Guilt-free chocolate (for real, now)

I’m kind of partial to this post I wrote in response to Callebaut’s announcement of low-calorie, no-melt chocolate. I guess you could say I’m a chocolate purist. I’m also picky as hell – and yes, I do realize that it’s just my opinion and that you are welcome to yours. But, well, this is my blog and I’ll post whatever snarkiness I feel like, ya hear?

(Which is kind of funny in itself, because I’m infinitely nicer in this blog than I am in real life. Well-tempered? Some days.)

So in a time when everyone is concerned about where their food comes from, how does chocolate fit in? After all, the majority of cocoa is harvested using some form of slave or child labour. Egads. Never mind the calories (I’ve never been a fan of guilty calories, anyway) but moral guilt? Sure.

Well, that’s all the more reason to spend money on good chocolate. Chocolate that’s sourced ethically. Whether it’s fair trade, direct trade, organic, or whatever labels people have chosen to align themselves with, there are some companies out there who are working directly with farmers. I have grand plans of highlighting some of them over the next couple of weeks. Oh, what fun!

Why bother with artisan chocolate? Well, it means that the consumer can eat chocolate that’s been ethically sourced. Of course, that also means that you’re willing to pay a bit more for it – but the higher cost is some mixture of marketing, licensing (it ain’t cheap to get a fair trade label on a chocolate bar) and a reflection of the actual cost of producing food.

It’s about accountability. Since farmers are accountable to the chocolate buyer, the pickier the chocolate buyer is, the more care a farmer will take. The extra care is buoyed by the fact that the chocolate buyer pays more, and in most cases, works with the farmer to create better working conditions. It’s a win-win situation. And since the buyer has now invested time in purchasing the beans, you’d better believe that they’ll take extra care in processing the chocolate. They’ll baby the chocolate, take care to roast it to perfection (and not one second later), and follow every step to ensure that the consumer gets the best possible chocolate.

On a more holistic level, it means that you’re buying a product that was made with love. I’ve yet to meet anyone in the food business who is primarily driven by money. More often than not, choosing to work with food comes from a very primal place. You do it because you love it. You do it because you must.

And you can taste it in artisan chocolate. You can taste the hard work that the farmer put into it, the care that went into selecting the best beans, the attention to detail in every step of the processing. In all my talking with artisan chocolate makers, all of whom use slightly different processes, one common theme emerges: they unequivocally, absolutely love what they’re doing.

Contrast that with the mass chocolate market, where the goal is to make as much money as possible, with the cheapest ingredients possible. Farmers? Care? Love? What’s that? We’re talking about the bottom line, fillers, waxes and preservatives. And lots and lots of marketing so that the consumer can pay as little as possible for the lamest product possible.

And really, why? So that we can stuff our faces with a shadow of chocolate? No thanks.

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