Fair Trade: Chocolate

Chocolate has been around since at least 1100 B.C., when people in central America fermented cacao beans into an alcoholic drink or mixed it with strong spices. Wikipedia explains,

The majority of the Mesoamerican peoples made chocolate beverages, including the Maya and Aztecs, who made it into a beverage known as xocolātl, a Nahuatl word meaning “bitter water”. The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste, and must be fermented to develop the flavor. After fermentation, the beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted, and the shell is removed to produce cacao nibs. The nibs are then ground and liquified, resulting in pure chocolate in fluid form: chocolate liquor. The liquor can be further processed into two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

Cocoa in all it’s forms was considered a luxury item among the Mayas and Aztecs and also when it was first introduced in Europe in the 1500s. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that people in all walks of life had an opportunite to eat chocolate.

Chocolate as we know it is made of a mixture of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar, milk, and/or vanilla. Dark chocolate contains at least 70% cocoa (solids and butter), sugar, and sometimes vanilla.  Milk chocolate contains up to 50% cocoa, milk, sugar, and vanilla. White chocolate contains up to 33% cocoa, sugar, milk, and vanilla. Often producers at an emulsifying agent like soy lecithin, but this can be left out to keep the chocolate purer and GMO-free.

I found this information from Wikipedia particularly interesting:

Vegetable oils and artificial vanilla flavor are often used in cheaper chocolate to mask poorly fermented and/or roasted beans. In 2007, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association in the United States, whose members include Hershey, Nestlé, and Archer Daniels Midland, lobbied the Food and Drug Administration to change the legal definition of chocolate to let them substitute partially hydrogenated vegetable oils for cocoa butter in addition to using artificial sweeteners and milk substitutes. Currently, the FDA does not allow a product to be referred to as “chocolate” if the product contains any of these ingredients.

Though all this information on chocolate production is interesting and informative, what’s most important is the people behind the chocolate. There are approximately 50 million people working in the chocolate industry today.

The New American Dream website (which is my new favorite website) says this:

Most of our chocolate comes from the Ivory Coast region of West Africa, where cocoa production is an enormous part of the economy. In Ghana, 40 percent of the country’s export revenues come from the sale of cocoa. Unfortunately, very little of the profit goes to the farmers who grow the cocoa beans. Cocoa farmers receive about a penny for a candy bar selling for 60 cents.

In fact, the difficulty in making a living at cocoa farming has spawned an increase in child and even slave labor drawn from poor neighboring countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo. Children and other workers are forced to work long days picking and processing cocoa beans (it takes 400 of these pods to make just one pound of chocolate). Very few of the children have the opportunity to attend school.

So it is more than likely that the chocolate in Kit Kats, Snickers bars, etc. are made, at least in part, from the labor of child slaves. I’m certain that companies like Nestle and Hershey aren’t purposefully buying children and using them as slaves, but they aren’t entirely guarding against it. And should we feel guilty for eating Kit Kats? Until these big corporations step up and monitor their sources more, yes. Maybe not the Kit Kats we ate before we knew about the fair trade issues, but we, as wealthy Americans, are a part of this machine that runs on the sweat of poor, hungry, people and there probably should be some guilt in that. But that guilt should inspire change! Does that mean that we never eat chocolate again? No! There are lots and lots of great companies out there who are producing chocolate for the benefit of the people harvesting the beans! And I think that it’s incredible that we can choose to use our dollars to support these people.

Is fair trade chocolate more expensive? Yes, $3.50 or more for a bar of good dark chocolate. But the expense is good, in my opinion, for several reasons: 1) We know that more of our money is going to hard-working people. 2) We can keep companies in business who are doing the hard work of playing fair. 3) We learn to make desserts of other things like fresh fruit and spices (mmm…ginger cookies). 4) We may eat less chocolate but when we do, it is really, really good chocolate and we can enjoy it all the more.

More Resources

Stop the Traffik’s Chocolate Campaign: learn more about child slavery on cocoa farms in Cote D’Ivoire

Divine Chocolate: owned and operated by the farmers of Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana

Dagoba Chocolate: our favorite organic and fair trade chocolate

Fair Trade Chocolate on Chocolate.com: Fine unique fair trade chocolate products including chocolate-covered oreos!

