by ANNA RABHAN
Giving someone the pleasure of chocolate for Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a sign of love and affection for which the giver might logically anticipate a “thank you,” a smile or maybe even a kiss from his or her sweetheart. Surely the same reaction would not be forthcoming were the gift a gallon of pesticide produced by exploited workers. Yet that is essentially what lovers everywhere give their beloveds each February 14. Show your loved one (or yourself) that you really care when making your chocolate choice this year by remembering three concepts: organic, sustainable and free trade.
Like coffee, the cacao plant, from which chocolate comes, is shade-loving. However, mass-market pressures lead to farmers clear-cutting in order to increase volume. The cacao plants grown this way are highly susceptible to disease and pest infestation, resulting in cacao now being one of the most heavily sprayed food crops. Add to that similarly treated sugar and other inclusions, and your sweetheart could be ingesting a hot mess of chemicals. Organic is the healthier way to go.
Cacao growers are beginning to see, though, that the savings trade-off in not having to purchase or apply these chemicals, added to the premium they are able to charge for organic cacao, makes organic practices more profitable. Many take it one step farther. Some farmers are also making efforts to use water efficiently, control soil erosion, protect wildlife habitat, and do many other things that ensure the stability and productivity of the land and protect the health of local residents. Chocolate from sustainable sources is better for people, animals and the planet.
Finally, in cacao-growing areas, an income reduction of just a few cents a day can mean the difference between having enough food to eat and going hungry. Since cacao is a commodity, the price fluctuates frequently. Aside from income instability, this situation introduces all kinds of other problems such as the use of child and slave labor and other exploitive practices. Free-trade agreements aim to eliminate these issues. Signatory farmers are paid a fair price for their cacao, relationships develop that often lead to other benefits for the farming community, and such agreements require that farmers be visited regularly and evaluated for adherence to the principles of the agreement. Especially in areas where oversight is lacking and a rubber stamp can be bought, a free-trade agreement can alleviate human suffering and improve life in entire communities.
With the myriad of designations, certifications and organizations involved in the organic, sustainable, free trade commodities market, it can be difficult to distinguish one product from another. And many of us are, rightfully so, wary of greenwashing. The major brands that can be easily found in Jacksonville – Theo, Green & Black’s, Newman’s Own and Endangered Species – all have very informative websites. They all offer a variety of products, some organic and some not. Some are certified sustainable and free trade and, for some, the company details its own specific environmental and humanitarian practices. Read all about your prospective brand’s organic status, its sustainability efforts and its free-trade status. The information will help you decide which sweets are worthy of your sweet this Valentine’s Day.
Taste is subjective, so grab similar varieties of the brands you are considering and give them a try. (Oh, the toil!) My tasting partner and I tried the 70 percent cacao dark chocolate versions of the four brands mentioned above and agreed point for point. Theo is good for purists who like a very bitter dark chocolate. The other three brands contained essentially the same ingredients. Green & Black’s was also a bit bitter, but not so much as to put off those unfamiliar with dark chocolate. Newman’s Own was the most bland of the bunch. The Endangered Species had a nice balance of dark-chocolate bite and sweetness.
Finally, while we don’t grow cacao in Florida, your purchase can have a positive local impact. Several area artisans and entrepreneurs work with chocolate. The best places to find them are at farmers markets and natural food stores. One example is I Love My Life Chocolate, which can be found at Grassroots Natural Market in 5 Points. I Love My Life specializes in organic, raw, vegan chocolate treats with such interesting flavors as Chaga Turmeric Truffle. I Love My Life Chocolate’s Valerie Herrmann explains why her chocolate is a great gift: “I think what makes a great gift is when what you give honors and nourishes your friends and also more than your friends. When our purchases put money into local people’s pockets, our whole community finds a new level of stability.” Your organic chocolate purchase could benefit local organizations. The sale of I Love My Life Chocolate benefits Jacksonville’s Permaculture Network (www.jacksonvillespermaculturenetwork.com). Also, Discovery Montessori school in Jacksonville Beach recently sold Endangered Species chocolate as a fundraiser for its global charitable efforts. You might contact the companies you’re considering and ask if anyone in the area has teamed up with them for fundraising.
Here’s hoping your loved ones are thrilled (and impressed) with your organic, sustainable, free trade chocolate choice this year. Happy Valentine’s Day!
The Organic Adventurer Sweets for your sweet:
by ANNA RABHAN