviewed one of my closest friends in Brazil. Her replies were originally in Portuguese; for the purposes of this post I have translated her replies as accurately as possible.

What chocolates do you remember most from your childhood?

Yes, well, we ate a lot of candy when I was a child! My mother had an account so we could have anything from the little store. My favorite was Baton, which means lipstick in Portuguese…a chocolate in the shape of a lipstick. It was the best thing to have this chocolate on Sundays…we would watch the races on TV, do you know Ayrton Senna, Formula 1? And enjoy Baton, Serenata de Amor, Diamante Negro…and it was family, and tradition. Every time I eat this chocolate now I remember those Sundays.

What chocolates do you and your family enjoy today?

My children will eat many of the same things I have liked…for me now these things have too much sugar, they taste too sweet. I prefer very dark chocolate, maybe 70% cacao or more. My husband also, he really loves 90% cacao but this is very difficult to find, usually only when we travel outside of Brazil to USA we can find this at your supermarkets. Whole Foods has many, many chocolates we love! But my children, they do not like American chocolates…I think the taste is strange for them, unfamiliar.

***

Several years after my first trip to Brazil, I had the opportunity to return for three months. Progress marches on in all respects, but with regards to the chocolate market I noticed how things had changed…all of my same favorites were there, but there were a couple of new and popular places in the large shopping centers that everyone was recommending. The first one I visited was Kopenhagen, a premium chocolate shop.

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It was obvious that they were trying to sell the upscale premium chocolates to a more discerning consumer. The menu included such things as European Hot Cocoa (a very thick melted chocolate drink), handmade truffles, and my personal favorite, a chocolate and marshmallow concoction called Nha Benta.

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I also visited a place called Cacau Show, which specialized in many different flavors of bonbons displayed in a tower. Whereas Kopenhagen focused primarily on the consumer, Cacau Show catered more to the gift market, offering a large selection of colorful prepackaged options in every price range.

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But why had it taken so long for premium chocolate products to become popular in Brazil? According to Dartmouth History Professor Timothy Walker, it all goes back to the slave labor in Brazil’s past. Up until the early 19th century, nearly all cacao was produced by slaves. After the abolitionist movement, production declined steeply, even exploitative labor proctices were still a widely occuring problem. Chocolate became an expensive commodity at this point and national consumption declined. This began a push towards exportation, and today accounts partly for why approximately 90% of Brazil’s cocoa is exported. (Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil, 2007).

I asked my friend if she knew about this part of chocolate’s history in Brazil; she replied that she knew a little, but not much, and that it wasn’t really something she thought about on a daily basis. She seemed interested in exported and imported chocolates, so I continued the interview.

Have you had chocolate from other countries? If so, how does it compare in your opinion?

Yes, I have had Swiss chocolate, American, and British. The different types have different tastes…Swiss is very creamy while American is too sweet…and the British also. Brazilian chocolate to me tastes very rich and smooth.

Do you give chocolates as gifts? If so, what kind do you buy?

It’s common to do this…we give welcome gifts all the time, usually wine or liquor, with chocolates. For this we go to an expensive place, Kopenhagen or Cacau Show in the shopping mall…sometimes a bakery for special bonbons. It’s an important thing in Brazilian culture, this giving of chocolates. It means friendship and respect…and if you receive chocolates you must offer to share, it’s good manners.

***

During my most recent trip to Brazil last year, I noticed that in addition to the traditional and premium chocolate offerings, there were several new players in the cocoa game. Amma Chocolate, Nugali, and Harald, just to name a few. Amma specializes in “tree to bar, organic chocolate making” with an emphasis on sustainble farming practices. Their website offers a welcome transparency about their processes.

