This post will review the basic botanical timeline of the cacao tree, how it grows from seed to fruiting tree, as well as the differences in sustainability practices in historic Meso-America versus modern West Africa. I will ultimately argue that because cacao production has and will continue to play a large role in economies for decades, and because of the modern challenge of climate change, it would be hugely beneficial for cacao plantations to adapt more sustainable and earth-friendly production practices.
Cacao first originated in Mesoamerica around 1500 B.C. and was cultivated and used for many purposes: drink, food, a form of currency, a symbol of status, a part of social and religious rituals, and more. As it became increasingly valuable, demand for production skyrocketed, and people were forced to optimize their cultivation techniques, (“The History of Chocolate.”). However there were many limitations to their progress. There was little knowledge about processes like pollination and issues like disease, and not enough room for experimentation with things like fertilization.
The most popular variety of cacao plant, scientifically known as Theobroma cacao, is particularly stubborn to cultivate compared to other fruiting trees (think apple or orange trees). It relies on animal or human interference to begin its life cycle, as a new tree cannot grow without the cacao seeds being separated from their tough pod encasing, (Martin, “01 Introduction.”). In order for the seed to sprout and begin growing, temperatures must remain between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which was generally the natural climate of then-Mesoamerica. The soil must be damp but not wet, as the cacao seedlings are prone to rot, (Stallsmith, “How to Grow Cocoa Beans.”). There must be a moderate amount of sun, however they can be grown either in the shade of the canopy of other trees or in direct sunlight (a topic that will be discussed later). In 1500 B.C. there was no technology to create these conditions artificially, thus making production at that time very difficult, inconsistent, and always subject to climate cycles.
After the cacao seedling has begun growing, it takes between four and five years to bear flowers and then pods. A single tree can have 6,000 flowers yet only naturally produce 20 cacao pods, which is an unfortunate discrepancy in potential yields. The cacao tree has a fruiting habit that produces both the flowers and the pods directly on the trunk, which is called cauliflory. Unlike other fruit trees, cacao is not pollinated by bees. Before artificial pollination was utilized, small flies called midges were the sole pollinators for cacao crops, which partially explains why the cacao tree produced so many flowers yet so few pods – less than 5% of the flowers are actually pollinated. Fallen leaves from the trees insulated the ground when rotting, keeping moisture in while simultaneously providing the perfect environment for midges to reproduce and thus continue to pollinate, (“Life Cycles of Cacao Pollinating Midges (Forcipomyia Spp.) and Some Notes on the Larval Behavior in the Laboratory.”). An image of the cacao flowers can be seen below. Once the cacao pods turn from purple to yellow to green, they are harvested from the tree, and then peeled to reveal the seeds. They are then dried, fermented, and ground, and finally the resulting product can be used for whatever purposes are intended. A single cacao tree lives for about 25 years on average, with 20 of those years being productive, (Martin, “04 Sugar and Cacao.”).
In the hundreds of years between 1500 B.C. Mesoamerica and modern-day Africa and South America, a lot has changed in the world. The attitude towards the production of most consumed goods in the world shifted from being solely focused on quantities and output to the acknowledgement that there must be a balance between output and sustainability. There has only been an increase in demand for cacao due to the increase in chocolate production and consumption worldwide, and unlike hundreds of years ago, we now face the problem of rapid climate change. It is critical that cacao farmers around the world shift their farming techniques to both maximize production while minimizing the negative impacts on the cacao laborers as well as the environment, (“A Strategy to Safeguard the Future of Chocolate.”).
Long ago, increasing cacao production meant bringing in more people to work the plantations. Now, we have technology and knowledge about effective pollination, fertilization, and tree growth patterns. In modern-day Ghana, cacao production is a huge part of the economy, as well as an critical source of income for both farmers and young adults who work on the farms. The Ghanian cacao-governing body, called COCOBOD, works to provide their farmers and the cacao workers with the knowledge and tools they need to maximize production, quality, and income while minimizing crop loss and damage to the environment, (“Ghana Cocoa Specification.”). In the video below, young Ghanians artificially pollinate cacao trees to increase the percentage of flowers that yield cacao pods.
