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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 4, January/February 2008

On being well: Wellness is having a passion for chocolate, but…

By Julia Johnson

I wasn’t always a chocolate lover. Sweets and desserts were never part of my diet as a child or as an adult. However, now that menopause has created a hormonal imbalance in my system and my taste buds have become acutely sensitive, all of that has changed. I remember quite clearly the first time I had a second helping of a chocolate dessert just because it tasted so good. It didn’t matter that I had eaten enough. My taste buds were exploding and the message to my brain was, "I must have more of this!" Thus began my passionate consumption for all things chocolate.

I try to rationalize my compelling need for devouring chocolate by acknowledging the research that espouses its medical virtues. Apparently, dark chocolate may lower high blood pressure, increase insulin sensitivity, reduce the risk of heart attack, improve arterial blood flow, and help people with chronic fatigue syndrome.

According to WebMD, "The possible health benefits of chocolate stem from the antioxidant flavonoids. Chocolate comes from the cacao plant, and cacao is extraordinarily rich in flavanols... The flavanols in cocoa beans have a biochemical effect of reducing platelet clumping... The more non-fat cocoa solids a chocolate product contains, the more antioxidants it tends to contribute." With this information I became a discriminate shopper, eating only Belgian or Swiss dark chocolate. My mind was at rest. I was able to satisfy my chocolate desire knowing that my body would reap the health benefits; that is, until I learned that the chocolate I so enjoyed was made possible by slave labour.

West Africa is the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocoa beans, supplying 50% of the world’s cocoa on the backs of one-quarter of a million of African children. It has been documented that boys aged 12 to 16 years found begging are lured to the Ivory Coast and are sold as slaves. Traffickers promise them paid work, housing, and education; instead they are forced to work on cocoa farms under severely abusive conditions. Reports from UNICEF (1998, 2007) confirm that child trafficking is prevalent in the cocoa farming industry of the Ivory Coast. And a British television documentary, Slavery: a Global Investigation (2001) claimed that 90% of the Ivory Coast cocoa plantations use forced labour. Carol Off, co-host of CBC Radio’s As it Happens, in her book (Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet, 2007) "traces the origins of the cocoa craze and describes the conditions under which it is grown and harvested." She explains how the West African Cocoa Industry, "with the complicity of Western governments and corporations," such as Nestle, Hershey, Cadbury, and Mars thrive using unethical practices. CBC radio recently reported (November 28, 2007) that regulators from Canada’s Competition Bureau "have launched an investigation into allegations that the Canadian divisions of Nestle, Hershey, Cadbury, and Mars have engaged in a price-fixing scheme in the multibillion-dollar chocolate bar business."

Faced with the reality of these reports, activists are working toward increasing public awareness of this issue and pressuring Canadian and US governments to create a child-trafficking bill that would make it illegal for crops to be imported from countries that support child trafficking. Journalist and filmmaker Teun (Tony) van de Keuken of the Netherlands, produced a documentary for You Tube, entitled "Tony Chocolonely" exposing the Ivory Coast slave trade in the chocolate industry from which Nestle derives its profits. Once Tony became aware that children were forced to work on cocoa plantations under slave conditions, he became a chocolate-maker striving to produce the world’s first slave-free chocolate with support from the Max Havelaar Foundation. Tony says, "The bars were an overnight success. It shows that people really want this once they’re aware of how things are made. You just have to tell them and show them what reality is."

The thing about being on a wellness journey is that it is fraught with health-related choices regarding, not only our personal well-being, but the social justice issues that affect the well-being of others and the planet that is our home. At the root of the decisions we make is the passion that fuels our motivation to effect change. My passion for chocolate has become a deeper passion of commitment to purchase only chocolate and chocolate products with fair-trade or slave-free labels. Now that I know that child-abuse practices go into the making of a Hershey’s kiss, I find such a delicacy revolting.

For information on fair-trade/ slave-free chocolate see these internet websites:

Julia Johnson, a retired learning resource teacher in Quesnel is a BCTF PD wellness associate.


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