Tag Archives: poverty

KISS your health goodbye! How Big Chocolate influences Obesity and Diabetes in Low Income Americans

Chocolate is everywhere. From grocery stores to gas stations, this sweet tasting, divine bar of goodness is inescapable in normal American life, especially if you’re in poverty. While Americans consume 12 pounds of chocolate each year, Americans categorized as “in or near poverty” consume more chocolate than individuals who are not in poverty (O’Neil et al.), and given that nearly 32% of the U.S. population is at or near poverty (Aulls), it is important to study their eating habits. The chocolate consumption habits of the poor, both in terms of quality and quantity, has consequences for both their health and ethical chocolate production. A study of the chocolate selection at the Dollar Tree shows that the chocolate marketed towards low income individuals is of the cheaper, unhealthier variety, produced without concern for human rights or the environment. The prevalence of Big, cheap chocolate is indicative of both the obesity and diabetes epidemic facing low income Americans today and the severe human rights violations and ethical concerns surrounding chocolate production.

Visiting the Dollar Tree

To get a concrete sense of the chocolate selection low income Americans often have and its implications for health and ethical concerns, I took a trip to the Dollar tree in Somerville. While there, I looked at several factors such as price point, types of chocolates available, the number of chocolates that were advertised as ethically certified through Utz or Fair Trade, and finally, the nutritional value of these types of chocolates. In this observation, only bars of chocolate or an amalgamation of chocolate and other ingredients (such as peanut butter or wafers) were studied.

A Dollar Tree was chosen as a case study to represent the shopping experience of a low income American because of its prevalence in food deserts and “because the American economy of late has pushed so many middle-class people into poverty, and poverty is what pushes people to line up at the cash registers of…Dollar stores” (Griffin-Nolan). Food deserts “are areas where people have limited access to a variety of healthy and affordable food” (Dutko) and usually contain “households with low incomes, inadequate access to transportation, and a limited number of food retailers providing fresh produce” (Dutko). Since these individuals cannot afford cars, they rely on places such as convenience stores and dollar stores such as the Dollar Tree. In fact, “three chains, Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree, made up two-thirds of new stores in food deserts” (Schneider) because large grocery stores don’t want to risk lower profit margins. While obviously not all lower income Americans live in food deserts, nearly “23.5 million people” (Dutko) do. In addition, dollar stores offer individuals food products and other items at a fraction of other stores’ prices, making them the natural choice if you’re on a budget. Given that these stores also accept some form of EBT, or foods stamps, a Dollar Tree store is a good sample of a typical low income American’s shopping experience.

Food Deserts
A visual map showing where food deserts are located in the United States. Food deserts are areas that do not have grocery stores in close vicinity that carry fresh produce. This is why the map highlights the populations that do not have access to fresh food via grocery stores with darker colors. Notice how food deserts are concentrated in the southern part of the United States.

There are however 3 primary issues with selecting a Dollar Tree. First, with some exceptions, everything in the store is $1, which may imply that craft chocolates or chocolates that were created ethically may be absent from the store due to their traditionally higher prices. Second, Dollar Trees are usually small, meaning the chocolate selection might be limited. Thirdly, low income Americans don’t always shop at the Dollar Tree, and may instead opt to visit a Walmart which might have a much larger chocolate selection. However, given that the closest Walmart in the Boston Metro area is over an hour and a half away on public transit while Dollar Trees are typically no more than 15 minutes away on transit anywhere in the city, studying a Dollar Tree might accurately represent where a low income person living in Boston may shop.

Observations

The findings at the Dollar Tree were not surprising. Of the 37 different types of chocolate bars present, all but one of them were produced by either Mars, Nestle, or Hershey’s. The lone chocolate bar not created by the companies mentioned was created by Russell Stover. None of the chocolate bars were craft chocolate bars or produced by small companies. In addition, none of the chocolates were Fair Trade or Utz certified, or certified as organic. The only chocolate bar that was close to having a label marking it as ethical was Crunch, which had the Nestle Cocoa Plan label. According to Nestle’s website, the Cocoa Plan “aims to improve the lives of cocoa farmers and the quality of their products” (“The Nestle Cocoa Plan”); however, upon closer inspection of their website, it is unclear how this plan improves the livelihood of farmers or reduces child labor. Furthermore, the only chocolates without fillings were a Hershey’s Chocolate bar, the Russell Stover solid chocolate bar, the Dove Milk Chocolate bar, and Kisses. Other chocolates had a combination of nuts, peanut butter, caramel, mint, or wafer filling. In addition, there was only one white chocolate option, which was the Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme Bar. There were no dark chocolate options available.

Chocolate Supply at the Dollar Tree
A picture of a chocolate bar selection at a Dollar Tree in Somerville (not all chocolate selections are pictured). As you can see, all the chocolates (or candies) present were produced by large corporations. Notice how Hershey’s has 9 chocolate cases on the stand and M&M’s has 5, suggesting that these are the most popular chocolates sold at this particular Dollar Tree.

