Theo Bromine. He’s bitter, but sometimes he can cheer you up if you’re having a bad day at work. Others call him an alkaloid. His real name is Theo Bromine. Those in the cacao industry know him as one word – theobromine. Traces of theobromine can be found in cacao. Cacao is the raw product, it takes ten stages before it becomes chocolate. The effect of consuming cacao is similar to caffeine, it gives you that instant boost of energy. The origin of Theobroma cacao trees can be found in the Brazilian Amazon where cacao is a big part of Brazil’s economic and cultural history.
Cacao trees are pretty finicky. They need warm climate, hot, but not too hot. Most of the production of cacao is in West Africa – 72%, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana to be exact. Because of climate change, there are elevating temperatures and a possibility that the cacao crops could be eliminated. If you’ve avoided the conversation around climate change, scrolled down when you saw the crying polar bears on social media, grimaced when you heard your neighbor bought a Prius, and slept through a class showing of An Inconvenient Truth, now is the time to pay attention to climate change. Why? Because your chocolate consumption could be seriously affected.
Factors affecting the cacao industry:
Many factors, not just climate change, affect the cacao industry: droughts, floods, infestation, demand, and evapotranspiration. Rising temperatures alone will not impact cacao production, evapotranspiration (loss of moisture because of the high temperature) does. With the higher temperatures expected by the year 2050 precipitation/rainfall isn’t a guarantee. Brazil was once ranked second as the largest cacao producer, today they rank sixth. The decline in cacao production is due to the fungus that causes witch’s broom. In order for a cacao farmer to have a successful crop, trees have to be disease resistant. Hershey’s and Mars, Inc. have already classified the cacao genome which could improve the resiliency of cacao trees.
The Rainforest Alliance is a non-governmental organization/NGO that assists farmers with sustainable lifestyles. Its mission is to work with the smallholder cacao farmers to help with these issues. Some cacao farmers have already taken the suggestions to switch to alternative crops, lucrative ones such as rubber and/or palm oil. What if all farmers in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana switched at the same pace? The world could face the possibility of a million ton cacao shortage by 2020, this according to The Earth Security Group, a sustainability consulting firm registered in the United Kingdom.
Global demand for chocolate is another factor because of their interest in confectionery. The chocolate market has been trending towards higher prices over the last 10 years with the market increasing by 13% between 2010-2015, farmers’ share has decreased during this time. It is estimated that by the year 2030, chocolate will be a delicacy, like caviar, and your average Joe, or Jane, won’t be able to purchase it. Heavy marketing leads to heavy demand. How do we equate the 13% to a dollar value, try $100 billion, according to Euromonitor, a market research firm.
Unfortunately, cacao trees cannot keep up with the rapid demands of consumers, it takes three to five years at best to produce cacao beans, the end result of this long, strenuous process is chocolate. The amount we consume (11+ pounds of chocolate is consumed annually by individuals in Europe and the United States) far outweighs the amount that is produced, leading to a shortage of chocolate. In the news lately, Necco, the company that manufactures Necco Wafers, Sky Bar, Mary Jane, and Sweethearts is filing for bankruptcy. If we are heading towards chocolate becoming a delicacy I must warn you: start hoarding all of your candy because it will cost you a pretty penny in the not-so-distant future. Call me Ms. Gloomanddoom, but remember the recent avocado crisis in Mexico, we may have a chocolate crisis next.
Global warming and climate change have been topics widely discussed for years. In a recent TED Talk with Mark Bittman, he commented that global warming is real and dangerous and reminds us that we should stop eating things thoughtlessly. This includes chocolate. Greenhouse gas, methane gas, water shortages, oh my!
How’d we get here? Well, it all started with British commodities: sugar, tea, and tobacco. These were popular due to the transatlantic movement, transporting these commodities by African slaves. Chocolate began in Mesoamerica and dates back to 350 BC. It was consumed as a hot beverage served in ghourds and as time progressed in fancy porcelain cups by the most affluent during the Baroque Age. The British didn’t like the bitter taste of the chocolate so they re-created the taste by adding sugar to it.
I would have loved to interview the early entrepreneurs like Dorothy Jones who was granted a license to operate a coffee house in Boston in 1670. Women wouldn’t be caught dead in a coffee house and she got a license. Slay girl slay. Despite my research at the Massachusetts Historical Society I was not able to locate the actual license or the coffee house, but I did find one reference to it in the Record Commissioners City of Boston records from 1660 to1701. It may be that Dorothy Jones was a vendor and did not actually have a storefront. If there was a storefront, I would have to guess that it was located in the area of what’s now known as Downtown Crossing in Boston. Newspaper Row was in that area during 1670 and it makes sense that the coffee house would be close by. To be continued.
The role of chocolate:
Liquid consumption of chocolate morphed into candy consumption and as time went on the global market consumed it. Pun intended. Chocolate consumes us and plays a variety of roles in our lives. Part of my research included interviews with three females, all of whom are my closest friends spanning four decades, who gave me permission to share their stories. Names have been changed. Three questions were asked of each woman: what is their relationship with chocolate, what role it played in their life, and how chocolate’s significance has changed or stayed the same over time. Analysis of the social and historical issues were revealed during these interviews.
I begin my interview with Pepper, 40-something. We’ve been friends for 15 years, so when she said “you’ll be disappointed, I don’t have a relationship with chocolate, at all. I can take it or leave it”. I thought, um what? Was I dreaming that she ate the special occasion, Halloween,Valentine’s Day, Christmas, because-it’s-Friday chocolate our coworkers brought in and placed in that fancy bowl they bought at the dollar store. When I asked her to elaborate on her statement I mentioned the documented ties to slavery, child labor and human trafficking, and the YouTube video The Dark Side of Chocolate, she said she “had no idea chocolate was involved in so much trauma and political unrest”.
Pepper went on, “I do eat it, but I don’t crave it. I like it sometimes; hot chocolate, candy bars with other things mixed in, the very occasional Dove piece, alone, but only when it happens to be laying there… I just don’t crave it. If I have any cravings, it would be the occasional hot chocolate, but only because it comforts me and makes me feel like autumn and of course, I am addicted to mochas which are chocolate and coffee together. So in that, I suppose it does play a role. But I still drink regular coffee too”.
“I always think the cultural references to chocolate/women/weakness/food orgasm are ridiculous. I’ve always thought to myself what’s the big deal, it’s just chocolate. It’s probably because I hate being stereotyped and the chocolate/women/weakness/food orgasm stereotype that society and commercials seem to paint just piss me off because I like to feel like I’m more dimensional than that. It makes women seem weak and easy to manipulate and shallow”.
“If you’re telling me that the chocolate trade perpetuates and supports slavery then I’m quitting it. My husband says I now have chocolate angst, or chocolate rage”.
I was curious as to why Pepper immediately responded with “craving” when I asked about chocolate. I love how she mentioned hot chocolate and frothy drinks and her addiction to mochas. There’s some truth to why we love frothy drinks. In ancient times, drinks were put in vessels and buried with loved ones who have since passed on. It was said that the froth went with the deceased to the afterlife.
Culture also played a role in Pepper’s response when she said she ate chocolate “alone”, as did her anger when she felt the stereotype which reminded me of the article I read by Kristy Leissle, Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements. Ghanaian women were photographed, not your typical glamour-shot, but were depicted as strong powerful business leaders, not in binary terms. These pictures reflect the necessary change in the narrative. Viewers are able to look beyond the exploitative market and view these women as they should be viewed, strong and powerful leaders in a transnational community. Many of the ads you see in the United States show women eating chocolate, alone, sinfully displayed like in the movie Chocolat, and almost always with some sort of sexual undertone throughout the ad. The ancient Aztecs believed chocolate was an aphrodisiac, science wasn’t quite onboard with that theory. Advertisers still link romance with chocolate.
Key words: comfort, craving, frothy drinks, stereotypes
My second interview was with Sunny, 60-something. Sunny said that she “definitely has had a relationship with chocolate throughout her childhood and adulthood and as a mom. Chocolate has been present in celebratory events, holidays & vacations. For holidays, chocolate snowmen & coins were placed in her children’s Christmas stockings, at Easter, chocolate eggs & bunnies were found on Easter egg hunts, and on Valentine’s Day chocolate hearts were given out as gifts. I have such happy Halloween memories as a kid trading candy bars” Sunny said with a beaming smile; kid’s birthday gift bags full of candy, & candy store visits while on vacation. And Hershey kisses, just because! Chocolate is present at happy events, there to cheer up, decrease stress and soothe a foul mood. At this point in my life I have less consumption/purchase of chocolate, children have grown and they are more health conscious and do not consume. I currently eat it more out of stress reduction and comfort while at work”.
