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Chocoholics Unite - Know This About Chocolate

by  Wanda Hennig on August 31, 2012
Chocoholics Unite - Know This About Chocolate

The True Story of Chocolate. Know it, then indulge.

OK, so you get one shot at answering this.

What is melt-in-the-mouth delicious, mouthwateringly seductive, lusciously decadent and the perfect treat for any anniversary celebration?

If the happy thought of chocolate popped into your mind, congrats. Go treat yourself.

But first, read this column because it might tell you a few things about chocolate you don’t know. It could even influence your choice.

You’ve probably come across articles about the health benefits of chocolate and its aphrodisiacal qualities. For example, research has shown that eating dark chocolate boosts serotonin, linked to sexual arousal and phenylethylamine, which is associated with attraction and that chocolate-melty sensation of falling in lust.

Chocolate’s health benefits and sensual nature are among the many focuses of “Semisweet: Life in Chocolate,” a Canadian documentary currently hitting the film festivals of the world. I saw it and met producer Lalita Krishna at the Durban International Film Festival in South Africa in July. For anyone who has ever enjoyed chocolate, it’s a must-see. Until you can (it may even one day find it is a way, via PBS, to a TV screen near you), chew on this.

The movie takes the viewer into four worlds of chocolate:

  • A sane if eccentric one inhabited by top French chocolatier, Patrick Roger, who lives and works in Paris and drives his tiny Fiat, very fast, through liquorice-string-thin crowded city streets.
  • Two whacky North American worlds at opposite ends of the spectrum.  One (in rural Canada) inhabited by Ron and Nadine, a pair of spacey, self-absorbed, self-marketing organic raw-food chocolate nuts (who are married to each other) and the other is the Disneyfied American-dream “happy” world of Hershey, PA — better known as Chocolatetown USA.
  • And the hard-truth-facts fourth world from children Awa and Noufou and teenage fisherman Mamoutou, who have survived to share the dark facts of kidnappings, child labor, slavery, exploitation and rife in the cocoa plantations of West Africa’s Côte d’Ivoire.

Chocolate Passion Killer

If you love chocolate and are partial to the delights of any of the commercial varieties, including chocolate bars, candies and many name-brand luxury boxes — in fact any chocolate that does not in bold lettering, tell you it is fair trade and give you an address to check this out — knowing the facts might temper your passion. 

Did you know (I didn’t!) that more than 65 percent of the world’s chocolate, probably most of what you or I have eaten — even when it comes in mouthwatering truffles where cost rather than the origins of the cocoa beans is of primary concern to the chocolate-maker — is from Côte d’Ivoire cocoa plantations?

The good news is that people, especially in the U.S., are becoming more aware of what they’re eating. You can google and find many links to organic, sustainably produced, fair trade chocolate. But the grim facts behind the cocoa beans used for most of the world’s chocolate remain.

Did you know that children as young as six are working in the Côte d’Ivoire cocoa plantations, again the source of more than half the world’s chocolate? Children working 16-plus hours a day, spraying pesticides that make them sick and lame, being horribly abused, having their bare-minimum wages withheld if they cut themselves with a machete or heaven forbid, get sick. Children and teens lured are by recruiters from neighboring Mali and Burkino Faso with the promise of wages and a better life.   Which, as you might well imagine, they seldom get.

Children don’t know what the beans they’re harvesting will be used for and have never heard of, let alone tasted, a chocolate bar.

“We can’t know for sure if highlighting the conditions will force change,” says Krishna, a former recipient of the DreamCatcher Award for using her craft to better humanity. “Of course, when we set out to make the film, we hoped that when people saw the story of chocolate and the darker side, it would have an impact.” The movie is a winner because while it shows this, it also has a light touch and a lot of humor.

Chocolate Passion

But let’s get back to the other faces of chocolate, because the impact of the film on me was to create more of an appreciation for chocolate.

Patrick Roger is passionate about chocolate. He is also an artist. When he’s not whizzing through the streets of the French capital picking up speeding fines — by the time the film ends we’re told he’s two points from losing his license — he’s making exquisite gem-like truffles and other pleasures and creating chocolate sculptures. On the screen, we see him carving a chocolate orangutan. His chocolate sculptures, which he displays in his shops around Paris, have environmental and social messages.

Roger clearly has a hugely successful business working with sustainably produced chocolate. “Awareness has risen and the chocolate industry is going the way of the coffee industry in terms of a growing demand for people wanting to buy from sources that are more sustainable,” says Krishna. “A lot of cocoa-producing countries outside of the Côte d’Ivoire have fair trade and co-ops regulating conditions. Ghana, for example, has both of these.”

Roger, devoted to his chocolate, at one point is asked about production in the Amazon region. “Non,” he says vehemently when asked if, given his passion for chocolate and it being his business, it is justifiable to cut down rain forests to put in more cocoa plantations.

Roger is eccentric. He’s down to earth. He’s an artist. He’s real. You know he would never use cocoa beans from the Côte d’Ivoire. He cares. You like him. You want to eat his chocolate.

Chocolate Cravings

Given that this is one of the U.S.’s biggest tourist attractions with its 110-acre amusement theme park, you’ve perhaps been to Hershey, a town first established for employees of the original Hershey’s factory (now closed), which dates back to 1903. How did I feel without being told or after being introduced by a team of scrubbed and scripted PR women for what they called America’s “happy place,” that Hershey’s uses chocolate made from cocoa beans harvested on those Côte d’Ivoire plantations?

Hey, I thought we — the U.S. — held exclusive rights when it came to proselytizing, organic-to-the-core, fundamentalist foodies. But as it turns out, Canada has them too. In this case Ron and Nadine, who live in rural Ontario. See for yourself in the “Semisweet: Life in Chocolate” movie trailer where they talk about their “bliss is this” hand-made range. “Research definitely justifies the health claims made by Ron and Nadine about chocolate’s benefits,” says Krishna.

And what they make does sound like seriously exceptional “food.” It’s just hard to take seriously how seriously they take themselves.

So what sort of chocolate do you want to smell, taste, luxuriate in, enjoy, next time you succumb to a chocolate craving? Suggestion, look for fair trade chocolates. Google “sustainable chocolate” or “fair trade chocolate” to do your own research. The filmmakers have put out a Choco-locate App that you can download via iTunes. Enjoy!

Wanda Hennig

Wanda Hennig

California–based Wanda Hennig is an award-winning food and travel writer, a blogger and a life coach. full bio



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