Health Claims

Most chocolate bars made some health claims, though their actual nutritional value was questionable. Hershey’s chocolate bar had “Made with Farm Fresh Milk” on the bar, and the 3 Musketeers proudly wrote “45% less fat than the leading Chocolate Brands.” While the 3 Musketeers bar contains 5 grams of saturated fat and Hershey’s bar contains 8g (which is indeed close to 45% less), a Hershey’s bar only has 24g of sugar, while a 3 Musketeers bar has nearly twice as much at 40g of sugar. Another claim on the “Crunch” bar was that it was made with “100% Real Chocolate” and that it had “No artificial Flavors or Colors.”

Price

The price point was the same across all chocolates, which was $1. The Dollar Tree also had a value pack which included 6 smaller “fun size” chocolate bars of the same type in a packet for $1. The weight of the fun sized packet of chocolates was 75g or $.013/gram, while a normal chocolate bar was 1.55 oz, or about 44g, costing twice as much at $.022/gram. Only the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar, Crunch, Snickers, Kit Kat, Reeses, 100 Grand, and Butterfingers bars were sold in fun sized packets, making them the cheapest chocolate options.

Crunch Value Pack vs. Normal Bar
A picture of the two sizes of chocolates sold (minus the candies in boxes). Chocolate was either sold in bar form (1.55 oz) or in fun sized packets (6/0.45oz, or 2.7oz total). Since each were a dollar, the fun sized packet is more economical, which encourages shoppers to buy more chocolate. Notice on the fun sized packet the “Nestle Cocoa Plan” Label, which is actually absent on the normal sized bar, and how the “100% Real Chocolate” claim on the normal bar was not on the fun sized packets; however, both had “No artificial Flavors of Colors” on the wrappers. Choosing to place different labels (an ethical one vs. a health conscience one) says something about who buys what, or who the company is trying to target with these two sizes.

Actual Nutrition

In terms of actual nutrition, the worst chocolate bar for saturated fat was a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar, with 8g of saturated fat and 13g of total fat, and the best bar for saturated fat was the York Peppermint Patty, with 1.5 grams of saturated fat and 2.5 grams of total fat. The worst bar in terms of sugar was a Three Musketeers, with 40g of sugar, and the best in terms of sugar content was the Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme bar, which contained 19g of sugar. For reference, a healthy adult should consume between 25 and 37 grams of sugar each day and around 16g of saturated fat per day.

Discussion

The chocolate selection at the Dollar Tree has three worrisome implications: Big Chocolate takes advantage of gross human rights violations present in the chocolate supply chain to sell at low prices; Big Chocolate pumps chocolate bars with cheap alternatives such as sugar and other ingredients to even further lower the price of their chocolate bars; finally, because of the two reasons mentioned, the cheapest chocolate on the market (the one that low income Americans will buy) is filled with inordinate amounts of sugar and fat, fueling the diabetes and obesity epidemic plaguing low income Americans today. In the next section, I will substantiate these claims and explain how they feed into one another and result in unhealthy Americans and abused workers and farmers.

Cheap Cacao

The cheapest chocolate available at the Dollar Tree was produced by Big Chocolate companies, Mars, Nestle, and The Hershey Company. These companies typically get their cacao beans from West African farms or plantations by interacting with complicated systems involving national, government, and local powers (Martin); however, human rights violations run rampant on these farms. More often than not, these farms are pressured to lower their cost of production by these large chocolate corporations, which results in child labor, abuse, slavery, and extremely unsafe working conditions. Slavery and child labor are the most salient problems, which exposes nearly “half million to 1.5 million child workers” (ACI Group) to dangerous work conditions, with “more than half reporting injury at work” (Martin). Some individuals, including children, “are trafficked and forced to labor without or with little pay on cocoa farms” (Martin), but these human rights violations are often overlooked in favor of cheaper cacao prices.

Cheap Ingredients

While human right violations in the chocolate supply chain decrease the price Big Chocolate pays for their cacao, their inclusion of insane amounts of sugar, milk, and other ingredients further pushes down the price of their chocolate. Let’s take a look at a normal Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar. According to the Nutrition Label, the ingredients are Milk Chocolate (Sugar; Milk; Chocolate; cocoa butter; Lactose; Milk Fat; Soy lecithin; PGPR, Emulsifier, Vanillin, Artificial Flavors). According to the FDA, “ingredients are listed in order of predominance, with the ingredients used in the greatest amount first, followed in descending order by those in smaller amounts” (FDA). Sugar is the first listed ingredient, which is vastly cheaper than cacao as sugar is about $0.26/lb. Assuming that “chocolate” is made of cacao beans, this is the most expensive ingredient used, since the ICCO price was around $1.35/lb on May 3, 2018, which is over 5 times the cost of sugar. It is clear that chocolate manufacturers inject their products with incredible amounts of sugar because it is the cheapest ingredient. But it wasn’t just Hershey’s; of the 37 bars I observed, all of them had sugar listed as the very first ingredient on the nutrition label, meaning these bars are no more than a hint of chocolate and a heap of sugar. In addition, most bars weren’t pure chocolate, but instead contained peanuts, caramel, nougat, and other cheaper costing ingredients that further increase the sugar content and decrease the cost to make the bar.

Hershey's bar
Nutrition bar for a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar. Note the high saturated fat and sugar content. In addition, the first ingredient listed on the ingredients list in the parenthesis is sugar, implying that sugar comprises most of the bar, not milk or even cacao.

