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.
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