That’s two of my favorite words right there.
And I know I’m not alone as a chocolate lover. There are few food items that we so powerfully associate with pleasure, comfort, and indulgence.
But pure chocolate — cacao — has also unique properties that are beneficial to health. In South America, cacao is called “food of the gods.” The Mayan and Aztec peoples called it chocolatl and consumed it as a sacred drink. It’s packed with antioxidants that are readily absorbed by our bodies. It’s also high in two nutrients most people don’t get enough of in their diets: magnesium, which is critical to brain chemistry and promotes happiness, and sulphur, which strengthens hair, nails, and the circulatory system and is anti-inflammatory.
But what most people know and taste as chocolate is far from this sacred food. Conventional chocolate is usually highly processed and loaded with sugar, milk, and hydrogenated oils. We’ve also gotten used to cheap chocolate — cheap because it’s been produced through extractive processes.
In recent years, a few organizations and journalists have exposed the use of child labor, sometimes even slavery, on cacao farms especially in Western Africa, where over 70% of cacao is grown. The demand for cheap chocolate has forced cacao prices down, so cacao farmers aren’t paid a living wage. Much less so the children — some of them as young as five — working on the farms and facing exploitative work conditions, hazardous work, and exposure to agricultural chemicals. With intricate, long supply chains involving farmers, buyers, wholesalers, exporters, importers and manufacturers, it’s virtually impossible to trace the origin of your chocolate bar, or guarantee that it’s been ethically produced.
So what is a conscious chocolate lover to do?
Seek out regenerative chocolate, which sets the bar truly high (no pun intended!).
A network of organizations and enterprises is at work to create a supply network characterized by trust and transparency, in which chocolatiers create partnerships directly with cacao farmers’ coops. In this way, they can bypass the multiple middlemen, brokers, warehouses, exporters and so on that have made transparent chocolate supply chains virtually impossible. These forward-thinking small chocolate companies engage in multi-capital exchange and ecological investing, ensuring fair wages and responsible ecosystem management where the cacao originates from.
The cacao growers who are a part of this supply network are demonstrating what regenerative farming looks like when thoroughly interwoven with the indigenous culture and deep knowledge of cacao’s ecosystem of origin, the incredibly diverse rainforest.
Because cacao can be grown in shade, it works great in multi-species agroforestry systems, which are excellent at storing of atmospheric carbon in the soil and plants. In other words, regeneratively grown cacao has the potential of being a “climate-beneficial” treat.
If grown and produced responsibly in this way, cacao has the potential for being an incredible leverage point in regenerating both local economies and ecosystems. As Gregory Landua of Terra Genesis International and Regenerative Cacao says, “Cacao can be the keystone species in an extremely productive (economically and biologically) forest matrix that functions as a carbon sink, a purveyor of cacao and other products important in the global economy, and a tool for shifting economic and social systems.”
From the raw pods of the cacao plant, the process of fermenting, drying, roasting and cracking takes you to the final product. If you want to taste real, high-quality, regeneratively produced chocolate, here’s a list of pioneering brands. We recommend them all!
- Nova Chocolate
- Philosopher’s Stoneground Nut Butters
- Yellow Seed — a community marketplace for cacao growers and buyers
Still hungry for more… info about what makes this kind of chocolate regenerative? Check out these links:
- Watch: Gregory Landua and George Fletcher demonstrating the regenerative growing practices
- Watch: “Behind the Chocolate” with Cholaca
- Regenerative Cacao
- See a brand new regenerative cacao forest planted at Finca Luna Nueva, Costa Rica