Health Implications

Knowing that nearly all the candy bars had more sugar content than the recommended daily allowance, it’s apparent why the US population, especially the lower income one, is so incredibly unhealthy. The average amount of sugar present in these bars was 29 grams, while it is recommended that children consume no more than 25 grams of sugar daily, and adults between 25 and 37.

Sweet Lies

But why is consuming so much sugar, which low income people disproportionately do, such a problem? Sugar has been identified as the leading cause for the obesity and diabetes outbreak in modern American. Although some experts argue that fat, not sugar, is the main proponent of diabetes and obesity, seeing who has funded sugar research is alarming. Multiple corporations such as Coca-Cola, Hershey’s, and Nabisco have given millions to the Sugar Association, or ISRF, to exonerate sugar. The ISRF attempted to shift the blame of obesity and diabetes to fat intake and create multiple research panels to argue that any research that points sugar to negative health claims is inconclusive. They have funded researchers such as Edward Biernan, who claimed that diabetics “need not pay strict attention to their sugar intake,” and Ancel Keys who claimed “Cholesterol and dietary fat—especially saturated fat—were the likely causes of heart disease” (Taubes). The FDA even subcontracted a committee “led by biochemist George W. Irving Jr., who had previously served two years as chairman” (Taubes) of the ISRF to determine if sugar was harmful, which has caused uncertainty of sugar’s effect on health for decades.

However, while the ISRF and Big Chocolate tried to hide the truth about sugar, the verdict is out. New research suggests that not only is sugar “addictive in much the same way as cigarettes and alcohol,” but the “overconsumption of them is driving worldwide epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes” (Taubes). No wonder “obesity rates in the United States have more than doubled, while the incidence of diabetes has more than tripled” (Taubes). Regarding diabetes, “long term consumption of sucrose can result in a functional change in the capacity to metabolize carbohydrates and thus lead to diabetes mellitus” (Taubes).

Obesity and Diabetes in Low Income Americans

Rates of diabetes and obesity are even more startling among low income individuals and children. “Those live in the most poverty-dense counties are those most prone to obesity. Counties with poverty rates of >35% have obesity rates 145% greater than wealthy counties” (Levine). In addition, “diabetes may be up to two times more prevalent in low income populations compared to wealthy populations” (Rabi, Doreen M et al.). This is believed to the case because “that individuals who live in impoverished regions have poor access to fresh food,” (Levine) and are instead bombarded with food items that are loaded in sugar. This is consistent with the unhealthy and sugary chocolate selection at the Dollar Tree.

ObesityDiabetes
Two maps indicating Obesity (Top) and Diabetes (Bottom) occurrences in the United States, with darker shades of blue indicating a higher percent of obese/diabetic people. Notice how these two maps are similar in that areas with higher rates obesity are the same ones with higher rates of diabetes, suggesting that there is a correlation between the two. In addition, there seems to be higher percentages of both obesity and diabetes in the South, which coincidentally homes more food deserts. In fact, the food desert map above shows a correlation between food deserts and obesity/diabetes since the areas that have a higher percentages of obesity/diabetes also have more food deserts.

In regards to children, the “number of overweight children in the US has tripled since 1980” (Albritton 344), and low income children “were more likely to be overweight than higher income children (7 percent vs. 4 percent)” (Lin). Companies, such as Hershey’s, specifically target children to develop a lifetime loyalty of their products, and it’s working. Research shows that sugar is addicting, almost as addicting as tobacco (Albritton 344), and when children and even adults consume these products, they will desire their products throughout their life and continue to consume them with disastrous results. “Overweight children often become overweight adults, and overweight in adulthood increases the risk of developing many diseases, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, and…cancer” (Lin). 

The Big Takeaway

By understanding how Big Chocolate reduces the price of its chocolate, we can see how cheap chocolate has crippled the low income population in the United States. But a question still remains: given all this information on how terrible sugar and cheap chocolate are for you and the world, why do low income individuals continue to consume it? Do low income customers just not care the people who make their chocolate, or even their own health? Or is it that don’t have a choice, or the proper education to understand how sugar will affect them?

Packaging and propaganda have made it incredibly difficult for low-income individuals to choose the products that match their values. They are bombarded with misleading information on bars that contain supposedly 45% less fat when in fact it contains twice the amount of recommended daily sugar, they are told that bars bought through the “Nestle Cocoa Plan” will help farmers and eliminate child labor when in reality no one understands how these organizations impact the lives of farmers, and lastly, they are told by their doctors and schools to reduce their saturated fats intake when it is in fact sugar that is killing them. While it may be true that some low income consumers just don’t care about what they buy, the widespread misinformation and the products available renders them almost helpless in choosing products that are good for them and the world. It’s on us to give not only these individuals, but everyone the power to know what we put into our bodies and its effect on the world around us. Perhaps it’s time to take the power out of Big Chocolate and Sugar’s hands and place it into where it belongs—the consumer’s.

 

Works Cited:

ACI Group. “Is Your Favorite Chocolate the Product of Child Labor?” Edited by The Nation Blogs, The Nation’s Blogs, ACI Information Group, 22 Dec. 2014, scholar.aci.info/view/1464ec3e2ee6b730146/14a738db750000f00b2.

