What to write about for the Christmas edition of WCP? It’s an annual concern! Looking back at previous years I’ve covered improving Christmas digestion, products we can’t do without at Christmas, and keeping your kidneys happy. This year, I’ve decided to focus on Chocolate.
Chocolate is my favourite indulgence, and never more so than at Christmas. There has been a lot of interest in the banned Iceland Christmas Video and the plight of Orangutan populations that are being wiped out to produce Palm Oil. Now, when I talk about chocolate I’m talking about real chocolate rather than commercially produced products, which are adulterated with palm oils and cheaper vegetable fats – check the label!
Memories of Christmas are tied to a rare family treat of chocolate – I remember magical golden chocolate coins in the bottom of my Christmas stocking. This year I want to be sure that I can enjoy chocolate with a clear conscience.
As consumers we can influence the world with the choice that we make when we buy. This is particularly important at Christmas we we can all easily get a little carried away. Unfortunately the story of chocolate production is not always a happy one and as with many food stories it is a story of poor people being kept poor by large manufacturers and global markets.
Cacoa is the primary ingredient in chocolate. Cacao is an equatorial crop and the farmers that produce it are mostly small holders based in extremely low-income countries such as the Ivory Coast and Ghana. There has been a massive price drop from £2500 a ton in 2016 to £1700 a ton in 2017. It’s a sad and familiar tale, the analysts of the futures markets in London and New York decided there was going to be a huge demand for chocolate from China and India and farmers were encouraged to increase production (sound familiar to anyone?) and surprise surprise the price paid to the farmers has crashed. So now there is an over-supply of cacao, prices drop, and the farmers are left completely exposed, and in many cases not making enough to live. Many farmers in the Ivory coast are reported to be trying to get by on $1 a day. But when you think they are producing the essential ingredient for a luxury food – and we pay double that just for one bar – you begin to understand the complete inequality behind the chocolate industry.
Now you could say this is just business. And if it means chocolate gets cheaper – sure what’s not to love? We all love things getting cheaper, don’t we?
I don’t know about you, but I find it impossible to enjoy something that causes this kind of misery. These cacao farmers have no way of making their voice heard in the current economic set up. They don’t have unions, or representatives, or lobbyists. They simply did what they were told – they produced more cacao – and now the bottom has fallen out of the market and through no fault of their own they are faced with financial ruin.
So what can we do to make this situation fairer for the people who produce the main ingredients for one of our favourite luxury treats? Make informed choices. We can chose chocolate from companies who work with Fair Trade, a body that certifies that cacao producers are getting a bigger slice of the bar. Or with Direct Trade; companies who are involved in Direct Trade are meant to buy directly from the producers, though this can sometimes be mis-represented as it’s a hard thing to pull off – how do you buy direct from a tiny cacao producer in the depths of the Ivory Coast? He doesn’t have email or a way of getting his cacao to your door. So we need to look into the companies’ ethics and decide if we trust that they really are doing their best to work in partnership with their producers rather than take advantage of them, shrug, and say it’s just business.
Green and Black’s was our biggest selling chocolate and we stocked them in Organico for over 20 years, however when the brand was bought by Cadburys we stopped stocking it, as we felt we could no longer stand over it’s values. Now a few years later their new range is not even Organic and I’m very glad we made that decision!
Instead we decided to focus on smaller companies that give more back to their suppliers. One of our favourites also happens to be producing in West Cork – Clonakilty Chocolate is made from Cacao from one farm in Ghana that Alison Roberts has visited herself. Alison’s chocolate is also different because it is made from Bean to Bar – meaning she does not buy large blocks of 100 per cent chocolate and blend it herself but roasts and nibs the cacao beans in her kitchen in Clonakilty. This is much more effort than most Artisan chocolate makers put in, and the results are delicious – we particularly love the fact Alison uses coconut sugar instead of cane sugar in her bars.
We also recently started stocking chocolate by Original Beans, who make incredible single origin Chocolate bars. Like coffee, each variety and batch of cacao has different flavour characteristics, and by sticking with a single type and carefully choosing how to blend it you get a really distinctive flavour. We really thought we had more than enough chocolate in Organico; even without all the Christmas treats we have about seven metre-long shelves of chocolate bars – but when we tasted the Original Beans samples (sneaky people!), we caved. If you like an intense milk chocolate you must try the Femmes de Virunga (the cacao comes from the Congo, like all the bars it’s organic and it’s truly delicious).
So don’t panic, but buy good quality organic and ethical chocolate, and you can have your treat and know that you are having a positive on the world at the same time.