A couple months of staying at home, and our economy went from great to awful. It doesn’t really surprise any of us Americans, does it? We all know the economy must keep moving to stay strong. If it isn’t growing, we call it a recession.
Our Fragile Economy
Capitalism is as American as apple pie and baseball. We all learned in school how the market works itself out; how, if you charge too much for something, people won’t buy as much, and if you don’t pay your workers enough, they’ll find other jobs. Yet, a few months ago, when according to the stock market, our economy was booming, and unemployment was at an all-time low, lots of American double-income families were having trouble paying their bills, and now with two months of this COVID-19 pandemic behind us, many of us Americans are in dire straits. The stock market AND the richest Americans seem to be doing just fine. Forbes reports (5/23/2020), “The World’s 25 Richest Billionaires Have Gained Nearly $255 Billion In Just Two Months”. Doesn’t it make you wonder… is this the best we can do?
OK, so what are the alternatives to our current system of economics and politics? People talk about Socialism, and oh boy, does that create divisions! We all seem to have our preconceived notions of what that means, from some sort of Nirvana all the way to no-freedom dictatorships like North Korea and Russia. Maybe you yourself are, as you read these words, defending or defaming Socialism! OK- so first off, Karl Marx was a thinker, and had some modern thoughts for his era… before he died in 1843. Some of his ideas didn’t end up working in practice, and some of his ideas do. We have collectively experienced much since then, here in the U.S, and in other countries too.
We are an evolving species, and beyond the Darwinian type of evolution, we are evolving our society with politics and economics. These are human inventions, and like machines, manufactured materials, and the internet, they keep evolving. We have done amazing things and will continue to do amazing things. We humans are resourceful and smart, and we can and will do better than this economic and political system that we currently have.
Let’s take a quick detour into plastics. There is a fairly famous quote from the 1967 movie, ‘The Graduate’, in which Mr. Maguire is telling Benjamin about what options he has for a job now that he has graduated from college. “There is a great future in plastics.” This quote got it’s fame because in 1967 (a year after I was born… and I’m not that old!) plastics weren’t really much of a thing, and if only we’d have paid attention to Mr. Maguire, we’d have invested in plastic, and be loaded now. It really is an amazing material; cheap, versatile, and has allowed us to create so many things that wouldn’t be possible without it. But here we are in 2020, and plastic waste is everywhere. It’s in our drinking water, there are huge islands in the middle of the oceans made of plastic waste, our landfills are full of it, we see it along the highways, river beds, and we see plastic bags blown into trees when we’re hiking way out in the woods. And it lasts a long time, without rusting or rotting. Though plastics are still a valuable material to us, it is also a great health risk to us and the natural world all around us, and we need to rethink how we use this manufactured material.
Capitalism has it’s value, but it too has become a great health risk to our society. It has given us some great efficiencies, and amazing technologies that might not have come about without it… or at least not as quickly. We have lots of modern comforts, and many time saving inventions. But despite all our modern time saving efficiencies, we are working longer for less. And there is a much bigger divide in our wealth. Our priorities have skewed, living in this system of ours. It may be time we re-think about our government, and our economy.
Maybe the idealists of the world will say plastic and capitalism should be tossed, and let’s start from scratch. Well, we know that ain’t gonna happen. And most of us think that’s not the answer anyway! Plastics and capitalism have given us great things, even if at a great cost. Do you really think if we started again from scratch, we wouldn’t make other huge and painful mistakes?
Or maybe a better path is Social Evolution. There are modern societies whose politics and economic policies are considering things like happiness and poverty over GDP. Finland, Germany, France, for instance. An economist from Japan a few years ago came up with a new economic measure of Gross Domestic Happiness. The new Prime Minister of New Zealand released their new budget that is focused on the wellbeing of their citizens rather than GDP (article), so we aren’t venturing into completely uncharted waters here. And if you’re thinking I’m spouting hippie tree-hugger B.S., do me a favor, and write down a list of reasons why focusing on our citizens’ wellbeing before GDP is no way to run a country.