Without the work of people like Derick Owusu, the cacao trees would naturally produce only a small fraction of the number of pods they do when they are artificially pollinated by humans, (COCOA HAND POLLINATION.) Although midges do still assist in the process, the flies don’t naturally have the ideal habitat they once did in Mesoamerica. Now, cacao farmers often sweep the dead leaves off of the ground underneath the trees to maintain paths in between the rows of crops. In the process of doing so, the moist, rotting environment that midges typically thrive in is destroyed, so human interference is now critical to the production of cacao pods.
A huge issue that our society deals with today is the excessive emission of carbon into the atmosphere. That, coupled with rapid worldwide deforestation, makes a detrimental combination. However, cacao trees could potentially help turn this rather depressing trend around. Theobroma cacao can be grown successfully in either direct sunlight or partial shade. Timothy Pearson, a carbon-emissions specialist for the non-profit company Winrock International, strongly believes that cacao grown in the partial shade of other trees is not only successful in producing cacao pods, but also helps the environment by storing more carbon, increasing biodiversity, and preventing needless deforestation, (Pearson, “How Chocolate Can Help Save the Planet.”)
Pearson claims that older varieties of cacao that were once grown in full sun in places like Mesoamerica are now succumbing to disease and drought. However in West Africa, where nearly 70% of the world’s cocoa is produced, the trees are flourishing. Under the canopies of other trees, they have become more tolerant of dry environments and are less susceptible to disease and weed growth. Pearson also argues that a grove of shade-grown cacao trees can store and process up to three times as much carbon as sun-grown trees.
However, not all cacao farmers abide by these earth-friendly, sustainable practices for cultivating their cacao. It takes money, resources, and labor to make this transition – commodities that many cacao farmers do not have access to. Yet with the help of organizations like COCOBOD in Ghana, it is possible to maximize the positive effect of cacao trees on the world. With the demand for cocoa beans only going up with time, it is critical that cacao plantations around the globe prioritize sustainability as ardently as they do production.
Soria, S. de J., and Wirth, W.W. “Life Cycles of Cacao Pollinating Midges (Forcipomyia Spp.) and Some Notes on the Larval Behavior in the Laboratory.” Mosquito News, June, no. 2, 1977, pp. 288–289. Accessed via Hollis.
In the summer after my sophomore year of college, I conducted
research on sustainable development in Costa Rica and Panama. This was one of
the most enriching academic and personal experiences in my life to-date,
especially the week that I spent living on a small-scale cacao farm in
Mastatal, Costa Rica. That magical week involved working and eating alongside
the absolutely lovely family that has owned the land its cacao trees for
Mastatal is a unique agricultural community that lies in the
south west region of the San Jose Province. It is a town that has always relied
on agriculture, usually on a small scale. It has never industrialized and found
a comfortable place in the larger Costa Rica economy, but since the turn of the
century it has revived its economy through agricultural tourism, or agritourism.
Wait… what is agritourism?
Agricultural tourism is a subset of the larger trend toward
ecotourism, a style of travel that involves leaving a small footprint on the
environment, while connecting on a deeper level with it. Agritourism involves staying
and working on a farm with the goal of getting closer to the source of the food
you eat. This trend is generally being driven by global changes in food and dining,
climate and energy conservation, health and wellness, and heritage conservation
(Ciglovska, 278). Four farms in Mastatal, all focusing on different products, use
agritourism as a source of additional income, hosting visitors, giving tours, making
local dishes, and putting the travelers to work. Where I was staying, La Iguana
Chocolate, was the main attraction, because everybody loves chocolate.