Albritton, Robert. 2012[2010]. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.”

Dutko, Paula., et al. Characteristics and Influential Factors of Food Deserts. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2012.

Griffin-Nolan, Ed. “DOLLAR STORES MAKE A BUCK ON POVERTY.” Syracuse New Times, 6 Aug. 2014, p. 43.

Levine, James. “Poverty and Obesity in the U.S.” American Diabetes Association. 01 May, 2018, http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/60/11/2667

Lin, Biing-Hwan, and United States. Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service, issuing body. Nutrition and Health Characteristics of Low-Income Populations. Body Weight Status. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2005.

Martin, Carla. AAAS 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food .Lecture 7: Modern Day Slavery. 2018.

O’Neil, Carol E., Victor L. Fulgoni, and Theresa A. Nicklas. “Association of Candy Consumption with Body Weight Measures, Other Health Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease, and Diet Quality in US Children and Adolescents: NHANES 1999–2004.” Food & Nutrition Research 55 (2011): 10.3402/fnr.v55i0.5794. PMC. Web. 3 May 2018.

“Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives & Colors.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 01 May, 2018, https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/ucm094211.htm  

Rabi, Doreen M et al. “Association of Socio-Economic Status with Diabetes Prevalence and Utilization of Diabetes Care Services.” BMC Health Services Research 6 (2006): 124. PMC. Web. 4 May 2018.

Schneider, Mike. “Grocery Chains Leave Food Deserts Barren.” The Epoch Times, 7 Dec. 2015, pp. A4–A5.

Taubes, Gary and Christin Kearns Couzens. “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies.” http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/10/sugar-industry-lies-campaign

“The Nestle Cocoa Plan” Nestle, 01 May. 2018, http://www.nestlecocoaplan.com.

There is No Pleasure in Guilty Chocolate!

Why do you love chocolate? Because it is good! It tastes good and makes you happy. It is all that is good in the world wrapped in a beautiful candy bar. What if you learned that your delicious candy bar is a by-product of something bad, the output of someone else’s suffering?  A child’s suffering? Would you enjoy it just the same? Eating is not just a means to satisfy hunger; it is also an emotional and psychological experience.  We like to eat, and we like to eat good food without any negative connotations. Chocolate does not taste as good when it is served with a side of guilt. Chocolate tastes better when you wholeheartedly know that it came from a good place and produced in an ethical and social responsible manner.

Did you know that the global chocolate industry is nearly $100 billion dollars a year? The United States alone spends a little over 18 billion dollars in chocolate (2015), and that the average American consumes approximately 4.3 kilograms / 9.5 pounds of chocolate a year (2015). In comparison, beating the Americans at chocolate consumption are the Swiss who consume approximately a little over 9 kilograms / 20 pounds per person, then tied for second place are the Germans and the Austrians who approximately consume 3.6 kilograms / 7.4 pounds per person (Satioquia-Tan). Chocolate can be found anywhere around the world and is affordable to the masses especially to those who live in the developed world. Chocolate can be found in candy bars, truffles, fudge, cakes, muffins, biscuits, breakfast cereals, pancakes, health bars, sauces, drinks, in your café mocha, and anywhere you can sprinkle chocolate syrup. You can buy it in a specialty shop, supermarket, mini-market, drugstore, or any corner street gas station.

The majority of chocolate eaters are rather naïve in knowing the history and the current nature of the chocolate-making business. They simply eat it because they love chocolate without really knowing what it is, where it comes from, who makes and how; or any related social issues. For those consumers who are more aware of the social and economic impacts of the chocolate industry are a little more selective in choosing and enjoying their chocolate. To fully appreciate food is to experience it through all the possible senses, the physiological and psychological (Stuckey 13). Only twenty percent of what we physiologically taste happens in our mouths, the rest of the tasting experience happens through our remaining senses of sight, smell, touch, and sound. We, also, want to psychologically feel good about what we are eating. We want to know about the origins, the farming practices, and the ethics of what we are tasting (Stuckey 14). We want to know the context, the beautiful story, of what we are eating so we can enjoy it fully. The other option is to choose to remain a little ignorant of the subject as not to sour our chocolate taste, however this pleasure would be more superficial and would not represent the fullest appreciation of what we are eating. To fully appreciate today’s chocolate, we will have to fully experience it with the body and mind in full awareness of its origins, present journey and social impacts.

  1. What is Chocolate?

Cocoa is the main ingredient for all chocolate recipes.  Cocoa derives from cacao seeds, or more commonly referred to as cacao beans, which grow on the Theobroma Cacao tree.  Cacao trees are finicky trees that can only bear fruit in hot and humid tropical climates,twenty degrees from the equator at a specific altitude. These trees are highly dependent on midges, an insect, for its flowers to pollinate and bear fruit (Coe and Coe 19-21, 27). Cacao beans grow inside a fruity, pulp filled pod, approximately 30-40 beans grow inside one pod. Unlike most trees, where fruit grow dangling down from branches, cacao pods sprout directly from the tree trunk. In raw form, cacao beans constitute half its size in fat, cocoa butter. When cocoa butter is extracted from the cacao bean, what remains is the cocoa (or cocoa powder), the main ingredient of all chocolate (Coe and Coe 27). Before cacao beans turn into chocolate, cacao fruit is first farmed.  Upon harvest, fruit pods are removed from trees and cracked open to extract its beans with machetes. Cacao beans are then fermented, dried, sorted, roasted, transported, winnowed (deshelled), ground to a liquor, pressed (to remove the cacao butter), conched, and then what remains is added to chocolate-making recipes. Chocolate is the result of a labor intensive and highly processed food.