Finding Optimism in the Time of COVID 19
This is a painful time, with a whole lot of loss, and the numbers of infections and deaths keep getting bigger. As I write this, the official number of deaths in the U.S. is nearing 100,000, and though we are reopening some states, the end is not yet in sight. Our economic figures are awful too, looking like bigger economic losses than during the great depression, and higher unemployment. It feels important to watch the news, as there is always breaking news (I think the ‘BREAKING NEWS’ bars are now just fixtures on all news channels) and the news outlets seem to be asking us to pick sides– especially if you are looking at social media.
I miss being out in the world. I miss going out for a bite to eat or a beer and striking up a conversation with someone I don’t know. I miss hugging my friends and family, and sharing a laugh with people I work with.
I have also talked to some friends and family who are finding positive effects from the pandemic. One friend of mine told me in late March how, he was embarrassed that he was enjoying himself so much. He is away from home much of the time for work, and now he is home with his wife and step-kids, and his older kids are home from college and staying with them too. They’ve dusted off their pottery wheel, working in the yard, playing card games… they all are getting to know each other again. They are re-discovering what is really important to them.
Our Values and Business
I am also finding opportunities I don’t usually have. For one, I am re-working a sales strategy for my little business. And I have had some quiet moments to reflect on why I wanted to go into business for myself, and give up my salary and benefits package. I am remembering wanting to do my little part in making the world a better place for my kids and future generations- I want to feel good about what I do every day. Now more than ever, it is important to me to foster relationships with other small businesses, while paying less attention to the big guys who seem to make all the rules. Enough. I feel jaded by corporate America. As businesses grow, they often seem to lose what made them great in the first place. As they grow, employees often transform from people into numbers that drive efficiency metrics.
Corporations are only beholden to their stock holders’ bottom line. People created corporations, but they seem to have evolved on their own, and are now controlling our political system, and are setting our economic policy. Jimmy Carter said a few years ago “…when I ran against incumbent President Gerald Ford, you know how much money we raised? None.” (CNN interview with Piers Morgan, 2/21/2013). Now corporate sponsored lobby groups fund political campaigns that can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Corporations were not created to run the country, so let’s take back control. And while we’re at it, maybe we can teach them how to have a moral compass. Corporations aren’t going anywhere, so through policy changes, if we choose, we can regulate morals right into corporations by creating incentives that reward ethical behavior. Right now, with big business, money motivates… Maybe us small businesses can remind the big guys why we keep popping up. If small business is the backbone of America, we need to do some core strengthening!
Who Does Our Country Serve?
There is a trap that we all can fall into, and that is believing that political and economic policies are bigger than us… or have different goals than we do. They don’t– political goals need to align with our own, and economic policy should benefit each of us. Some of us were even fooled into thinking trickle-down economics is a good policy for folks other than the most affluent! Remember that these SOCIAL STRUCTURES are there BY US and FOR US. Economics and Politics are Social Sciences, because they are there to benefit society. Bearing that in mind, what do we want for ourselves? What do YOU want for your friends and families? What do YOU want for YOUR country?
Opportunity Shows Up in the Strangest Ways
We are in a pandemic of historical scope. Our world has been turned upside down. Our normal is being shattered. It is impossible for the people of the U.S. to ignore what’s happening, and so let’s keep our eyes open, because we are never going backward, to that normal we had all gotten used to. Drastic change in our whole world is inevitable.
One option: we can, collectively, take back control of our America. Take this opportunity to think about what is important to you, and not just what’s important to your tribe (your social group/political party/trade organization/etc.). And imagine what an ideal society would look like to YOU. Forget about our deep divisions for this important moment. It doesn’t matter that society will never meet your ideal. Your ideal society looks different than my ideal society because we are all (thankfully) different. Our ideal societies may be more similar than you think, especially if we are honest with ourselves about what our ideals really are- as individuals, not tribes.
