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Martin Luther King Jr. once asked, “Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?”
Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about that. Although I spent my early 20s attending anti-Valentine’s Day parties, I softened a little in my 30s. I realized that the act of loving doesn’t exclude any of us. And if we have a day to remind us how much we can love the people that are right in front of us (and not a fantasy of them) - then all the power to February 14th.
Stereotypically February brings heaps of chocolates. Arriving by way of lovers, cupids, coworkers and friends, we start to see chocolates lurking everywhere - from hospital waiting rooms to giant bowls at your office reception. With our mouths filled with the sweet stuff, we get a hit of good endorphins and happy hormones.
Chocolate tastes great, and to a certain degree it makes us feel good - at least temporarily. However, in today’s global economy it is becoming harder to ignore the reality of the cocoa industry.
I'm all for the love parade this time of year, but let's take a closer look at the traditional token of our Valentine's love: chocolate. It turns out that most chocolate is synonymous with the worst forms of child labour. The U.S. Department of Labour conducted a study in 2013/2014 only to find out, horrifyingly, that over 2 million children are working in hazardous conditions in order to give us the sweet side of life.
“over 2 million children are working in hazardous conditions
in order to give us the sweet side of life”
With over 50 million people in the world depending on the cocoa industry for their livelihood, Tom Hanlon-Wilde, who works for Canada’s Camino Chocolate Company informs us that only 2% of those people work in fair trade conditions. I know that stats can provide a form of disconnect, but the more I think about it, the more I believe, if we are celebrating love, why not think bigger?
Tom believes that even though things look dire, there is great potential to improve. “There has been some progress, but certainly not enough. Being conscious with what you are buying is important.”
If thus far the extent of your consciousness has been to choose the sale item, or selecting from the most delicious looking window display, you are not alone. It is hard to break away from cheap and plentiful and move into the industry of consciousness. It may mean that we even have to eat less, but we won’t miss those “watered down versions,” according to Tom.
Fair trade labels and the Fair for Life symbol can help to guide us in the right direction without over-researching. But what about organic?
Organic chocolate signifies that the cocoa beans have not been treated with fertilizers and pesticides. If it is fully organic, then this will also be true of the milk and the sugar that are added to the bar. Expect a rejection of GMOs and limited processing.
Environmentally, cocoa is normally one of the most heavily pesticide-using crops out there. High demand for the sweet stuff doesn’t exactly help with instilling farming practices that are best for our future land.
The experience we have while buying for our loved ones can be as important as the gift that is actually given. It can help affect change from the grassroots level. It can be as simple as reading a label to declare that the things we are lucky enough to take for granted should be a given for people in the world we don’t even know. Just because we don’t know them yet doesn’t mean they aren’t worth loving too. Chocolate has become big scale, but we can bring it back down to size.
Small-scale farming and big-scale loving.