  1. Where Does Cacao Come From?

Cacao is native to the New World, the South American’s amazon basin region (Coe and Coe 25), and the Mesoamerican native cultures of the Mayans and Aztecs and predecessors were the first peoples to ever make chocolate dating back as far as 1500 BCE (Coe and Coe 33). Cacao was precious and a sacred food reserved for the elite, special occasions, and sacred rituals. Mayan and Aztecs Gods often appear alongside or in the form of cacao trees in their native hieroglyphs and surviving art (Coe and Coe 42). So precious, cacao beans were even used as a means of monetary currency. In 1545, documented is the commodity price of a tamale: one tamale equals one cacao bean (Coe and Coe 98-99). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish conquistadors were the first Europeans to discover and spread the taste of chocolate to Europe starting in the 1500’s (Coe and Coe 108). At the beginning of the chocolate history in Europe, chocolate was rare, expensive, and for the upper class.  Then as time passed and soon after the industrial revolution, chocolate became relatively common and affordable to the masses.

Amazon Basin
Amazon basin (based on Wikipedia, Amazon basin article, by Kmusser, using Digital Chart of the Word and GTOPO data)

After the end of the American colonial period, in the late 1800’s, the Spanish and the Portuguese introduced cacao to West Africa. Due to favorable climate conditions, cacao flourished in West Africa.  Today, approximately seventy percent of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa (Wessel and Quist-Wessel 1). The Ivory Coast and Ghana are the two major countries that supply cacao.  There are 2 million, small (3 hectares acres in size), independent farms (Ryan 52) in West Africa that supply three million metric tons of cacao per year (World Cocoa Foundation).

2000px-Ghana_Côte_d'Ivoire_Locator.svg
West Africa, Ivory Coast depicted in orange and Ghana  depicted in green (based on Wikipedia, Ghana-Ivory Coast Relations article)
  1. What Are the Social Issues Involving the Chocolate Industry?

Since the first Europeans, the Spanish conquistadors, landed in the New World, the cacao industry has been tainted with slavery and forced labor since 1650’s (Berlan 1092). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish forced the natives to pay tribute in labor and cacao to their new Spanish Crown.  After millions of natives died of diseases, the Spanish, like other colonists in the Americas, resorted to using chattel slavery from Africa to extract New World resources (Presilla 24, 33). Chattel slavery officially ended in 1884, however it continued in disguise in Portuguese West Africa well into the 1900’s in the cacao industry and some reports state that it persisted until 1962 (Berlan 1092).

Today, cacao farmer incomes are very volatile for it depends on operating profits, and since cacao is a commodity, the market price.  Farmers need to sell their cacao at a high enough price in order to pay off their operation expenses which includes labor, a major expense, just like most businesses. Unexpected operating expenses and / or a fall in market price can be devastating on farmer revenues/incomes. Cacao farmers, per capita, constantly live without the security of a reliable living wage. In 2015, cacao farmers earned 50 to 84 cents on the American dollar a day (Cocoabarometer). As it is, cacao farmers barely break even, and there is little economic incentive for them to stay in the cacao farming business.  Due to local poverty and lack of other options, farmers continue to grow cacao under pressure to lower operating costs and often resort to desperate means to make a profit, break even, or just enough to pay for rice and cooking oil (Off 5).

In more recent history in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, a wave of newspaper stories and documentary films exposed the existence of child labor, trafficking, and slaves in West African cacao farms which caused much consumer outrage. The media graphically showed the world the extreme poverty and hard lives of cacao farmers in West Africa and the desperate measures farmers take to lower operating costs by using child slave labor (Berlan 1089).

The documentary, Slavery: A Global Investigation (2000), especially shocked viewers by showing how easy it was to find child slaves working on cacao farms and how the local people seem to accept the practice as a way of life. On camera, journalists were able, with relative ease, to overtly interview real child slaves and get first-hand testimony about their hardships, a farm owner who openly admitted to having slaves and in how to get them, and a local official who confirmed as matter of fact that at least 90% of the Ivory Coast farms use child slave labor.  Ninety percent implies the existence of hundreds of thousands of slaves (Ryan 118). A 2000 US State Department report estimated that 15,000 Malian children worked on Ivory Coast cacao farms and that many of were under 12 years old and sold into indentured service (Off 133). Two of the local documentary crew even demonstrated how easy it was to buy slaves, posing as buyers, they went to the marketplace and were able to purchase two boys for the total of forty British pounds (approximately $40) within thirty minutes. Economics, low cacao market price, was credited as being the main reason why these farmers resorted to using slavery.  With such low cacao market prices, farmers cannot afford to pay employee wages and still make a profit, and they have no other income options. In contrast, in a free and mature economy, if a business is not profitable it goes out of business, and one can start a new business or find a new job, this is not the case for the West African cacao farmers.