What do you miss the most? Those are the things that are important. Is it just money? Power? Or is it those connections you make with other Americans? As we re-shape our society, and go into election season, PLEASE, don’t forget what is most important to you. Remember what kind of society YOU want to live in. What are YOUR values? Change can be painful, but in the long run, it isn’t as painful as apathy. We have the power, as a society, and as individual members of our society, to direct change, starting right now.
A Call to Action
I had a Cacao ceremony all by myself the other day. I was curious, as I’d been reading about them, and being such a huge fan of cacao myself, I decided to try it. The idea behind the ceremony is to open yourself up so that you can hear what the Cacao plant medicine has to say. I prepared my ceremonial Cacao (instructions below) and sat down to sip it, as I reflected on what I have to be grateful for. Life and love, and for all of our relationships, big and small.
The drink itself is surprisingly good. I didn’t add anything sweet to the mixture, just a little bit of sage and cardamom, and so it was a little bitter. The flavor of cacao was so perfect for the moment. I sipped my drink over the next 10 or 15 minutes, and I felt energized as if I drank a couple of cups of espresso. I also felt peaceful and happy- I wasn’t sure how much of this was the drink, and how much was my preparation for this personal ceremony.
Cacao ceremonies have been going on for a couple of thousand years. They appear to be entirely different now than I imagine they were millennia ago.
Today’s Cacao ceremony often involves a communal gathering with a sacred circle and music. Like the Japanese Tea Ceremony, the thoughtfulness and tradition in the growing and processing of the beans, as well as the ceremony itself, differentiate ceremonial Cacao from cacao paste.
I had reached out to Serap Kara, who leads Cacao Mama. To her, the ceremony is all about the Spirit of Cacao, with whom she has befriended, and who has become her teacher. Above all, she said, Cacao is her center.
For her students, this ceremony the training has been a confidence builder, and a way to discover their connection with nature. One student said “One of the most important things I understood was simplicity, and allowing space for things to happen.”, and another, “The training felt very safe, warm and open and the atmosphere was very allowing, everybody could be themselves.”
Serap holds ceremonies and training, which until recently have consisted of only women. She had recently opened it to men, and her exercises will now include about 1/3 males. “My intention is to create a safe space to reconnect with Spirit – Plant Spirit, Earth Spirit, Nature Spirit. I carry codes of freedom inside, offering avenues into the unseen worlds.” She is very connected to the Spirit of Cacao, and is being asked to spend some time focusing on the planting of trees, to give back to Source.
During my solo ceremony, I felt like walking. I walked down to the beach and watched the ocean, and I thought about the power of water. I watched the seagulls flying low and looking for food- there were so many! And the little sandpipers running back and forth, following the lapping ocean, looking for what little morsels it brought. Then I thought about the abundance of life- from microscopic organisms to insects and plankton, to these sea birds, and us humans- how much life is happening right here in my little slice of life is astounding and having a whole earth full of it… well, it’s amazing.
I also thought about how much greed has been determining our politics and our policies around the world. And I thought about how the drivers of that greed come from a preconception that we are all separate, because understanding that we are all so connected would surely lead us to be more cooperative with people and the rest of nature, rather than being so competitive.
And I thought how it might be nice if we could all take some time to open our hearts and feel connected with nature all around us. Maybe Cacao ceremonies are the perfect thing to help us notice.
What Is Ceremonial Cacao?
Ceremonial Cacao is made from ground up Cacao beans. Traditionally, after fermenting and drying the beans, they’d be crushed into nibs and winnowed in a big bowl. The winnowing process involves tossing the crushed beans into the air, letting the wind take away all of the light husk, and allowing the heavier pieces fall back into the bowl. Then these pieces are crushed with blunt sticks until it turns into a paste. The paste is then added to hot water and poured back and forth between clay cups until the liquid becomes frothy.