The group of students that I was a part of worked alongside
the family that owned the cacao operation, while conducting field research on
the budding agritourism industry in the small town as a whole. The work was
hard but rewarding and gave me closer insight into the process of harvesting cacao
and making chocolate, as well as the struggles of a small scale producer. Chocolate
is made from the beans inside a fruit that grows from a tree, something that I
was unaware of before my time on the farm. Upon arriving we were given a full
tasting, one of the services that is offered to travelers each day. The couple
that operates the farm greeted us with an interesting looking fruit that
reminded me of a squash, and when they broke it open it was filled with small
white fuzzy pods. They encouraged us to take one of the pods and eat the white
fuzzy material off of it, and that was the moment that I found my favorite
fruit. Yes, cacao is my favorite fruit. It sounds crazy… most people have no
idea where the cocoa powder and butter that makes their favorite treat comes from,
or that the raw fruity product could be so delicious. For those of you struggling
to believe me, I have attached a video of a tasting. That first sight of the
cacao pods was only the beginning of my time spent with them over the course of
my time at La Iguana.
The most rewarding part of the whole week was the time spent in the fields harvesting the cacao pods. The work is eye-opening in its difficulty. We started our day with a quick breakfast at around seven o’clock in the morning before packing lunch and all the necessary tools onto the back of a single horse. We then set off through the back of the immediate property, down a dirt, and then mud, road for about a mile until we came to a river. Shoes were removed and the river was crossed, the small dog accompanying us was carried, of course. After we scaled a large hill we finally reached the edge of a forest, situated in higher altitude than we were previously. The walk alone was enough to exhaust the group, but it is highly necessary that the cacao trees are in the perfect environment to grow effectively. Cacao trees need to be in an area with high moisture but good draining, usually shaded by other trees and surrounded by a heavy underbrush of leaves. This is knowledge that has been passed down for generations, since the first cacao tree was brought to Mastatal. These very particular conditions were perfect in this hillside forest, and the journey to reach the trees is absolutely worth it when the trees are highly productive. This is especially true when your livelihood depends on it.
Once we got to the vast area of cacao trees there was important
training that needed to take place. There were several strains of cacao growing
in the field. This meant that the ideal color and shape of the pods that were
ready for harvest could differ from tree to tree. Green pods turn a deep
yellow, but yellow pods turn a bright red. Clearly there is room for confusion. Beyond
that, any pod that has black spots on it must be taken down despite its level
of ripeness. The black spots are a disease that can ruin an entire harvest, Moniliophthora
roreri, but more on
that later. We also had to learn how to properly use the sharp tools to cut the
pods from the trunks of the cacao trees. It seemed like at every step in the
process of growing and harvesting cacao there was only one very specific way of
doing things. While we may have been a bit unprepared, we were set off into the
forest, machete and large hemp bag in hand.
Aside from the
cliff of mud and rushing river that had to be passed to reach the crop, the work
itself was awfully dangerous as well. Costa Rica is home to the Fer-de-Lance,
an incredibly venomous viper who likes to live in underbrush… underbrush much
like that required to grow cacao. Some of the pods are also out of reach,
making climbing a tree with a machete in hand necessary. Once our bags were
full with pods, we hauled them to the center of the forest and all dumped them
out to extract the beans. While working on the pods, we chatted with the family
about how they got started in cacao, and what the biggest challenges have been
in making a living from the crop.
While roughly two thirds of the worlds cacao production happens in West Africa, the plant is indigenous to Central and South America, an area that produces only five percent of the worlds cacao today (Leissle, 16). This is due to the colonial exportation of the production means to an area that was understood as having cheap and abundant labor that could support the booming chocolate industry. La Iguana is one of the few farms still producing cacao in the Mastatal area. We were told that cacao trees were brought to the area in the middle of the twentieth century because the Costa Rican Ministry of Agriculture saw it as an opportunity to breathe life into the economy of the area. In essence, small scale subsistence and fruit farmers were forced to change their production techniques and land use to cater to cacao. Encouraging shaded agro-ecosystems like cacao also “provide a promising means of addressing the challenges of creating a forest‐like habitat for tropical biodiversity in a rapidly deforested landscape, while simultaneously providing a lucrative crop for local agricultural communities” (Phillips‐Mora et al.).
