Tag Archives: coffee

Chocolate: The Safe Cognitive Performance Enhancer

Since ancient times, cacao has been believed to be one of nature’s medicines with various health benefits. Aztec texts from the 1500s tell us that their Emperor kept a botanical garden specifically for growing and experimenting with different plants in hopes to discover their unique medicinal abilities. Cacao was one of their successful trials, as they eventually came to understand its ability to help treat stomach problems, cure infections, end fevers, and help control coughing.1 Most of these cures and treatments required combining cacao with another substance, but this would prove to be only the beginning of exploring the medical potential of pure cacao and eventually chocolate in its many forms that we enjoy today. The investigation of chocolate’s medicinal value continued as the Spanish came into contact with the pleasing food and proceeded to spread it across Europe. However, only recently has the depth and scientifically sound research of chocolate’s effects on the human body began to unfold in its true immensity. In 2013, a composition of work from 89 contributing experts was produced titled Chocolate in Health and Nutrition, measuring 542 pages in length and consisting of 40 separate chapters thoroughly exploring a broad spectrum of information on chocolate.2 The scale of this collaborative piece provides some perspective on the complexity of chocolate and its effects, and people’s magnificent efforts to explore and understand them. Perhaps one of the most exciting recent developments in this research is understanding cacao’s effect on the human nervous system. It has long been known that consuming chocolate can affect our mood, but in the last ten years it has been revealed that chocolate can actually provide a temporary boost to cognitive function, thus leading to extensive studies in attempts to know how and why this happens, and how it can be applied medicinally.3 I will provide detailed insight to this recently discovered effect of chocolate consumption on the human brain, as well as explore its potential medicinal applications as a unique benefit of cacao, and finally consider the consequences that this discovery can have on the contemporary state of the cacao-chocolate industry.

First, we need to understand how eating chocolate increases our cognitive function. Ian Macdonald, professor of metabolic physiology at The University of Nottingham, led a study in which he found that consuming a chocolate drink increased blood flow to specific areas of the participant’s brain for up to three hours. The chocolate drink was “rich in flavanols — a key ingredient of dark chocolate,” which he predicted to produce such a response.4 The boost in blood flow to specific areas of the brain is what allowed participants in the study to display increased cognitive performance in specific tasks through improved alertness. Macdonald was also able to monitor brain activity in the participants by using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), through which he saw an increase of activity after the individuals consumed the cocoa. He attributes this to a response to the flavanols in which cerebral blood vessels dilate and allow more blood to reach the vital areas of the brain, improving oxygen delivery and therefore increasing cognitive function.4 One limitation to these findings comes from the fact that the level of cacao flavanol that the participants consumed during the study is significantly higher than that normally found in chocolate products. However, this doesn’t negate the significance of the findings, it simply means that you won’t experience such strong effects by having a bite of your favorite chocolate bar, at least not yet. Such doses of cacao flavanols and their affects may be explored as a possibility within commercially produced consumer products or even in purely medicinal forms in the near future, but this will be discussed in more detail later in the essay. For now, we know that even small doses of cacao flavanols, such as those found in a typical chocolate product, improved cognitive performance in young adults during a separate study. The participants experienced enhanced spatial memory and reaction times.5 These new findings leave us with seemingly countless potential medicinal applications.

We’ve seen that cacao flavanols have been scientifically proven to sharpen the mind in a temporary boost of cognitive abilities, scalable with greater effects at higher doses. But how can we use this knowledge in medicinal purpose to help people? The most obvious opportunity is in helping to treat fatigue. The idea of using chocolate to battle fatigue is far from new, as it has long been known that chocolate has small amounts of caffeine in it. Aztec Emperor Montezuma II is quoted acknowledging these effects of cocoa: “…the divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day…”.11 It has now been scientifically proven that something other than caffeine within chocolate is contributing to the boost it gives you, and perhaps these flavanols could be isolated and ingested specifically for the improved cognitive function they provide. Researchers have already found that consistent consumption of chocolate that is rich in flavanols “significantly improved symptoms of chronic fatigue after 8 weeks.”2 This means that cocoa flavanols could theoretically be used to help combat the effects of increased fatigue due to aging, as well as within the general population to help battle sleep deprivation. Another potential medicinal use could be to create a chocolate based drink that is rich in the relevant flavanols (and not caffeine) as an alternate to coffee. This could help people avoid some of the negative effects that coffee can have when consumed consistently or in high quantities, as many people will need a substitute for their ritualistic boost from a hot drink.6

Now imagine your favorite chocolate product, but with the understanding that consuming it will not only bring you the delicious pleasure it normally does, but also help you perform better on the final exam you’re about to take, respond better to questions during your job interview, or compete better in your chess tournament. What if the cognitive boosts from potential new flavanol-rich chocolate based products or medicines could help treat attention deficit disorders? The Centers for Disease Control reports that as of 2011, rates had risen to 11% of children in the United States being diagnosed and treated for ADHD.7 Typical medications for ADHD have many known and consistently prevalent negative side affects, some of which are shown in the image below alongside the side effects of caffeine.

Side Effects8

If chocolate-based products can be created and brought to market that offer safe alternatives to these fatigue or cognitive function related medicines and remedies, the already massive chocolate industry would take on a vast new amount of demand. The study by professor Macdonald mentioned earlier in the essay also proved that the temporary cognitive function enhancement from cacao flavanols can be achieved without any effect on the subject’s heat rate after ingestion.4 This is an immediate improvement on the dangers of common ADHD medications as well as high doses of caffeine. Such medicinal chocolate-based products could also be aimed at safe recreational use by consumers such as college students who currently look to illicitly abuse prescription stimulants. A 2006 study found that over 8% of college students were illicitly using prescription stimulants, such as ADHD medications, as mental performance enhancers for assignment completion, studying, or exam taking.9 It is feasible that before long, food scientists will be able to develop chocolate-based products that can safely and legally fill that role for students looking for a cognitive boost during stressful deadlines or tests. The prospective applications for such cognitive improvements through consuming chocolate products are abundant. The following statement from Chocolate in Health and Nutrition elucidates the substantiality of the research and findings on this subject, and offers insight to the many ways it could be utilized:

 

“Overall, five… studies that examined the effects of cocoa- and chocolate-related products in humans found that the products were associated with significant enhancement/improvement of certain aspects of individuals’ neurocognitive functioning, and, in particular, on tasks assessing simple reaction time, rapid visual information processing, energetic arousal, episodic memory, cognitive processing speed and sequential abilities, perceptual speed, global cognition, access to semantic memory, Serial Threes subtractions, visual contrast sensitivity, detection of motion direction, visual spatial working memory, choice reaction time, and mental fatigue.”2

 

However, chocolate and its ability for cognitive function enhancement don’t have to be limited to medicinal substitutes for existing cures. As shown below, coffee is a multibillion dollar global industry, and happens to be a common pairing with chocolate. The two products can be marketed together as a way to provide an ultimate mental boost, in a variety of new coffee beverages mixed with flavanol rich chocolate.

Coffee Picture.png10

Before hastily racing to expand the chocolate industry’s scope into a new line of products marketed specifically for cognitive enhancement, we must first consider the possibility that such products may come with their own health risks for consumers. There are several potential issues with the possibility of this endeavor in concerns to consumer health risks. Firstly, it remains unclear whether or not the high concentration of the necessary flavanols needed for a noticeable cognitive enhancement come with their own set of unrealized side effects. Experts collaborating to produce Chocolate in Health and Nutrition agreed that further animal and human testing needs to be conducted in order to determine the lowest level of cacao flavanol consumption that can be proven both effective and safe.2 Moreover, it is reasonable to expect that the most successful products marketed with this feature as a highlight will likely be many of the same chocolate products that are top sellers today, simply with supplemented amounts of the necessary flavanols for a temporary cognitive boost. This added benefit would likely increase the addictiveness of such products significantly. We already know that chocolate products are one of the many culprits contributing to the prevalence of obesity and diabetes among Americans due to the often high amounts of added sugar. This could be a major concern and potentially lead to pushback on such products from certain groups.

Sugar.gif12

Perhaps the use of chocolate for the medicinal purpose of a temporary cognitive boost could instead be limited to a very niche product of high purity cacao, and marketed to true chocolate lovers looking for a bundle of health benefits. This video from Fox News13 acknowledges some of the many other health benefits attributed to cacao, including cardiovascular health benefits proven in a study of the Kuna people of Panama led by Harvard Medical School’s Norman Hollenberg .14 If appropriate measures are taken to ensure safe consumable chocolate products are offered that can provide a noticeable temporary cognitive function enhancement, the chocolate industry may have found a massive untapped market for itself. Several studies have scientifically proven that chocolate, an already tremendously popular food item, indeed has the ability to provide us with a brief mental sharpening. Time will tell if it is possible to supplement the relevant compounds in a way that makes them noticeably affective without negatively affecting the taste or safety of chocolate products.

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

1 Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2007 [1996]. The True History of Chocolate.

2 Ronald Watson et al. Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Humana Press, 2013. Springer. Web. 05 May 2017.

3 Katz DL, Doughty K, Ali A. Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2011; 15

4 Macdonald, Ian. Boosting Brain Power – With Chocolate. Am Assoc Adv Sci. 2007. Web. 05 May 2017.

5 Field DT, Williams CM, Butler LT. Consumption of cocoa flavanols results in an acute improvement in visual and cognitive functions. Physiol Behav. 2011; 103

6 Maughan, R. J., and J. Griffin. “Caffeine Ingestion and Fluid Balance: A Review.” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics : The Official Journal of the British Dietetic Association. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2003. Web. 05 May 2017.

7 “Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Feb. 2017. Web. 05 May 2017.

