Ever wonder where that chocolate comes from?
Some 70 to 75 percent of the world's cocoa beans are grown on small farms in West Africa, including the Ivory Coast, according to the World Cocoa Foundation and the International Cocoa Initiative. The CNN Freedom Project reports that in the Ivory Coast alone, there are an estimated 200,000 children working the fields, many against their will, to satisfy the world's hunger for chocolate.
The average American eats around 11 pounds of chocolate each year, and the weeks leading up to Easter show the second biggest United States sales spike of the year next to Halloween - 71 million pounds according to a 2009 Neilsen report. A recent press release from Kraft claims that worldwide, more consumers purchase chocolate during Easter than any other season.
[Demand Foresight CEO, Gene] Tanski says to pay attention to where the chocolate is grown and produced. Because of measures like the Harkin-Engel Protocol or "Cocoa Protocol" which was enacted in 2001 to enlist companies to voluntarily certify they had stopped the practice of child labor, as well as some of the components of free trade, consumers are starting to be able to track where cocoa comes from.
"If it comes from Africa, there is most likely slave labor involved. If it comes from South America or Asia, chances are that there is not. That's not to say there aren't poor conditions, but it's not the slave labor that's highlighted in the CNN report. The tracking is getting better and better all the time," he adds.
This reminded me of an obscure, but incredibly interesting copy of Arthur Knapp's "Cocoa and Chocolate: Their History from Plantation to Consumer" that I read during my college years. It was written in 1923, but still offered a good overview of the geography and the harvesting trade without the sensationalism.
Still, it doesn't take much to move me on toward a chocolate that upgrades my habit and does a little bit of good around the world. As much as I've been sold on Hershey's, they're not talking about their suppliers. As far as selection goes, this is what my local, third-rate Fiesta has to offer. I'm pretty sure that anyone who lives in a more yuppified part of town wouldn't have a problem getting an even better selection.
For the record, I've tried the Alter-Eco Dark Velvet. I can't say I was particularly inspired by it, but I'm more than fine sampling some other ideas on what to do with chocolate before settling on a preference.