Since the West African child labor scandals, there has an increased awareness and legislation attempts to eradicate forced and most hazardous child labor. Child labor in general is so embedded into the West African culture, not all children who work on farms are slaves or working with hazards. Most children work as part of the family on their family farms. It was deemed impossible and impractical to create a law that would abolish all form of child labor, however a voluntary agreement, The Harking-Engel Protocol, was signed among the Ivory Coast and the International Chocolate and Cocoa Industry in accordance with the International Labor Organization to end the worst forms of child labor in 2001 (Ryan 44, 47). Because of extreme poverty and lack of options, there are children who are better off working for they will at least have access to some food. Today, consumers are more aware, corporations have put efforts in demonstrating social responsibility in self-certifications, and nonprofit/advocacy organizations, have emerged and increased advocacy. There is still much poverty among cacao farmers, and many children  are still working on farms and some are still suspected of being forced to work against their will.  The child labor problems still exist today.  We, the world, hoped for that the state of child labor in West Africa would be better, however it could be worse.

It is natural that corporations would seek to do business with a poorer and less mature economies so to benefit from cheaper labor costs, but there should be limits when business practices violate human rights and the ability for workers to make a livable wage. It is evident that cacao farmers need more money so can they afford to hire farm workers to help cultivate their labor intensive cacao farms. In the least, the cacao market price needs to go up. It may mean that consumers would have to pay a little more for their chocolate treats. Would you be willing to pay a little more for your candy bar if it would end child and forced labor?

I realize that blindly throwing more money at the problem will not necessarily fix it if local corrupt governments and other stakeholders are still there to scheme away the extra money intended for the cacao farmers. This is a complex issue which requires multi-approach solution. We, the consumers, the governments, NGOs, the corporations, the media (or lack of media), the farmers, are all part of the problem, and we could also all be part of the solution. West African farmers and their children need special consideration for they are the most powerless demographic group in the chocolate food chain. The ones with the most power in the chocolate food chain by default have the most ability, and therefore the greater responsibility, to effect change. Wealthy companies and consumers are in the best position to invest and apply influence in the solution. We, the consumers, should expect that our chocolate companies to conduct business in an ethical and social responsible manner or make better consumer choices if they do not.

Here, in the first world, we would not accept the practice of child labor or slavery in our backyard, and we should not accept it elsewhere and in the products that we use and the foods we eat.  The West African modern-day slave issue is especially heartbreaking for it involves children in producing sweets that we all so enjoy so much. If we all knew that children were being kidnapped and forced to cultivate cacao, we would all enjoy the taste of our chocolate a little less. As consumers, we need to be more conscious about what we eat and learn as much as possible so we can make better consumer choices, maybe write a customer complaint to your chocolate provider or your congressman to influence change in law.  There is no better tasting chocolate than the one that is free from social guilt. In the end, we should all have the right to enjoy good and good-tasting chocolate.

Works Cited

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana. The Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088-1100. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00220388.2013.78004.

Cocoa Barometer 2015 report, USA Ed. Cocoabarometer.org. http://www.cocoabarometer.org/International_files/Cocoa%20Barometer%202015%20USA.pdf

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

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2008.

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.

Satioquia-Tan, Janine. Americans East How Much Chocolate? CNBC.com, 23 Jul. 2015, 7:41 PM ET.  http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/23/americans-eat-how-much-chocolate.html

Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You Are Missing: The  Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. Free Press, 2012.

Slavery: A Global Investigation. Produced and directed by Brian Woods and Kate Blanchet.  A True Vision Production in Association with HBO, 2000. TopDocumentaryFilms, topdocumentaryfilms.com/slavery-a-global-investigation.

Wessel, Marius, and Foluke Quist-Wessel. Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences., vol. 74-74, pp. 1-7, 12-2015. doi.org/10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.

World Cocoa Foundation, http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/category/program-region/africa.

Sugar + Transatlantic slave trade = Capitalism + Enormous Transformation

Warren Buffet, among the top five richest men in the world, once said: “I’ll tell you why I like the cigarette business. It costs a penny to make. Sell it for a dollar. It’s addictive” (Albritton 344). Sugar, which is fairly cheap (wasn’t always the case), produces a craving, and is essentially addicting. Not only is sugar addicting, but it plays a role that “food choices and eating habits reveal distinctions of age, sex, status, culture, and even occupation” (Mintz). This post argues how sugar made a rigorous transformation on many different variables as a whole. I begin by describing an ambiguous term “meaning”, and give my feedback on how one pursues it. Then, I describe how capitalism was created, and give my feedback on the results and impacts that capitalism not only allowed, but created. Capitalism therefor rigged our food choices, and shaped our social, cultural, economic and political ordering in the sugar world, particularly in so far as leading to an obesity epidemic.

imagesocietySource: http://www.bcsbd.org.bd/bcsregistration/images/imagesociety.jpg

