Introduction: As you stand in the grocery store, list in hand and stomach full as to not over shop, it comes time to pick a cereal. Under the fluorescent lights, options are jumping out at you from the shelf. The small cardboard boxes bombard your senses with colorful packaging and use of bold font, each box trying to sell you on how they have mastered the mixture of nutrition and taste, promising the best start to your drab Wednesday morning. Since you are a health conscious adult now, you wander past the Lucky Charms and Captain Crunch to the more balanced and “zen” looking cereals. Here, the Special K and Quaker Oatmeals battle to be chosen, with offers of real fruit, twice the amount of daily fiber, and of course, chunks of chocolate. Almost all brands provide the consumer with a chocolate option. We see this not only in cereals, but in most products on the market. With chocolate having a diverse profile of flavors and health benefits, it can be paired with almost everything from espresso to fruit, ice cream to wine, breakfast to dinner, chilis to beer. Not only does this item come in every shade from dark to white, it covers every flavor palate from bitter to savory to sweet. It is rare to meet someone nowadays that does not enjoy some form of chocolate. Often times, our response to hearing someone say that they do not like chocolate, is to instantly classify them as a psychopath. It is a staple in holiday celebrations throughout the year, a symbol of comfort and familiarity. As a society, we love chocolate so much that we have made it into scents and colors. For example, the Chocolate Labrador is one of three American Kennel Club certified and officially recognized breed of Labrador. Neither of the other two breeds are named after a delicious, nutritious treat. We love chocolate so much, we even sexualize it. With all of this hullabaloo over our beloved “feel-good” chocolate, it is almost impossible to imagine a world without it. However, studies are being released and word is spreading that chocolate may be fading out of the market, if not disappearing completely during our lifetimes. How the jolly, rosy cheeked fellow at the chocolate shop can run out of his mocha gold confection simply does not compute in our minds. Still, the reality is that we are running out. Not only of chocolate, but the chocolate farmer as well.
A Short History of Chocolate: It is difficult to imagine a life without chocolate. We have grown up on it. In fact, studies indicate that chocolate was a common frothy drink for the Aztec and Mayan civilizations (Yoder). Theobroma Cacao, or cacao beans are native to Central and South America. It seems these beans have always been held in high esteem. In a recovered journal entry from Christopher Columbus’s son, Ferdinand, is the witnessing of the concern Native Americans took with the business of their precious cacao beans. Ferdinand states that they took great caution in making sure that all of the harvested beans were accounted for, even stopping to pick up the ones that fell. Cacao beans were used as the local currency of Native Americans for a time. There are two different ways to roast beans. The difference in ‘cacao’ and ‘cocoa’ is essentially the product after the beans are roasted. Today, these casually commodified beans endure quite the journey to become the sweet, rich bars, bites, powders, and liquids we see in stores. The Forastero bean, which is the bean that makes up about 90% of the chocolate produced today, comes from multiple farms in Africa, the Caribbean, South East Asia, and the islands of Samoa and New Guinea. It begins as a brightly colored yellow-green fruit, hanging from the jungles trees in pods. From there, it is plucked, shucked, dried and shipped to factories. Chocolatiers then roast, chonce, temper, and packing into the familiar shapes we see in vending machines, convenience stores and pretty much everywhere else (Spadaccini).