8 Image –

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjhqo6fpNrTAhWBWSYKHZYFCToQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thecoffeebump.com%2Fblog%2F2013%2F01%2Fcoffee-for-adhd-can-caffeine-ease-symptoms-in-children.html&psig=AFQjCNGeVAd5FILvxQZ8jxU8c9_M9H44fw&ust=1494126227652633

9 Teter, Christian J., Sean Esteban McCabe, Kristy LaGrange, James A. Cranford, and Carol J. Boyd. Illicit Use of Specific Prescription Stimulants Among College Students: Prevalence, Motives, and Routes of Administration. Pharmacotherapy: The Journal of Human Pharmacology and Drug Therapy. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 06 Jan. 2012. Web. 05 May 2017.

10 Image – http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/coffee_economy.png

11 Dillinger TL, Barriga P, Escarcega S, Jimenez M, Salazar Lowe D, Grivetti LE. Food of the gods: cure for humanity? A cultural history of the medicinal and ritual use of chocolate. J Nutr. 2000; 130

12 Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens, Maddie Oatman, Maya Dusenbery, Cristin Kearns Couzens, Wes Enzinna, Justin Elliott, and Daniel Setiawan. “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies.” Mother Jones. N.p., Nov.-Dec. 2012. Web. 05 May 2017.

13 http://video.foxnews.com/v/1214741875001/?#sp=show-clips

14 Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies. University of California Press Journals, 01 Feb. 2012. Web. 06 May 2017.

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An Interview with a Chocolate Lover: Issues within the Chocolate Industry Revealed

Curious about people’s relationship with chocolate, I interviewed a young female adult about how her relationship with chocolate has changed from childhood into adulthood. The interviewee has never learned about chocolate, but she alludes to various historical, economical, and social issues within the chocolate industry throughout the interview. Specifically, she raises ethical issues about cacao farming practices, and explicates how business transactions harm chocolate producers. The interviewee is a college-educated individual, and demonstrates significant knowledge about these issues presumably because of her enrollment in a course about the sociology of food. Based on her responses in the interview, it is clear that this course changed her relationship with food and influences her current food decisions. Through the interview, the interviewee illuminates glaring issues within the chocolate industry related to the production of cacao, exploitation of cacao farmers, and chocolate advertising. First, she raises issues that about the production of cacao by demonstrating awareness about the economic difficulties cacao farmers face, and by discussing logistical issues about certifications that attempt to combat those economic issues. Second, in describing her chocolate preferences and perceptions, she alludes to issues regarding chocolate marketing strategies, and demonstrates the immense influence that chocolate advertisements hold over consumer purchasing decisions.

Before evaluating the historical, economic, and social issues within the chocolate industry revealed by the interviewee, it is necessary to explain the similarities between cacao and coffee bean production. The interviewee learned about coffee production in a course at a prestigious university, so this section purposes to provide legitimacy to the issues she raises about cacao production by emphasizing that the coffee and cacao industries experience the same problems, thereby qualifying her arguments about coffee production as applicable to cacao production as well. First, the working and economic conditions of coffee and cacao farmers are almost identical. Most coffee farmers produce beans on small, family-owned farms, and live in poverty.[1] Coffee farmers typically rely on bean sales as their primary source of income, but it is extremely volatile because it responds to any fluctuation in bean market prices and sales.[2] Second, coffee farmers can obtain Fair Trade and Organic Certification. Fair Trade promises the same benefits to coffee farmers as it does to cacao farmers, including minimum price premiums, social development, better labor rights, and long-term trading partnership.[3] Third, a large gap exists between coffee producers’ farming practices and coffee consumers’ purchasing decisions. There are stark differences between farmers that produce specialty coffee, and farmers that produce conventional, non-certified coffee. Demand for specialty coffee is on the rise because consumers, particularly those that identify with the ethical eating, Slow Food Movement, are willing to pay more for certified, eco-friendly coffee.[4] Higher quality coffee beans are sold at a higher price in the market, but most coffee consumers are unaware of the implications of their coffee-purchasing decisions.[5] Lastly, similar to the chocolate industry, a few select big coffee companies – less than 10 – control more than half of the coffee market.[6] These similarities are important to recognize, as the interviewee recalls this knowledge in the interview, and subsequently reveals that the economic and social issues afflicting coffee farmers and production are the same issues that exist in relation to cacao farming and production.

coffee beancacao bean

Image 1: Coffee Bean                                                                             Image 2: Cacao Bean

The interviewee brings attention to the importance of the raw coffee bean product to the existence of the entire coffee industry. Through this observation, she emphasizes the complete disconnect between coffee production and coffee consumption, revealing that the same issue exists within the chocolate industry. The interviewee comments, “without the farmers, you wouldn’t have the product. They’re the ones creating the base product to make coffee. They’re often the most forgotten. That’s like with any food product.”[7] This remark deserves close evaluation, as it perfectly describes the fragmented functioning and separateness of the different sectors of the coffee industry, also applicable to the chocolate industry. With that remark, the interviewee astutely explains that these complex industries rely wholly on the raw product, the bean, and without which, coffee and chocolate might not exist. This comment is interesting because it offers a simplistic vision that connects the necessity of the raw product to the consumer industry miles and miles away. This perception also illuminates how coffee and chocolate consumers are highly unaware of the implications of their purchasing decisions on the economic livelihood of the producers. Pictured in images 1 and 2 are a coffee and cacao bean, respectively (Image 1 and 2). These visuals purpose as a reminder to consumers that the coffee they drink from Starbucks, or Lindt chocolate they eat from their local supermarket, are products that begin with coffee and cacao beans, harvested and cultivated by farmers. Production and consumption are inherently connected, however, farmers are often naïve about the final product and consumers are often uneducated about the raw product process, both of which exacerbate the separateness between different players within the coffee and chocolate systems.

USDA organic labelImage 3: USDA Organic Certification Label

The interviewee discusses logistical issues with the Fair Trade and Organic Certification protocols, revealing that these labels harm rather than benefit cacao farmers and production. Fair Trade, Organic, and Direct Trade certifications share a common goal to compensate cacao farmers that produce their beans in adherence to specific environmental and social standards at a higher price than the conventional market offers.[8] The United States Department of Agriculture divides organic products into three categories, “100% organic,” “organic,” and “made with organic ingredients,” where each category is defined based on strict agricultural practice regulations.[9] Agricultural products that adhere to these standards are labeled with the “USDA Organic” logo, pictured in Image 3 (Image 3). In viewing this image, it is apparent that the USDA Organic label is not informative, as the certification seal does not specify whether the product is made with 100%, 95%, or at least 70% organic ingredients. The lack of information on this label raises questions about the authenticity of these certifications, and how organic certification guidelines are monitored. In probing about her knowledge regarding Organic Certification, the interviewee says “there are requirements…You can still use pesticides, but [the farmers] use “organic” or “natural” pesticides that are “better” for the environment…I know there are loopholes in the organic certification process.”[10] Here, the interviewee identifies the major criticisms of the USDA Organic Certification process in relation to cacao farming and production practices, alluding to claims of product quality issues and loose surveillance of organically certified cacao farmers’ adherence to USDA guidelines.[11] As revealed through her remarks, the vagueness of this label generates confusion among consumers. Furthermore, these observations illuminate the need for tighter institutional regulation of USDA Organic protocols, both for the benefit of consumers – ensuring that cacao farmers are following certification standards, guaranteeing that consumers are purchasing actual organic cacao – and for the benefit of the producers – that they are properly compensated for producing cacao beans using environmentally-friendly farming practices.

The interviewee circles the debate about the effectiveness of Fair Trade certification’s impact on cacao farmers’ economic situation through her advocacy for Fair Trade coffee bean farming and production. Similar to organic certification, Fair Trade certification encourages sustainable farming practices, while also promoting social welfare and establishing long-term trading partnerships.[12] In explaining the benefits of Fair Trade for coffee farmers, the interviewee says, “the farmers work long, laborious hours and they don’t get paid very well unless they are in the Fair Trade system…more money goes to the farmer when it’s a Fair Trade transaction.”[13] Through this comment, the interviewee reveals two similarities between coffee bean and cacao production that are problematic for the farmers. First, she describes the difficult working conditions that coffee bean farmers endure, such as long and physically fatiguing hours, and subsequently suggests that the farmers are underpaid considering their strenuous working conditions. She alludes to a prominent issue that cacao farmers face in that they are not properly compensated for their grueling laborious efforts, and that their contributions to the chocolate industry are severely under-valued. Second, she asserts that Fair Trade certified coffee farmers are more economically stable than non-certified coffee farmers, referencing minimum price premiums and prompt payments promised by Fair Trade to certified farmers. This suggests that consumers perceive Fair Trade as an impactful certification that improves farmers’ economic situation. However, in reality, there is no strong evidence that the Fair Trade system is effective in combatting farmers’ economic crises, particularly that of cacao farmers.[14] This misconception is problematic, as consumers’ might purchase Fair Trade products hoping to improve farmers’ income situation, unbeknownst to the faults of Fair Trade.