When making ceremonial Cacao today, you need to find Cacao paste (also called cacao liquor) that has not been heated to more than 200°f and has not been through any chemical processing, such as alkalization. Generally, if it’s named Cacao, you are ok. If it’s called cocoa, maybe not.
At Kakosi, we sell ceremonial cacao that is grown and harvested by small communities of farmers using sustainable methods. When you use or enjoy ceremonial cacao, you can trust the thoughtfulness of the processes that helped produce it. Click here to get to our shop page. To make the Ceremonial drink, add hot water to the paste, and if you like, some spices. Some folks also add a sweetener, such as honey I found it easier to grind up the chunks of cacao before mixing with the hot water. I added sage and cardamom, which I think is a delicious combination. I have a little battery powered frother which worked very well for mixing. You can also use a whisk, or a blender. Keep a spoon handy while drinking too, as the solids tend to settle in your cup.
You may have come across the fair trade logo and the slightly higher price of the associated chocolate bars. The fairtrade badged goods have certainly created a market of goods in the US, but there’s one question that really perplexes consumers: is fair trade really fair to small cacao farmers that have a family to take care of?
Why was fair trade set up in the first place?
Fair trade was introduced with a simple end goal in mind: to provide better prices, working conditions along with sustainable production and fair trading terms for producers who work in the developing countries.
What is the Issue?
Many farmers cannot even pay the fees to acquire the Fair Trade certification, even as cooperatives. Farmers who can afford to pay, hope to get a better minimum price for their produce, so they can sustain production. Another question that comes to mind is the assurance of good labor practices when farmers do obtain the certification.
Issues on the Farmer’s End
There have been cases documented by journalists and researchers that the farmers who have fairtrade certification, are using unwholesome labor practices including child labor and unfair compensation, among several other things. These instances were found in countries in West Africa and they only lead to one fact: there needs to be greater supervision and monitoring for the certification to be of use.
But the farmers are not to blame completely.
The fair trade hasn’t been all that fair to farmers and their families as well. The certifications claim that they take the rural farmer out of poverty, but in all actuality,they are not as effective as one would want them to be. Fairtrade International, for example, has had a calculated impact of just $0.04 per person per day according to the Fairtrade International (2015/16 report). This is not enough as the average farmer has close to 5 dependents.
Now We Come to the Supply Side of Things
The fact is that a bar of chocolate that you see in the grocery store with the fair trade badge doesn’t have all ingredients fairly traded. Although fair trade certification was introduced to make production of coffee, cacao and other commodities socially sustainable,the truth is far from that
This means that only items that can be sourced on fair trade, like sugar and vanilla, will be traded fairly. There are vegetable fats, emulsifiers, milk and other ingredients that are used in chocolates too.
If you look at the back of a bar of Dairy Milk chocolate from Cadbury, it says 70% fair trade ingredients used. That’s not the last of it.
Cacao is a commodity, and like all commodities, it is bound to get mixed with other commodities (which include non-fair-traded ones) in the supply chain process. Mass Balance serves to balance this issue but that’s also not a viable solution. Mass balance means that the equal amount of cacao beans need to be purchased by big manufacturers for fair and non-fair trade.
It still doesn’t justify the use of the beans in the bar. Who is to say that the cacao beans used are fair traded on not (as they are essentially “mixed”)!
What is the Impact
The farmers who have bought the certification are the ones that suffer because they may not get the full representation in the bar of chocolate that you bought with that fair trade logo on it. With clever marketing, big giants like Cadbury and Mondelez are making it appear to customers that the traditional chocolate manufacturing is just as ethical as the fair traded one.
Why would consumers pay more for the same bar of chocolate then?
This is one of the major issues why fair trade seems to be in question: it impacts the bottom line of the poorer commodity farmers (including cacao).
Delicious and healthy bite sized treats- enjoy these in the afternoon when you’re feeling a little sluggish.
Millions of people all over the world consume chocolate in different forms and shapes. Cacao is an essential ingredient in chocolate manufacturing. It is essential for the livelihood of millions of farmers and others growing the valuable crop on small plots of land.