However, many of the farmers that were planting cacao in Mastatal had to stop in the mid-90s when Monilio, the fungal disease discussed above, was spread through the area. We were told that there was no concrete understanding of how the disease came to the area, perhaps on the clothes of a traveler studying cacao. It was clear that this disease could cause hardship that seemed unsurmountable. It was well known that Monilio could be destroy long-term economic viability if even one yield was infected (Evans et al.). After the disease initially hit the La Iguana farm, they could not get enough pure cacao pods and had to revert to selling only fruit from their smaller fruit farm for a living. A highlight is that even in pods with black spots covering most of the fruit, it is possible that the fungus has not yet reached the beans on the inside, and the cacao is still useable.
While La Iguana has implemented a few techniques to diminish the impact of the Monilia on their crop that has allowed them to maintain good harvests, there have been other struggles for the small farm in establishing a sustainable business model. The largest struggle for them, as well as the other farms shifting towards an agritourism model, was attracting the right crowds of people. The research that I ultimately produced from my time there looked at the marketing techniques of each of these farms, and how they are perceived by the surrounding community. I found that the initial launch of these farms as tourist destinations brought the wrong kind of people to the town, creating a tension between the farms and other locals. Jarkko Saarinen is a scholar who has done extensive research in the field, and he made a similar generalization that “high development goals of rural tourism may separate rural communities and tourism actors, which can cause economic and social conflicts, insecurity and locally unwanted changes in rural landscapes.” However, once La Iguana was able to control the crowds they were attracting, and their ability to bring new people to the area started having a positive impact on the greater community, they reached a new level of stability and social sustainability.
However, both the control of tourists coming to eat chocolate from the source, and the control of Monilio are ongoing battles for La Iguana Chocolate as well as other small scale cacao farmers in the region. I am infinitely grateful for the time I was able to spend there, and the friends I made in Mastatal. The knowledge that I gained from living and working in a small agricultural town going through a beautiful economic transformation will allow me to better navigate these communities in the future and work with them on their long term development and sustainability: environmental, economic, and social.
C., et al. “What’s in a Name: Crinipellis, the Final Resting Place for the
Frosty Pod Rot Pathogen of Cocoa?” Mycologist, vol. 16, no. 4, Nov.
2002, pp. 148–52. Cambridge Core, doi:10.1017/S0269915X02004093.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity, 2018.
Phillips‐Mora, W., et al. “Biodiversity and Biogeography of the Cacao
(Theobroma Cacao) Pathogen Moniliophthora Roreri in Tropical America.” Plant
Pathology, vol. 56, no. 6, 2007, pp. 911–22. Wiley Online Library,
Saarinen, Jarkko. “Traditions of Sustainability in Tourism Studies.” Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 33, no. 4, Oct. 2006, pp. 1121–40. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.annals.2006.06.007.
The chocolate industry has a huge commercial impact on contemporary North American society; this impact is not just commercial, however. Consumers, particularly women, often have a larger emotional connection [to chocolate] that goes beyond capitalist values. Regrettably, consumers, are often not always aware of the exploitive nature the chocolate industry has been historically. Nor are they aware of how incredibly inequitable it is primarily for the farmers and their families who are instrumental to the chocolate industry. Through an interview with my friend, Mara Peters (alias), I attempt to analyze these emotional connections female consumers have with chocolate while also revealing the disconnects they have with the ‘dark side’ of the chocolate supply chain. Lastly, this paper will also consider alternative ways how to make the industry more equitable, diverging from popular models that exist like, Fair Trade and Free Trade, as well as, some internal sustainable programs implemented by the chocolate companies, like Nestle’s Cocoa Plan.
