Ethical Shopping - Dark Chocolate: Underneath the Pleasure Zone

On occasion I like to peel back one of those thinly foiled, thickly rectangled chocolate bars and take a sheer bite of gastronomic heaven-savoring with an embarrassing mew of my mouth its melting all over titillated taste buds. It is goodness, as in the very definition of goodness: sweet, buttery, a faint sliver of tropical fruity bitterness. No wonder wine lovers use chocolate to describe one of the aromatic layers of rich red wine. I like chocolate, and I like to give chocolate on special or impromptu occasions. I'm a sucker for chocolate mint ice cream, Black Forest German chocolate cake, hot chocolate next to a blazing fire in an Aspen ski lodge, thick chunks of Ghirardelli Square chocolate (San Francisco). But I'm not a chocoholic. I don't need a fix every day, though a lot of people I know do—and chocolate is way up there in possessing the neural receptor molecules that jump to our brain's pleasure and mood zone neurology.

Surprisingly, when chocolate was first introduced into Europe through the Spanish colonial exploitation of central America (this leads to our ethical discussion), it was not sweet and buttery, but bitter. It was an appealingly bitter beverage-like coffee. In one of the thousands of happy happenstances in which new concoctions are concocted, somebody in Spain mixed the cocoa brew with sugar and a very expensive beverage was born. The Spanish kept their secret for about a hundred years. Then, the rest of Europe caught on and the sweet chocolate drink became so popular (and prized for its sexual stimulus) it was banned by the Catholic Church to children.

When chocolate was wedded with butter and sugar in a cooking alchemy, the chocolate solid candy created culinary history.

The Dilemma: About children and chocolate

While we eat chocolate in its many guises, we unwittingly are still engaged in the old colonial exploitation cycles of four centuries ago. The problem is still much the same: child labor or virtual slave labor used to tend and harvest the enormous tracts of cocoa plantations in west Africa, the new growing fields for cocoa.

For at least ten years human rights groups have been reporting on the mass use of child labor (9-12 years old) in cocoa-growing regions in Africa—often correlating it to slave labor.

I have eaten probably 50 chocolate bars since 2001, unknowing that in 2001 most of the US chocolate manufactures agreed to stop using child-labor chocolate by July, 2005. They did this under the leverage that legislation would be pursued to have their products labeled "slave free."

So far, three of the dominant chocolate makers—Hershey's, M&M's, Nestles—are still using cocoa from the Ivory Coast while hypocritically condemning the child labor practice. According to a widely-read article by Kate McMahon, many chocolate makers blame the families in the cocoa region for using or allowing their children to be used as virtual slaves. And they state they can't control the labor practices of their source.

The Name of Chocolate is not Hershey's

If you enjoy chocolate on occasion or are a hopeless addict, you don't have to be part of 21st century slave labor. There is way to alter your consciousness with chocolate without bugging your conscience. Inspired by the free trade philosophy and practice that has fairly successfully reshaped the economics of other third world export crops such as coffee, a good number of small chocolate purveyors offer fantastic chocolate without the stain of child labor.

These include: Clif Bar, Cloud Nine, Dagoba Organic Chocolate, Denman Island Chocolate, Divine, Gardner's Candies, Green and Black's, Kailua Candy Company, Koppers Chocolate, L.A. Burdick Chocolates, Montezuma's Chocolates, Newman's Own Organics, Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company, Rapunzel Pure Organics and The Endangered Species Chocolate Company.

So, when I get that craving for chocolate or am shopping for a chocolatey gift I search out one of these chocolate makers—available in most whole foods and specialty outlets, as well as online.

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