“In chatting, this makes me take pause reflecting on the important role chocolate has played in my life. I think of my all-time favorite candy bar….”Sky Bar”! Sadly, I hadn’t chatted with Sunny about the recent Necco bankruptcy. She better stock up on Sky Bars or they will be a literal memory.
For Sunny, chocolate was a staple in her life until recently. It explains why she can’t pass up a Hershey’s Kiss. These sweet kisses are known as a “cradle-to-grave brand loyalty”. Once you consume them you pretty much do so for your entire life. Great marketing, for a kiss that contains only 11% cacao.
Sunny mentioned that chocolate was used a reward for good behavior with her children. More importantly she eats it when stressed and that it provides her comfort. Sunny has fond memories of chocolate, her visits to candy shops while on vacation and the role candy plays during holidays. I could see the melancholy in her eyes when she described her favorite candy bar. I think the melancholy was also related to her children growing up and that the fun role of chocolate was outweighed by her stressful days at work. Chocolate has been known to have therapeutic properties dating back to ancient times.
Key words: comfort, childhood, vacations, holidays
Raspberry Rose, 20-something was my last interview. “So I’ve never been a HUGE chocolate person. I’ve always preferred sweet candy over chocolate, but I definitely indulge when I’m craving it! Chocolate tends to play the role of a comfort food…there’s always that time of the month where all I want is some chocolate caramels and a glass of wine 🙂 it also has some memories tied to it – for example I remember when I was growing up, my mom and I loved to eat 3 Musketeers bars and none of my friends liked those so on Halloween I would take them from all my friends to give to my mom 🙂 My relationship with chocolate has stayed the same! I definitely eat less of it than I did when I was younger, but that’s the only change”!
My thoughts after chatting with Raspberry Rose was wow, she too used the words craving and comfort and had similar feelings and fond memories of chocolate while growing up.
Key words: craving, comfort, childhood memories, halloween
Statistically, women do crave chocolate more than men. While it’s not the chocolate per se, it’s the ingredients like magnesium and antioxidants you may be lacking that make you crave it. The calming qualities that come from consuming chocolate is because of the increased levels of serotonin #instanthappiness. Culture plays a factor in cravings, it’s a trend here in the United States and frequently talked about that women crave chocolate, one major reason chocolate companies target women.
According to the article Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain by Ashtrid Nehlig, there was one chapter by David Benton devoted to The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving. While many people associate themselves with being a chocaholic, there is no scientific evidence to show that chocolate is addictive. It has “drug-like” qualities though and can cheer you up if you’re sad or had a bad day at the office.
All of my friends were shocked that chocolate had ties to slavery, child labor, and human trafficking and were unaware of the cacao process. I am happy to report that they are very interested in learning more. I realized that I need to spread the word about the cacao industry and this inspired me to create a podcast which should be on iTunes very soon. It’s about my three favs, Coffee, Chocolate & Cats.
Key words correlate with the research that I found. I do hope that one day the cacao farmers are paid at a more equitable rate, that we help the environment and know more about the bean to bar process, and that we can enjoy our chocolate, complicit-free.
Kristy Leissle (2012): Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24:2, 121-139
Emma Robertson (2009): Chocolate, women and empire. A social and cultural history. Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York.
Norton, M. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review, vol. 111, no. 3, 2006, pp. 660–691., doi:10.1086/ahr.111.3.660.
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Bittman, Mark. “What’s Wrong with What We Eat.” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, Dec. 2007, www.ted.com/talks/mark_bittman_on_what_s_wrong_with_what_we_eat.
“Scientists Say Climate Change May Make Chocolate Extinct By 2050.” YouTube, 2 Jan. 2018, youtu.be/sm9kQdKOnKE.
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CNBC’s Katy Barnato and Luke Graham. “Future of the Chocolate Industry Looks Sticky.” CNBC, CNBC, 24 Mar. 2016, http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/24/future-of-the-chocolate-industry-looks-sticky.html.
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