World Chocolate Day is an annual observance which has been celebrated globally on the 7th of July since 2009. Though several chocolate-centric days exist, this date is widely believed to be the anniversary of the day chocolate was introduced to Europe in 1550. The United States alone has at least four additional occasions – one such day celebrated on the birthday of Milton S. Hershey, father of the Hershey’s Kiss. Historically, however, chocolate consumption can be traced back thousands of years, originating with pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures such as the Olmec, who were the first major civilisation in modern-day Mexico. The tropical lowlands inhabited by these peoples fostered the ideal environments for fruit trees such as avocado and cacao, or cocoa.
The term “chocolate” is rooted in the Aztec word “xocoatl”. This term did not refer to the creamy delight we think of today, however. Rather, “xocoatl” was a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. Going even further back to 1400 BCE, evidence was found that the sweet pulp of the cacao fruit was fermented to create an alcoholic beverage. The cacao tree’s Latin name, Theobroma cacao, means “food of the gods” and while the locals delighted in the acquired taste, both Mayan and Aztec peoples also believed the cacao bean had divine powers perfect for various sacred rituals relating to birth, marriage, and death. This tradition continues to this day, with chocolate being the favoured gift for any occasion all over the world.
The industry behind the world’s favourite confectionery is not without transgression, however. Human rights groups the world over have long campaigned against the exploitation of child labour and slavery on cacao plantations in Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. While lobbyists such as the American Senators Tom Harkin and Elliot Engel have taken action to implement protocols to protect the most vulnerable in these situations, there is much to be done to ensure that this divine crop is ethically sourced, produced, and consumed.
Keep an eye out for the following information when looking to buy ethical chocolate:
- Is the chocolate made in the same country in which the cacao is harvested?
- Does the company work directly with farmers on the ground or is the company partly owned by these farmers?
- Is the cacao certified by the Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade?
- If the cacao is labelled with a sustainability programme directly affiliated with the company, the chocolate should not be considered ethical!
Chocolate can be bitter, or it can be sweet. It can bring people together and rekindle relationships, but it can also tear the families caught in its exploitative manufacturing practices apart. As consumers, it is our duty to hold chocolate conglomerates accountable for their actions and effect change for the better. Grassroots activity may seem insignificant when pitted against multi-million dollar multinational companies, but we must protest in order to encourage ethical and sustainable practices. Guilt-free enjoyment of our favourite confections, bars, and slabs has nothing to do with calorie content and everything to do with origin.
Know your order – how to order hot chocolate around the globe:
هل بإمكاني الحصول على شوكولاه ساخنة، رجاءً؟
Can I have hot chocolate please?
Puis-je avoir du chocolat chaud, s’il vous plaît?
Ich hätte gerne eine heiße Schokolade.
Queria um chocolate quente, por favor.
Я бы хотел выпить горячего шоколада.
Mna chokoleti moto tafadhali?
Per favore, posso avere una cioccolata calda?
क्या मुझे हॉट चॉकलेट मिल सकती है?
¿Me pones un chocolate, por favor?*
Ngicela i-hot chocolate. (Zulu)
Ndicel’ ihot chocolate. (Xhosa)
Kan ek asseblief warm sjokolade kry? (Afrikaans)
Ke kopa seno se se bolelo sa tšhokolete tlhe. (Setswana)
*In Spain “hot” is not mentioned because they don’t serve it cold.