Political Economy: Depending on who you ask, we either are going to lose chocolate completely or see no change at all in its production. This argument boils down to science and global warming. Lots of journalists are passing around the story that the warmer climate will not bother cocoa trees, because the trees will be able to adapt to warmer climates with little deficit as they rise over the next 40 years. If they cannot keep up, scientists will genetically modify them to be able to (Yoder). What scientists on both sides of the spectrum agree on is that we will see a deficit in cocoa on the market, due to the cocoa growing hot-spot becoming too hot temperature wise. The recovery strategies are where these scientists differ greatly. All theorising aside, what is happening with these trees now is that they are struggling to stay alive. Not only is a rise in climate temperature causing their fruit to fail, but the cocoa farmer himself is facing challenges for survival. It is no secret that cocoa farmers live in extreme poverty. This means more than miraculously supporting a family on an unlivable wage. Pesticides and and chemicals are becoming a crucial part of successful cocoa tree growth and production. On an average wage of between 50 cents to $1.25 a day for a man, a family and other workers to live off of, a farmer simply cannot afford to keep up with the chemical aid these trees are demanding. Despite these hardships, consumers are still receiving 70% of their beans from the Ivory Coast and Ghana (Barclay). Lots of these farmers are unorganized, and quite out of tune with the market worldwide. This means they are unaware of how valuable their harvest is, and how they powerful they are in the eyes of market demand. They are also unaware of how much they are receiving in relation to the final market value of the finished product that began with their hard and unfair labor (Inakota). When asked what the dried beans will be used for, a farmer gave a reply that translated to “Frankly, I do not know what one makes from cocoa beans. I am just trying to make a living from growing cocoa beans” (Barclay). While the global retail sales value jumped from 20 billion to 100 billion in two years, farmers as a whole continued to only see about 6% of the profits per metric ton of cocoa. At best, less than a dollar a day is not enough. Even though farmers are able to control the income and supply of beans by storing them, they lack access to knowledge of market information outside of the intermediaries, and are often in need of fast cash. This means, they are under pressure to produce more without a price increase. Many farms incorporate child labor as means to increase production. While children working with their parents is not an uncommon practice, it becomes an issue when the work is strenuous and unrelenting. This unfair practice is driving future cocoa farmers away from the profession, because it is really hard work in a seemingly dwindling economy. Others farms affected by diseased trees often end up clearing out new spaces to grow trees and expand on their own farms. This act of expansion is destroying habitats for other animals, and members of the jungle. Disease accounts for the incorrect growing of roughly 40% of beans per crop. That is 40% of valuable product that these farmers are losing per crop of cocoa bean (Inakota). This loss combined with the ever pressing threat of running out of money completely is the driving force behind the lack of sustainability in cocoa crops. It is no wonder farmers are desperately thrashing through new land in an attempt to find a sustainable environment for a profitable crop.
Environmental Ethics: Coffee has many cousins. Take for example coffee, tea, sugar and marijuana. With how popular chocolate is among all generations, it is not surprising to find that it falls into a middle ground between being more than just a food but not quite a drug. Its reaction with receptors in the brain creates a ‘feel-good’ effect, and create psychoses that are associated with the craving of chocolate. Since cocoa is made up of 300 various known chemicals, scientists have understandable had trouble discovering which ones come together to create this reaction (Spadaccini). Not only that, but the effects cocoa has on one’s health is something to celebrate. Cocoa has properties that aid in the battle against depression and anxiety, cavities, blood clots and heart disease. Dark chocolate 70% or above in particular contains the highest concentration of flavanols, which aid in lowering blood pressure and even reducing the risk of diabetes. All in moderation of course (Fisher). That being said, it is not unusual to see a rise in consumers pursuing more organic, concentrated cocoa in the form of dark chocolate. Nowadays, consumers are also searching for products that meet certain sustainable or moral standards. Labels are a huge opportunity for marketers, because language can be strategically used to give a false impression of what a product really is. Fair trade chocolate, vegan chocolate, and sustainable chocolate are hot on the market right now. Scharffen Berger, a chocolate shop out of San Francisco, is one of the last shops in 60 years to open that makes their chocolate, starting from the actual bean to the finished product (Spadaccini). Trader Joe’s and whole foods are examples of places that make buying raw or vegan chocolate easy and accessible. Organizations, such as the Fair Trade Organization, leave their mark on products that have been integrated into their movement. By doing this, this organization are ensuring that the environment and the workers on the producing end of chocolate are being empowered and achieving sustainability. This organization is also providing the consumer with a happy medium, where they can consume true organic products and support fair trade all over the world (Rice). Thanks to the support of organizations like this one, making sure that small cocoa farms are sustainable and supported, we may be able to retain our beloved chocolate.
Conclusion: Chocolate is everywhere. On a daily basis, we interact with chocolate on one platform or the other. It is easy to take this casual taste-bud booster for granted, especially when you do not have to think about where it comes from. It everywhere. Chocolate is there for you when you are sad, happy, hungry, sick, chocolate has your back. The earth is filled with super foods and delicious supplements out to tickle our taste buds. Just as our personal health benefits from dark chocolate, so does our collective health rely on the actions of everyone in it. Within our love for chocolate has to be the love for other people, enough to extend a hand to the humans who are suffering for our decadent treats. The most important thing a chocolate lover can do is become aware of where their chocolate is coming from. Being proactive in protecting something so widely loved and accepted is the key to keeping it around. After all, life is better when you have chocolate!