In imagining a meaning of life, I believe we are collecting bits of our own thoughts and experience to build a realm of our own based on our own beliefs. This realm is what I would call our ego, or consciousness. While meaning is ultimately a personal, artistic creation that is changeable, it has been defined “very broadly-encompassing many other psychological constructs, such as goals, beliefs, well-being and satisfaction and life narrative-and very deeply, referring to the core of human existence. It is also defined as a process where one increases his or her understanding in a way that allows one to regain a sense of purpose” (Park 3). Therefore, meaning can be everywhere if one’s imagination created such a realm, and unfortunately possibly be discovered in a false mortality, perceived incorrectly causing one to find significance in addiction or harmful sustenance. In this realm of consciousness, one builds a model of who they are, and thus derives what their life to be. In order for the mind to build a model, knowledge and experience must be available. But where does this knowledge come from to create meaning? It comes from our ever-changing society, foods, culture, friends, studies, and our teachers. One great change that has changed very rapidly is the impact of different meaning of sugar through its transformation from a rarity to a necessity with the invention of capitalism.

triangulartrademap                                                                                Source:http://w3.salemstate.edu/~cmauriello/Course%20Development/WorldCIVII/Images/triangulartrademap.gif

Although a few Europeans knew of the existence of cane sugar around 1100 CE, it was still a “rarity until the 1650’s, only a luxury in the 1750’s, and a necessity by 1850’s” (5-6, Mintz). In turn, sugar took on its social role as a produce that marked one’s socio-economic class, becoming valuable and cherished by anyone who could get a hold of it. The role as an indicator of social status that sugar took on between the 16th and 17th century was key to the change of sugar to sweetener, as the demand for sugar among individuals across socio-economic class boundaries greatly increased, creating a new market and an opportunity for businesses to seek out an economically viable supply of sugar, especially since sugar could not be cultivated in Europe. This source came to be overseas, part of the notorious supply chain known as the Transatlantic Slave trade. Thus, the alteration in British consumption of sugar as a spice to a sweetener was deeply rooted in the creation of chattel slavery.                                                                                                                                                    Chattel Slavery, slavery in which people are treated as the chattel (personal property) of an owner, and are bought and sold as commodities had the greatest result from sugar (Martin). “The institutionalization of slavery in the New World led directly to the slave trade due to the fact that demand for slaves outpaced the growth in supply by natural increase nearly everywhere in the Americas” (Cumo). As there was massive demand for labor, the Europeans looked to Africa. The African’s themselves sold African slaves as a commodity in return for goods such as rum, guns, textiles and other goods to exchange for slaves, and then transported them across the Atlantic to sell to plantation-owners, and then returned with sugar and coffee, also fueled the first great wave of economic globalization (The Economist). The slaves had “little relaxation, hard fare, and hard usage, to wear them out before they became useless, and unable to do service; and then to buy new ones, to fill their places” (Fraser-Reid 4). By the Africans selling their own people, they enriched their own realms and strengthened them too. This is not only where the dehumanization aimed at Africans begins, but where capitalism starts as Mintz states:          “The English people came to view sugar as essential; supplying them with it became as much a political as an economic obligation. At the same time, the owners of the immense fortunes created by the labor of millions of slaves stolen from Africa, on millions of acres of the New World stolen from the Indians – wealth in the form of commodities like sugar, molasses, and rum to be sold to Africans, Indians, colonials, and the British working class alike – has become even more solidly attached to the centers of power in English society at large. Many individuals’ merchants, planters, and entrepreneurs lost out, but the long-term economic successes of the new commodity markets at home were never in doubt after the mid-seventeenth century. What sugar meant, from this vantage point, was what all such colonial production, trade, and metropolitan consumption came to mean: the growing strength and solidity of the empire and of the classes that dictated its policies.” ( Mintz, p. 157)

Here what Mintz is really arguing here is that capitalism, the strength of empire as defined by access to wealth, and the ability to dictate policies, to govern, developed as a result of this work to supply, and to create demand for sugar. Linking the development of our current economic system with this sweet taste of sugar that we biologically evolved to desire. (Martin lecture 6)

 

 

 

are-you-addicted-to-sugar

Source : https://www.wholesomeone.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Are-You-Addicted-to-Sugar-.jpg

Focusing on an excerpt from Tasting Empire, Norton states that “Spaniards learned to like chocolate because of their continued material dependence on Indians” (Norton 677). Converging on this, the capitalist modernization model expresses a lot. As Bourdieu states that “taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed” (Norton 663). While some of the most pleasurable and enjoyable memories of a person has to do with sweets, such as on one’s birthday eating a delicious cake that mother or father made decorated with frosting and glazes, or getting a lollipop after going through getting a shot at the doctor’s office, we usually seek sweets as a reward system, or celebration. Digging into this deeper, since we were just a baby, we grow up with these classifications of sweets being used all the time for rewards, and usually classify sweets with the distinctions of a substance that is beautiful on top of advertisements being at fault for these illusions. Not only do we have a dependence on sugar, but we biologically crave it.

