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The bittersweet story of chocolate

Chocolate has been a lifelong passion of mine.

Maybe it started when as a small child growing up in Mexico City I would follow the captivating aroma invading the narrow streets near my home, coming from a small chocolate factory nearby. The owner was an old man that would show me the magic arising in his artisanal factory. And then would send me home with a smooth and fragrant bar of chocolate.

Today as I am embarking in the cocoa adventure, I have discovered that there is so much more behind that luscious confection. Only few people are aware of all that is at stake behind the rich and dark, always amazing bittersweet history of chocolate.

Why so many economic, cultural and ethical issues?

We are far from the magical origins of The Food of the Gods growing on fragile cacao trees -Theobroma Cacao-.

Cacao trees require constant warmth and rainfall to thrive. Cacao pods were harvested under the shade of ancient tropical forests of Central America, and worshiped by Olmecs, Mayas, and Aztecs, and even "conquistadors" who brought chocolate to Europe.

Mayas and Aztecs concocted chocolate drinks with natural flavorings and used the beans not only for pleasure but to treat a number of common ailments.

Today, worldwide, chocolate has become a multi-billion dollar industry, and slavery, forced labor, and hazardous child labor still exist in some West African nations.

But it is also the traditional and cultural lifeline of thousands of small, very small, farm plantations.

Should we stop eating chocolate?

I think we should eat more chocolate than ever!

The first step to help the real chocolate industry and fight the exploitation of farmers is knowledge:

In addition to promoting the payment of fair wages, it is important to protect the environment in which cacao trees grow.

Putting farmers first today will make tomorrow's cocoa farmers successful by enabling them to produce better crops and make more money for their families.

Also, by controlling the chocolate-making process from the farm to the bar, bean-to-bar chocolate entrepreneurs can create better chocolate, a chocolate that preserves the beans' distinctive flavors.

When you buy your next chocolate treat, ask yourself these questions:

  • Where is my chocolate from?

  • Is the origin of the beans traceable?

  • How is it traded?

  • Are third party traders involved?

  • Is it made in micro batches?

  • How much did farmers earn for the cocoa in this bar?

  • Was it higher than the world market price, or about the same?

Fine chocolate will have that information stated on the label.

Buy at least Fair Trade chocolate; even better, look for Direct Trade.

It happens that chocolate doesn't get certified as Fair Trade mainly because the farmers cannot afford the certification and they are very loosely organized. They are very poor.

Ethical chocolatiers go beyond Fair Trade, paying the cocoa farmers significantly above the per-ton Fair Trade market price for their cocoa beans.

Let's support a more ethical, sustainable production in an industry with a long history of exploitation.

And now, while I pursue my adventure with chocolate making, enjoy the hugely pleasurable -and healthy- experience of chocolate-eating!

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