We talk a lot at Kitchen Stewardship about shopping locally, but there are a few food items that most of us can’t possibly buy local.
Chocolate, perhaps the most often recommended real foodie dessert (in the form of very dark chocolate), is one of them.
Even though I can’t get chocolate at my Farmer’s Market, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t still be asking the question: Where does it come from?
Most chocolate in the world is farmed in Africa and some in South America, far, far from where I live. So far, in fact, that it’s easy to be removed from chocolate’s origins and just be happy to have something without artificial colors and junk that will melt in my mouth after a meal.
Unfortunately, there needs to be more thought put into where chocolate comes from.
There are some subjects I’ve never looked into in my journey as a kitchen steward, and in my journey to real food via a frugal, green avenue.
Fair Trade chocolate is one of those subjects.
Well, I’m looking into it today.
Many commenters chastised me when I admitted I bought non-organic strawberries, because the nutritive benefits of the food are only one side of the coin. On the other is the dignity of the producers.
Chocolate’s Journey from Africa to Your Mouth
More than 30 developing countries produce cocoa, supporting more than 14 million people.1
Africa’s Ivory Coast exports 43% of the world’s cocoa beans. It’s big business – Americans alone spend $13 billion a year on chocolate.2 (Raise your hand if you participate in that number! I’m raising two. I love chocolate.)
Most cacao bean farms are small, family-owned enterprises. They work from October through June to grow, harvest, and dry cacao beans for the world’s chocolate industry.
Workers use heavy machetes to chop the large cacao pods out of trees, then carry 4-foot-tall bags of cocoa beans, which are sold to major producers like Nestle, Hershey’s, and more.
The Catch: The Face of the Workers
In the cocoa industry, many of the “families” working the farms are made up of children, often boys ages 12-14 but even as young as 7 years old, who have been enslaved by the plantation owners and forced to work without pay.
It’s called “human trafficking,” and of the over 100,000 children laboring to harvest chocolate in the Ivory Coast, it’s estimated that at least 10% (perhaps up to 15%3) are victims.4“Human trafficking” is a euphemism for kidnapping. Some children are literally nabbed from the streets, while others are sold by their own family members or lured by the promise of a paying job. A plantation owner can buy a child for just 200 Euros, including transport by traffickers.5
But it’s much worse than even acknowledging that this is kidnapping in the worst form – not only are children forcibly or via trickery being taken from their parents, but they’re put into slavery, working long hours in horrid conditions:
- very long hours, 12+ a day
- not paid living wage, or at all
- not fed properly – often only corn mush or bananas
- poor conditions; locked up at night
- far too crowded for sleeping
- some are beaten; very few are able to escape
- sources: TED case studies, The Dark Side of Chocolate, CNN
Screenshot of bags of cacao beans from “The Dark Side of Chocolate“
If you’ve ever read a work of historical fiction about American slavery, watched a documentary or read history books and thought, “Thank goodness that’s all been taken care of and doesn’t still happen in our country today,” it’s time to take the blinders off and broaden our horizons to the American habits that are enabling slavery to continue in our global society. It takes more than a village to raise (and protect) a child these days.
Let this sit with you:
Drissa, a recently freed cocoa slave who had never even tasted chocolate, experienced similar circumstances and when asked what he would tell the people who eat chocolate made from slave labor, he replied that the people enjoyed something that he suffered to make, adding: “When people eat chocolate they are eating my flesh.” 6
Do any of the Big Candy Companies Use Fair Trade Chocolate?
In 2001, major international manufacturers and countries signed a protocol saying they won’t use chocolate harvested with child labor. There were plans for better tracking of workers and crackdowns on child labor. However, in the first ten years afterward, hardly anything was accomplished.
It sounds like there’s some headway being made because of petitions and outcry from consumers since 2012, but until a big company like Nestle or Hershey’s publicly states “fair trade” and writes it on their packaging, I don’t think they’ve made a big enough commitment. In this case, a step in the right direction really isn’t good enough.
They are getting there – Hershey says that by 2020, their chocolate will not be a product of child labor/slavery. In the meantime, I don’t want to wait seven years for chocolate. (So far a few of their subsidiaries, Dagoba and Bliss, according to a reader, are fair trade, but I didn’t confirm that note.)
