Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Dark side of Chocolate

What Christ rising from his grave has to do with bunnies, eggs, and chocolate, I may never understand. Even though I do not celebrate Easter, this holiday has gotten me thinking about chocolate. I never really though about how many chocolate holidays we have, Valentine's Day, Easter, and Halloween. Halloween is the kick off to get fat season and what Thanksgiving or Christmas would be complete without a bit of chocolate.

I pay a lot of attention to where my food comes from and what is in it but chocolate somehow is not held to the same standard in my mind. I look forward to this time of year so I can indulge in Cadbury Mini Eggs and White Chocolate Reese's Eggs. I only recently learned that Monsanto owns Cadbury (they also own Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, Peppridge Farms, Hershey's Nestle, and Famous Amos just to name a few). This means this year was the last time I will enjoy those Mini Eggs because I do not want to give my money to Monsanto.

The ingredient list for the aforementioned Mini Eggs looks pretty tame, but where does their chocolate come from? Chocolate is another example of you get what you pay for. Why is some chocolate really cheap and other chocolates are really expensive? The cheap stuff might be filled with flavor additives, high fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenates oils and the actual chocolate might be of a lesser quality, while the expensive chocolate is made of the "good stuff". Nothing is cheaper because of the goodness of the company, usually the opposite is true.

How would you feel knowing the chocolate stuffing your Easter basket was made with child labor? Chocolate is made from cocoa beans and 43% of cocoa beans are grown in the Ivory Coast. Working on a cocoa plantation is no easy job and often this work is being done by children who were basically tricked into slavery. We need to start asking ourselves where does our chocolate come from, how was it harvested, and what are the conditions for the workers. Cocoa beans do not grow in Virginia so you could also consider the food miles involved in getting that bar of chocolate into your Easter basket.

Chocolate should be a special treat, not an impulse buy at the cash register. This is an item that really should be purchased in a socially responsible way. Not to mention that we really do not need any help fattening up America. Granted, buying Fair Trade chocolate to give out on Halloween may get really expensive and you don't want to be the house giving out toothbrushes for fear of being egged. Maybe Halloween is the only day of the year when you buy low quality chocolates. If everyone did this, it would make such a huge difference in the world.

Personally, I would rather have something that is really good infrequently, then more of something that is low quality. I love these Earl Grey chocolate bars from Chuao. They are expensive and hard to find but for Christmas my husband bought me 3 bars and gave me 3 more for my birthday a month later. I can make one of these chocolate bars last almost an entire month. I keep them in the freezer and take one bar out a month and savor their flavor as I nibble away. I may be paying $8 a bar after shipping but that is only $8 a month for delicious, indulgent chocolate. That works out to about $0.26 a day for something that is delicious and I can feel good about buying.

And you really shouldn't bother with cheap chocolate on Valentine's Day. The Whitman's sampler picked up at the gas station does not say "love" it says "Oh, shit, I forgot". One thing I can really respect about Easter is Lent. I like the idea of giving something up for 40 days and then treating yourself after. It also helps to have Fat Tuesday or what we called Donut day, before the start of Lent. If you are going to have an Easter basket filled with cheap chocolate, I hope you would consider giving up chocolate for Lent.

I know things will soon get complicated when my now almost one year old son starts noticing Easter, Valentine's, and Halloween. I do look forward to celebrating Valentine's and Halloween with him but Easter will be hard to explain. I was raised Catholic so I do have fond memories of Easter baskets and egg hunts. I do not want to deny my son fun experiences and happy childhood memories. I also do not want those moments to come at a high cost to others, especially children. Also, Easter is a religious holiday and we aren't religious. I think it is funny that there is a whole put Christ back in Christmas campaign but I have never heard of a put Christ back in Easter campaign. I guess the slogan isn't as catchy.

Remember to vote with your dollars and carefully consider what you buy and who profits from your purchase as well as who suffers from that purchase.

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