Cacao is a jungle crop. It only grows 20 degrees north and south of the equator. For almost 500 years it has been extracted from the tropics using exploitative labor. Cacao leaves the tropics as a cheap commodity and gets transformed into what we know as chocolate in the industrialized north.
Part of what makes decolonizing chocolate difficult is that the supply chain arrangement seems almost dictated by the weather. Cacao growing requires warm sweaty tropical conditions, while chocolate making requires the steady coolness of northern climates.
The temperature sensitivity of finished chocolate remains a challenge to this day. Every chocolatier I know bemoans the difficulty and expense of summer shipping, and that’s just within the United States. I’m talking about transporting craft chocolate bars to the US from the tropics. Am I crazy?
Maybe I am crazy, but I know that we are in a technological age that makes it possible to disrupt and edit the way we have always done things.
I mean for real, they had barely invented refrigeration at the time that the first industrial chocolate was made. Now look at us.
The real challenge is to keep our environmental footprint in mind as we begin to bring decolonized chocolate into the US market. One way I am doing that is by choosing chocolate makers who grow cacao using organic principles. Another way is by figuring out a greener way to ship. Right now the standard is fedex air, using styrofoam insulation and gel ice packs. I am researching ways we can do better than that, including biodegradable insulating materials and carbon neutral shipping initiatives.
If you can dream it, you can do it, right?