New American Dream: A list of fair trade chocolate products including cocoa powder and chocolate chips


Social Frays: Human Trafficking

I recently listened to a message by Steve Chalke, director of Stop the Traffik, at Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids. This was one of those life-changing sermons that I’m not sure I will ever get out of my system. The essence of Chalke’s message was 1) to call attention to the vast number of people being sold as slaves today – Chalke says the estimate is 5 jumbo jets full of people being sold every day, and 2) to remind Christians that all people, everywhere, are made in God’s image and loved by Him. Therefore, it is our responsibility as human beings, but especially as Jesus-followers, to cry out “Stop, in the name of Jesus, STOP!

One estimate says that there are over 27 million people living in slavery today. Wikipedia states that the global slave trade is “estimated to be a $5 to $9 billion-a-year industry.” Children in Africa are sold to make chocolate. Children in Pakistan and India are sold to make rugs. Young women are sold in Thailand and the Philippines as sex slaves. People from all over the world are sold to Canada, the U.S., and Britain as sex or labor slaves. No country escapes from this problem. Often poor families are promised that their children will get a good education or job only to sell the child for as little as $10 and never hear from him or her again. More often than not, these children are forced into long hours of physical work or prostitution.

It’s really hard for me to believe that slavery still exists in our modern-world, and it is especially hard to believe that there are an estimated 14,500 people trafficked as slaves into the United States every year. Each of these 14,500 people (which is by the way, the number of people who live in the small town I currently call home), has a name, a face, a family, and a story. And each of them is loved by God. Wouldn’t it be great if it was the Christians who stood up and said that this has to end? What kind of a story would that tell the world?

More Resources

If you do nothing else, please download and listen to the message entitled Stop the Traffik by Steve Chalke.

HumanTrafficking.org: A website with lots of country-specific information about human trafficking. Lots and lots of resources. There is also a hotline number for people in the U.S. to call if they suspect human trafficking.

FreeTheSlaves.net: Another great website with lots of information and ways to get involved. This organization actually supports liberators in the various countries who physically free slaves. Awesome!

Stop the Traffik: A coalition of grassroots organizations aimed at ending global slavery. This website has a lot of information of slaves used to make chocolate but their main efforts are to raise money for their various member organizations. If you’re looking for a place to give money to stop the slave trade, give it here.

Not for Sale: A book by David Batstone. The subtitle is “The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It.”

Human Trafficking: A compilation of several short documentaries on human trafficking. These videos will give you the key issues involved in slavery.

Social Frays: Gentrification

As Brad and I are looking into our options for moving to Chicago, we have had a lot of good discussions about gentrification. This all started when we were listening to a segment from This American Life where a Lawndale (yes, the Lawndale we want to move to in Chicago) resident complained about gentrification in the area, specifically noting that she could tell that Lawndale was gentrifying because of all the white people walking their dogs. And I thought, “Wait. I am white. And I have dogs. So if we move to Lawndale, will the residents just see me as one of those people.”

Wikipedia describes gentrification this way:

Gentrification, or urban gentrification, is a term applied to that part of the urban housing cycle in which physically deteriorated neighborhoods attract an influx of investment and undergo physical renovation and an increase in property market values. In many cases, the lower-income residents who occupied the neighborhood prior to its renovation can no longer afford properties there.

The last thing that I want is to be a part of a movement that is forcing low-income residents out of their homes and into areas with even higher rates of poverty and crime. There are, however, lots of different viewpoints surrounding the issue of gentrification. Some people say that by bringing in businesses and wealthier homeowners, the economy of the neighborhood is improved: people can find more jobs, schools improve, crime decreases. Often times, the government provides grants and low-cost loans so that current residents can move into newly built/remodeled houses or condos. On the other side, as I originally said, many of the residents are forced to move to a new neighborhood because they cannot afford the higher rent or property tax.

This history of gentrification all begins with the creation and design of cities. Many of the neighborhoods that are currently being gentrified were originally built for the middle class and blue collar workers. The idea behind cities in general is to create a lot of housing and public services for a large concentration of people who are intimately involved in the local economy. After the end of Word War II, with greater number of people owning cars, it became less important to live near one’s work. Suburbs were created, and with them, the phenomenon of white flight.

