Why I Ditched Chocolate (sort of)

Chocolate. Everyone loves chocolate. Well, my mom has actually always hated chocolate. And if you’re allergic you probably aren’t a fan of it either. Oh, and it’s also toxic to cats and can even be fatal if they ingest a bunch of it. But the point is, most people do enjoy chocolate, myself included.

Even though I’ve been a chocolate fan my whole life, I’ve always been picky about the types of chocolate I consumed. For some reason, I never liked chocolate cake, and I also don’t like chocolate ice cream. Growing up (and still to this day) my favorite forms of chocolate were brownies, muffins (which do not taste the same as cake!) and candies of all sorts– chocolate bars filled with practically whatever, truffles, and pretty much anything that was covered in chocolate, especially pretzels.

Huge, decadent and delicious vegan chocolate muffin — my first 100% vegan treat when I began my path toward veganism.

Going down this chocolate memory lane is indeed nostalgic, and makes it even more obvious as to why I was extremely proud of myself when, after going vegan, I managed to cut out chocolate just like that. I guess I didn’t necessarily have to do this because I live in one of the vegan capitals of the world, where practically any food that exists can be found in vegan form. But the first several months of being vegan was filled with me trying to navigate this new world of eating and my thoughts really weren’t “where can I find vegan chocolate?”. And anyway, before I officially went vegan and I was still in my “vegan trial period”, I actually did have a decadent, giant chocolate muffin from a vegan bakery– and like most omni’s trying vegan junk food for the first time, I was shocked that something that good was vegan.

But as time went on, I eventually tried vegan chocolate in all its glory– not only chocolate treats but I’d had several types of granola bars featuring chocolate that were made by some of the big names in vegan snacks.

However, a few months ago, I started following an organization on Instagram called the Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P). Their goal is to bring awareness to food accessibility throughout the world, and they also shine a light on food injustices in the form of child labor and/or slavery in food production, and how the food choices we make affect the environment, animals and people.

I loved what they were about because it aligned with what I was about and what I wanted to learn about and spread awareness of in the vegan community and perhaps more importantly, outside of the vegan community. One day, a specific post on their Instagram page caught my eye and it prompted me to download the associated app that the F.E.P had created– it had to do with none other than: chocolate.

According to the F.E.P, chocolate, or more specifically, cocoa production, was an industry that had a huge hand in utilizing child and/or slave labor. As a person of color, this was disturbing to me on a personal level, especially being that my Instagram and blog were built on a premise of intersectional veganism, where the injustices of one group are intertwined with the injustices of many groups. I couldn’t continue to fight for the rights of animals and not do something to show that I was also against the exploitation of children and others who were being utilized as slaves in many African countries.

The app that the F.E.P created, called the Chocolate List was meant to be used as a resource to discover which brands of chocolate are sourced ethically and which brands are not. The below screenshot is an example– there are three sections on the app; “R” stands for recommended, “NR” stands for not recommended, and “M” stands for mixed meaning that the brand uses ethically sourced cocoa for some of its products but not all of them. Even with this powerhouse list available to me, I was a little perplexed about some things, which prompted me to start doing my own research.

Screenshot of the Chocolate List app for iOS, created by the Food Empowerment Project.

I’d go to a store and decide I wasn’t gonna buy chocolate from brands that weren’t recommended, but at the same time I’d see some of those not recommended brands with labels slapped across them like “fair trade certified”.

It was confusing to say the least.

I wondered why these brands were not on the recommended list when I’d read so much information that stated that fair trade farms did not use slave labor. In addition to that, some of these brands stated directly on their website that their chocolate was, in fact, sourced ethically via fair trade farms.

So what was going on? Why was the information from the brands conflicting with the information from the F.E.P?

I decided I had to go straight to the source to uncover where the disconnect was. I emailed the F.E.P and anxiously awaited their response as to why some brands that publicly stated they used ethically sourced cocoa were being place on the not recommended list by the F.E.P. When I received a response to my email, the result was quite unfortunate but it opened my eyes further to the lies we are told everyday by the people who run the largest companies and corporations in the world.

An employee and rep for the F.E.P explained that the companies on the “NR” list are there because they source their cocoa from countries and regions “…where the worst forms of child labor, including slavery, is most prevalent.”

You see, the F.E.P creates their ethically sourced cocoa list “…based on the country of origin… and not “…on certifications based on how problematic they have been found to be.”

Apparently, some fair trade certified farms still utilize child slave labor even with the fair trade certification. How is that possible? I wondered the same thing. I presume it all goes back to politics and the bottom line which is money and production of the product. An unfortunate truth. Sure, the farmers in Africa may have a small say in the use of this illegal labor– but most of that weight should come upon the huge corporations that are using these farms– it is they who have the resources to ensure that the cocoa they need is produced under ethical standards. These companies absolutely have the manpower and money to ensure that proper wages and working conditions are in place, and that child slave labor is not used on these farms, especially if those farms have already undergone the process of declaring themselves “fair trade”.

Chocolate is a sweet treat that most of us enjoy — but at what cost?

In the same response email, the F.E.P employee suggested that I watch Shady Chocolate, a documentary that showcases the ills of cocoa production within the industry. I was also given another resource to seek out; a report that was released last May: The Global Business of Forced Labour Report of Findings— this report showcases how prevalent child and slave labor, human trafficking and even kidnapping have been in West African countries that are key players in the cocoa industry. In the report, linked above, the cocoa industry findings begin on page 26.

I watched the documentary, eager to learn more. I had already committed to not eating chocolate from brands on the NR list, but the documentary sealed the deal for me. It was sickening to see the normalization of child and slave labor, and to see footage of a child crying after being trafficked to a neighboring country via bus, dropped off and left there to eventually be exploited for slave labor.

Please watch the documentary. I truly believe that it may spark something in you to want to purchase your chocolate more responsibly. This issue goes to the very heart of everything I believe in and am fighting for. When we have so many options available to us in 2019 when it comes to purchasing and enjoying products that contain cocoa responsibly, why would we pay people to use child and slave labor just so we can enjoy something sweet for a few moments?

I also urge you to download the app and use it as a resource when buying chocolate products. I feel the need to mention that this is completely unsponsored, but instead is stemming from my own journey and experience as I learn more about everything we buy and take into our bodies.

If you’re reading this, then you are likely blessed to have many resources available to you to that allow you to live, survive and even thrive in your life, such as a place to live, a phone, and food to eat. But chocolate is not a necessity in life– it is a luxury. That is all the more reason why you should try to purchase it responsibly. Don’t pay to support child labor and slavery. Once I understood that this is what I was doing, I knew I could no longer continue to do it with a clear conscious, especially not for a luxury food item.

Thank you for reading this blog post and please use your time and energy to seek out more responsible ways to get your food. Visit the links in the above paragraphs as a start to learn more. It all begins with us and as previously mentioned, we have a wealth of options available in this world to cause the least harm possible when it comes to what’s on our plates, so why not give it a shot?

Close-up chocolate image courtesy of Pixabay via Pexels.com.

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