Seeking ‘better’ chocolate

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Harvard professor Carla Martin pushes for consumers to buy socially-conscious chocolate.

I never thought I’d see the words “Harvard scholar” and “chocolate” in the same story, but Boston.com delivered.
The publication recently conducted an interview with Carla Martin, Harvard professor and founder and executive director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute. What does she want, according to the Boston.com piece? She wants people to eat better chocolate.
And not just high-quality, premium chocolate, though there is that. She mentions New Hampshire-based L.A. Burdick’s signature chocolate mice, which she discovered thanks to a childhood best friend who worked at the chocolatier’s Cambridge, Mass., location for nearly a decade.
Martin, who teaches a course called “Chocolate Culture and the Politics of Food,” is also concerned with the ethics behind chocolate, particularly in terms of labor, politics and human rights. She said chocolate can serve as springboard for discussing and addressing these issues.
“There’s a lot of joy in the sensory experience of chocolate, and the social sharing of chocolate,” Martin told Boston.com. “Sharing in that together opens a door to then address that there’s another side of [chocolate], one in which humans have made these really troubling decisions. This is a commodity that’s typified by inequality, and how might decisions that we make as consumers change this?”
Martin also pointed to Massachusetts-based chocolate makers and chocolatiers that produce sweets that are tasty and socially responsible, including Taza Chocolate, Somerville Chocolate, Gâté Comme des Filles and Formaggio Kitchen.
This is a great story for a couple reasons. First, chocolate is just about universally loved, but as Martin suggests, educating consumers on its origins and the work required to turn cocoa beans into their favorite treats is an ongoing endeavor.
As members of the chocolate industry, we understand the significance of supporting cocoa farmers and their communities while simultaneously improving yields, but getting that message across to consumers is as tricky as it is imperative. Remember the fervor over chocolate’s allegedly impending extinction earlier this year? That’s a sign that consumer education is still needed.
Second, it’s wonderful to note examples of academia’s involvement in the promotion of sustainable cocoa. The way I see it, the more experts and stakeholders working to improve the cocoa supply chain, the better the outcome will be.
And that includes taste. Janet Straub, co-founder and chocolate maker for bean-to-bar producer Creo Chocolate, says it best. I had the pleasure of chatting with her earlier this month for a story on super-premium chocolate, which will appear in our April issue.
“Not only does it taste really good, (Creo’s customers) are empowered to make a difference,” Straub said. “If we know the products we’re using are impacting the world in some way, we not only feel better about it, but our food tastes better to us because we know we’re making a difference.”
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