Being no longer unified due to capitalism, most of us don’t know what’s really going on at the supply chain of our foods, and we can only build an illusory view such as the classification one may create in the advertisement above, which we create a particularly false meaning. The ad above gives the power of the perception of how sugar can demonstrate itself through various social parameters but only extensively. The gorgeous woman is portraying her love for powdered donuts, and is displaying the power of sugar in reference to a much more highly addictive, yet dangerous substance, cocaine. This ad slightly speaks volumes to the traditions of modern western culture that invoke the greatest effect, as “adverts have perpetuated western sexist ideologies under a veneer of pleasurable consumption which have divorced foods from the conditions of production” (Robertson 10). The misguided meaning many ads portray, now aids in creating mass cultural stereotypes from building false illusions and separate us from the reality of the production of our sugar, although this ad is particularly true in sugar being addictive, many other advertisements such as ads regarding McDonald’s or other fast food chains give most of us a false message, allowing one to see the desire of the substance, and not the dangerous aftereffects when consuming sugar, and carbs at large, not in moderation. Sugar should be used in moderation, but it is not due to the capitalist society we live in today.

 

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Sources: (http://uthmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/arab-youth-obesity-987×520.jpg)  (http://www.faculty.rsu.edu/users/f/felwell/www/Theorists/Essays/Marx%20files/Capitalism2.jpg)

Not only do we build these craving memories which is a factor that leads one to the over consumption of sugar, but it is also evolutionary as Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University states, “sugar is a deep, deep ancient craving” (Spector).  Refined sugars were absent in the diet of most people until very recently in human history as sugar was “rarity until the 1650’s, only a luxury in the 1750’s, and a necessity by 1850’s” (6, Mintz). Apart from honey, most of the foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate were no sweeter than a carrot and that “15 million years ago in a time of global cooling, a mutation occurred that increased the apelike creatures’ sensitivity to fructose so that even small amounts were stored as fat. This adaptation was a survival mechanism: Eat fructose and decrease the likelihood you will starve to death” (Spector). Thus, looking back at our ancestors, we have biologically trained ourselves to crave sweets.

While our prehistoric ancestors trained themselves to crave sweets biologically, the problem we face today is that humans have too much of the sweet stuff available to them, which is why over consumption of diets rich in sugars contributes together with other factors to drive the current obesity epidemic due to capitalism and sugar.

Depending on the sociologist, causes and solutions can be different. To begin with, Karl Marx views social issues as a issue due to economic inequality. In a capitalist society, he believes each individual acts selfishly and does what best suits him or her. A more appropriate society I would argue would be one in which people had equal access to different aspects of modern day culture (Cliggett 102). Thus, when looking at the rise in obesity, Marx would blame the issue on three major issues: power, poverty and education. When looking at a case, where the                                                                                                                 “UN’s World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture proposed a guideline widely supported by nutritionists, which recommended that added sugars should not exceed 10 percent of daily calorie intake, congress was threatened to cut off $400,000 annual funding if they did not remove the offending norm from their report” (Robert 345).                 As the UN bodies gave in, this scenario once again expresses the image above where the first two tiers “rule and fool you” as they are the ones with the power to feed poison to poor, and uneducated people. When looking at price distinctions in foods, there is a drastic difference between the cost of healthy foods and junks foods. Even if an individual can find fresh produce, cheaper usually means worse quality. Organic foods also tend to be more costly than conventional items. In the view of Marx, these price differences lead to the fact that poorer people do not have the same access to healthy food options as more affluent.                                                                                                                                                                 In reverence to modern society and obesity, different groups have access to different levels of education and different types of food options. Varying levels of education leads to different knowledge about nutrition. One status group will understand the meaning of calorie counts and fat percentages but another group will not. The less knowledgeable group will make worse decisions when determining what to eat. The lack of understanding adds to the rise rate of obesity. Status groups may also be separated by their abilities to access food choices. A less fortunate group may only have access to unhealthy foods, such as fast food, while another group has the choice of organic meals.  While the structure of the food market is rapidly changing around individuals, they will be unable to adjust their actions in order to prevent obesity.

In conclusion sugar is the driver behind two of the worst tragedies we face today, slavery and obesity, by allowing a greedy rigged system that shapes our social, cultural, economic and political ordering that some of us have little to no control over. In the video below, one can see how the government is in power with the obesity epidemic we now face, as sugar is all around us and money is a very powerful tool.

 

Work cited:

Cumo, Christopher. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1750–1900.” World History Encyclopedia. Alfred J. Andrea. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Credo Reference. Web.

Cliggett, Lisa, and Richard R. Wilk. Economies and Cultures: Foundations of Economic Anthropology. Boulder: Westview, Array. Anthropology Online. Web. 12 May 2016.

Fraser-Reid, Bertram O. From Sugar to Splenda: A personal and Scientific Journey of a Carbohydrate Chemist and Expert Witness. Heidelberg: Springer, 2012. Print.

International: Breaking the chains; slavery. (2007, Feb 24). The Economist, 382, 64-73. Web.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 5: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 6: Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

Mintz, S. (1985). “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History”. New York: Penguin Books. Print.

Park, Crystal L. “Religion and Meaning.” Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Eds. Raymond F. Paloutzian and Crystal L. Park. New York: The Guilford Press, 2005.

Robertson, Emma. “Chocolate, women and empire: A Social and Cultural History.” Manchester University Press, New York. 2010. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

Spector, Dina. “An Evolutionary Explanation For Why We Crave Sugar.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 2014. Web. 11 May 2016.