Emotional Connections: Women & Chocolate Consumption
Chocolate is all around us. Accessible to us at any moment, at grocery stores anywhere in the world, from a convenient store in a small town in California to a large shopping complex in Japan. When we buy our favorite bar or bonbon, we know it will taste the same EVERY SINGLE TIME. We can take comfort in that, especially women on the western part of the world. For women chocolate has become something more than a simple treat. Instead it is a food that has taken on a significant emotional role in women’s lives. Case in point. For my friend Mara, chocolate has provided a sense of comfort helping her to manage several types of emotions, such as stress, depression, and yes, even pleasure. This strong emotional connection is psychologically real. There has been many scientific studies to show these strong associations. Turning to chocolate was a way Mara could relieve stress. During our interview, she recalled when writing her PhD dissertation in biochemistry she literally did not eat much except for chocolate. “When I was writing my PhD dissertation, I stopped eating real food and just ate chocolate cake from Trader Joe’s 😵 I definitely cope with 🍫” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. Text Message. S. Martinez). The emoticon ‘Dizzy Face’ (open mouth and X’s to resemble spirals for eyes) in the text message she used to respond to my question expresses heightened disbelief, awe, amazement (emojipedia, n.d.). She was in total disbelief that she could eat so much chocolate to get through that difficult period of her life. Getting a PhD is no easy feat. There was a lot of pressure to do well and finish strong, so why not take off the edge with chocolate. When she looks into further she recognizes how much chocolate has definitely been used as a coping mechanism throughout her life. After Mara’s second pregnancy she experienced postpartum depression and as a result again turned to chocolate to help her cope with those daily mental hardships (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person. S. Martinez).
Mara is not the only one who has relied on chocolate as a way to deal with stressors in one’s life. Chocolate is the most common food item people report they crave to alleviate emotional distress according to Dr. David Benton a psychologist and biochemical pharmacologist (Benton, 2004, p. 205). Chocolate has been studied for sometime by scientific researchers to determine whether or not the chemicals compounds in chocolate have real influences over our moods and/or behaviors. Dr. Benton’ studies suggest that these chocolate cravings are not really derived from any pharmacological and/or biological processes to induce the craving but rather a physiological reaction from taste and the attractiveness of the mouthfeel (Benton, 2004, 214). When we bite into our favorite chocolate our taste buds are awaken sending a signal to the brain releasing endorphins from our opioid systems. This system controls our pain, reward and addictive behaviors (European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 2007). When these endorphins are triggered (by eating chocolate) they are helping us to relieve our pain or stress by replacing them with feelings of happiness and/or pleasure.
Women actually experience stronger cravings for chocolate more than men (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). That number has been consistently shown to be higher than 92 percent according to a few studies (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). Women experience a higher intensity cravings for more palatable, sweeter, fattier and high caloric foods than men. When it comes to sweets, women prefer chocolate, pastries, and ice cream (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). While men, on the other hand, tend to crave more savory foods such as meat, fish, eggs (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). When it came to sweets men prefer a sweet beverage, but not chocolate (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). Interestingly Mara expressed a similar observation. Her husband does like chocolate but he definitely does not crave it. “I don’t think he craves it or anything. He usually likes fruit desserts more than chocolate. Blasphemy!!” 🤣 (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. [Text Message]. S. Martinez).These cravings are not just triggered by physically consuming chocolate or other delectable food but can also be induced by environmental stimuli or ‘induced craving cues’ (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 162). For example seeing an ad like Godiva pop on the television can elicit these craving (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 162). To capture this activity occurring functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) have been performed on women’s brain. When women are shown images of palatable foods there is more neural activity in areas of the brain where the taste-region is located (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 164). Mara’s experience aligns well with the study conducted by researchers at Yale. Mara recalls being obsessed with chocolate in college. Being in a bigger town and at the university she had accessed to better quality chocolate. Dark chocolate was and still is her favorite (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person. S. Martinez). Consuming refined chocolate opened up her palette for a new tasting experience more so than the Hershey Bars and Kisses as a kid (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person. S. Martinez). She craved it; the sugar, the fat, it tasted good providing a “huge dopamine rush” which satisfied that high caloric need (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person. S. Martinez). If that were enough emotional connection between women and chocolate, researchers have also shown that there is also a hormonal mechanism at play during that across a woman’s menstruation cycle. Women have reported strong increases craving for sweets in the luteal phase (after ovulation), but overall can have strong food craving right before menses well into menstruation (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 164). One appropriate meme floating around the internet is ‘Women need chocolate. It’s a scientific fact.’ (credited by English author Sophie Kinsella) and I wouldn’t argue with this compelling scientific evidence.