The issue is a bit of a blight on the chocolate industry. For example, “The Story of Chocolate” lists plenty of major companies, describes sustainable chocolate farming, and lauds efforts being made to educate and fairly pay families who farm cocoa…but no mention is made of child labor, slavery, or trafficking.
Fair trade cocoa and chocolate can be found, and VanZeek/Santa Barbara Chocolate is one retailer that requires UTZ Certified Cocoa Beans and prioritizes ethically sourced chocolate.
I, for one, have a lot to chew on today. I know that my best dark chocolate is ethically sourced. I also know I just bought some indulgence chocolate treats at Costco yesterday that are burning a hole in my conscience after this research. Perhaps “source only fair trade chocolate” is my latest baby step. Many would say “boycott companies who participate in child slavery” is even more necessary.
I’ve tried the Santa Barbara line of their chocolates – divine. They’re the star in this sweet and salty snack mix I call “White Trash”.
Real Food White Trash Recipe
Have you ever heard of White Trash? The snack mix, that is. The last time I ate this concoction was at the beach the day before my wedding.
One thing I’ll never forget is that while my girlfriends and I were having fun in the kitchen that week preparing all the (delicious) junk, we had to run to town not once but TWICE to purchase more white chocolate chips. Both in the microwave and on the stovetop, we’d burned the heck out of the first two attempts at melting chocolate.
My mom finally took over and succeeded without a problem. The secret? Read the directions on the bag and follow them. (I know, I know…we were young!)
That story will live in nostalgic memory forever, but I assumed once I really made the switch to real food that “white trash” would be equally eternally lost to me.
That party dish is a cockamamie mix of Fritos, popcorn, and peanuts covered in white chocolate, if I remember correctly.
White chocolate used to be my ultimate favorite candy before I was a label reader. Once I realized that even fancy stuff from chocolate shops had labels like this one, filled with more sugar than anything else, trans fats, and no actual chocolate, I started raising my standards and usually choose dark chocolate for my indulgences. (Which happen daily, by the way, lest you think I’m some sort of real food superhero!)
When I finally pitched my last stockpile of cheap white chocolate because I just couldn’t handle the hydrogenated oils (and other junk) in the ingredients list, I figured it was the nail in the coffin of all those white-chocolate-covered goodies I used to enjoy.
Once I got my hands on some fair trade white chocolate, though, I was determined to try for a real food version of White Trash. My attempt at remaking the fun dessert (classified as a snack back then) from my college days looked something like this:
- 3 c. popped organic popcorn
- (butter and salt optional on the corn)
- 1 c. cashews
- ½ c. any dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, cherries)
- ½ c. Santa Barbara white chocolate chips
- Melt the chocolate in a double boiler (or "homemade" double boiler, see below for directions).
- Stir frequently.
- Mix the popcorn, nuts and dried fruit in a bowl. When the chocolate is completely smooth and creamy, pour it over the mixture and use a spatula to mix it all thoroughly together.
- Store in an airtight container.
* Add ¼-1/2 cup dark chocolate chips to the mix to make it a truly decadent dessert.
*If you don't have a double boiler, do what I do and rest a smaller pot inside a larger pot. Put enough water in the larger pot so that it touches the smaller pot. This will ensure even heating of the chocolate in the smaller pot and no scalding and burnt chocolate and tears from the cook.
After giving you the post about the frightening increase in obesity in America, why am I even talking about sweets? One way of looking at the chocolate issue: if you prioritize fair trade chocolate over cheap junk, you have to have self-discipline on the amount you eat, since it costs a gajillion more dollars than a Hershey bar. But it’s a gajillion dollars to protect kids from slavery, which is money well spent – and an incentive not to overeat junk.
Share with friends who are in the dark about their dark chocolate!
- Over a year ago a reader shared the documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate on YouTube with me and hoped I’d write about fair trade chocolate. Now thanks to VanZeek, I finally have.
- What is Fair Trade?
- One list of no-child-labor chocolate
- Another thought-provoking post: How Much is Too Much?
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links from which I will earn a commission. See my full disclosure statement here.