Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Great (chocolate) Debate. (VeganMoFo day 30 - the end is neigh.)

With all of the troubles in the world of chocolate - child labor, unsustainable agricultural practices, unfair purchase prices, animal testing - I'm often in a stupid conundrum when I want to do something as simple as, say, bake chocolate chip cookies. Actually chocolate chips are probably the easiest chocolate product to find in vegan, fair trade, organic, and otherwise non-offensive varieties - even if stupid old Key Foods did start including "milk ingredient" in their generic semi-sweet chips recently.

Where I really run into problems is in doing something like making fudge. My issue lies with two main product groups: 1) unsweetened baking chocolate, and 2) cocoa.

In the baking chocolate arena, there are two main contenders.

Baker's semi-sweet chunks and squares, and their unsweetened squares, are vegan ingredient-wise. And once the little natural grocery is closed in my neighborhood (after 9pm), it's usually all I can get my hands on. However, Baker's is actually a brand of Kraft. And until today I've been under the impression that Kraft was owned by Altria, who is actually just a rebranded Phillip Morris. However, now that I'm researching it again, I find that in 2007 there was a "spin out of the Kraft Foods subsidiary", and supposedly that means that Altria no longer has an interest in Kraft. To which I say, wha??? Apparently what it means is that Kraft is now an independent publicly held entity. Now, whether or not that makes them now a good company is a different discussion entirely, but at least it means that you're no longer supporting Phillip Morris when you purchase Kraft products or any of their brands, so I suppose that's something.

Then we have Green & Black's, who makes various organic and fair trade chocolate products, many of which are vegan - but also many products which don't have any particularly special characteristics, other than being really good chocolate. They started out as a tiny awesome little company - the name itself is actually a testimony to their original ethics and intentions. They were then, however, bought by Cadbury-Schweppes. Then Cadbury and Schweppes de-mergered; Cadbury, though, is still the largest confectionery manufacturer in the world. They've pledged to run Green & Black's as a separate entity, whatever that means... It does mean indisputably, though, that by purchasing Green & Black's you are also supporting all manner of other candies that don't meet various ethical standards.


What I haven't mentioned here is that I'm also quite picky: it has to taste good, and I don't put up with any hippie ass shit. No carob, nothing sweetened with sucanant or brown rice syrup or any of that crap. All I want is chocolate that's organic and fair trade, and contains little or nothing other than cocoa and cocoa butter, maybe a dash of soy lecithin, and if it's semi-sweet then some cane sugar. Why is that so hard?

As far as cocoa, I've got no leads at all. When I go to the regular grocery I have one choice and one alone: Hershey's. Do I even need to tell you that I don't particularly want to buy Hershey cocoa? They are the largest chocolate company in the US, and they put butterfat in freaking everything. It makes me crazy. (As a bit of an odd aside: I've been to Hershey, PA - twice. It's not my fault; it was middle school.)

I can't seem to find a good answer to this search. I came across this page which includes a guide to ethical chocolate, but it's for Australia. It also rubs me a little bit wrong: it strikes me as kind of sadly hilarious and all too ironic that they're encouraging people to support Starbucks and Target when they focus on abuses of child labor.

So, does anyone have any answers here? It seems like it's yet another case of finding the least of a hundred evils. I have so many rules, and I really can't find a chocolate product that adheres to them all. Of course, what it all comes down to is that chocolate is supposed to be a luxury item; it is ludicrous to have it lining the shelves of every grocery store and quick-e-mart. That's the result of the masses wanting the luxuries for cheap, as were so many things. It's related to the fact that there's no reason for a hamburger to cost 59 cents... but that's a different rant for a different day.

There is, to my knowledge, no such thing as the independent, privately owned, all vegan all organic all fair trade chocolate company. So really it comes down to the question, what compromise do I make? Is it better to buy conventionally produced and traded chocolate from Kraft, who is now an independent public entity? Or to buy organic but not necessarily fair trade chocolate from Green & Black's, when in reality I'm only supporting Cadbury who makes a wide range of conventional chocolate products? Do I purchase whatever I can get (that's vegan, of course) at my locally owned vegetarian health food store, rather than buying other products that may be available at a massive chain grocery like Whole Foods?

And to think, all I want to do is make fudge.

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