Monday, April 4, 2011

Where's the Chocolate from?

BBC's Passionate Eye aired a documentary earlier this year called, Chocolate: The Bitter Truth. Now, I'm a holistic nutritionist, and I'm aware of the implied contradiction. I have had a sweet tooth my whole life. There's a history, of course. As a kid, my grandfather worked at a chocolate factory, and he would always bring my brother and me a bag of chocolate bars each. No joke. We always had chocolate in the house. It was in drawers and bowls and in bags. Thankfully, my brother and I were very active children, always into sports or just running around as kids do, so while we were still fit, we were, nonetheless, chocolate fiends. The thing is that, as a kid, it never occurred to me where it came from or what the health consequences of eating it in abundance would be. Studying nutrition answered the latter of these questions for me, but this documentary opened my eyes to the initial question as to where it comes from.

The documentary followed a journalist's investigation into West African cacao fields and the child labour that sustains many of them. Youngsters who should be in school were, instead, using machetes and risking bodily harm for the sake of the rest of the world's chocolate addiction. In some cases, the kids working had never even tasted a chocolate bar. There were heart-breaking stories of kids taken from their families and forced into work. The journalist tried following the trail of cacao beans from harvesting right through to sales, and the truth is that it is unbelievably easy to lose track of whether the beans are from legitimate sources (non-child labour, or fair trade), or whether they were child-labour farms.

As I watched, the disgust of it all slowly rose in me. It's not that I wasn't previously aware that child-labour existed, but somehow the reality of it hadn't struck a cord until this moment. I like all types of chocolate--dark, milk, nut-filled, cherry-filled, mint-flavoured, etc. But it's important to me that my vice isn't one that's feeding an industry that's keeping kids from their parents and out of school while yielding machetes instead of books. I think of my nieces and little cousins and how it breaks my heart to think that fate could have dealt them that hand instead of the one they presently have.

So, I've been making a conscious effort to find chocolate that is fair trade, and I've been quite successful! Actually, at the end of the doc, there was a note saying that Cadbury has had fair trade chocolate available in North America since June 2010. I've only been able to find milk chocolate Cadbury with the fair trade label, but it's definitely something. Another great brand I've discovered is Sjaaks ( Their chocolate is 100% organic AND fair trade! I've tasted a few of their bite sized chocolates, and I've been pleased.

In this era of social justice and awareness, it's easy to get swept away with all that's wrong. We must often decide which ethical battles to make a stance for depending on what our consciouses will allow. But there's a positive lesson here, too. There are organizations doing the right thing. It's a small contribution, and I'm not saving the world by any means whatsoever, but my heart feels lighter when I know that I've chosen fair trade chocolate.

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