Women Depicted in Advertisements
As you can see through my interview with Mara with support from scientific studies about women do indeed have a strong emotional connection to chocolate which can help provides some emotional stability in their lives. Of course when we talk about women and emotions they can oftentimes be taken out of context, something that the chocolate companies have been effective doing throughout the last century. What they have been able to do is reinforce stereotypical notions about women’s emotional connection to chocolate as author, Emma Robertson discusses in her book Chocolate, Women and Empire. That the men at Rowntree and Cadbury were able to really lay the foundation of depicting how women and mothers should be behaving in their “ideal gendered roles” (Robertson, 2009, p.26). One example is a commercial that target moms and their children questioning their motherly role. In a recent Hershey’s commercial a mom offers a chocolate to her teenage daughter after a break up (Hershey’s, 2018). The girl is upset and locked up in her room (Hershey’s, 2018). Mom is on the other side of the door with a Hershey’s bite size chocolate. Mom slides it underneath the door and tells her daughter, “I promise its going to get better” (Hershey’s, 2018). This touches on several things, 1) Hershey’s is telling women that in order to be a good mom you should be offering your children chocolate when they are sad 2) Hershey’s in trying to highlight that special bond between mother and daughter 3) Hershey’s is gaining a new customer feeding on young women’s emotions. They are learning that chocolate can be that food that helps them get through a tough time. Oh, the chocolate companies are brilliant at playing into emotional consumerism that has really impacted female consumers.
The Disconnect of Consumers to Cocoa Beans through Colonization and Racism
Now switching gears from discussing women’s emotional connection to chocolate to consumer’s disconnect to the cocoa bean supply chain. When interviewing Mara about the cocoa bean supply chain she was aware of the slavery in the industry, but to what extent she was not sure. She always brought free or fair trade chocolate thinking this is what she could do to support responsible business practice in a product [chocolate] she loves to consume regularly. Mara is a scientist and thus a big believer in climate change and trying to do her part to do things more sustainably. Her go to chocolate brand has been Endangered Species. I asked if she would be willing to take the Slavery Footprint quiz and she agreed. She was shocked about her results. She had 63 slaves working for her and did not think it would be so many. She thought maybe 12 at most (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person Interview. S. Martinez). Taking the quiz really opened her eyes to our unequal systems and just how implicated we are in our capitalistic system of unethical production of goods. It became overwhelming for her because these injustices do not only exist in the chocolate industry but other industries as well, “The issues seem so big and sound unsolvable that one feels so helpless” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person Interview. S. Martinez). Mara admitted that since being a mom its been incredibly challenging to prioritize issues like these that she knows are so important for overall global sustainability. She has two kids which is a full time job. Her family is a priority and managing all the other things occurring in her life becomes extremely difficult to set really high expectations about consumption habits. Her parents, unfortunately, lost their home in the Paradise California wildfires so trying to solve the inequities of cocoa bean farmers or eradicate slave labor on the other side of the world seems unrealistic. Mara wants to make good consumer choices but she admitted since having children her consumption choices have been short of ideal. We can imagine that is the case for many here in the U.S. For a couple of years now Mara actually stopped buying fair trade chocolate and was buying the ‘cheaper’ stuff. It’s just easier she says. Regarding other products, she doesn’t have time to sit and look at every label she buys to see if it was made sustainably and ethically, “It so hard to know for consumers because who knows if the companies are really telling the truth” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person Interview. S. Martinez). But she can’t imagine how others who might not be so privileged or educated could think about what they buy, especially if they too are struggling to get by. Consumption in the U.S. is all about being fast, cheap and convenient Mara brought up salient point, “ People just do not care” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person Interview. S. Martinez). Mara hits the nail on the head because making people care by tugging at their heart might not be as effective as their bottom line.