The interviewee explicates that some of her food decisions are based on the ethicality of food production practices, but names high prices of Fair Trade and Organic products as a barrier that prevents her from always purchasing certified products. In regards to the cacao industry, attempts to improve the ethicality of cacao farmers’ working conditions by consumer advocacy groups more often than not fail.[15] Chocolate consumers are often uneducated about the complexities of the chocolate industry, making it difficult for consumers to grasp how their purchasing decisions impact the economic and/or social situation of cacao farmers. Therefore, consumers cannot be responsible for initiating change of the exploitative economic and social conditions endured by cacao farmers. Surprisingly, the interviewee demonstrates a deep consciousness about the relationship between production and consumption, explaining that she became a vegetarian because “I don’t like the treatment of farm animals on conventional farms…Also, I don’t like the growth hormones and antibiotics.”[16] This reasoning suggests that she chooses the type of food she consumes based on the ethicality of food production practices. She further explains that she prefers to consume organic food, as “It’s more environmentally friendly.”[17] Again, she adopts an ethical argument to support her preference to consume organic over conventional farm products. However, she subsequently mentions that she does not always purchase certified Organic or Fair Trade products because they are “more expensive.”[18] This confession reveals a common misconception among consumers that certified products are always more expensive, which is false, as Organic and Fair Trade farming practices can actually cost the same or less than conventional farming practices.[19] Through her remarks, it is clear that the interviewee is a conscious consumer, as she chose to become a vegetarian because of inhumane treatment of animals on conventional farms, indicating her care for ethical farming and production practices. However, her perception that Organic, Fair Trade, and Direct Trade products are more expensive than non-certified products alludes to major critiques of certification organizations, commonly accused of corrupt practices and falsely promising cacao farmers fair payment. Through the interviewee’s comments, she illuminates a significant issue that Organic, Fair Trade, and Direct Trade are actually more harmful than beneficial to cacao farmers’ economic and social conditions.

woman eating chocolate     Image 4: Gender in Chocolate Advertisement

Through the interviewee’s description of her chocolate perceptions and preferences, she reveals an issue rarely addressed, that of the immense control chocolate advertisements exercise over consumer choice. Chocolate advertisements commonly portray chocolate as an aphrodisiac, and as a luxurious product, through women’s sexuality.[20] Image 4 exemplifies this theme, as it pictures a woman, seemingly wearing no clothes, holding a piece of chocolate to her lips, with a seductive facial expression (Image 4). The image portrays chocolate as a desirable food through the sexual presentation and nature of the woman. The brightly colored lipstick brings focus to her lips, and accompanied by the sensual facial expression, the ad attempts to associate chocolate with love and romance. Furthermore, the woman is highly manicured, adorned with extravagant accessories, which contributes to the depiction of chocolate as a decadent and highly valuable product. Several times throughout the interview, the interviewee references chocolate as a “luxurious item.”[21] This association of chocolate with luxury precisely demonstrates the strong influence of chocolate advertisements, such as image 4, on consumers’ perceptions of chocolate. When prompted to reflect about chocolate advertisements, the interviewee pauses and appears puzzled, admitting a moment later that she only notices chocolate ads around Valentine’s Day.[22] Again, this emphasizes the effectiveness of chocolate marketing strategies to portray the product as an aphrodisiac, as consumers evidently associate chocolate with romance and love. The combination of a presumably seduced woman and a chocolate product, exampled in Image 4, contribute to this representation of chocolate as desirable. Most importantly, the interviewee illuminates that consumers are highly unaware of two issues related to chocolate marketing. First, the strong influence chocolate ads possess in forming their perceptions of chocolate, and second, the exploitation of female sexuality to deliver this specific representation of chocolate products. Based on the interviewee’s susceptibility to the impact of chocolate advertisements on her perceptions, and her unawareness of gender exploitation that litters these ads, it suggests that the chocolate industry should be taking action to enforce regulations that will reduce the influence of chocolate marketing on consumer perceptions and regulate chocolate marketing content.

Trader Joe's dark chocolate bar     Image 5: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Product

The interviewee’s description of her chocolate preferences further demonstrates consumer susceptibility to the influences of chocolate advertisements. The interviewee reveals she favors dark chocolate, offering “I buy it at Trader Joe’s…I like the pure flavor of their products.”[23] First, Trader Joe’s is a grocery store that advertises the sale of organic, natural, fresh food at low prices. Second, recall that the interviewee prefers organic food, but high prices prevent her from purchasing organic products. Keeping these two pieces of information in mind, the interviewee’s comment suggests that she purchases chocolate at Trader Joe’s because it is both organic and affordable. In addition to these conscious reasons, the packaging of the chocolate may also contribute to the interviewee’s decision to purchase dark chocolate bars from Trader Joe’s, though she is unconscious of this influence. Image 5 exemplifies a dark chocolate bar product sold at Trader Joe’s, one that the interviewee might encounter (Image 5). This package exercises marketing strategies to influence consumer choice by emphasizing a high cacao content of “61%,” indicative of pure chocolate. Additionally, printing “Imported from Belgium” carries connotations associated with Europe, such as fantasy and romance. Lastly, the package pictures a crown, presumably representative of chocolate’s historical association with royalty in Europe. This suggests to the consumer that the chocolate is luxurious and highly valuably, and implies that the chocolate will taste rich and pure. All of these elements on the package impact the consumer’s decision to purchase that product by manipulating her perceptions, thereby prompting the consumer to imagine the chocolate will taste special over other chocolate products. Similar to an issue already discussed, the interviewee reveals that consumers are naïve to chocolate marketing strategies, and make unconscious purchasing decisions based on the effectiveness of chocolate ads and their ability to influence consumers’ perceptions and taste preferences of chocolate.

The interviewee reveals major historical, economic, and social issues that persist within the chocolate industry through her comments about coffee production, and in describing her chocolate perceptions and taste preferences. Historical issues, such as the under-recognized efforts of cacao farmers and their contributions that permit the existence of the chocolate industry – i.e. they provide the raw product to make chocolate – are evidently issues that exist within the coffee industry as well. Economic issues, such as volatile income and impoverished livelihoods, partially the fault of certification organizations like Organic and Fair Trade, are also issues within both the cacao and coffee industries. Lastly, social issues related to the use of sexualized images of women to control consumers’ perceptions and taste preferences of chocolate are seemingly unnoticed by consumers. This is problematic in that consumers are unaware that these ads contribute to the proliferation of stereotypical gender roles, and in that consumers are also unaware that they possess little agency in their chocolate purchasing decisions.
[1] Christopher Bacon, “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffees Reduce Small-scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?,” World Development 33 (2005): 497-511.
[2] Joni Valkila, “Fair Trade Organic Coffee Production in Nicaragua – Sustainable Development or a Poverty Trap,” Ecological Economics 68 (2009): 3018-3025.
[3] Valkila, “Fair Trade organic coffee.”
[4] Julie Guthman, “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow,” in Food and Culture, ed. by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik (New York: Routledge, 2013), 496-509.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Bacon, “Confronting the Coffee Crisis.”
[7] Anonymous, interview by Ashlee Korsberg, April 24, 2017.
[8] Carla Martin, “Alternative trade and virtuous/localization/globalization” (lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017).
[9] “USDA Organic Labeling Regulations,” USDA, accessed April 30, 2017, https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=c4e0df8f46a4f4b6f56d80be31f95ed3&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.9.32.4&idno=7.
[10] Anonymous.
[11] Martin, “Alternative trade.”
[12] Ibid.
[13] Anonymous.
[14] Ndongo Samba Sylla, “On the Inequalities of the International Trade System” and “The Fair Trade Universe,” in The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, translated by David Clement Leye (London: Pluto Press, 2014).
[15] Carla Martin, “Modern day slavery” (lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 22, 2017).
[16] Anonymous.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Martin, “Alternative Trade.”
[20] Emma Robertson, “A deep physical reason’: gender, race and the nation in chocolate consumption,” in Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history (Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2009), 18-63.
[21] Anonymous
[22] Anonymous.
[23] Anonymous.

References

Anonymous. Interview by Ashlee Korsberg, April 24, 2017.

Bacon, Christopher. “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffees Reduce Small-scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?.” World Development 33 (2005): 497-511.

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow.” In Food and Culture, edited by Carole Counihan, and Penny Van Esterik, 496-509, New York: Routledge, 2013.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative trade and virtuous/localization/globalization.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Modern day slavery.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 22, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 29, 2017.

Robertson, Emma. “A deep physical reason’: gender, race and the nation in chocolate consumption.” In Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history, 18-63, Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2009.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. “On the Inequalities of the International Trade System” and “The Fair Trade Universe.” In The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, translated by David Clement Leye, London: Pluto Press, 2014.

U.S. Government Publishing Office. “USDA Organic Labeling Regulations.” Accessed April 30, 2017. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=c4e0df8f46a4f4b6f56d80be31f95ed3&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.9.32.4&idno=7.

Valkila, Joni. “Fair Trade Organic Coffee Production in Nicaragua – Sustainable Development or a Poverty Trap.” Ecological Economics 68 (2009): 3018-3025.

Image sources

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coffee_Beans_Photographed_in_Macro.jpg

Image 2: https://pixabay.com/en/photos/cocoa/

Image 3: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USDA_organic_seal.svg

Image 4: https://www.flickr.com/photos/orofacial/8219609037

Image 5: https://chocolateihaveknown.wordpress.com/category/acquired/trader-joes/

 

 

Enlightenment-Era Chocolate/Coffee Houses

from the Diary of Samuel Pepy’s Wednesday April 24, 1661

Waked in the morning with my head in a sad taking through the last night’s drink, which I am very sorry for; so rose and went out with Mr. Creed to drink our morning draft, which he did give me in chocolate to settle my stomach.

1661http://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1661/04/24/

samuel pepys.jpgFor Samuel Pepy’s chocolate was the perfect cure for a hangover, relieving his “sad head” and “imbecilic stomach” the day after Charles II’s coronation. During the life of this great diarist and government official, chocolate drinks passed from being a novelty to being a regular luncheon beverage.

Chocolate and the two stimulant drinks, coffee and tea, became the Enlightenment’s, the age of reason , most fashionable non-alcoholic beverages in Europe and the Americas. The introduction of these three beverages changed drinking habits, social customs and led to the creation of places of public discourse where one could share information, news and gossip. The desire for chocolate,the first of these three beverages to arrive in Europe. coffee, and tea led also to the creation of material objects required for the preparing, serving and drinking of these beverages.

