I don’t normally blog about political issues as I have a strong dislike for the uninformed, misinformed or half-informed, holier-than-thou, preachy types, and never want to be one myself.
And while I know I risk becoming one of these people by writing this blog post, I think it’s worth the risk. I learned something last night that I found so absolutely abhorrent I couldn’t get it out of my head. It rattled me and I felt the need to share it with others.
Last night, my girlfriendBrittany and I went to a talk about food justice by Raj Patel, author of the book Stuffed and Starved, The Hidden Battle for the World Food System. He spoke for over an hour on various subjects like food deserts, climate change, and locally sourced foods, but what struck me the most was something he said in passing about fair trade coffee. Although he didn’t go into any detail about the labor practices of the coffee industry, he referred to non-fair trade coffee as ‘blood beans’. It seemed a bit hyperbolic to me but the phrase stuck in my head.
In an odd coincidence, yesterday I also happened to buy Brittany her favorite treat – dark chocolate. She has a big presenation at work today and I figured she could use a stress relief in the form of delicious chocolatey goodness. Now mind you, Brittany is the ultimate dogooder and doesn’t eat chocolate unless it is clearly labeled FAIR TRADE. I had never really dug into why she does this and I didn’t really care. To each their own, I thought.
When we got home from the talk, I gave her the bar, but unfortunately it was not labeled FAIR TRADE so she politely declined the gift. It kind of bothered me. I thought she was being stubborn. But having just heard the term ‘blood beans’ a half hour earlier I decided to at least find out what FAIR TRADE actually meant. So I googled Lindt (the brand of chocolate bar) + FAIR TRADE to see if perhaps the bar was actually FAIR TRADE chocolate, so she could nibble on a bite or two.
What I discovered was frightening. I learned the actual meaning of FAIR TRADE chocolate.
FAIR TRADE chocolate means the cocoa beans were not picked using child slaves.
What the FUCK?!?! Child Slaves?????????????!!!!!!!!!
The truth is that 40% of the world’s cocoa, including nearly 100% of the cocoa that goes into Nestle, Mars, and Hershey products comes from the Ivory Coast where they literally enslave stolen children from other countries (Mali and Burkina Faso) and force them to pick cocoa beans for little or no wage in dangerous and unhealthy, pesticide laden conditions. The US government estimates that there are up to 100,000 children in the Ivory Coast forced to work under these conditions.
“Holy Shit!!,” I yelled out. “Non-FAIR TRADE chocolate is grown by slaves??”
“Yeah, of course. What’d you think it meant?” she responded.
“I don’t know. I thought it meant, you know, like that shade grown, organic coffee stuff.”
“Nope, it means it’s not grown using child slaves.”
“Uggghhhhh.” I winced
Now, here’s what really blew my mind. I had NO IDEA that slavery still existed in 2012 and that huge companies like Nestle and Hershey were complicit in this horrendous practice. Had it not been for a weird coincidence of seeing that talk yesterday and then accidentally purchasing the wrong type of dark chocolate for my girlfriend, I would have continued eating mass produced chocolate in ignorant bliss. But now that I know the facts, it’s going to be impossible for me to ever eat another candy bar or other mass-produced chocolate product in good conscience.
This whole experience has served as a bit of wake up call for me. From here on out, no more chocolate, and I am at least going to make a effort to better understand where my food comes from. It’s just a tiny step but I think this change is necessary. I know I’m never going to be perfect, but I can at least ask questions and become more inquisitive about the world around me.
I’m not going to ask everyone to stop eating chocolate. That’s a personal choice. But I will encourage others to start thinking a little bit more about where their food actually comes from. Ask questions. Learn facts. Start make food decisions based on knowledge and not just what advertisers tell us. And if you think this is important, share it with someone else who probably has no idea that slavery still exists in 2012.
*Stepping off my soapbox now*
For some further info on the cocoa trade, here’s a short film from CNN called the Human Cost of Chocolate.