Starting in the ’70s and ’80s wealthy young adults of all races began rejecting the suburban sprawl for the appeal of the city. Their return is gentrification. This is the position Brad and I find ourselves in: we know that we want to live in the city rather than the suburbs. That kind of lifestyle, closeness of resources and neighbors, and public transportation appeal to us. We also know that we don’t want to isolate ourselves from lower-income neighbors. We would like to live in a lower-income neighborhood in order to be an active part of that neighborhood. We don’t want to separate ourselves from the poor. But we also don’t want to be seen as part of the problem that is increasing poverty for our neighbors.

The best solution may be living in the neighborhood and fighting for quality, low-cost housing. The Lawndale Christian Development Corporation builds low-cost housing for Lawndale residents. The Stevens Square Community Organization has built $70,000 lofts in Minneapolis. I don’t think adding a Gap and Starbucks to Lawndale is going to help much, but change can happen if so-called gentrifiers truly become neighbors.

More about Gentrification:

Flag Wars: a PBS documentary about gentrification in Ohio

There Goes the Neighborhood: a book about racial and social tensions in four Chicago Neighborhoods

Gentrification a boost for everyone: a USA Today article discussing whether or not gentrification really forces large numbers of people to leave their neighborhoods

Fair Trade: Coffee

I used to work at Starbucks, so I know my coffee. Wait. Ignore that. I know the sickly sweet drink with 8 million pumps of vanilla syrup or layers of white mocha (goo?) or an inch of whip cream on top that Americans call coffee. For real, I once had a customer come in and order a cappuccino made from heavy whipping cream. Do you know how much that stuff splatters when you steam it? Don’t even get me started on the drinks made from egg nog or maple syrup. I guess I’m getting a little bit off track. Sorry.

Real coffee, the dark brown stuff that comes from your coffee maker, actually originally grows on a bush, as bright red berries! No really. It’s true. Bright red. What you want to make your drink is actually inside the berry, the seed or the coffee bean. And these beans are green. Green. The beans are then roasted to varying degrees. That is when they turn brown. Starbucks says that the longer you roast the beans, the stronger the flavor. That’s what “dark roast” means. My husband (and I) would argue that there is a point when you’re just burning the heck out of those suckers and the result of a “dark roast” often becomes simply a cup of hot water that tastes burnt.

Now, if you want a good cup of coffee, the best thing to do is to buy the whole beans and grind them yourself. An even better way to make coffee is to buy the green beans (no, not green beans, you weirdo), roast them yourself, grind them right before you make the coffee, and enjoy. Green coffee beans will last a long time on the shelf, but roasted coffee beans start to go bad after seven days (even if they come in the special Starbucks bag or you put them in the freezer or any other method of preservation).

Now I know you’re are saying to yourself, “That’s a lot of hard work for a little cup of coffee.” And it is, but (please notice me getting on my soapbox) making your cup of coffee is a lot of hard work even if you are not the one working. Someone has to tend to the coffee plants, clear the land, pull the weeds, harvest the berries, procure the beans, roast the coffee. You may only see the barista pouring you your cup of joe, but a lot of people had their hands in producing that drink. Most of those people worked long hours for very little money.

Global Exchange says this: Many small coffee farmers receive prices for their coffee that are less than the costs of production, forcing them into a cycle of poverty and debt.

Because coffee is in such high demand (America drinks 1/5 of the world’s coffee), many farmers clear their land of traditional crops to feed their families (corn, tubers, leafy greens) in order to grow coffee for export. If the farmers cannot recoup their losses, they not only have no grown produce to eat, but they cannot afford to buy food to feed their families.

Fair trade changes that because companies that sell certified fair trade coffee make sure that their laborers are paid a fair wage and work under fair conditions. Do you see a recurring theme here? Fair. So I’m just going to say it: drink fair trade coffee. And it’s even better if it’s organic because that means the workers didn’t have to harm land or themselves by using harsh chemicals. Fair trade and organic is more expensive than buying Folgers in the can, but a way to get your coffee as fairly and cheaply as possible is to buy fair trade and organic green coffee beans (about $4-7 a pound) and roast them at home.

