Green Star Review
This Mother’s Day (and every day) keep Mother Earth in mind, with Alter Eco Organic Chocolate Bars. We’ve been impressed with all nine flavors, from Moka Milk to Dark Mint. Rich and imminently satisfying, these chocolate bars easily stand out among their competitors. Which is not surprising, since they’re made in Switzerland by a master chocolatier using some of the world’s best quality cacao beans from Bolivia and Ghana.
But it’s their good green profile that jumps them ahead of the conventional pack. Alter Eco’s not the sexiest brand name for foods, but it’s accurate. For besides being organic, Alter Eco bars are fair trade certified, vegan, GMO-free, and contain no artificial flavors, chemical additives, or emulsifiers. The brand specializes in fair trade foods cultivated by small-scale farmers in developing countries. The farmers and their cooperatives are paid decent wages, and Alter Eco adds a premium for investing into community projects, like wells for clean water, computers, scholarships, and even micro-credit loans. Besides the chocolate bars, Alter Eco products include coffee, tea, unrefined sugar, jasmine rice, quinoa and hearts of palm.
Our favorite chocolate flavors? Tough question, as they’re all so good, but the Dark Velvet with a touch of organic milk has dark chocolate’s intensity mellowed by a silky texture. As I say in Cooking Green, one way to shrink your cookprint is to shop with your dollar: buy products with good global impact, which in this case is easy, since these chocolates are tasty winners all the way around.
They won 2007′s Best New Products Award at the New England Products Show, and we like Robin’s Chocolate Sauces for many reasons. Three of their six sauces are Fair Trade Certified, including the elegant Orange Spice and Tropical Dark (our personal favorites), made with 70 percent dark chocolate.
All of Robin’s small-batch sauces are made with organic cocoa, vanilla and cane sugar, using local dairy products. Serve straight from the jar, or better yet, simply remove the lid, warm the jar in the microwave, and drizzle the velvety sauces over ice cream, bread pudding or cheesecake.
Robin’s Chocolate Sauce partners with National Wildlife Federation and Sustainable Harvest International, helping to conserve tropical habitats for migratory songbirds, and promote sustainable cocoa-farming practices. Unlike Betty Crocker, Robin Jenkins is a real person, whose holiday gifts of chocolate sauce grew into a true family business, starting in 2004. Today her husband and two sons pitch in, using organic, shade grown and local or Fair Trade Certified ingredients whenever possible.
As Robin says, “These standards are crucial to maintaining a sustainable environment, protecting migratory birds and creating healthy communities—and your children and grandchildren will notice the sweet difference.” So stick that in your (or some else’s) sweet holiday stocking! If you don’t live in Maine, where most stores carry their products, buy them online:
These sweet little bites bring new meaning to the concept of 100 percent guilt-free indulgence: they’re entirely Fair Trade, all organic, and some are even vegan. (not to mention dark chocolate’s salubrious benefits.) Plus, a portion of Sweet Earth Chocolates’ proceeds aid West African farmers.
I’m especially fond of the company’s bite-size coconut cups, which are more delicate than typical coconut confections. The dark chocolate hits the tongue first, and the toasted coconut center slowly rises in flavor. They also make a wide variety of flavors and products for consumers and bulk buyers.
“Our company philosophy is to do no harm to the planet or the people who make a living from the planet,” says Tom Neuhaus, Sweet Earth Chocolates co-founder. “It’s important to us that all of our chocolate products be both organic and fair trade, not one or the other, because we believe this combination fosters economic and ecological sustainability.” For an inspiring story about how Neuhaus turned his West African chocolate experiences into both intense cocoa creations and nonprofit action, visit Sweet Earth Chocolates Blog and ProjectHopeAndFairness.com.
The Ivory Coast produces 40% of the world’s cocoa, and its beans are mixed into almost every brand of mass-produced chocolate. But did you know that much of that cocoa is harvested by children as slave labor, held captive and forced to work against their will?
In 2000 and 2001, British and American journalists documented the enslavement of adolescent and teenage boys on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. Most of the children come from Mali, Ivory Coast’s poorer neighbor. Traffickers entice naive adolescents and teenagers with the promise of good jobs in the Ivory Coast. Even the prospect of buying a new bicycle or modest scooter can motivate a boy to sign up for a season of hard work. Later, once separated from their community or others who speak their language, the children are sold to cocoa farmers. Some farmers pay children a small sum at the end of the cocoa season. Some do not. And some farmers exploit the children’s vulnerability, forcing them to perform long, hard, dangerous work, with only minimal food and shelter. Some beat and threaten those who try to escape, locking the children in sheds or huts at night.
West Africa supplies 70% of the world’s cocoa, mostly to Hershey’s, Mars, Nestlé, Cadbury, Cargill, ADM, and other global corporations. And while a handful of these western corporations control approximately 85% of Ivorian cocoa exports, and could take a pro-active lead in combating slavery practices, few have done anything substantial. Even 2001′s hopeful Harkin-Engel Protocol, in which large-scale cocoa industry players promised to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, has been watered down and produced little effect.
Consumers, though, can make an impact—by buying Fair Trade Certified products. Fair Trade Certified cocoa and chocolates are sourced from eleven origins, including Ivory Coast, Ghana, and numerous Central and South American countries. Under Fair Trade standards, the farmers and co-operatives abide by key covenants of the International Labor Organization, including those forbidding inappropriate child labor and forced labor. Fair Trade also offers critical protections for workers, and directly addresses the underlying problem of low cocoa prices and chronic poverty among cocoa farmers. And Fair Trade’s criteria also specify the practice of sustainable agriculture that limits the use of agrochemicals.
For us at Global Gourmet and NewGreenBasics.com, our favorite chocolates just happen to be Fair Trade Certified, and we’ve added a new company to the list: Equal Exchange, which was founded in 1986, and is the oldest, largest for-profit Fair Trade company in the U.S. Besides sinfully rich cocoa and chocolate bars, they offer organic coffee, tea, and sugar produced by democratically run farmer co-ops in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The company takes an active roll in humanitarian issues, and the story above is adapted from an article that appeared in their Spring 2007 newsletter. (Read the original “Ivory Coast cacao (Ivory Coast cacao)”:http://www.equalexchange.com/child-labor-in-the-cocoa-industry article).
A list of Fair Trade Certified companies, from chocolate makers and distributors, to tea, sugar, rice, vanilla and other ingredients, can be found at “Fair Trade Certified’s Licensed Partners (Fair Trade Certified’s Licensed Partners)”:http://www.transfairusa.org/content/certification/licensees2.php#cocoa .