47. Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World's Most Seductive Sweet (Carol Off)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bitter Chocolate delves deep into the mysterious world of cocoa: where it comes from, its history, and how it gets inside that box of Black Magic bonbons many of us receive around the winter holidays. Chances are, there’s more to the story than you think.

Carol Off, a CBC reporter, spends the first half of the book looking back at the early cultivation of the Theobroma plant by the Mayans and Aztecs who valued the cocoa seeds/pods more than gold, the over exploitation by the conquering Spaniards, and it’s eventual introduction to the western portions of sub-Saharan Africa where the majority of the world’s cocoa is grown today. In addition to this important background information, Ms. Off also details the introduction of chocolate into the lives of everyday Europeans and the rise of today’s giant chocolate/candy corporations including Nestle, Mars, Hershey, Cadbury, and Rowntree. Guaranteed it’s probably not exactly what you’d expect. However, this book is not just about the history of cocoa farming.

The main purpose of the book is to explore the darker side of chocolate – and that doesn’t refer to the 75% Ecuadorian you can pick up from Lindt. Instead, it refers to slavery. Mainly focusing on the situation in Cote d’Ivoire, the world’s leader in terms of cocoa production, the book examines the often overlooked practice of slave labour “employed” to farm ever increasing amounts of cocoa required to satisfy the developed world’s demand for chocolate. Slave labour and chocolate have gone hand in hand since it was first shipped back to the royal courts of Europe. And who makes up a large portion of the slave labour used to farm the beans? Children.

Poverty, lack of education, foreign interference, global market manipulation, drought, greedy dictators, civil war, kidnapping, genocide, and racism. Each and every one of these has played a part in the dark side of chocolate at various levels and are often interconnected. The involvement of various NGO’s has had little effect due to lack of resources or the constantly shifting political situations. There have been a few brave individuals who have recognized the ongoing problems and tried to stop slavery in the chocolate industry but their efforts have had little effect before they were eventually stopped: reporter Guy-Andre Kieffer was kidnapped after writing a number of exposes on government officials and Ivoirian “Mafioso”, possibly by his own French government, and his body never found; Malian diplomat Abdoulaye Macko helped free, and ultimately save the lives of hundreds of children working in slave conditions on large cocoa farms but when he became too vocal, he was reassigned and eventually removed from his post. Even a few US Senators tried to make changes to the way the large chocolate companies do business but all of their efforts were for nowt when up against the power of these large multinationals (including Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland).

You can be assured that after reading Ms. Off’s third book, you’ll think twice about where that chocolaty centre came from before picking up that next package of M&Ms.


Geraldine said...

This sounds like a must read and disturbing reading at that. I'm putting it on my list.

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