Want to learn more?

Oxfam Resources: Includes reports called Mugged: Poverty in your Coffee Cup about the international coffee crisis and Just Add Justice about bringing fair trade to your community

Roasting Coffee on the Cheap: how to roast your own coffee at home using a $15 popcorn popper (this is the way Brad does it)

Want to buy fair trade coffee?

Pura Vida: fair trade, organic, shade grown – all the good stuff

Seven Bridges Cooperative: where we buy our organic and fair trade coffee beans to roast

Just Coffee: a Christian organization that works with poor communities to share Christ and help them develop economically through fair trade coffee – w00t! It’s the Kingdom in your cup!

Jesus for President

Brad and I are going up to Chicago this weekend, so I have been scurrying around trying to clean up the house and get ready for the trip. Incidentally, I missed writing a post for Theology Thursdays – don’t think that’s a blogring name or anything, I just call it that so I can remember what to write about on Thursdays. I am such a dork. 🙂 So here’s my theological post (don’t I sound all fancy) and I will put up something later today or tomorrow for Fair Trade Fridays (oh yes, I am the ultimate dork)…

I just finished reading Jesus for President, and I must say that this is the best book I have read in 2008 (maybe 2007 too, but I can’t remember). The primary author, Shane Claiborne, is a speaker and activist. He started an organization called The Simple Way and lives in an intentional community in inner city Philadelphia. Shane and his friend Chris write about what it truly means to follow Jesus, to live a life so radically different from the world that we live in.

I grew up with a pretty fundamental way of thinking about Christianity: people are sinful and God loves us so He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins; if we believe in Him, then we will go to heaven. That has always been what I have thought of when I have thought of the word “gospel.” Surely, that is part of it, but when I read Jesus’ words in the Bible, I never hear Him saying much like that. Instead He reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” and says “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21).

Shane and Chris take a look a look at what the world was like when Jesus walked the earth and see a lot of parallels between the Roman lifestyle and the American lifestyle, and that is not a good thing. They point to the ideas of materialism, militarism, and greed, and come to the conclusion that if we say that we are following Jesus we cannot live like that. We cannot support war. We cannot live to make lots of money. We can’t own big houses and fancy cars. We cannot separate ourselves from the poor. Shane and Chris believe that being a Christian means being a part of an alternative community that does things so differently from the rest of the world, that people can’t help but stop, take notice, and ask “why?”

This is the kind of thing they write:

Years ago, some folks from our communities attended a rally against overseas sweatshops. They had not invited the typical rally speakers – lawyers, activists, and academics. Instead, the brought the kids themselves from the sweatshops to speak. We listened as a child from Indonesia pointed to the giant scar on his face. “I got this scar when my master lashed me for not working hard enough. When it began to bleed, he did not want me to stop working or to ruin the cloth in front of me, so he took a lighter and burned it shut. I got this making stuff for you.” We were suddenly consumed by the overwhelming reality of the suffering body of Christ. Jesus now bore not just the marks from the nails and scars from the thorns but a gash down his face, for when we have done it to the ‘least of these,’ we have done it to Christ himself. How could we possibly follow Jesus and buy anything from that master? The statistics had a face. Poverty became personal. And that messes with you.

Into the economics of the world, the letter of James speaks a word of rebuke: ‘The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty’ (5:4). This isn’t simply about fairly paying the immigrants who mow our lawns; it’s about the way our world’s economy siphons wealth from the poor up to the rich. And we are all part of it. But the god of mammon calls out, ‘How could we buy cheap shirts without the sweatshops of Honduras? How could we get cheap fast food without the migrant tomato farmers in Florida?’ God hears the workers’ groaning. Jesus for President, p. 189-190

In the words of Chris and Shane, this messes with me. This makes me want to move into an intentional community, sell my stuff, and serve the poor. Doing that sounds so simple and good, but living it out is a lot more difficult. The ’empire’ (Chris and Shane’s term for the American lifestyle) is everywhere: even the president is telling us to buy more stuff. We need to protect ourselves from ‘them’ (‘terrorists,’ Arabs, people who are different from us). We need to destroy evil in the world.