As cacao is a sensitive and delicate crop, farmers need to protect it from pests and the weather. With proper care, the trees start yielding pods at the fifth year, and they continue to do so for ten more years.
Latin America, West Africa, and Southeast Asia are the leading producers of Cacao in the world. And the international price of cocoa has been on the upsurge due to the phenomenal demand for cocoa products.
Organic and Fair-Trade Cacao
Buying cacao that is certified organic and fairly traded is one of the ways that farmers can benefit. Even though the cost to consumers is a little more, you not just get a higher quality product but a better tasting one too. The organic certification ensures that no genetic modifications are present and that harmful chemicals are not used in its cultivation.
Fairly traded cacao ensures that the farmers and the communities that are involved in its trade get a fair part of the business. As the demand for chocolate continues to grow, so will the challenges faced by farmers and others involved in this trade.
Sustainable Production of Cacao
The growing demand for sustainable production has helped develop new and innovative cultivation methods. Diversified growing conditions have helped restore growing regions of cacao to good ecological health.
The cacao farming families that have started using new methods of cultivation have been able to reinvigorate their farms. This has helped increase production. The cacao products that the farmers sell is natural and organic. Products that are natural don’t use artificial sweeteners or flavors. This makes the product simple, delicious, and healthy.
A Family Business
Cacao farming is labor intensive. Often, the entire family is involved in tree and farm management, harvesting and drying. Regular inspection and monitoring of the trees need to be done to ensure that pests and diseases don’t affect them.
The trees are usually harvested every two weeks for up to eight months in a year. The pods are split open and the beans removed. The beans are then dried before they are sold. The cacao farmer sells the organic bean to us and this enables us to make the most delicious chocolate products for you.
For more information on how farmers sell their cacao, contact Kakosi Chocolate at 617-335-6475.
I have the best mom ever, and she is talented. She’s been working on a good skin cream for a while, and this one rocks. It feels so go, and smells wonderful. It’s pretty easy to make too- try it out, you’love it!
In West Africa, climate change decreases cocoa farming productivity and has shocked the chocolate industry.
In the cocoa industry, the steady and slow onslaught of climate change will compound an already challenging demand/supply equation. As temperatures increase by ~2C through to the year 2050 within the largest cocoa growing countries, including Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, vast cocoa farmland areas are going to become less productive, according to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture.
The quantity of land in which cocoa optimally grows will consolidate inside fewer spaces at greater altitudes, in which temperatures are going to stay most conducive to the growth of cocoa trees. The Intergovernmental Panel upon Climate Change also contends that these higher temperatures won’t be accompanied by a rise in rainfall. The consequences will include plant starvation and moisture loss. All in all, 90 percent of the locations inside Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana studied by the IPCC are predicted to become less appropriate for growing cocoa, and thereby less productive.
Chocolate candy manufacturers and cocoa processors already are acting to improve the situation with cocoa farming. This is especially so within the West African nations that are key to this industry.
Hershey is dedicated to sourcing 100 percent of its cocoa from sustainable growers by 2020. Sustainable growers, here, refers to farms that are certified by 3rd party institutions to have the greatest international standards for farming, environmental, and labor practices. The move will result in added yearly costs in Hershey’s P&L to the tune of 9-digits, or more than 1 percent of net sales.
In conjunction with that dedication, Hershey invests in modernizing cocoa farming within the area. The modernization strategy involves a number of initiatives, like working with local growers to improve farming methods, offering mobile phones to growers as a source of real-time data, as well as planting more cocoa trees.
For a budget-driven and publicly-held company such as Hershey, the idea of heavily investing in a project without any related revenue growth is as unappealing as they come. Hershey will have to face the challenge of climate change at some point though, whether with investments now or greater cocoa prices later.
For more information on the challenges cacao farmers face with climate change, contact Kakosi Chocolate at 617-335-6475.