The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement championing reason and the rights of man (i.e. men with property) to a prosperous and free life; espousing reason in science, reason in religion,  promoting liberty and tolerance,  legitimate government (as eventually exemplified by the US Constitution), the separation of church and state, fraternite’, the questioning of absolutism and authority, of the Church, of nobility, of absolute monarchy.  The Enlightenment dominated the world of ideas in Europe and the Americas from the latter half of the 17th century through the 18th century.

At first chocolate was an expensive drink, confined to the Spanish court and nobility. But it spread to Italy in 1606 when Antonio Carlotta discovered chocolate in Spain and took some to Italy.  From there chocolate spread to Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  Chocolate had already reached France arriving in Bayonne in the Aquitaine by Sephardic Jewish merchants fleeing the Inquisition.  Chocolate consumption advanced in France through royal marriages.  In 1615, Anne of Austria, age 14,  the daughter of Philip III married Louis XIII, also age 14.  She brought chocolate as an engagement present. Louis XIV married Infanta Maria Theresa, the daughter of Philip IV of Spain.   It was said that Marie Theresa had two passions, being as fond of chocolate as she was of her husband.  The Duchesse d’Orleans said of the Infanta “the queen’s ugly black teeth came from her eating too much chocolate”.  As Chocolate was promoted as a medicine for its digestive qualities and prized as an aphrodisiac, one can understand her passion. The praises are sung of chocolate in Antonio Colmenero De Ledesma’s “Chocolate: or an Indian Drinke.  (You can listen to the poem on LibriVox, I believe it was translated by Wadsworth)

The vertues thereof are no lesse various, then Admirable. For, besides that it preserves Health, and makes such as drink it often, Fat, and Corpulent, faire and Amiable, it vehemently Incites to Venus, and causeth Conception in women, hastens and facilitates their Delivery: It is an excellent help to Digestion, it cures Consumptions, and the Cough of the Lungs, the New Disease, or Plague of the Guts, and other Fluxes, the Green Sicknesse, Jaundise, and all manner of Inflamations, Opilations, and Obstructions. It quite takes away the Morphew [discolored skin], Cleanseth the Teeth, and sweetneth the Breath, Provokes Urine, Cures the Stone, and strangury [urinary infection], Expells Poison, and preserves from all infectious Diseases. But I shall not assume to enumerate all the vertues of this Confection: for that were Impossible, every day producing New and Admirable effects in such as drinke it (sig. A4r).

 

Over the course of the 18th century,  chocolate consumption grew from 2,000,000 to 13,000,000 pounds in Europe.  There was an enormous human cost to this growth in consumption- Slavery. Slavery enabled the production of sugar, the addition of sugar to chocolate, and to tea and coffee to make these beverages palatable and flavorsome.

By the mid- 17th century chocolate houses were common in Paris for the aristocracy, for whom chocolate was exalted as a beverage. Coffee houses were popular in Paris where 380 were established by 1720.

In 1657 a Frenchman opened a shop on Queen’s Alley in Bishopsgate Street in the east of London’s Business District, where he sold chocolate which was advertised as a West Indian Drink. Coffee houses had come to London 5 years earlier, competing with chocolate shops. There were 82 coffee houses in London by 1663, 500 by 1700. Chocolate in London was at first,associated with popery and idleness (I.e. France and Spain) so to create a market, pamphlets and broadsides touting the health benefits, as previously mentioned,  were published and distributed.  Coffee and chocolate and tea  as beverages were the antithesis of alcoholic drinks, heightening one’s awareness, pleasurably, rather than dulling one’s senses.

In appearance coffee houses also were different from taverns or pubs.  Often decorated with bookshelves, mirrors and good furniture.  The custom was to leave one’s social differences at the coffee house door, there being a custom for anyone who begins an altercation, to atone for it by buying coffee for all present.Coffee houses were well ordered establishments that promoted polite conversation.  All a reflection of The Enlightenment which honors Rationalism.  The popularity of coffee/chocolate houses was a reflection of a growing upper and middle class.

The coffeehouses functioned as a place for discussion  for writers, politicians, businessmen, philosophers, scientists; lively places for rumors, gossip and news and sometime unreliable information.  People frequented several coffee houses choosing ones that reflected their interests. Coffee or chocolate houses were often associated with a particular interest or political viewpoint where one would find pamphlets and broadsides displayed.  Sometimes a patron would hurry from one coffeehouse to another to share news of a major event.

Coffee houses for businessmen centered near the Royal Exchange; politicians near St. James and Westminster; near St. Paul’s Cathedral for clergy and philosophers

“All accounts of Gallantry, Pleasure and Entertainment shall be under the Article of White’s Chocolate-house, Poetry under Will’s Coffee-house, Learning under…Grecian, Foreign and Domestic News, you will have from St.  James Coffee-house.”

Richard Steele, the editor of  The Tatler, used the Grecian as his office.  Coffee houses were also used as one’s mailing address, as there was no street numbering or regular postal service.   The Grecian was most associated with science, as members of The Royal Society, Britain’s Scientific Institution flocked there.  Sir Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley were said to have dissected a dolphin on the premises. The Marine near St. Paul’s was where sailors and navigators, merchants and seamen realizing that science could improve navigation and commercial success.  Jonathan’s was frequented by stockbrokers and jobbers, who eventually broke off and formed the London Stock Exchange. Garraway’s was less reputable, a home for auctions,financial speculation and bad paper.

The literary minded first went from Will’s where the poet John Dryden had gone, then moved onto Button’s where Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift were.  Edward Lloyd’s coffee house opened in 1680 as a meeting place for ship captains, ship owners and merchants. It evolved into the Society of Lloyds,(Lloyds of London).

Miles coffee house was a meting place known as the “Amateur Parliament” Pepy’s commented that the debates he heard at Miles,

“were the most ingenious and smart, that I ever heard, or expect to hear, and bandied with great eagerness, the arguments in the Parliament were but flat to it.”

Coffee houses were also controversial as they functioned as centers of political discussion and informed political debate. This made for a striking contrast with coffee houses in France.  The Abbe’ Prevost when visiting London, declared that coffee houses were the seats of English Liberty.

In France, coffee houses were a means of keeping track of public opinion, where there were strict curbs on press freedom .  Coffee houses in Paris were stuffed with spies and one who spoke ran the risk of being sent to the Bastille. Ironically, it was at the Cafe de Foy that the journalist and politician, Camille Desmoulins roused his countrymen with the words “Aux Armes Citizens” on July 12, 1789.  The Bastille fell two days later and the French Revolution had begun.

Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie and Coe, Michael. “The True History of Chocolate”. Thames and Hudson. London, England. 1996. Print.

Mintz, Sidney W. “Sweetness and Power”. Penguin Books, New York, N.Y. 1985. Print

Kiel, Kenneth F. and Ornelas, Kriemhild Connee. “The Cambridge World History of Food”. Cambridge University Press. 2000. Print.

Martin, Carla. 2017 AAAS E119 Lecture Videos and Notes

Google Images Samuel Pepys Painting

Benhamou, Rebecca, “The Time of Israel Thanks Sephardic Jews for Chocolate 500 Years Too Late”. The Times of Israel. 2013. online.

“Coffee-Houses The Internet in a Cup” The Economist. 2003. On line

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee vs. Chocolate: A Battle between Classes

The middle of the seventeenth century brought many foreign luxury goods to Europe, as coffee, tea, tobacco and chocolate made its appearance into the European courts. Drinking coffee and chocolate became fashionable, and no member of the nobility wanted to be left behind in the new trend and the display of elegance, grace and high refinement that came with drinking these beverages. Both beverages were at first praised for their therapeutic value and for their ability to cure most any disease or ailment and both beverages came with a range of new fashionably crafted tableware (You p.17). But despite many similarities, chocolate found its way to the masses much later, and for a long time coffee and chocolate became integrated parts of two very different, if not total opposite, ideologies of eighteenth century Europe. As argued by Wolfgang Schivelbush in his work Tastes of Paradise, coffee became the symbolic drink of the northern, protestant, bourgeois order while chocolate was cast as its southern catholic counterpart drank merely by the elites (Schivelbush p. 87). How did this crucial distinction between two seemingly similar beverages arise? One of the most important factors in explaining the dichotomy that existed between coffee and chocolate in the seventeenth and eighteenth century in Europe is the differential effect the beverages were believed to have on the body; while coffee’s stimulating effect made it emblematic for the Protestant work ethic in England, chocolate, praised for its nutritional value, was an essential beverage during lent in Catholic Spain, Italy and France.

xocolatada_-_madrid
Image 1: Painted tile from the early eighteenth century in Valencia, Spain. The tile depicts a chocolatada (chocolate party). The saucer held by the servant in blue, is called a mancerina, and was a European invention for drinking chocolate without spilling it.

