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No More “Slow Food Revolution”

Due to the two online Spanish classes I am taking this summer, these days it seems all I do is work at the store or do homework. But I have also been planning my next chocolate adventure, and this Wednesday-Saturday I will be visiting Finca San Juan, a plantation in northern Guatemala! Honestly, I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing beyond taking publicity photos and learning a lot about the processes involved in cacao cultivation. But I am very excited!

Jorge, the owner of Finca San Juan, the cacao plantation I mentioned above.

Before Seeing The Farm, One Must Define the Farm

Before the big adventure south, I spent Monday afternoon with my housemate, Leo. It started with a trip to the local store named “Orgánica,” where one finds some of the only imported organic foods, albeit at double or triple the price in the US. After this we were distracted by a cute little bakery named Sweet Brooklyn, and then we walked all over Zone 10 and Zona Viva. Finally, we ate at a restaurant with truly horrible service, and then we went home, where I returned to my scheduled evening of doing homework and sleeping.

Yesterday this routine was broken when I found an article which espouses the false bases of the call for a return to “slow food.” Qualifying “slow food” is made without industrial ingredients, like those used in the majority of today’s food. The article criticizes those who claim that the industrialization of the food industry hurt people’s health, due to a decline in the overall quality of available food. It discusses at length the facts in favor of the industrialization of food, and that in place of replacing it with “slow food,” we should improve the quality of industrialized food. I agree wholeheartedly with this logic.

Everybody can’t just return to their houses to spend several hours cooking each day. So it is up to us, the lovers of health and good food, to take a stand and demand higher quality and a more visible standard for industrial food. The food which we choose to put in our bodies is at the precipice of being changed forever, if we allow it to happen. To forcibly raise the standards of the food industry, one must pay attention to 1) the ingredients, 2) the ratio of price to quality (not just quantity) and 3) how the companies treat their employees and farmers.

Finca San Juan

Finca San Juan

Industrial-Scale Food, Evolves

Now is sincerely the time to change the quality of industrial food, but the hour has also arrived to thank our farmers. They are the women and men who make the food on your dining room table possible. Without them, there would not be strawberries in Canada during the winter nor any chocolate at all in Switzerland. This, then, signals the necessity of not only a shift towards improved industrialized food, but a total overhaul of the global commodity chain. If companies pay more reasonable prices for raw materials with which to make fast food, farmers would give them higher quality materials. This will only happen due to more hours cultivating the trees and bushes which provide more delicious and healthy yields.

An example of this that is close to my heart is seen in cacao. The species of cacao tree which gives the most delicious and pleasing-to-the-senses crop of all, called “criollo” trees, also demand the most care and give the fewest fruits. But when chocolate makers pay more for this cacao, the farmer is able to hire more community members, and give enough care to the trees to maintain this level of quality. The environment is happier, the farmers and their families have more opportunities, and the global commodity chain is more transparent. And don’t forget that the chocolate made from this cacao will be more delicious.

Akesson 100% Madagascar Bar

Akesson’s 100% Madagascar bar, made with criollo beans from their own plantation.

Change on the Farm Begins in Your Wallet

It is a necessity that everybody has a stable place in the world of food, or they will leave. If the market price of the products doesn’t pay a living wage, the farmers, and their kids who would normally otherwise eventually take over the farm, will not stay; they will abandon it in search of more consistent work. Although this example isn’t always applicable, it certainly works with cacao, the fruit with which I am obsessed.

The industrial chocolate companies, as well as the artisan bean-to-bar chocolate makers, need to pay a reasonable amount for the cacao and sugar they use. Otherwise, in the future there won’t be any chocolate, as cacao farmers will have moved on to fields in which they can earn more money. This is the reason why it is important to really know your farmers, and the almost completely separate world in which they live.

On Tuesday, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting twenty five cacao farmers from northern Guatemala, when they visited us at Danta. Nearly the entire time their faces were expressionless, but sometimes I caught their eyes. I don’t know how helpful the visit was for them, but I hope that we each learned something from the others, in some way.

A picture of Carlos (my boss) and all of the cacao farmers who came all the way from Cobán to visit the wonderful Danta Chocolate shop, to see how their cacao is turned into sweet chocolate!

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