For anyone who knows me very well, it will come as a total shock that I am giving up chocolate. Not cutting back, not fasting from, but giving up. Completely. My choice came about Sunday night. I was sitting in my office watching my weekly indulgence of Food Network shows (“Food Network Challenge” and “Iron Chef America”), which were the wrap-up to Chocolate Weekend, a two day line up of shows about chocolate, in celebration of Valentine’s Day.
One of the shows made mention of an annual Chocolate Fair. Now that sounds like my kind of event! (For those who don’t know about my passion for chocolate, when we first found out we were moving to Pennsylvania just a short drive from Hershey, my family started rounds of jokes about the Mother Ship calling me home!) During the next commercial break I reached for my computer and started googling “chocolate fair” to see if there were any such events coming up in my area. If there was, you better believe I was going to be there!
I came up with a lot of hits, but none of them were what I was looking for. Most of what came up were hits about “fair trade chocolate”. Now to be honest, I don’t normally get into that kind of thing. Most fair trade products I have read about deal with the people that produce it not making as much as we would if we were producing it. The whole issue is very complicated, although it’s treated as though it’s simple. You have to figure cost of living in the other country, availability of other opportunities for income, and a whole host of other things that the simplistic solution of not buying coffee (or whatever) ignores. Things like, when we kill off this one opportunity for someone to make a little money, we often leave them with no opportunity to make any money. That’s not a help!
The chocolate issue, however, is different. The issue is slavery. It ends up that something between 40-50% of all the cacao beans in the world come from the country of Ivory Coast. Add to that the fact that something like 75% of all cacao beans sold in the world are sold to the US and US companies, and all of a sudden, chocolate isn’t so appealing anymore. There was a film made in 2000 that detailed the situation, including the neighboring countries where young boys (averaging age 14) are taken across country lines into slavery on the cocoa farms. They are generally lured by promises of money for their families and themselves. What they get when they arrive in the Ivory Coast, however, is very different. They work 80-100 hour weeks according to several of the reports I found. They are fed very little, beaten regularly, and locked up at night to keep them from running away. All so we can have a Hershey bar… Or a Cadbury Mini-Egg… Or a glass of Nestle Quik…
Apparently there was some outcry at the U.N., although I never heard anything about it at the time. There were resolutions passed, and public comments by American chocolate companies. The companies didn’t know it was happening, of course, and voiced much shock and consternation at the revelation. In the last seven or eight years, though, there doesn’t seem to be much that has happened, other than some politically correct press releases that don’t actually do anything but pay lip-service to the whole problem. The UN resolutions seem to have been equally ineffective. We are told the solution is not easy, because all the cacao beans are dumped together and sold in bulk, so there is no way to know which farms the beans come from. That means the “clean” beans are mixed in with the “slave” beans before we get a chance to buy them, meaning anything could be tainted by slave labor. I get that. I know it’s hard, but, I mean, we’re talking slavery here!
Not being on the inside, I don’t have the perfect solution to how we guarantee beans are clean, but there has to be one, and I doubt it really is rocket science! Things like: go to each farm and buy directly (something done by a few small companies), refuse to buy from a country that can’t prove it’s slave-free (which you would think would get farmers putting pressure on each other and they would clean themselves up)… Most of the chocolate in the world ends up in this country, so we are actually in a position to make a huge difference in this area, but we haven’t…
Anyway, as I said, I don’t claim to have the answers. What I do know, though, is that I can’t eat chocolate anymore. I know that won’t bring Hershey or Nestle to their knees (I never ate that much chocolate!), but it’s what I have to do. I’m not expecting to influence anyone or change laws or anything like that, but it’s what I have to do. It’s not a protest, it’s what I have to do. Chocolate used to lead me to thoughts of “Yummy, yummy, yummy, gotta have some…..”. Now when I think of chocolate I think of undernourished, frightened, abused boys, going through all sorts of pain and abuse, all so I can indulge in something that is a total luxury. Something that, truth be told, I’d be better off without. I just can’t find pleasure in something that causes someone else pain.
So, that’s the story… No chocolate for me, and a new prayer point. I have been praying with IHOP-KC to see a stop to human trafficking, which is generally associated with the sex trades. I had no idea human trafficking involved chocolate. I’m glad I found out, because now I can pray.