Where does it say that kind of thing in the Bible? If anything, scripture says get rid of all your stuff, expect persecution, love your enemies. Imagine what the world would look like if we truly followed those commands.

This book has stirred up so many “what ifs” in my mind, that it is difficult to come to any kind of conclusion. I strongly recommend that every Christian read this book. Actually everybody should read this.

The Global Food Crisis

An article via Eat.Drink.Better.

Consumers in the United States struggle with prices rising as much as forty percent for grains and twenty-five percent for eggs, eighty percent for dairy and double-digit increases for other staples. The situation has led to a record number of individuals seeking assistance from food banks nationwide. Globally, however, the crisis has taken on life and death consequences.

As prices have risen, fifty and even three hundred percent in areas like Sierra Leone, these areas have experienced food riots. The growing lists of nations that have had food price protests and riots in the last six months includes Mexico, Haiti, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Cameroon, Yemen, Indonesia, Uzbekistan and Pakistan.

The situation resulted from what some experts call “a perfect storm” of factors combined; oil prices, the use of farmland for ethanol instead of food, Australia’s drought, crop disease, climate change, U.S. economy, and the growth of a more meat-intensive diet worldwide.

The storm has been brewing for some time, according to one author on the subject, Raj Patel. Patel’s book Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System chronicles the global problems leading up to our food crisis. He explains how the causes combined to create the current food crisis in an interview with Democracy Now. Patel also posted on his site about the current food riots in Egypt, Haiti, and Senegal.

Thus far, experts on the situation agree that it will not be a short-term issue; it may, in fact, take years to resolve. As Paul Krugman wrote in a op-ed for The New York Times, “Cheap food, like cheap oil, may be a thing of the past.”

Fair Trade

Most likely, you have been seeing this symbol around a lot more lately. The desire for “fair trade” items is growing in the United States, but what exactly is fair trade? Wikipedia states: “Fair trade is an organized social movement and market-based approach to alleviating global poverty and promoting sustainability.” Surprisingly, the fair trade movement began with religious groups (God bless the Mennonites) who saw that laborers around the world were often treated unfairly and paid very small amounts for their hard work. The wealthy people of the world wanted their tea, sugar, and rice, and they wanted it cheap.

Over the years, international religious, development aid, social and environmental organizations worked together to develop fair trade standards for items produced around the world. Currently, items sold in the U.S. and Canada that meet these standards are labeled with the fair trade logo (seen above). Fair trade organizations make sure that fair trade businesses promote these practices (this information was taken from Wikipedia:

  • Alleviating poverty among producers and their communities
  • Transparency and accountability for fair and respectful businesses policies
  • Building workers’ independence
  • Paying workers a fair price
  • Protecting the environment
  • Paying and treating men and women equally
  • Providing a safe working environment for workers

Shopping for fair trade items is really simple. Just look for the label. If it’s there you know that the workers who grew your coffee, harvested your bananas, or wove your basket were treated ethically and paid a good wage. Fair trade items usually cost more so why buy them? Well, as a follower of Jesus, I believe that God has placed His image on every human being.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

Jesus also taught that the way that I treat others reflects the way that I treat Him.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” Matthew 25:34-40

I may not be standing right next to that person, but when I purchase a t-shirt made by a poor, hungry sweatshop worker, I am promoting a system that keeps that person downtrodden. Obviously, we can’t always know how the products we buy were made, but when there is a choice to purchase a product knowing that the person was treated fairly and paid well…to me there really isn’t a choice. If the item costs too much, maybe I don’t really need it or maybe I can cut something else out of my life to make sure that the dollars I spend are helping, rather than harming, others.

What I love about the whole fair trade movement is that is is a partnership among groups of people who normally exist very separate from one another: Christians working with Muslims working with environmentalist hippies working with businessmen working with farmers. That’s just incredible! Can’t you just see the kingdom of heaven moving and shaking, bringing different people together to serve the weak and hurting in the world?!

In the coming weeks, I will write more about specific items that can be purchased via fair trade.

Learn more about or shop fair trade:

Global Exchange

Fair Trade Federation

Equal Exchange

Ten Thousand Villages

A Greater Gift

Canaan Fair Trade