Chocolate: Catholic beverage or Aphrodisiac                                                                   

Although it’s unclear when exactly chocolate arrived in Spain, the first European port of entry, it can be said with certainty that it became a staple in the Spanish courts and among the elite during the seventeenth century. Due to its nutritional value and nourishing nature, however, the Catholic Spanish nobility began to wonder whether consuming chocolate, although it being a beverage, broke the ecclesiastical fast. The argument went back and forth many times, but it was finally settled by Pope Gregory XIII who said it did not break the fast. Many of his successors were asked the same question, but they all seemed to be in agreement and as such, chocolate became the perfect fasting drink for the nobility of Spain and Italy. Toward the end of the seventeenth century, Spain began to lose its trend-setting reputation, and France began to reign supreme as the ultimate role-model for the European aristocracy. Chocolate had made its way up to France by way of the marriage between Anne, the daughter of Phillip III of Spain, and Louis XIII of France, and away from the Spanish court, the beverage began to lose its connotations to lent and became for purely secular enjoyment. Chocolate was a beverage mostly consumed during breakfast and many aristocrats preferred to be served in the bedroom, as portrayed by many artists in the late Baroque age. The nature of the R
ococo art reinforced chocolate’s reputation for being an aphrodisiac, a belief that dated back to the European conquest of Mexico, and as such chocolate became the ultimate symbol of riches and indulgence, and the status beverage of the ancien régime.

LaCrainte
Image 2: La Crainte by Noel Le Mire (1769) – A young woman reaching for her morning cup of chocolate. The painting reflects the erotic air chocolate held in France during the seventeenth and eighteenth century

Coffee: A working-class beverage                                                                              

Interestingly, coffee was initially introduced to the European elite in much the same way chocolate was. Nonetheless, coffee made its descend to the masses much quicker and even became symbolic of the Protestant work ethic of the bourgeois order. Schivelbusch argues that this is due to the fact that the aristocracy only enjoyed coffee for the form of it, while the bourgeois actually valued coffee for its mentally stimulating effects. He states:

‘Coffee appealed to court society of the seventeenth and eighteenth not only as a exotic drink, but also as occasions of self-display. The exquisite service and the young blackamoor who served it were basically more important to aristocratic taste than the items consumed. ‘(Schivelbusch p. 20)

In contrast, the bourgeois attributed many qualities to coffee, that to this day have not been scientifically proven. Besides its supposed sobering effects of th
e inebriated, it was also seen as an antierotic drink that reduced sexual energies and as such, was often recommended to those who lived in celibacy to curb their sexual urges. Sobriety and abstinence were ideals that fit perfectly within the protestant ideology, and coffee was made the beverage of the working class. Coffee’s popularity however, wasn’t solely based on pharmacological myths. As modern medicine has pointed out, the caffeine in coffee does truly effect the central nervous system and thus allows for enhanced mental activity. This was a welcome novelty in an age in which the labor had become less physical and more mentally straining. While the medieval man did mostly physically laborious work outside, the seventeenth century middle class spent more of his time stationary and indoors. Another aspect that made coffee the perfect people’s beverage is the fact that coffee was initially only available to the middle class in coffeehouses, making it a beverage that was only to be consumed in public. In England, where coffee arrived slightly earlier than chocolate, these coffeehouses fostered communication and discussion, and soon became the meeting spot for businessmen. Although chocolate was also served to those who could afford it in the coffeehouses in England, coffee had a stronger stimulating effect than chocolate and therefore gave the wallet-conscious middle class clientele a bigger bang for their buck, which is why these houses were called “coffee-houses” and not “chocolate-houses”. The ability for the middle-class to buy chocolate however, marked a key difference between England and France. While drinking chocolate was being advertised in the English newspapers, Louis XIV of France had granted a country-wide royal monopoly for chocolate to David Chaliou, granting him the exclusive privilege to make and sell chocolate throughout the kingdom (Coe p. 166). This monopoly ensured that chocolate in France was strictly for the aristocracy, while in England, land of shopkeepers and businessmen, chocolate was made available to whoever could afford it. The video below shows a reconstruction of one of the most popular coffeehouses in London during the 17th century. Lloyd’s Coffeehouse was opened in 1688 and was frequented by ship captains, ship owners and insurance brokers, and thus people went to Lloyd’s to hear the latest trade news. The coffeehouse was so popular that it evolved into the largest insurance brokerages in the world (start at 0:52).

Coffee vs. Chocolate                                                                                                                              

As the brief mention of the coffeehouses pointed out, both coffee and chocolate were served publicly to the bourgeois order and privately to the elites, albeit that the proportions varied per country. As pointed out by Morris, it would be overly simplistic to cling to a stark division between the consumers of coffee and chocolate (Morris p.207). That being said, it cannot be denied that chocolate and coffee had vastly different centers of influence, that initially stemmed from the beverages’ effects on the body. While chocolate was mostly associated with the Spanish aristocracy, the Catholic church, embodying the erotic spirit of the late baroque age, coffee was associated with quite the opposite. Coffee became the sobering, mind-sharpening, nonerotic beverage of the bourgeois order, that epitomized the protestant work ethic. And although these beverages are now enjoyed by many, regardless of class or religion, one can certainly imagine where these images come from, based on how a cup of coffee or hot chocolate make us feel today.

References

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Morris, Jonathan. “Comment: Chocolate, Coffee and Commodity History.” Food and History 12.1 (2014): 201-09. Web.

Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. Tastes of paradise: a social history of spices, stimulants, and intoxicants. New York: Vintage , 1993. Print.

You, Yao-Fen, Mimi Hellman, and Hope Saska. Coffee, tea, and chocolate: consuming the world. Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, 2016. Print.

Multimedia Sources

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Xocolatada_-_Madrid.jpg

Image 2: The Clark Museum, Williamstown MA (http://clarkart.edu/Collection/10328)

Video: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gt8WCS3hN8&t=29s)

Fair Trade, Direct Trade, and The Relationship Model: Millennials Changing The Ethically Sourced Market

We’ve heard a lot about our generation, the famed “millennials.” Often stereotyped as lazy, selfish and entitled, it doesn’t seem like we’re doing much for the world besides trying to build the next great “Angry Birds” app. However, there is an important part of our generation that is not talked about as much, that we are the “do well while also doing good” generation. Our generation wants to see contributions as investments in causes that we care about instead of solely a donation or charity. In finance, there is something called sustainable and responsible investment and “ESG,” which stands for environmental friendliness, social responsibility and corporate governance. This form of investing is known as impact investing, a strategy for investing in companies that do something good for humanity, yet also do well for portfolios.

Impact investing in the US has grown 76% from 2012 to 2014, in only two years (USSIF). Why is this? Because millennials are entering the marketplace and demanding more ethically sourced goods and ethically responsible companies. Although millennials currently may only account for a small percentage of investing, as we age and come into money that we want to invest for our future, we will be a significant driver of impact investing growth. This investment perspective is important for understanding millennial consumption habits, especially in regards to the future consumption of goods and products that have a history of bad ethics and poor social responsibility, such as characterized in the production of chocolate and coffee.

Our generation is extremely influential in its current and potential buying power, and it has a handle on the limitless potential of social media to address issues and be a voice for causes like no other generation before it. As our generation increasingly enters the marketplace, there will be increasing scrutiny of where we invest our money and what good it is doing in the world. There will be increasing scrutiny on transparency, on getting to the bottom of the supply chain, where much, much more of every dollar we spend gets back to the producer, the farmer. I mention these economic and finance terms as a way to frame the importance of understanding what is happening in the marketplace to inform chocolate companies of the coming conscious consumer and how we will see certifications such as Fair Trade and Direct Trade face increased scrutiny, and companies like Taza Chocolate as pioneers in the marketplace grow in popularity.

In its latest annual study, Nielsen revealed that almost two thirds (66%) of consumers are willing to pay extra for products that come from companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impact (Nielsen). This percentage represents a large jump from 55% last year and 50% the year before. Interestingly, willingness to pay more is consistent across income groups. The study also revealed that almost three-quarters of millennials (ages 20-34) claimed they would pay more for sustainable products, up from about half last year. One of the most fascinating parts of this study was that female millennials, in particular, were willing to pay more at 75% (Nielsen). These trends towards more conscious consumption are something chocolate companies should be paying attention to. While at the moment we are most familiar with Taza Chocolate as a pioneer in the Direct Trade chocolate market, I believe we will be seeing more companies and brands come into the Direct Trade ethically sourced market to capitalize on the millennials that will be looking for such differentiated products in the marketplace. As we discovered in class, women buy the bulk of chocolate products, and if millennial women are the most inclined to pay more for an ethically sourced product, it is good news for the ethical chocolate market and for companies like Taza, who have to charge a premium to maintain their Direct Trade business. According to Steve Polski, senior director of responsible supply chains and sustainability at a top consumer company observes, “Businesses today are looking at sustainability differently than they were even a few years ago.” Polski continues, “It’s an exciting time to be working on supply chain sustainability and I think we’re approaching an inflection point among consumers as well” (Mcavoy).

Nielsen-Paying-Premium-Sustainable-Products-Oct2015

Chart showing the incredible rise in millennials being willing to pay a premium for sustainable products – this is good news for ethically sourced chocolate and coffee companies that must charge a premium to stay committed to their ethical sourcing and be willing to cover the high price of maintaining an ethically sourced company with a high quality, pricey product. 

I have had my own first-hand experience with the issue of supply chain sustainability and the new millennial market that I will discuss further. First, however, I will begin by highlighting the difference between Fair Trade and Direct Trade using Taza Chocolate as an example, and then discuss my own experience creating an ethically sourced coffee company without certifications of any type, a trade model I call the “Relationship Model,” or the one-to-one model. There is much to be explored on the topics of ethically sourced chocolate and coffee and many difficulties of supply-chain management. Yet, as noted earlier, the economic trends and research data tells us that the consumer of the future will increasingly demand ethical products, particularly those transparent as to source, and be willing to pay more for these products – the chocolate market needs to think about how to adapt to these trends and answer millennial questions on sourcing.