Coincidentally, comedian, Ronny Chieng, from the Daily Show poked fun of this exact issue about Americans not caring nor actually knowing where their food actually comes from. One of the examples he used was chocolate. A very effective comedian is able to shine a light on some very real issues and he did just that. What happened was An ‘entitled’ American consumer from New Jersey was was suing Belgium chocolate maker Godiva for mislabeling where they make chocolate (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, 2019). The label says ‘Godiva Belgium 1926’. This consumer apparently bought the chocolate from one of the many chocolatier Godiva shops in the New Jersey Area and not in Belgium! Mr. Chang asked sarcastically “Why is this person even suing?” (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, 2019) Then proceeded to say that that this person probably doesn’t even know where Belgium is on a map! I like to highlight that since this consumers does not know where Belgium is, it is highly likely they do not know where cocoa beans are sourced. Mr. Chang goes on to say “… Americans love chocolate so much that they don’t care where chocolate is made. It could be made in Bernie Sanders shoes and they will still eat it.” Yes, it was a funny segment. But in all seriousness how do we get people to care? Or equally why don’t they care?
I think they don’t care because people do not appreciate or understand the historical colonial and racist roots that have created systems that were designed to financially benefit Europeans and the U.S. They don’t appreciate or understand because the European chocolate makers were very effective in disconnecting those who produced it, especially through advertisements. According to author Emma Robertson the advertisements had defined boundaries of black/white and colonized/colonizer’ (Robertson, 2009, p. 36). Advertisements depicted Africans in demeaning, unintelligent, uncivilized, and inferior ways to suit the image of European consumers to mask the reality of the chocolate industry’s connection to where their wealth was sourced (Robertson, 2009, p.39). It was indeed ‘strategic’ and intentional. (Robertson, 2009, p. 36.). Since consumers are so disconnected about the cocoa supply chain we have to bring more awareness to the problem and actually highlight these disparities between cocoa farmers and the chocolate companies. The chocolate industry is immensely wealthy and powerful. The families and the executives that run them are filthy rich. In the one hundred years of operation the Mar’s family has a net worth of $78 Billion (Alux, 2019). The Cadbury Family made $19 billion after being bought by Kraft Staples, 2010). Ferrero Group CEO Giovanni Ferrero (grandson of founder Peitro Ferrero) has a personal wealth of $23 Billion and he is only 54 years old (Segal, 2019). Mondelez International (owned by Kraft), paid its Chief Executive Officer, Dirk Van de Put, $42,442,924 in 2017 (his first year in the position) making him the top four overpaid CEOs worldwide (Weaver, 2019). He makes 990 times more than the average Mondelez worker (Weaver, 2019). As we learned in the film by Social Papel that Brazilian cocoa farmer, Antonio Augusto Dos Santos and his family, make R$100 per month for arduous labor that helps to make the west’s most prized delight (Giovanaz, Casara, and Dallabrida, 2019). It’s incredibly inequitable and unethical. It’s a system that is corrupt, hidden, and exploitive that keeps cocoa farmers trapped in perpetual, generational poverty (Leissle, 2018, p.110). It’s insane that seventy of the world’s chocolate comes from West Africa and yet they only consume 4 percent (Leissle, 2018, p.43). Farmers Dos Santos said that chocolate has very little value to them; it’s a product they can’t even afford to buy (Giovanaz, Casara, and Dallabrida, 2019). It’s a moral obligation to start putting people over profits. When speaking with Mara about these inequities again it’s overwhelming, “What we buy comes at a high cost of some else’s rights. On an individual level all we can do is our best to become aware and make better consumer choices.” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. Phone Interview. S. Martinez).
