we are what we eat


    It’s hard to write when you feel stupid.

    I’ve run up against something I didn’t know about that should have been on my radar. I’m deeply disturbed, convicted, and dumb.

    It’s also hard to write when you have too strong an agenda.

    I’m pissed. I want to preach, to rant, to tell everyone what they should do – not particularly compelling reading.

    About thirty minutes after I heard the symphony of trucks on Monday, I heard a report on Marketplace that disturbed me, to say the least. The story had to do with a lawsuit filed against Nestle, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland for their connection to child slavery on the cocoa farms in Ivory Coast. The suit is being brought on behalf of three boys who escaped the horror, with hopes that it will become a class action lawsuit to move these corporations beyond “studying the problem,” which they have been doing for years, to moving to a fair trade model that would not allow for slavery in any form.

    I had no idea.

    Some of the specifics I heard in the story and found in some other material are:
    70% of the cocoa used in America comes from Ivory Coast;
    90% of the cocoa grown in Ivory Coast is connected to child slavery;
    though new to me, it’s not a new problem.

    I’ve spent the last hour chasing down links, trying to learn more. I’m overwhelmed by what I’ve found. Rather than repeat it all, I offer these links so you can read for yourself.
    “Why slavery still exists: those along the ‘chocolate chain’ put blame on someone else”
    “Chocolate and Slavery”
    “Fair Trade Chocolate”

    I’m just trying to figure out what to do with the fact that I’m killing children when I buy M&M’s.

    Unfortunately, there’s no hyperbole in that statement. Tim Bergquist, president of International Chocolate Company, said it this way: “Every time one closes his eyes and buys a product made by children, then he is also responsible. He becomes an accomplice.”

    Ginger, my wife, put it more succinctly: “No more chocolate.”

    And Valentine’s Day is next week. This year we’ll be skipping the Reese’s Hearts.

    Every trip to the supermarket, it seems, is a test of faith. Globalization means that my picking up grapes from Chile in the dead of winter means some poor farmer is taking it in the face. I have more fresh produce available to me in the dead of a New England winter than the people who live in the countries that grow the stuff ever get to see themselves. So I’ve joined the growing band of folks who are working hard to figure out how to eat more locally and challenge the big corporations.

    But this chocolate thing goes to a whole different level.

    Children are being sold as slaves, being beaten and killed for not working fast enough, just so I have ninety-seven inexpensive candy options when I step up to the register at CVS. Kids are dying for candy.

    What in hell are we doing?

    I know I’m late to the game in adding my voice to the chorus of concerned folks demanding change. But now I know and I can’t keep quiet.

    When I lived in Dallas, my roommate and I decided to make a concerted effort to quit adding salt to our food, since both of us came from families with heart issues. We decided the best way to do it was to quit calling it salt; we called it “White Death.” If we wanted to salt our food, we had to say, “Please pass the White Death.” We soon cured ourselves of the desire to use the stuff.

    Maybe it’s time to say, “You want a Child Killer?” instead of “You want a candy bar?”

    I know this is raw. It’s how I feel.



    1. This is deplorable! I had no idea that this was going on…thanks for sharing this information. i’ve passed it along to my distribution list, urging others to pass it along to get the word out.

      (another) Milton.

    2. Thanks for posting this information. Don’t know how I missed it–but now I plan on buying only fair trade chocolate (and I’ve actually seen a few of those brands here in Germany). Those who love Africa and its children need to band together!

    3. Not only chocolate but coffee, tea and sugar are more and more widely available from fair trade. It’s a little bit more expensive for us–but how much are children’s lives worth?

      Thank you Milton for writing about this.

    4. I’m a freelance web guy and I’m about to receive some money for some work I did for one of the mentioned companies (indirectly: I was subcontracted by a contractor). Prayer and community ideas are important to helping me figure out what to do with this money. It’s not a lucrative amount (<1000) and we could certainly use it, but I'm open to the Father's guidance on it. For me this is more than a decision whether or not to ask for a break of that kit kat bar.

      Would you kindly make some suggestions?

    5. Man, great question. This is how things really change: we start asking each other for help living out our faith. I’m trying to ask some of the same stuff. How do I do more than do without a Baby Ruth (my peronsal favorite)? How do I live so that I don’t feel guilty and/or overwhelmed all the time?

      My suggestion for the money might be to look into groups are doing something with people in the affected areas, or at least part of the money. You may need some of it to live on.


    6. Thanks for posting this, I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know and passed on a link to your entry to a msg board I frequent. However, I think that cutting out chocolate isn’t the answer. It will be easier and better all around if people switch to buying Fair Trade products. You can get Fair Trade chocolate, coffee, fruit, clothes, etc. That way you’re supporting the people who are standing strong and helping to put an end to deplorable conditions such as slavery.

    7. Last night, I felt overwhelmed, by this and by some faith-in-human-nature issues that cropped at the same time. Today, the sun came up and the snow, like the swallows to Capistrano, looks to be returning tomorrow night. So I feel better.

      But I don’t feel guilty about the chocolate; ignorance is bliss, I suppose. If I had gone home and finished off that bag of M&Ms instead of tossing them in the trash, yeah, then I would feel guilty.

      Mostly, I am ashamed that American corporations profit from this, and apparently are unwilling even to acknowledge their crime.

      Older and wiser today.

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