We have discussed and explored in depth the various issues with the Fair Trade and Direct Trade certifications in the chocolate world. Fair Trade USA promises “the money you spend on day-to-day goods can improve an entire community’s day-to-day lives” (Fair Trade USA). While this goal is promising, taking a closer look at Fair Trade USA’s standards reveals that this certification is not enough to directly impact cacao farmers (Martin). There is no guarantee that money from the purchase goes directly to the farmers’ pockets. Instead, farmers must shoulder high fees, pay premiums, and other charges that come with the Fair Trade certification (Martin). This furthers the sad reality that very little, if any, money actually goes the farmers at the origins of the supply chain. Fair Trade USA promises a fair minimum price for cocoa, but in reality it “barely differs from the current world market price” (Leissle). Ultimately, the research tells us that that Fair Trade USA’s promises and commitments are misleading, and “lack of evidence of impact” makes its certification less appealing to informed consumers seeking ethically sourced products, particularly among millennials (Martin).

By contrast, Direct Trade moves beyond Fair Trade USA’s standards to create a clearer connection between cacao farmers and chocolate makers, or coffee farmers and coffee makers. Direct Trade hopes to go further than Fair Trade USA and be the solution that “make[s] for more ethical, sustainable production in an industry with a long history of exploitation” (Shute). Direct Trade tries to realize this benefit by eliminating the “middleman,” allowing chocolate makers and coffee makers to speak and interact directly with the farmers at the beginning of the supply chain to negotiate prices for the beans. Such direct negotiation, eliminating the cost and burden due to the middleman, should make it possible to compensate farmers at a “premium price they should earn for the high quality cacao they produce” (Taza Chocolate). In addition, Direct Trade eliminates the fees that come with Fair Trade USA certifications. The direct interaction between the farmers and chocolate and coffee makers means the farmers and farms are not obligated to be a part of cooperatives and can thus earn even more (Martin). These structural details of the Direct Trade process make it a better solution than Fair Trade USA for consumers seeking truly ethically sourced products and who want to see more of their money getting back to the farmer and making a difference. Importantly, those who seek ethically sourced products are growing in numbers and are mostly made up of millennials, whose purchasing power is only increasing. Now is when the Direct Trade market can do well while also doing good in the world. As millennials, we care about where the products we eat come from and that the money we spend is going to a good cause, thus enabling companies to charge a premium to make sure that their products are up to our new millennial standards and be assured that these premium prices will not hinder the profits of their business.

Taza Chocolate marketing labels showing their “Direct Trade” icon and their marketing slogan, “seriously good and fair for all.” We should question what these labels mean and recognize the vague notion of “Direct Trade” and the lack of standards it implies. 

While the Direct Trade model eliminates most of the issues buyers have with the Fair Trade USA certification system, certain problems of inconsistency arise due to the lack of set standards for Direct Trade. Buyers who directly source from farmers can have different standards when it comes to what a so-called “premium price” actually represents, what “quality cacao” means, and what the expectations are for farms with “fair working conditions” (Martin). Taza Chocolate maintains that they have “direct relationships with cacao producers,” and pay a set “premium price” to cacao producers and continues to “purchase high quality beans” but does not offer too much into detail of where exactly the money from the premium pricing goes (Taza Chocolate).

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Screengrab of Taza Transparency Report meant to highlight that the transparency reports do not detail the amount of money received by individual farmers or the “premium” paid – it seems as if these “Transparency” reports are no more than a marketing scheme to appear transparent. The details of the economics of the cooperatives and the income of the farmers is left out. 

Taza’s particular company-developed souring transparency also brings forth concerns about inconsistencies in Direct Trade’s more general, less specific standards amongst other producers claiming to source their products via Direct Trade.

As a millennial, I know how difficult it is to be a conscious consumer. Until a few years ago I was unaware of the struggles farmers faced in their supply-chains and how little income farmers were able to make by selling to conventional markets or to big companies. It was only when a started a coffee company myself was I able to truly understand how difficult it is to create a great company with a great product, how difficult it is for the farmer to reap the benefits while also being able to make a profit to sustain a business. But the success of the business is a real case study in changing consumer habits and of the new supply chains consumer changes are causing. In 2011, I visited the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, Africa. There, I met Paskali Gwandu, our guide in the crater for a week and a wonderful horticulturist. He introduced my family to the most wonderful coffee we had ever tasted, grown and roasted right on his farm in his village down the road from the campsite. Over the course of the week my family drank his coffee and explored the crater. At the end of the week we exchanged email addresses so we could send some photos we had taken and keep in touch about his horticulture studies. In a couple of emails, my family asked about his family and his great coffee, which led to him sending us his coffee beans, rare Tanzanian Peaberry, for a small money transfer of $50, as a thanks for him sharing his knowledge with us. To our surprise, the coffee arrived in just over a week, wrapped in beautiful Tanzanian stamps and with a gift of a blanket interwoven with exotic cowrie shells and with my own name, “Catherine” on it – a thank you from Paskali’s wife and family.

slide4-2

My brother (on left) with Paskali Gwandu, the talented horticulturalist and coffee farmer. Evidence of direct relationship. 

We continued this email exchange and money transferring to receive his amazing coffee every few weeks. After a while, friends and extended family began asking about Paskali and the coffee and started buying it through us. For my senior multimedia project, I decided to build a website for Paskali as a way for it to be easier for both customers and Paskali to order coffee, naming it “Gwandu Coffee.” Since that point, I have been trying to help Paskali and his family by marketing Gwanducoffee.com and learning about the complex coffee business in Africa. The small amount of coffee we have sold has changed Paskali’s life, allowing him to earn tuition to send his children to school and invest in new coffee plants, things that Paskali never thought were possible before.

Screengrabs from GwanduCoffee.com, the website I made in my multimedia class. Fully functional credit card processing and order transfer to Paskali’s email at the village computer which he checks daily. 

I discovered that by selling this coffee direct from Tanzania to the consumer via the internet, Paskali could get $4 per pound, compared to max $.50 per pound he would get at the markets. I have seen first hand what transparency can do for both the consumer and the farmer. Paskali’s coffee is of highest quality, and he takes deep care of his coffee because he knows he is sending it directly to the consumer’s doorstep and getting paid a premium to care for the consumer and the coffee.

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From GwanduCoffee.com, our simple infographic showing the supply-chain from farm to consumer. 

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A screengrab of my research slide detailing the current issues with the coffee market in Tanzania and how GwanduCoffee.com is a solution to those problems. Detailing the significant price change to the farmer. 

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A screengrab from GwanduCoffee.com showing again the supply chain as direct from farm to consumer, truly “Direct” trade, no middlemen (buyers, sourcers, packaging, etc. – such as Taza must use)

Here, my model goes one step further, in what I like to call the one-to-one or Relationship Model of trade. In this model, you, the consumer, know the exact farmer and farms where your coffee is grown and roasted and can directly witness the impact you make. You know that this coffee is from Paskali Gwandu, not from just from farms in a region or a cooperative. A common question that comes up from people is, “Is this coffee Direct Trade or Fair Trade” and this is where I have to tell them no, it’s much more than that. It’s a relationship trade with Paskali, his family, his village, the coffee and the consumer. It was clear that people knew about fair trade but were unaware of what it did or what it did not do for farmers.

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Straight from GwanduCoffee.com website under the “The Company” tab. Gwandu gvies all the credit to Paskali Gwandu and makes sure to give background to him and the company. Pictured below the information is a photo of Paskali Gwandu himself. 

These new ways of trade and sourcing chocolate and coffee beans leaves more questions to be asked pricing, quality control, marketing, and the disruption of old supply chains, and whether consumers may be exploited from labels and buzzwords, but that is a larger conversation. The important conclusion is that millennials coming into the marketplace and demanding more ethically sourced products, and willing to pay more for them, bodes well for the positive future of farmers and chocolate and coffee businesses.

Even further than the Relationship Model I propose, is a relationship much like World Vision, a charitable organization in which a specific child or family is sponsored over time by a contributing family. Perhaps in this extended relationship model, a farmer could be supported by multiple families or people over a longer period of time, to make a real difference and receive high quality coffee or chocolate. This may be wishful thinking for the future of coffee, but we must continue to think of new ways to innovate the supply-chain and how to increase transparency.

relationship-trade-icon

It is advised to avoid all certifications on packaging to not stray consumers with false advertising, but this is an example of a possible relationship model trade icon, if the market demands such labeling. 

Of course, not every person has access to a coffee or chocolate farmer and can create a company, but consumers can take control of their knowledge and quickly identify which companies are doing good for humanity. Something as small as a chocolate bar or a cup of coffee in the morning can change the life of a farmer half way across the world. As a millennial, I believe the market place will start to make this form of conscious consuming more available to us, as companies will want to capitalize off our changing concerns about where our food is from and where our money is going to support. Companies like Taza Chocolate and Gwandu Coffee are not only paving a new path for companies of the future, but also serving as a contrast to present company ethics and serving as a way for consumers to question current supply-chain practices. Our generation can and will create real positive change in the chocolate and coffee industry. I feel honored to be a part of this change and look forward to the future of an industry so marred with a dark past and even a dark present.

 

Works Cited:

Leissle, Kristy. “What’s Fairer than Fair Trade? Try Direct Trade with Cocoa Farmers.”YES! Magazine. YES! Magazine, 04 October 2013. Web. 02 May 2016.

Mcavoy, Kaitlyn. “Ethical Sourcing: Do Consumers and Companies Really Care?” Spend Matters. N.p., 15 Feb. 2016. Web. 2 May 2016. <http://spendmatters.com/2016/02/15/ethical-sourcing-do-consumers-and-companies-really-care/&gt;.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/globalization.” AAAS 119x Lecture. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium, Cambridge, MA. 6 Apr. 2016. Lecture.