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Nugali and Harald, by comparison, offer single-origin chocolate, mainly for domestic consumption, that has the distict terroir of Brazil. According to Bill Nesto, writing for Gastronomica, terroir is complicated to explain, but easy to taste. Generally speaking it is the particular combination of factors that combine to represent the chocolate’s particular origin (Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate, 2010). Brazilian chocolate, explains a Nugali representative, has an underlying flavor reminiscient of banana, with a tiny hint of citrus (Single Origin Brazilian Chocolate, 2015). I asked my friend if she had any interest in these newer products.

Do you look for products that have organic or fair trade labels on them? What does that mean to you?

I like to buy organic chocolate when I can find it…it is a newer thing here, organic products…and it is much more expensive, maybe triple the price of ordinary products…but I think it’s better for my health. I have seen Fair Trade on some types but I don’t really know what that means. But again, very expensive for many Brazilian people.

Do you consider chocolate to be healthy, as in, do you feel that it offers you some health benefits?

Yes the antioxidants I have read about I feel are good for me…this is partly why I prefer dark chocolate. I have a nutritionist…she says to eat one square of dark chocolate per day. But also, my trainer at the gym says no sweets so I don’t know! I don’t know if there are any other benefits. I believe the commercial chocolates in the supermarket have too much sugar to be healthy. But also, there is a benefit to my mind…chocolate makes me happy, so I like to do what makes me happy. I don’t think a little sweets will hurt me in the long run. I think my trainer is too strict about this, so I don’t mention it!

Dark chocolate has health benefits that go beyond antioxidants, according to recent studies. In particular, consuming chocolate has shown to be beneficial for cardiovascular health, including fighting diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease (Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health, 2012). Furthermore, consumption of theobromine (a main component of chocolate) has shown promising reductions in the risk of preeclampsia, a dangerous medical condition that can affect pregnant women (Chocolate Consuption in Pregnancy, 2008).

Has any of the information I’ve shared with you today changed your views on chocolate, or changed the way you will buy it in the future?

Of course; I am always interested in healthy improvements to my life. I will share this about chocolate with my pregant women friends…that is very good news, and a good reason to eat more chocolate. I would like to learn more about Fair Trade also. If I can I will look for more organic chocolates in the future. And try to get my children to eat more dark chocolate, though that won’t be easy!

In conclusion, the gourmet chocolate market is a new and emerging sector in Brazil, one that I will be interested in watching in the coming years. Hopefully on future visits to the country I will continue to find and explore the many wonderful ways that Brazilians put their particular zest for life into the very chocolate they make.

***

Works Cited
“Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12.1 (2012): 43-52. Web.
“Chocolate Market in Brazil.” The Brazil Business. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 May 2016.
Nesto, Bill. “Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate.” Gastronomica 10.1 (2010): 131-35. Web.
“Single Origin Brazilian Chocolate to Compete alongside Lindt and Godiva in the U.S.” ConfectioneryNews.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 May 2016.
Triche, Elizabeth W., Laura M. Grosso, Kathleen Belanger, Amy S. Darefsky, Neal L. Benowitz, and Michael B. Bracken. “Chocolate Consumption in Pregnancy and Reduced Likelihood of Preeclampsia.” Epidemiology 19.3 (2008): 459-64. Web.
Walker, Timothy. “Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil: The Culture of Cacao Plantations in Amazonia and Bahia (17th–19th Centuries) 1.” Food and Foodways 15.1-2 (2007): 75-106. Web.

 

Linked Websites

https://www.garoto.com.br/produtos

https://www.nestle.com.br/site/home.aspx

http://br.mondelezinternational.com/home

http://www.harald.com.br

http://www.nugali.com.br

http://www.ammachocolate.com.br

Photo Credits (In order of appearance)

Brigadeiro with Brazilian Flag: CC Image via FreeImages.com

Garoto Chocolates: Garoto.com.br Official Website

Kopenhagen Storefront: Kopenhagen.com.br Official Website

Kopenhagen Hot Cocoa: Kopenhagen.com.br Official Website

Cacau Show Storefront: Cacaushow.com.br Official Website

Amma Website Screenshot: Ammachocolate.com.br Official Website