Few words in our vernacular conjure up as much passion and fervor as the simple word “chocolate.” There are true aficionados who delight in conversations about cacao percentages and single-origins. There are devotees who give and receive truffles and treats for special occasions. On the flip side, chocolate can serve as a harbinger of frustration and a will-power test for those who promised to shed a few New Year pounds and skip that sweet stuff.

 

Whether Hershey or Ghiardelli, Godiva or Dagoba, dark or light, chocolate is destined to survive as a mainstay of our American lives. Each February, chocolate sales spike into the billions and throughout the year, it comes to us in a myriad of shapes; Santa, eggs and jack-o-lanterns.

 

The same passion exists in Europe, where both the Swiss and the Belgians have perfected the art of crafting chocolates. Interestingly, throughout the US and Europe where passion for this treat exists, the climate does not support growing cocoa beans! Beans and chocolate must be imported to round out this part of our palettes.

 

As the heart shaped versions now line store shelves for Valentine’s Day, we find an opportunity to explore the origins of our chocolate and consider how a simple chocolate purchase can empower lives and spark life-giving conversations for our families.

 

Forty percent of the world’s cocoa beans are harvested in Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa.

Other nations like Cameroon, Nigeria and Ghana also work hard to support our national sweet tooth. To provide this delicious bean at cheap prices, many cocoa growers receive unfair wages, unsafe conditions and child labor is common practice. Understandably, families need the income generated from this work. Thus, many are willing to work for low pay and at young ages to feed a family.

 

An increasing number of chocolatiers have taken note of this situation and there is a growing desire to support the families paired with corporations who take unfair advantage of this need, and fair trade chocolate products are the result. With a desire to provide health care, living wages and safe conditions to growers, companies like Equal Exchange or Green and Black’s offer products with integrity. Fair Trade chocolate is a raging trend in our culture today. Good news for growers!

 

So, this February, take heart as you bite into the luxury of Valentine’s Day and consider purchasing chocolate that makes a difference to the grower, to the eco-system the product came from, and to your own family as they help others earn a living wage.

 

Here are a few delicious options to whet your appetite:

 

  1. Visit Equal Exchange (www.equalexchange.coop) where you will find the story of your cocoa growers. View pictures of their lives and families and engage with their stories as you consider purchasing everything from hot chocolate to bars to gift baskets.
  2. Sample a Green and Blacks (http://greenandblacks.com) and take a fabulous online tour of cocoa growing, ideas for entertaining, food and wine pairings as well as corporate and private gift ideas. These bars are also available at most Target stores and Whole Foods.
  3. Be sure the chocolate products you purchase are fair trade certified. Check out the Trans Fair website for information on products you are considering (www.transfairusa.org).
  4. Visit www.divinechocolateusa.com for another story of farmer owned organizations from Ghana.

 

Make it a teachable moment. I am stingy with the chocolate I give my children. I fear an ever increasing sweet tooth for them and I selfishly sneak it for myself when we receive it as a gift. So, consider indulging in some great chocolate with your kids and making it a teachable moment. A little geography lesson paired with an age appropriate chat about economics and fair wages could make for some good family chatter over hot cocoa or a mint chocolate bar.