Nielsen. “GLOBAL CONSUMERS ARE WILLING TO PUT THEIR MONEY WHERE THEIR HEART IS WHEN IT COMES TO GOODS AND SERVICES FROM COMPANIES COMMITTED TO SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY.” Nielsen. Nielsen Press Room, 17 June 2014. Web. 2 May 2016. <http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/press-room/2014/global-consumers-are-willing-to-put-their-money-where-their-heart-is.html&gt;.

Nielsen. “Sustainable Selections: How Socially Responsible Companies Are Turning a Profit.” Nielsen. Nielsen Press Room, 12 Oct. 2015. Web. 2 May 2016. <http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2015/sustainable-selections-how-socially-responsible-companies-are-turning-a-profit.html&gt;.

Shute, Nancy. “Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare to Bare How It’s Done .” NPR: The Salt. NPR, 14 February 2013. Web. 02 May 2016.

REPORT ON US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends 2014. 02 May 2016

“Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Certified Cacao.” Taza Chocolate. Taza Chocolate, 2015. Web. 02 May 2016.

 

Images:

Nielsen chart: http://www.marketingcharts.com/traditional/will-consumers-pay-more-for-products-from-socially-responsible-companies-60166/

All Gwandu Coffee Images are from author and from Gwanducoffee.com website.

“Relationship” icon: http://blog.seattlecoffeeworks.com/in-the-news/introducing-relationship-trade/

Taza Direct Trade and Taza Chocolate: Via Taza Chocolate website

 

Fair Trade Pioneer and Protector: Equal Exchange Chocolates

Equal Exchange is one of the leading distributors of fairly traded and organic products, particularly coffee, cocoa products and tea. The company has been involved in fair trade from its conception in 1986 and has fought to ensure fair treatment, fair prices, safe working conditions and direct trade relationships for small-scale farmers and farming co-operatives as well as providing education to its consumers on available products. In the last ten years, Equal Exchange has found itself in opposition to one of the most well-known names of fair trade (mostly because it has the words in its name)- Fair Trade USA. Equal Exchange has retaliated against Fair Trade USA’s CEO Paul Rice’s campaign, “Fair Trade for All,” which plans to expand the certification of fair trade to large plantation owners. Equal Exchange, through its countless protest resources, emphasizes that this inclusion of big business and plantations will only foster negative competition for the farmers and farming co-ops that fair trade organizations try so hard to protect.

The Backstory

In 1986, Jonathan Rosenthal, Michael Rozyne and Rink Dickinson co-founded Equal Exchange as a challenge to the existing Fair Trade business models and as an attempt at creating a “closer connection” between the consumers and the farmers (“History of Equal Exchange”). They were previously involved in a food co-op in New England and decided to bring their knowledge of the relationship between producers and consumers into a realm that would benefit international, small-scale producers.  Once a week, for three years, the three met and discussed the best strategies to ensure more control for farmers, to create higher quality standards for producers, and foster a community and a company “that would be controlled by the people who did the actual work,” (“History of Equal Exchange”).

header_founders_0-1
The co-founders of Equal Exchange

Originally, the company sold Nicaraguan coffee, called “Café Nica,” which they imported through a loophole in the Reagan administration’s embargo on products from Nicaragua as a show of opposition towards the Sandinista government. This embargo was placed on Nicaraguan products in the late 1980s to further cut off any and all financial assistance to the Nicaraguan government as punishment for the Sandistas allegedly providing material support to the Salvadorian guerrillas (Leogrande). The embargo did not inhibit the founders from importing Nicaraguan coffee but during these years the three located and began trade relationships with other farming co-ops in South America and Africa. It was not until later years that the company would begin to sell fairly sourced tea and cacao products in addition to coffee.

The Business Model

Equal Exchange is a fully democratic worker co-operative that emphasizes equality among workers. The company depends on four main principles for its employees: “the right to vote (one vote per employee, not per share); the right to serve as leader (i.e. board director); the right to information; and the right to speak your mind,” (“Worker-Owner”). Each worker involved in the employee has an equal stake in the company so there is no hierarchy of salary or superiority among positions. The company is involved with over forty co-operatives in North America (mainly Mexico), Southern America (mainly Peru, Ecuador and Paraguay), Central America, Africa and Asia.

This video is taken from the Equal Exchange website narrating the worker-owned business model (if the video resets to the beginning of the Equal Exchange playlist, it should be video 16: Co-ops: Can We Do it Ourselves?):

The Introduction of Cocoa

In 2001, Equal Exchange surveyed their consumers and figured out that cocoa was a highly desired product. In 2002, they added hot cocoa mix to their product list, quickly followed by baking cocoa powder in 2003 and three varieties of chocolate bars in 2004. Their 2002 hot cocoa mix was the first U.S. cocoa product to display the Fair Trade Certified seal and to use Fair Trade Certified sugar (“History of Equal Exchange,”).

“…We put together a hot cocoa mix that met our standards of quality and social responsibility — a partnership between cocoa, sugar, and dairy cooperatives. Our hot cocoa mix has helped us reach out to a different group of farmers and has provided options for people who want to be certain that their cocoa is not being harvested by slave or child labor. It has allowed children in the U.S. to participate in promoting Fair Trade along with their parents,” (“History of Equal Exchange,”).

Cocoa Production and Products Today 

After the initial introduction of Equal Exchange’s three chocolate bars in 2004 they have expanded their products to twelve varieties of chocolate bars (Extreme Dark, Very Dark, Panama Extra Dark, Milk, Dark Chocolate Almond, Dark Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt, Milk Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate Orange and Dark Chocolate Lemon Ginger with Black Pepper), milk and dark “chocolate minis,” milk and dark chocolate chips, hot cocoa mix, dark hot chocolate mix, spicy hot cocoa mix and one bulk sized option of cocoa powder (“Chocolate Bars,” “Chocolate Chips,” “Chocolate Minis,” “Cocoa,”). Each of their products is certified organic and Kosher.

organic-chocolate-ecuador-dark
“This bar is made with chocolate liquor from Fortaleza del Valle co-operative in Ecuador and cocoa butter from co-ops in the Dominican Republic. The sugar and vanilla are also fairly traded and organic. The sugar comes from co-operatives in Paraguay and the vanilla from a co-operative in Madagascar,” (“Organic Ecuador Dark Chocolate (65% Cacao)”).

 

 

The chocolate bars are made with cacao sourced from “small farmers in Central and South America,” and are accompanied with a story explaining the origin of the cacao, sugar, and any other ingredients in each bar (“Chocolate Bars,”). The website states that “All of our Fair Trade and organic chocolates and cocoas are made with pure ingredients from small-scale farmers in Peru, Panama, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic,” (“Chocolate and Cocoa,”).

 

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“This bar is made with chocolate liquor from the COCABO co-operative in Panama and cocoa butter from CONACADO in the Dominican Republic. The sugar and vanilla are also fairly traded and organic. The sugar comes from co-operatives in Paraguay and the vanilla from a co-operative in Madagascar,” (“Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate (80% Cacao)”).

The “Fair Trade” Debacle 

When Equal Exchange began it had a goal to challenge the existing conditions of the larger organizations who dealt with producer-consumer relations. The co-founders of Equal Exchange could recognize the issues with large, corporate structures dealing with fair trade and wanted to refine the process to help more small farming operations in better ways.

Fair Trade Certification is socially understood to be beneficial for the small farmers and farming co-operatives and an effective way for consumers to directly benefit the producers of their goods. Fair Trade USA  promises to encourage the following ideas in its trade relationships with producers:

  • Direct trade between producers and manufacturers
  • Fair prices for goods
  • Safe working conditions
  • No exploitation of labor
  • No child labor
  • Gender equity
  • Democratic and transparent principles
  • Reasonable work hours
  • Community development to support education, healthcare, etc
  • Environmental sustainability (Martin)

However, these goals are not completely satisfied by the organization. There are many issues with the Fair Trade system, such as not enough money directly returning to farmers, a lack of standardized quality control,  and the high cost of certification. Unlike Equal Exchange, it is not a worker-owned, fully democratic organization so workers do not have the autonomy and voice that they would if they were involved in smaller organizations. The most problematic of the shortcomings of the system- in the eyes of Equal Exchange- is the fact that Big Food has slowly become more involved in the Fair Trade system which leads to a higher involvement of large plantations rather than small farmers.

In 2011, Paul Rice, CEO of Fair Trade USA stated that he wanted to expand the Fair Trade Certification system by allowing larger plantations and suppliers of cacao, sugar, cotton and coffee to take part in the system (“World Affairs Council of Northern California”). In his explanation of his “Fair Trade for All,” campaign, Rice stated that the definition of Fair Trade should be expanded and allow for the purchase of goods from collections of famers or larger plantations, as long as they meet the proper certification requirements; however, this inclusion of large plantations will foster new competition in the Fair Trade system that may ultimately hurt small farmers. Farmers who are a part of the fair trade system became involved due to excessive competition from major producers and the resultant financial inequity; thus, Rice’s plan to broaden the scope of Fair Trade will recreate this type of harmful competition between producers. Rice’s defense for this campaign centers on the idea that Fair Trade should be inclusive and should work to involve as many producers as possible.

“I Stand With Small Farmers”

Almost immediately, Equal Exchange responded to Fair Trade USA’s plan with harsh criticism. Equal Exchange began a response campaign, named “I Stand with Small Farmers,” through which they ask consumers and manufacturers to stand in solidarity against the expansion of Fair Trade ceswsfemailsignature_0-1rtification to include plantations. The founders have hyperlinked statements and resources on their webpage that argue against the claims of Rice and Fair Trade USA, including lists of ally partners and media sources covering the debate.

