I first learned about this my senior year of college. Disgusted, I swore off “slave chocolate” and dutifully purchased only fair trade. Yes, it was three times more expensive, but I knew it was worth it. I still remember going out to dinner with my husband, parents and sister shortly after I made this choice. When our server offered dessert, I asked the server what brand of chocolate they used. He stuttered out an answer, saying he believed it was Hershey’s, but wasn’t sure. I said I wouldn’t have any, then. My family looked at me like I was nuts. They scolded me for nitpicking. I hid my embarrassment and stuck to my guns.
As many of my political passions do, this one faded. It’s a defense mechanism, I think, that we don’t recall all of the horrors of the world at any given moment. We wouldn’t get a thing done in our personal lives if we could. But a few weeks ago, three years after my brief courtship with fair trade chocolate, a friend (who had just learned of this horrible reality) posted something on her Facebook page about the issue. It struck me deep this time, much deeper than before.
What made the difference? It’s simple: I have a one year-old daughter now. There’s something about having a living baby of your own that forces you to deeply sympathize with suffering children. I lie awake at night fretting about articles with headlines like “child kidnapped on her walk home from school.” I learned the hard way, after reading a statement a mother wrote about her six month-old daughter dying of SIDS, that I can’t do baby forums anymore. It’s become a cliché, but these mom hormones, the ones responsible for maternal instinct and postpartum depression, are no joke. I once spent the better part of a morning crying over a sentimental Pampers commercial. An effing commercial.
Anyway, I stopped and really thought about slave chocolate for the first time since college. Yeah, I can’t see or hear or touch those children who are forced to spend their childhoods working instead of playing and learning—but does that make them any less real? Does that make their childhoods less important than my own daughter’s childhood? I couldn’t picture them before, but I look at my little crawling gigglestorm of a baby and realize all children are alike. I’d be willing to wager the mothers of the trafficked children once felt the warm stroke of their child’s tiny hand on their tummy while nursing. I’ll bet they played goofy games and peekaboo in their own languages.
But somehow the “otherness” of these cultures keeps us from doing anything about their strife. If some wacky farmer here in Missouri was kidnapping children and making them slaughter pigs all day, you bet your ass there would be an uprising. The enraged parents would be there with guns blazing faster than PETA would. But for some reason we cut ourselves off from foreign issues of child welfare, as if it would be dangerous or silly to embrace too many causes. We have problems here, after all. Don’t we have to take care of local crap first?
I’ll admit I’m not about to go travel across the world to address the problem—I don’t have the money or time to do that. But how difficult is it to swear off chocolate that isn’t produced through fair trade? That’s what I’ve chosen to do for the holiday season, but probably for longer. As my daughter gets older, if there are still children harvesting cocoa for these corporations, I’ll continue to abstain. I’m not going to subject some foreign child to a life of slavery so my child and I can have a cheap snack.
You could call me a hypocrite for buying fair trade chocolate and not other stuff, like fair trade clothing. To that I say my family would go bankrupt trying to make the world a better place. When it comes to social responsibility, all is better than some, it’s true, but some is much better than none. One day, when I don’t have to stay home with our daughter and we’re making more money, maybe we can buy eco- friendly fair trade organic gluten-free everything. Until then, just the chocolate will be my cause.
And of all causes I could embrace, I do think this will make the biggest dent, considering I normally eat massive amounts of chocolate. Like, if I were on a chocolate commercial, I wouldn’t be the girl taking one seductive bite and looking at the camera like she has a secret (who is she and where did she get her self-restraint?) . I’d be wearing sweatpants, staring into a computer screen and loading cookies into my mouth like envelopes into a mailbox. And I definitely don’t make a sexy secretive face when I take a bite, either. It’s probably more like the drone-like face my husband makes when he plays video games.
So will you join me and ban slave chocolate from your homes for a few months? Not only is it the ethical choice, but there are some crazy-good flavors of fair trade chocolate out there, like Dark Chocolate Chai and Lemon Ginger and Hazelnut. It may not be much, but buying fair trade sweets is one way we (and our children) can do a little good in the world this holiday season.