Is Organic, Fair-Trade Chocolate Worth the Money?

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I just turned 40 last week. I noticed a common denominator among the many gifts I received – almost all contained some sort of dark chocolate bar with notes like “You don’t have to share this!” and “I hope you like the scarf. I knew you’d like the chocolate!” When I turn down a piece of dark chocolate during a work meeting, my coworkers ask if I am feeling okay. So all of the evidence suggests that I am a chocolate lover.
As an admirer of chocolate and a nutritionist, I enjoy reading research about the health benefits of dark chocolate of which there are many (thankfully!). But where does this chocolate come from? At Zing, we have given this issue much thought, and have made very deliberate decisions about the source of our chocolate. We use Organic, Fair Trade dark chocolate from Peru. Sounds impressive, right? Well, actually it is impressive so let me fill you in on what that means. Most chocolate sold in the U.S. comes from cocoa farms in Africa and South America where farmers work in unsafe conditions, receive below poverty wages, and have their health compromised by pesticide use. Many of them are children under age 14 who are forced to work and are denied education. Imagine your favorite twelve year old slaving for many hours a day in the hot sun for little or no pay. How awful that every pleasurable bite of chocolate we take may contribute to another’s suffering. It’s sad, but true. Many cocoa plantations have an adverse impact on the environment as well. The problem is that cocoa is a rainforest plant that grows in shady conditions surrounded by a high biodiversity. But now, hybrid varieties are being grown on cleared land and in full sun. While this will give higher short term yields, the soil quickly becomes degraded and the lifespan of plants can be cut from 75 or 100 years, or even less than 30. When the trees die, the farmers must clear more rainforest to plant cocoa. Save the rainforest? This one is a no-brainer. With looming global warming and the loss of this habitat, we have no choice but to change our chocolate-buying habits. The chocolate we source at Zing is grown in the rainforest in a sustainable way. It is organic so the farm workers are not exposed to pesticides. There are age restrictions on workers so children cannot be employed, and the workers have fair working conditions and are paid fair wages. We pay more for our chocolate, but this money protects children and helps families avoid poverty. There are agencies like Equal Exchange who monitor the farms in Peru that we use for our chocolate so we can be assured that the standards we expect are being met. It’s very important to us that when you bite into one of our decadent bars (including my new favorite – our dark chocolate hazelnut bar), you know you’re doing a great thing – for both your body and the planet! Zing is one of very few bars out there that has taken this extra step to make the world a better place. So enjoy without guilt, chocolate lovers. And this 40 year-old chocoholic will too.