The following quote is taken from their public petition against the Fair Trade for All plan:

“Therefore we vigorously oppose Fair Trade USA (previously TransFair USA)’s Fair Trade for All initiative, which seeks to allow coffee, cacao and other commodities from plantations into the Fair Trade system. This strategy means that small farmers will now be forced to compete with large plantations for market access… We oppose the lower standards Fair Trade USA proposes and the lack of farmer and producer governance on Fair Trade USA’s board. We believe that their Fair Trade For All initiative threatens small farmer co-operatives’ existence and Fair Trade itself.”

In 2012, Equal Exchange published a report on their fight with Fair Trade USA. The background summary explains that in the 1990s, Equal Exchange had collaborated with other organizations to create the certifying agent of TransFair USA which was supposed to create more consumer confidence in the products they were buying. Eventually, TransFair, which changed its name to Fair Trade USA in 2010, lowered their certification standards, began to certify major food businesses such as Chiquita and Dole and broke off from the FairTrade Labelling Organization (“Background Summary”).

Overall, Equal Exchange emphasizes its distrust of the organization and its issue with the idea of allowing large plantations to compete with already struggling small farmers.

swsfpostcardchart_0.jpg

Their self-published document, “Campaign FAQs” includes the following objection to Rice’s plan:

“Rather from our 26 years of Fair Trade experience we think their new methods represent a loose and misleading use of the term [Fair Trade] and a much diluted approach to product certification. We think their new criteria constitute little change from the status quo and, in fact, will undermine the substantial economic and social gains that the global Fair Trade movement has achieved to date,” (“Authentic Fair Trade Campaign FAQ’s”).

In his 2011 speech, co-founder of Equal Exchange Rink Dickinson states that this new plan is a threat to the stability and the success of fair trade development. He states:

“The gravest threat is the ongoing lowering of fair trade standards to the point where real fair trade groups cannot compete in the market because fair trade in name is cheap and well connected with the market and access is actually worse than it was before this movement started in earnest in the eighties… This threat plays out with few farmers coops beyond coffee and fair trade coffee coops getting weaker and being replaced by plantations, unaffiliated small farmers, and fake co-ops” (Dickinson).

Conclusion and The Effect of the Split

Equal Exchange has defended fair trade business strategies since its conception in 1986. The company goes above complying with fair trade standards but works to defend the name of “Fair Trade,” when it is put in jeopardy. It has expanded its own business ventures while reaching out to more farmers and more farming co-ops, ultimately trying to protect small producers from big business. The two most probable outcomes of this split between Fair Trade USA and Equal Exchange is increased competition among fair trade certified producers, which will ultimately hurt the smaller scale farming co-ops and benefit the large plantations, and a lack of unity among fair trade products. The already small percentage of fair trade products on the market will be splintered over brand-name recognition and popularity of big business.

 

Works Cited:

“Authentic Fair Trade Campaign FAQ’s.” Equal Exchange. 24 February 2012. Web. 03 May 2016.

“Background Summary.” Equal Exchange. January 2012. Web. 03 May 2016.

“Chocolate & Cocoa.” Fair Trade Chocolate and Cocoa. Web. 03 May 2016

“Chocolate Bars.” Organic Milk and Dark Chocolate Bars. Web. 01 May 2016.

“Chocolate Chips.” Organic and Fair Trade. Web. 01 May 2016.

“Chocolate Minis.” Gourmet Chocolate Minis. Web. 01 May 2016

“Cocoa.” Organic & Fair Trade. Web. 01 May 2016

Dickinson, Rink. “An Analysis of Fair Trade: Reflections from a Founder.” InterReligious Task Force Conference. Cleveland, Ohio. 23 October 2011. Speech.

Gunther, Marc. ”A Schism over Fair Trade.” Marc Gunther. Web. 30 April May 2016.

“History of Equal Exchange.” Equal Exchange. Web. 30 April May 2016.

Leogrande, William M. “Making the Economy Scream: U.S. Economic Sanctions Against Sandiest Nicaragua.” Third World Quarterly Vol. 17, No. 2 (1996): 329-348. Print.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/globalization.” African American Studies 199x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. MA, Cambridge. 6 Apr. 2016. Lecture.

“Organic Ecuador Dark Chocolate (65% Cacao).” Fairly Traded Coffee, Chocolate, Tea & Snacks. Web. 30 April 2016.

“Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate (80% Cacao).” Fairly Traded Coffee, Chocolate, Tea & Snacks. Web. 30 April 2016.

Rice, Paul. “Fair Trade for All.” Leaders Forum, Shaping the Global Sustainability Agenda. St. Gallen, Switzerland. February 2015. Speech.

“Worker-Owned.” Equal Exchange. Web. 01 May 2016.

“World Affairs Council of Northern California.” Speakers. Web. 01 May 2016.

Sugar becomes the Opiate of the Masses

 

Sugar was introduced into the British Empire as a luxury of the rich, over time and across many uses, it found its way into the homes of the average man and also became a staple in the everyday diet. How and why this change occurred is of great importance into understanding the shift in the consumption of sugar. Sugar was introduced as a spice and medicine into the British household, but came to included three other uses: as a decoration, sweetener and preservative. As sugar moved down the list of its uses, it also had social and economic impacts. The progression of sugar usage effected consumption in the British society and caused the shift from sugar as a luxurious good to an opiate of the masses.

In the early decades of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, Britain established Caribbean plantations for the sole purpose of growing sugar cane. Britain’s first attempt at doing this occurred upon the establishment of Jamestown in 1607 which was the first English colony in the New World (Mintz 36). Sugar cane was brought in 1619 as were the first African slaves to reach the English colony (Mintz 36). Unfortunately, the sugar cane would not grow. The British Empire was hard pressed to see this mission successful as there was a high demand for sugar at home.

Slaves working in a sugar cane plantation in British-West Indies
A Sugar Cane Plantation in the West Indies

The settlement of Barbados in 1627 proved to be the turning point in British attempts as production with the successful production of “clayed sugars” and “muscovado”. (Mintz 37). “The first British sugar islands was Barbados followed by St Kitts, Nevis, Antigua and Jamaica. Grenada and Trinidad were added to the bunch in the late 19th century” (clements.umich.edu). Sugar supply for Britain now came directly from her settlements in the West Indies and added drastically to the consumption of sugar at home as it was now more accessible. “As supply for sugar increased, England’s demands for sugar kept pace. So much so that productions on the islands were barely able to keep up” (Mintz 39). Britain was importing huge amounts of sugar and the condiment in question came to define the “English Character” (Mintz 39).

Sugar Mill, Standard Mill in the West Indies
Sugar Mill

 

The sugar trade was successful because it was a highly priced commodity regardless of the volatility of the sugar market, the demands for it rose as consumption did (clements.umich.edu).  Sugar production increased as a direct correlation of its consumption. As availability of sugar rose in Britain, so did the many uses of sugar. The British households found new ways to incorporate sugar into their social lives.

British sugar consumption chart
British Sugar Consumption Chart

Mintz mentions five uses of sugar: 1) as medicine, 2) spice-condiment, 3) decorative material, 4) as a sweetener, 5) as a preservative. The use of sugar in these many forms although coming into usage progressively, also happened interchangeably. Sugar was first introduced into the British household as a Spice and Medicine, in this form, it remained a luxurious good only available to the rich. “The first written mention of sugar was in the pipe scrolls, the official records of royal income and expenditures in 1154-89(Mintz 82).  The quantities of sugar at this time were relatively small and since this was an account of the expenditures of the rich, meant that only this class of people could afford to consume sugar. “By the thirteenth century, sugar was still being sold by the loaf and by the pound and although still quite pricey and only accessible to the rich, it was now available even in the remotest areas” (Mintz 82). The shift from a luxury to a commodity available to all would happen in the sixteenth and seventeenth century and with the introduction of other uses of sugar.

 

In the seventeenth century, the use of sugar as a spice declined and this time period, “saw the prices, supplies and customary uses of sugar change rapidly” (Mintz 86). Sugar featured as a decorative item after this time and was not only available to the noble and rich but now made its way downward to the middle class. As sugar progressed in the list of uses, so did the decline in its exclusiveness and the more prolific it became, the more it was consumed by all. Sugar consumption also had economic ramification as well, “the decline in sugar importance went hand in hand with its increase in economic and dietary importance” (Mintz 95). As sugar became more plentiful, it now became available to the poor.

Sugar became available to the poor in the form of a sweetener and preservative; this accessibility would be responsible for the upward swing of the consumption of sugar. The rise of chocolate, tea and coffee into the British household massively contributed to the large amount of sugar consumption. The use of sugar as a sweetener in tea propelled the “Sugar Equalization Act” which removed the import tariff and lowered the price of sugar of which the direct result was the proliferation of sugar everywhere (clements.umich.edu). The poor used sugar not only as a sweetener but also to supplement their diets as well.

As sugar become more widely used in many forms, it made its way into the household of all citizens regardless of class, this was directly responsible in the shift of sugar consumption in the British society. Sugar in the form of a sweetener and preservative became an everyday commodity, which meant that consumption would greatly rise as it permeated every single dish that was eaten by the British citizens. This standard has come to hold true across the world as sugar features in every single dietary item we consume. However, there is a marked difference in the reception of this commodity, at some point highly revered, sugar is now a social pariah, an evil that has been thrust upon society and should be eradicated.

 

Bibliography

Scholarly Sources:

Clements.umich.edu. Sugar In The Atlantic World. 1923. Document. 21 March 2016.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York: Penguin, 1985. 274. Print.

Multimedia Sources:

brave.info, land of the. Sugar Act. n.d. image. 21 March 2016.

clements.umich.edu. Sugar In The Atlantic World. 1923. image. 21 March 2016.

czarnikow.com. The Inconvenient Truth about Sugar Consumption. 1 May 2014. image. 21 March 2016.