However, consumer efforts cannot ‘fix’ this problem alone. As the Brazilian delegation’s pointed out in order to address these wrongs it has to be a concerted effort that must include many all stakeholders in the supply chain, the big chocolate industry, consumers, government institutions, non-profit organizations, farmers and their families everyone to sort out the mess and make the supply chain transparent so that child labor or enslaved labor can be eradicated (Giovanaz, Casara, and Dallabrida, 2019) (Picolotto et al, 2018). We have a moral obligation and we must hold those on the top accountable. It is morally reprehensible that the chocolate industry families, like Mars and Ferrero should have that much wealth, especially when it at the cost of someone’s else human rights. Some Companies have their own sustainable efforts, like Nestle’s Cocoa Plan but when reporting their outcomes they usually focus on the positive, yet still manage to be vague or inefficient about their operations (Nestle Cocoa Plan: Not Quite Enough, 2018). Though fair and free trade certifications were the first on the move to help address these problems in the supply chains“they are not a panacea” (Martin, 2019). These certifications have become incredibly confusing for consumers as they become overwhelmed with labels, “We have no idea if companies are ‘sustainability’ washing or just a marketing gimmick” (Fisher, 2019) Additionally, certifications put the onus on famers who opt not to participate (Fisher, 2019). How can consumer even appreciate or be connected to our food systems when the system seems so confusing and backwards?
If we are to going to change the system I agree with Dr. Martin that there must be alternative ideas brought. In the case of Brazil, I am not sure if pushing the companies to make commitment to work together to address the issues might not be enough. It might have the same results as the Engel-Harkin protocol. There needs to be political will and radical policy. I think trying to work within the same system is not going to get us anywhere. Because the same people at the top still will remain wealthy, just slightly different rules. Leissle said something that struck me which was the inequities are not going to equalize any time soon. Generations of colonizations, slavery and racist policies for example have again created these inequities. In the U.S. it will take African-America 234 years to catch up to white wealth today and for Latinos 84 years (Asante-Muhammad, D., Collins, C. Hoxie, J. and Nieves, 2017). I can’t imagine what that looks like for people who are farmers at the bottom of supply chains. They will never catch up at this rate. The alternative ideas I propose which might be radical to some, is reparations of the cocoa industry to cocoa farmers. People at the top would complain and hypothetically say “It’s not fair”. Or “There is not enough money!” Which we all know is hogwash. Reparations in the U.S. gets a lot of pushback and some presidential nominees have brought up the topic but still wrestling with it (Kurtzleben, 2019). Many believe is would not be fair because you are putting blame and taking someone’s wealth that had nothing to do with our dark past. Because how are we supposed to know whose ancestors were enslaved? Yet, research has been done that white slave owners in the U.S. actually received reparations for their loss of slaves after the civil war (Hunter, 2019). Wow, that is incredible! The Injustice! Slave owners received $300 for each slave they lost and it was supported by President Abraham Lincoln (Hunter, 2019).. He commissioned a board to oversee 1000 petitions from slave owners for 3,000 slaves (Hunter, 2019). The largest sum received was $18,000. So, I am not sure why people, especially white people have an issue with it. Because of actions like these people of color at the bottom and still catching up economically.
The other alternative is that we need to educate women all around the world and empower them by giving them rights to land and resource in the agricultural industry, e.g. cocoa. According to Project DrawDown we can make an incredible difference as 100 to 150 million people would no longer go hungry and could help close the parity gap with men (Project Drawdown, n.d.). Lastly, another alternative is we need to invest in entrepreneurs from the places that grown cocoa. We need to provide them the infrastructure, tools, resource, machinery to start their own cocoa business. There is no reason why people who produce cocoa bean shouldn’t make it.
I am not sure if any of my so called radical idea will live up. But, I’ll end with on another powerful connection which is chocolate brings people together. Kakawa, as we know played a significant role in Mayan culture and society. There is even a special word for this chokola’j = ‘drink chocolate together’ [Martin, 2019]. Mara and I had not seen one another for nine years and were appreciative how chocolate re-connected us! The next time we get together we have chocolate from 57 Chocolate, a Revolutionary artisanal chocolate made from bean to bar by a dynamic duo of Pan-African sisters. With this purchase we are already helping to make a progress one chocolate bar at a time.
Fisher, K. (2019, April, 10). Fair Trade. [Lecture]
Hallam, J., Boswell, R.G., DeVito, E.E., and Kober, H. (2016, June 27). Gender-related Differences in Food Craving and Obesity. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 89(2): 161-173. Retrieved from 1794 Park Ave, San Jose, CA 95126