Sunday, April 22, 2007

Chocolate Conservation: Sustainability and Purity in Cacao

Sunday, April 22 is Earth Day, a global celebration of this rotating sphere that sustains us. As if set to a timer, New York has emerged from its wet, messy, protracted winter this weekend. The skies have turned a shade of blue more typical of the equator than the northeast of the United States and temperatures are climbing toward 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Today's challenge is to enjoy the planet without destroying it, which is not easy even for the best-intentioned. I remember attending a euphoric Earth Day tribute in Central Park one year, only to learn afterwards that we revelers had produced a record amount of garbage. The paradox of conservation also afflicts the chocolate world: while the cacao tree is part of an inherently sustainable ecosystem, attempts to harvest its fruit on a commercial scale often lead to deadly crop disease and deforestation. Two "adopt-a-tree" programs allow consumers to play a role in protecting chocolate at its source. A $20 donation to the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, where the Cacao Genebank seeks to preserve natural variation, supports one tree for three years. A $49 pledge to Ecuador-based Yachana Gourmet, a vegan chocolate company that works directly with small producers, results in a certificate of adoption as well as free samples and discounts. Chocolate lovers who sign up today will serve the earth well.

In similarly paradoxical news, just as Americans are becoming more interested in artisanal chocolate, the candy-making industry is lobbying the US Food and Drug Administration to loosen the definition of "chocolate" to include products that use unpleasant vegetable fats in the place of cocoa butter. Taking a page from Britain's 1986 Campaign for Real Chocolate, San Francisco chocolate-maker Gary Guittard has created the website Don't Mess with Our Chocolate, which helps individual chocolate advocates voice their opinions. The FDA will accept consumer comments through this Wednesday, April 25.


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