Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fair Trade Chocolate Tasting and Seminar

There's nothing like hearing someone on your side trying to inspire you to keep doing what you're doing. Tonight we had Molly Zeff from Equal Exchange Coop talk to us about "Coffee, Chocolate and Why Fair Trade is a Way to Go Green." Equal Exchange began more than twenty years ago as a big risk taken by its three founders, who met at a New England food co-op, and now works with 40 farmer co-operatives in 20 countries. They bring some of the highest quality, organic, Fair Trade products to people in the US and their coffee, chocolate and cocoa have received awards and/or been nationally ranked.

Fair Trade, Molly explained, is a way of doing business, that aims to offer small farmers access to the world marketplace, provide consumers with products that support their values and advance social, economic and environmental goals. Equal Exchange frequently pays above the minimum Fair Trade price, which is above the market price, and guarantees pre-harvest funding of up to 60% of the final price, a pair of actions that give small farmers more income and allow them to make all-important long-term planning instead of focusing on immediate needs.

On the green side, Fair Trade labeling includes a number of green requirements such as the regulation of pesticides, waste disposal and more. Equal Exchange, it turns out, goes beyond these requirements and their products are almost entirely organic -- meaning no chemical pesticides or herbicides, the use of natural composting instead of chemical fertilizers and using diversity of crops to keep pests away. This is good stewardship for both the soil, the local biodiversity and the workers.

Coffee cultivation has been linked to deforestation because much of the mass-produced coffee is so-called "sun-grown". Equal Exchange, however, works with small farmers who tend to use "diversified shade", which not only preserves plant/tree diversity, it's good for songbird diversity as well.

I suspect most of us were persuaded that Equal Exchange was onto something good with all this, but the surprise came about 2/3 of the way through her presentation: most major chocolate companies use cocoa tainted by child labor and even child slavery. It's the chocolate industry's dirty little secret and you can find out more in the documentary Molly mentioned The Dark Side of Chocolate. As with any other social and environmental problem, it's up to us to educate ourselves, so see how your favorite chocolate company scores on this scorecard. According to the scorecard, there has been progress since the problem came to light in 2001, so keep those protest cards and letters going, and keep voting with your dollar.

For the tasting portion, Molly passed around two different bowls of chocolates: the Organic Dark Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt and the Organic Mint Chocolate with a Delicate Crunch. We were encouraged to inhale each bowl to first take in the aroma, to admire the texture of the chocolate and finally to taste it. She gave us each a sheet to record our notes. I was used to trying to wax on about the various flavors of some new wine, but not about chocolate, but here we were tasting chocolate worth raving about. Both chocolates had unique flavors with several undertones that lingered afterwards. Nice.

Because the Ecolympics is about galvanizing individual action, to her enormous credit, Molly spent the last part of her presentation rallying us to keep going with our own actions. The kicker was that she got us to go around the room and admit to a single action we were prepared to do after her presentation. It was great to hear such a collection of actions that really was adding up to making a difference.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the invitation to speak. I was impressed and inspired by your students - they asked countless great questions and are clearly committed to making a difference through their individual actions. Also, a big thank you for organizing the BU Ecolympics and empowering your students to change their environmental impact! I hope you inspire other campuses to do the same. I enjoyed the visit to BU and hope Equal Exchange can come again.

    Molly Zeff