I spent my lunch break at Whole Foods, which is dangerous. I know the stereotype of the pretentious hipsters paying $100 for two organic bananas, and as much as I resist becoming one of them, Whole Foods does have a strange siren call. I just like it there. They have great hot food, amazing produce selection, and interesting things around every corner. My sister worked there for a minute and she said that the employees are treated really well and are pretty happy. I just like them as a company.
My affinity for Whole Foods wasn’t enough to make me drive 25 minutes to shop there, however. Only my love for chocolate could have done that.
I’m among the millions of Americans who love chocolate. Americans consume over 3 BILLION pounds of chocolate a year. That’s billion with a “b”, folks. We’re the top consumer of chocolate in the world (although Switzerland has us beat in per-capita consumption; the average person there eats about 209 chocolate bars a year!) Chocolate sales are no joke. You can find chocolate in any grocery store, supermarket, gas station, or shop in the country. So why drive to Whole Foods?
Chocolate has a reputation for more than just its perfectly sweet and delicious flavor. It’s also known to be one of the biggest industries employing slaves and child labor, especially in West Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where Cacao beans thrive. And I think most Americans know that, and I think that most Christians know that. It’s not a secret anymore, and no one’s trying to cover it up to protect sales. The knowledge that chocolate is produced by slaves doesn’t seem to affect sales at all.
So, should Christians care? We’re supposed to care about the poor and be fiscally responsible (“good stewards”) at the same time. Some might justify their spending habits by giving money away to non-profits. When you buy the cheap chocolate, though, you might as well cancel your donations to non-profits. Even if your donations are going to fight slavery, your grocery money is going to support it.
Christians might not care about where their food comes from, but they should. In Isaiah, God says that he doesn’t care about his people’s sacrifices and fasts (read: donations). Instead, he says, “This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts” (Isaiah 58, MSG). God really seems to care about “social responsibility” and take personal offense to those who profit from the exploitation of the weak. Who profits from slave labor in chocolate production? The producers, the stores, and us: the Americans who get to save a few bucks on chocolate.
Whole Foods has a HUGE selection of Fair Trade Chocolate. That’s why I drove there this afternoon. I’ve been craving chocolate since a month ago, when my husband told me about a radio segment he heard about chocolate. The radio segment reminded me of something I already knew, but try to ignore: cheap chocolate is produced by exploitation of humans, loved and made in the image of God. Since then, every time I go to the grocery store, I look at the rows of Hershey’s and ask myself: Do I love chocolate enough to benefit from evil?
To learn more about slave-produced foods and to find a list of fair-trade companies, check out http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/.