On Friday I came home from work to find a visitor sitting and chatting on the porch with my partner. We grabbed beers from the fridge and gave a tour of the garden and how it’s developing. Our friend was fascinated by the quinoa and amaranth seedlings, and gave us some advice on pruning a few grape vines planted by the previous house owner. But that’s not the story. When I finally came inside, happy, chatty, and a little full of beer, I found a parcel sitting on the counter for me – express mail from California. Inside was one pound of organic, fair-trade, gluten-free, vegan semisweet chocolate chips that I had won in a giveaway on the Gone Pie Vegan Bakery blog. What a delightful Friday afternoon!
Now, gluten-free is something I care more or less about in my own life – though I think it’s worthwhile and thoughtful to have recipes handy for treating friends with gluten intolerance or Celiac disease – but fair trade is something I care very much about.
Many of our food purchases, and consumer purchases in general, have a production and distribution chain that is hidden from our view. We may enjoy buying pre-wrapped candy chocolate bars, baking chocolate, or the cheapest cocoa powder available for baking, but never for a minute be aware that on the other end of that product, child slavery was implicated. And yet, buying chocolate that doesn’t have the ‘fair-trade’ label involves in most cases exactly that.
To say it even more clearly: if you buy cheap chocolate from grocery stores and large American chocolate companies, you ARE buying slave labour products. We may pride ourselves that slavery was outlawed, and yet the capitalist reality is selling slavery to us – and we’re still buying it.
Once you know this, how can there be any way that you can continue to buy cheap chocolate? How can there be any compromise in you to settle for goods produced with slave labour, when you could pay more for fair-trade certified chocolate? Though one might try to justify it by saying, “I can’t afford fair-trade,” how can this be any sort of excuse when chocolate is in no way essential to our diets, but by any account an indulgence? Last year I made $17,000 CDN for myself and my partner to live on – and we either did without chocolate and cocoa, or bought it fair trade. If we can do it, you can too.
It surprises me that more vegans don’t speak up for fair-trade and call out human rights abuses on the cocoa trail. Justice for all is what veganism is all about. It’s no good if you make delicious ‘animal-free’ chocolate indulgences if at the same time the chocolate was harvested on the shoulders of abused and trafficked children in West Africa. Veganism can’t stop at ending cruelty to animals, but must demand an end also to slavery, exploitation, and racist imperialism. Otherwise what good is our stance for freedom and justice?
So it was with great delight, gratefulness and appreciation that I set about concocting a vegan chocolate cheesecake to try some of these fair-trade chocolate chips. I ended up modifying a recipe I found on VegWeb.com which calls for whole ingredients instead of the too-common reliance on processed vegan cream cheese substitutes. The chocolate was lovely and gourmet inside the double-chocolate cheesecake, satisfying the sophisticated palate of my partner and my own less-distinguished tastebuds (look, it’s true – unlike this person, I didn’t grow up with a pastry chef as a best friend). A much more explicit and effusive review of the properties of this Sweet Earth chocolate can be found courtesy of A Soy Bean blog.