top of page


Martin = Gina

God is = Good

Strawberry = Banana

Cold = Chocolate

Some partnerships are legendary and uneasily separated. In my mind: holidays and cold weather go hand in hand with chocolate. I am not alone. According to a study on the consumer patterns of chocolate, chocolate consumption increases in the winter. In the same research it states that white people consume more chocolate than other racial groups, and the western part of the United States eats more chocolate than the east coast. Based on these facts, I would say that in winter, my chocolate consumption mirrors a white person that lives in Portland lol!

For me, chocolate is an integral part of a whole-foods plant based diet. Chocolate is sort of a fruit since cacao is grown on cacao trees, right? Well, technically cacao is the "fruit of a bean of a seed that comes from a nut." I mostly consume chocolate in the form of cacao powder: Navitas Organics Cacao Powder. It is SDA Organic, Fair Trade, Non-GMO, Kosher, vegan, sugar, and gluten-free. My favorite beverage combination is homemade peanut butter and homemade cashew milk blended with cacao and maca powder. Both cacao and maca are “superfoods.” 

Cacao is considered a superfood due to its mood-boosting and heart-healthy properties. Cacao contains 300 identifiable compounds. These compounds include high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, beneficial amino acids, and phytonutrients. The critical components of cacao for my body (since I have to watch out for anemia) are magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, beta-carotene, and omega-six fatty acids. The euphoric aspect of cacao is due to anandamide (a natural mood enhancer) and tryptophan (a natural antidepressant). Cacao also contains arginine, which has aphrodisiac properties. Now, for those mindful about weight gain, no worries here as there is chromium in cacao which aids weight loss.

Although I love a fair trade cacao powder for my day to day lifestyle, when the holidays come I am consuming CHOCOLATE - in the form of bars, cookies, chips, and drinks.


Chocolate and Slavery

There is nothing like being outside on a chilly day with a friend and some form of chocolate. Whether a hike with nuts and chocolate chips, a mocha coffee/hot chocolate date, or a Valentine’s day chocolate tour (literally one of my favorite DC Valentine’s dates), I love it all. Then, don't even get me started on gifting someone with a box of chocolate! The options of chocolate were endless for me until I learned it was not that simple…

To graduate from pastry school, L’Academie De Cuisine (RIP) in 2011, I had to do an apprenticeship. I chose to do mine at a chocolate restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It was there that I learned the beauty and complexity of chocolate, but also stumbled onto the harm of the chocolate industry as a whole. 

To put it bluntly, chocolate is a form of modern-day slavery. This slavery is in the form of child labor in mostly West Africa. The children are generally between the ages of 12 and 16 (although some as young as 5 were found). These children are trafficked from their homes and communities - some abducted and others sold by relatives - and may never see their families again. The children are usually on the cacao farms before sunrise and are out there until evening. They are exposed to harmful chemicals and forced to use machetes, dangerous knives, and chainsaws. The children are forced to carry things that are too large for them, climb trees... their conditions violate “international labor laws and a UN convention on eliminating the worst forms of child labor.” The children are not provided proper nutrition (limited to bananas and corn paste), beds to sleep, or sanitary restrooms. According to Food is Power, “Approximately 1.8 million children in the Ivory Coast and Ghana may be exposed to the worst forms of child labor on cocoa farms.” These children are called “Chocolate Slaves” due to severe beatings, being forced to stay against their will (dangerous escape is attempted by just a few), and excruciating work without pay. 

To learn more about the child labor that creates chocolate, The Dark Side of Chocolate is a must-see documentary. There are also a few facts about modern slavery at many Civil Rights Museums. For example, when I visited the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta, the modern-day slavery exhibit from 2018 featured chocolate. The Washington Post has also been a source of information in the reporting of chocolate child labor and what companies are (not) doing to fight it. The most enlightening article is “Cocoa’s child laborers: Mars, Nestlé and Hershey pledged nearly two decades ago to stop using cocoa harvested by children. Yet much of the chocolate you buy still starts with child labor.”


What’s Next? 

“Put simply, when the [certification] auditors came, the children were ushered from the fields, and when interviewed, the farmers denied they were ever there,” 

  - According to a 2017 Nestlé report (Cocoa’s child laborers)

Because the articles on Shalom & Polepole are intended to pique interest and motivate further investigation, I highly suggest digging into why it’s hard for big chocolate corporations to completely eradicate child labor in the chocolate industry. It’s a complex issue, but just know that majority of the commercial chocolate we eat (Mars, Nestle, Hershey, etc.) cannot deny or claim that childhood labor isn’t a part of their farming process.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a direct way for us consumers to know that chocolate didn’t come from child labor either. Even with the labels Fair Trade, UTZ, and Rainforest Alliance Certification, there is no guarantee that children aren't exploited due mainly to the rare, sporadic visits from auditors. There is also the issue that many of the big corporations cannot track where their chocolate is harvested. 

About eight years ago, Hershey’s promised to source 100 percent of it's certified cocoa for their global chocolate product lines by this year, 2020. And while this is great, there are no guarantees. Prayerfully, it will happen (there have been many broken promises). One solution to child labor is to pay the farmers more - advocates of Fair Trade state that by reducing poverty, we potentially reduce child labor/slavery. 

What we do know is that cases of child labor haven’t been found in Latin America - coincidentally, majority of organic chocolate is found there. Food is Power created a list of recommended chocolates. Most, if not all, of the chocolates, are vegan as well. I am obsessed with the list because I refuse to spend “extra” money on a chocolate bar that won’t disclose it’s slavery practices. Another helpful list is from Slave Free Chocolate.

One standout brand that is genuinely making a difference in the anti-slavery movement is Tony’s Chocolonely. According to CNN, “by focusing on the fine details of its supply chain, Tony's Chocolonely says it traces the origin of the cocoa it buys -- all the way from the beans purchased directly from its farm cooperatives in West Africa to the finished product.” 

Overall, the chocolate industry is incredibly nuanced and terribly complicated. The industry's complexity trickles down to the chocolate-loving consumer, like myself. Sure we can all buy chocolate bars from businesses, like Tony’s or those on the lists, the organizations seeking to make a difference; there is also the option of purchasing fair-trade - hoping that somehow reducing the poverty of the farmer and the community will equate to the reduction of slavery. But it won't be long before you have to consider that chocolate syrup in your coffee, hot chocolate, or on top of your sundae - or what about the Hershey’s bar given out on holidays? Do you abstain? Potentially. Folks abstaining from chocolate is definitely a thing. 

Regardless of the method you use, if you want to consume, gift, or buy cacao (chocolate), it's essential to be aware of what you are (potentially) contributing to. On the other hand, as a shopper, let's avoid being bamboozled into “all-natural” products that demand more money but actually don’t guarantee anything. Many of the "pretty packaged/word wise" products aren’t healthier, less artificial, more sustainable, or providing fairer wages.  

The one request, though, is instead of gifting a big box of $20 chocolates - give a bar of the most responsible chocolate that you can find. Wrap it up and allow your friend to enjoy the bar like a Willy Wonka candy bar. It will be a gift that feels good in both the soul and in the tummy

Shalom, my friends. 


Edited by Ashley Yancey


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page