Chocolate

So I just started reading an article about Foucault, virtue ethics and consumption habits (an article that fits extremely well with one of my primary interests in this blog–I hope to write about it more later), when I came across this line: “our favourite chocolate bars may originate from cocoa farmed by West African children in slavery” (26). This line doesn’t surprise me as much as it reminds me that everything I consume involves a complex and often highly problematic bunch of practices and processes that I don’t usually think about. Chocolate–the making, producing, distributing and consuming of it–has an important history that I want to read a little more about. So, I followed that passage and found its source (Chocolate on Trial), along with a few other intriguing books on the subject:

Chocolate on Trial:

At the turn of the twentieth century Cadbury Bros. Ltd. was a successful Quaker-owned chocolate manufacturer in Birmingham, England, celebrated for its model village, modern factory, and concern for employees. In 1901, Cadbury learned that its cocoa beans purchased from Portuguese-owned plantations on the island of Sao Tome off West Africa were produced by slave labor. Chocolate on Trial: Cadbury, Slavery and the Economics of Virtue in Imperial Britain gives a lively and highly readable account of the events surrounding the libel trial in which Cadbury sued the London Standard, following the newspaper’s accusation that the firm was hypocritical in its use of slave-grown cocoa. As compelling now as at the turn of the previous century, the issues probed by Lowell J. Satre give invaluable historical background to contemporary issues of business ethics, corporate social responsibility, and globalization. The story Satre tells illuminates what a stubbornly persistent institution slavery was and shows how Cadbury, a company with a well-regarded brand name and logo, endured ethical dilemmas and challenges to its record for social responsibility. Chocolate on Trial brings to life the age-old conflict between economic interests and the value of human life.

Bitter Chocolate:

Whether it’s part of a Hallowe’en haul, the contents of a heart-shaped box or just a candy bar stashed in a desk drawer, chocolate is synonymous with pleasures both simple and indulgent. But behind the sweet image is a long history of exploitation. In the eighteenth century the European aristocracy went wild for the Aztec delicacy. In later years, colonial territories were ravaged and slaves imported in droves as native populations died out under the strain of feeding the world’s appetite for chocolate.

Carol Off traces the origins of the cocoa craze and follows chocolate’s evolution under such overseers as Hershey, Cadbury and Mars. In Côte d’Ivoire, the West African nation that produces nearly half of the world’s cocoa beans, she follows a dark and dangerous seam of greed. Against a backdrop of civil war and corruption, desperately poor farmers engage in appalling practices such as the indentured servitude of young boys – children who don’t even know what chocolate tastes like.

Off shows that, with the complicity of Western governments and corporations, unethical practices continue to thrive. Bitter Chocolate is a social history, a passionate investigative account and an eye-opening exposé of the workings of a multi-billion dollar industry that has institutionalized misery as it served our pleasures.

The True History of Chocolate:

This delightful and best-selling tale of one of the world’s favorite foods draws upon botany, archaeology, and culinary history to present a complete and accurate history of chocolate. The story begins some 3,000 years ago in the jungles of Mexico and Central America with the chocolate tree, Theobroma Cacao, and the complex processes necessary to transform its bitter seeds into what is now known as chocolate. This was centuries before chocolate was consumed in generally unsweetened liquid form and used as currency by the Maya, and the Aztecs after them. The Spanish conquest of Central America introduced chocolate to Europe, where it first became the drink of kings and aristocrats and then was popularized in coffeehouses. Industrialization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries made chocolate a food for the masses, and now, in our own time, it has become once again a luxury item. The second edition draws on recent research and genetic analysis to update the information on the origins of the chocolate tree and early use by the Maya and others, and there is a new section on the medical and nutritional benefits of chocolate.

But, I don’t want to just read about chocolate; I want to get some good (as in tasty, responsible, fairly produced, local) chocolate to eat. Thanks to youtube, I found this awesome clip about Rogue Chocolatier, a local, super-cool chocolate manufacturer.

In case you want to buy some of these bars(which I do, now), this article suggests going shopping at the following places: France 44, Surdyk’s, Kopplin’s Coffee and Sugar Sugar By the way, Sugar Sugar’s website is pretty cool. Maybe I need to take FWA and RJP there tomorrow.

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2 Responses to Chocolate

  1. KCF says:

    I LOVE chocolate, and am also teaching a class on cultural studies through the framework of food in the fall, so I will have to check this out! I also really want to go to Sugar Sugar, every time I think to go, (Mondays) they have been closed, I wish I could join you all there tomorrow! I’ve heard from a friend that have a delicious salty caramel chocolate bar that is absolutely divine.

  2. At least once a month all women should set aside time and money to enjoy the richest, sweetest, deepest, darkest chocolate they can afford and pair it with a glass of red wine (I recommend Pinot Noir or a Chianti). It’s a healthy way to indulge, de-stress, and quietly consider the pleasure that life has to offer.

    Unfortunately, Europeans have found ways to pillage and plunder the fruits of our great Mother–including coffee, sugar cane, poppy, and spices. So let’s find a way to give homage to those who have suffered over centuries for our benefit. Thank you for helping us to remember, SLP.