Last weekend I heard a fascinating presentation by Tara Sullivan, the author of the new young adult novel, The Bitter Side of Sweet. Full disclosure: I haven’t read Tara’s book yet, but based on her eye-opening talk, it’s next on my list. The Bitter Side of Sweet is the not-so-sweet story of how chocolate goes from the cacao pod to the grocery store’s candy aisle. The novel, which has received five starred reviews, is the story of Amadou and Seydou, two brothers who work on a cacao plantation in the Ivory Coast. Like the children who inspired Tara’s story, Amadou and Seydou are basically slaves – working in unbearable conditions with the constant threat of being beaten when they don’t deliver enough cacao pods.
As Tara explained, the global demand for chocolate is relentless. The enormous profits are shared between retailers, manufacturers, marketing – very little of the profit goes to the farmer with the result that farmers cut costs by paying their workers less. These “child slaves” as Tara described them, work for food, but many of them have never tasted chocolate. They work on plantations for 12 hours a day and don’t go to school.
Of course, many in the audience wanted to know how to buy chocolate that does not rely on the labor of young children. Tara explained that buying fair trade products is a good place to start, but quickly added that “fair trade” is an unregulated term. There isn’t a group that verifies fair trade logos. The Hershey Company, she told us, has committed to fair trade by 2020, but one has to wonder what that means.
Tara’s process for writing the book was equally fascinating. Because of safety concerns, she could not travel to the Ivory Coast, but she did take a research trip to Haiti where she watched the process that begins with a pod roughly the size of a football. Under that rind, she explained, are “squishy seeds,” that are dried and roasted before being ground. After all of that, the sugar and milk are mixed in leading to this….
As a side note….I found this interesting: Tara told us about a company called Tony’s Chocoloney, a Dutch company that is “100% slave-free chocolate.” Coincidentally, we have this chocolate bar in our house:
We brought it back from Amsterdam (to give to our son), but admittedly, we didn’t know Tony’s story when we bought it.
Finally – there has been notable progress on the building of Inly’s new school library. I took these pictures last week: