Bitter Chocolate: Investigating The Dark Side Of The World’s Most Seductive Sweet by Carol Off, Download PDF 0702236853

April 13, 2018

 Bitter Chocolate: Investigating The Dark Side Of The World's Most Seductive Sweet by Carol Off, Download PDF 0702236853


Most of what you should know about chocolate is the topic of this captivating book. There are serious and hidden costs to this treat we consume nearly every day – sometimes in overwhelming quantities. Canadian journalist and broad caster Carol Off takes you on a journey through the cultural and political history of cocoa, this delicacy so revered since ancient times. Based on her thorough research and personal encounters in the field, she brings to light the controversies and conflicts that have accompanied the production and trade of chocolate for centuries. Of particular interest to her is the exploitation of cocoa farmers, the use of child labour and severe corruption in producing countries in the heart of Africa on the one hand and the connivance of the international marketing bodies on the other. None of what you discover here should stop you from indulging, but it should open your eyes to the complex and often violent context and encourage you to consider your purchasing choices. The theobroma plant that carries the cocoa producing bean pods originated in Central America and only grows in a narrow environmental band: it needs the right temperatures and the humidity of tropical rain forests. For more than three thousand years farmers have harvested cocoa beans from the gourds of this shrub. Initially processed into a stimulating drink made from the bitter cocoa pulp it was thought to have nutritional and health benefits. In this way it was appreciated by Aztecs, Maya and others in the Americas. It was the drink of the local elites and used in religious rituals as well as a legal tender. Spanish conquerors and European traders introduced cocoa into our world. Off provides an excellent overview of cocoa’s history and its expansion from a luxury treat into an important general commodity, available to everyone in the developed world. (Most cocoa farmers cannot afford to buy or eat it!) Cocoa butter was combined with other ingredients into the familiar chocolate bar. With its rising popularity in the European and North American markets, growing areas had to be expanded and the processing industrialized. To meet the demands, the theobroma plant was introduced in West Africa with Cote d’Ivoire being the major centre. Increasingly, companies like Rowntree, Cadbury, Mars and Hershey and big players in the food business, such as Cargill, took over as the major investors and market controllers. Complicated colonial and post-colonial politics in Cote d’Ivoire, as well as international market pressures, resulted in a collapse of a sustainable and for the farmers economically viable cocoa economy. Cheap labour was in high demand for the harvest. First, farmers brought their own children and extended families into the process, but more and more young people and children were recruited from neighbouring poor countries, especially from Mali. Farmers suffering extreme poverty feel themselves being victims of big business and corrupt government systems. Off succeeds in interviewing farmers and traders and follows the routes of some of the youngsters to farms where they are kept bonded, in primitive conditions and without pay. “Big Chocolate”, Off’s term for the international corporations involved in the industry, have played their part in creating and maintaining the devastating conditions for the farmers and the children. Despite pressures from primarily non-governmental groups and promises to stop slave labour in the cocoa production, quietly it is still going on today. Journalists and others investigating the intricate web of exploitation and corruption have been threatened, some have disappeared. Off writes in a direct and engaging journalistic style, rich in factual detail and description of her personal experience in several countries. Part detective story, part investigative research spiced with some African storytelling, she captivates the reader from beginning to end. The author also has important messages to impart. “Big Chocolate” needs to be held accountable to their promises. They in turn can influence government policies and programs. On the brighter side, she touches on cocoa production in several countries that have managed the business with more fairness and involvement of local farmers, in particular in Belize. She also discusses the appearance and efforts around “fair trade” chocolate, that is of growing interest to consumers in developed countries. [Friederike Knabe]
Hardly larger than New Mexico, the Côte d’Ivoire doesn’t seem an appropriate site for international economic intrigue or the focus of intense labour reform efforts. A glance at a map of Africa suggests it should be a tourist haven. A magnificent coastline, running east-west for over 500 km, faces the Gulf of Guinea, an arm of the Atlantic helping form the Bulge of Africa. Some of that shoreline has protected harbours, and most of the Ivory Coast’s neighbours, such as Mali, Guinea and Ghana enjoy a large measure of political stability. The Côte d’Ivoire also enjoys an economic privilege – it produces nearly half of the world’s cacao beans. Those beans are the foundation for Valentine’s Day confections, cocoa and chocolate Easter bunnies. As Carol Off has shown in this captivating study, thereby hangs a tale. Cocoa beans grow best in special tropical conditions – high heat, elevated humidity, a lush overstory of trees and supportive soil. Originally from Central America where the aristocrats of the Olmec empire restricted consumption of the rich, dark compound of kakawa to themselves, chocolate is now universally enjoyed. Columbus missed the chance to introduce chocolate to Europe, but when it did arrive, it was taken up enthusiastically. Like coffee, which came from the opposite direction, cocoa became the basis for a wave of new gathering places – coffee houses – which served coffee, hot chocolate and tea. The demand for chocolate rose rapidly, driving producers to expand while cutting costs. In agriculture, the chief method of cost reduction is to slash labour costs. The major effort needed in producing cacao, which grows on tree trunks, is the harvesting – cutting, separating the seeds from pulp and spreading them to dry. Even a child can do it. A Canadian broadcast journalist, Carol Off was tipped off by Save the Children to modern Côte d’Ivoire conditions. This shouldn’t have been news for several reasons. As the demand for chocolate rose and the European confectionary firms expanded, growing cacao trees and harvesting their fruit moved from small-holders’ plots to extensive plantations. The needed labour was frequently coerced from local villages. The new growing conditions often depleted the plants forcing growers to new sites. Africa, already established in producing coffee, became host to a new bean. Once tainted by the earlier slave trade across the Atlantic, Africa’s cacao plantations saw the re-establishment of new forced-labour practices. With political and economic power shifts restructured by European imperialists in Africa during the 19th Century, new forms of “indentured workers” or “contract labourers” arose. In the 20th Century many of those working the cocoa plantations were children of countries bordering on Côte d’Ivoire. Hearing of job opportunities hungry children left their villages to earn money. Many were never seen again. The 19th Century chocolate industry in Britain came to be dominated by Quakers. This sect, with a long history of campaigning for the abolition of slavery, grew uneasy over stories of forced labour in the plantations supplying the raw materials for such products as Cadbury’s. They sent investigators to enquire about conditions. Carol Off describes the late 19th Century efforts of Henry Woodd Nevinson to reveal how workers were treated in producing cocoa beans. His reports where quietly shelved. Post-World War II fluctuations created even worse conditions, with national governments taking a fresh interest in cocoa revenues. New investigations were prompted, leading in one case to a film of child labour conditions. It was the film that immortalised one child’s comment: “When people eat chocolate, they eat my flesh”. Other mechanisms are available, however, as Off describes conditions in Belize as a conclusion to her book. “Fair trading”, a process slowly being applied to coffee and other products, has made some headway in cocoa’s Central American homeland. Although hardly a panacea, fair trade structures in growing and marketing, have helped stablise price levels and given small holders a fresh means of surviving. Small, well-controlled plots, often as family operations may provide hope for growers. However, a fair income for the cocoa farmer may mean an increase in the price of candy bars or Valentine’s Day treats. Are you prepared to pay that extra to release children from bondage labour? [stephen a. haines – Ottawa, Canada]


  • Title: Bitter Chocolate: Investigating The Dark Side Of The World’s Most Seductive Sweet
  • Autor: Carol Off
  • Publisher (Publication Date): Vintage Canada (2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: | 0702236853
  • ISBN-13: | 978-0702236853
  • Download File Format: EPUB, PDF

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