I find myself talking an awful lot about chocolate. I love chocolate. It is one of my favorite things to discuss with folx at the market and with people online. As such, for this month's 3WT, here are three words I frequently use when describing chocolate:
Of these three words, Direct-Trade is a confusing but important descriptor of the chocolate I use. See below for an in-depth article about how I selected my source chocolate and how it reflects the values of Queer Chocolatier.
What are some of your favorite ways to describe chocolate? Do you have any favorite words or aspects of chocolate that you like to talk about most? Tell me about your Three-Word-Thoughts!
Let's talk chocolate: chocolates el rey
the chocolate of Queer Chocolatier
As I've mentioned before, I've been making chocolate truffles for the last eleven years or so, but all that while, I was buying chocolate at retail from grocery stores. I had a certain amount of brand loyalty to one of the predominate offerings in the baker's section of grocery aisles: Ghirardelli. But, as I went through researching food as an academic over the last decade, it became apparent that I couldn't just settle for what I knew; I would have to dig deep and find a chocolate supplier that meets the needs and values of Queer Chocolatier.
Ghirardelli, though a decent chocolate maker and readily-available to the home cook and widely-used in dessert shops, is no longer that chocolate supplier for me.
My intention with this post is not to disparage Ghirardelli. I do not intend to make any claim or innuendo about the company's products or practices. I will say that Ghirardelli, and its parent company Lindt & Sprüngli, fit the mold of many large chocolate companies: they source beans from multiple producers (even multiple countries and regions) and they make some modicum of effort to combat child- and slave-labor. But, again like large chocolate companies, their efforts are simultaneously opaque and marketing-driven.
fair-trade vs. direct-trade
Labels are maddening. Each one of us is a consumer and, as a consumer myself, I want to feel as though I am making educated choices that leave a positive (or at the very least, a minuscule negative) impact.
But we live in a society that there are so many options and so many labels that proclaim GOOD without being clear about what their kind of GOOD actually means.
The purpose of labels is to communicate complex information in a quick, simplified manner. Furthermore, labels are, to varying degrees, regulated. What happens when a consumer looks at a label happens almost subconsciously because there is a processing of the printed and designed label combined with a layer of processing the levels of (dis)trust in the authoritative body regulating the label's information. However, there is no one single authoritative body for all labels and there are not consistent standards for labels, even ones that communicate very similar information.
What is a person to do?
To whatever extent you have the time, interest, and ability, read about the various products you consume, learn about the processes behind those products, and ask yourself what is important to you. Then, connect dots. For example, I knew that I wanted chocolate that was of excellent quality in taste, texture, mouthfeel, aroma and was easy to work with. In addition to that quality, I knew that I wanted to support the producers of the raw cacao as much as possible. I have learned in the last ten years that there are parts of the world in which cacao is grown that is rife with child labor and slave labor. Moreover, even producers that don't engage in such practices are subject to middlemen or "coyotes" who buy cacao beans cheaply and sell them for high prices to chocolate makers.
Fair-Trade certifications attempt to fight these harmful actions. A certifying agency works with producers to meet certain principles (varying depending on the certifying agency) and the producers pay a fee to become certified.
The certification will help the producers command a higher price for their beans. But, the certification process is costly and most cacao growers are small farmers who would be hard-pressed to find the capital to undergo obtaining a fair-trade certification.
On the flip side, the agencies charged with monitoring and enforcing fair-trade principles can fall short and bad actors can still slip through the cracks. For example, a producer who may have a subpar product by way of their beans or engage in shameful labor practices, but can financially afford a fair-trade certification, can benefit from the higher price of their beans so long as they are not carefully monitored.
Direct-trade is not a certification process. There is no agency that enforces direct-trade. Instead, direct-trade is indicative of the buying process in and of itself. A buyer works directly with producers in order to obtain product.
Direct-trade alone is not a reflection of values, per se, although it does eliminate the middlemen that can disrupt the supply chain.
introducing chocolates el rey
Chocolates El Rey is one of the oldest chocolate companies in Venezeula, a country that produces excellent varietals of cacao. The company helped the formation of a democratically-run co-operative called Aprocao, which pays producers above market price for their beans. Furthermore, and of great importance, the chocolate that is produced is of extraordinary quality; their line of different single-origin chocolates, ranging from their Icoa white chocolate to their Apamate 73.5% dark chocolate, have received world-wide critical acclaim and, you know, I also enjoy it.
A blend of both fair- and direct-trade is what can be the most beneficial to the producer and the end user, the consumer. Chocolates El Rey accomplishes this. A direct-trade relationship that is transparent in both worker conditions and producer wages while elevating the quality of life for the grower community through training, co-operative development, and improved infrastructure and market access. Fair-trade alone is not demonstrated to positively impact the income of producers, in part due to the costly certification process. However, incorporating some of the desirable principles of fair-trade with a transparent relationship and a deep connection to the grower community is the ideal arrangement.
Queer Chocolatier strives to craft high-quality chocolate truffles and to stand in solidarity with those who are marginalized. Farmers, especially ones in developing countries, are frequently marginalized and I intend for my business to operate with solidarity at the forefront of every decision. As you enjoy the truffles, know that you are supporting small farmers and helping to shape a better supply chain in the process. Chocolate as a guilty pleasure is yesterday's news; Queer Chocolatier chocolates are just unapologetic indulgence.
Tidbits of news, books, blogs, and podcasts featuring current trends, deeper knowledge, and new-to-you conversations!
news bites: september
The content I want to highlight in this particular episode of The Slow Melt is regarding the organization Uncommon Cacao. Cacao is a commodity traded on world markets and since the definition of a commodity entails an equal relationship (one cacao bean is of equal value to another with no differentiation of quality), Uncommon Cacao is striving for a "decommodification" process of cacao. Instead, the organization wants to place the emphasis of the value on cacao quality and not quantity, a challenge to be sure as large chocolate makers tend to buy massive quantities of chocolate at cheap prices in order to make cheap chocolate. The CEO of Uncommon Cacao, Emily Stone, speaks to how cacao grown in various places has a strong connection to the context in which it is grown. If you think about the esoteric concept of "terroir" associated with wine and vineyards, a similar concept would be amplified for cacao growers in a decommodified environment.
I will explore this topic more in a future newsletter as I think it is a fascinating concept to digest. Commodities and the commodification of products inherently strips away much of its value. Chocolate is revered by many cultures and peoples; how on earth it became commoditized to begin with is a mystery that I will delve in deeper to solve.
news: teen vogue
"Bakhtiari wants to have a seat at the table, draft legislation, and officially represent Atlanta’s most underrepresented citizens. 'To be a candidate that’s running as somebody who’s Middle Eastern and queer and a woman, it’s kind of a crossroads that’s never been represented before,' she says."
Teen Vogue has had a strong voice since the presidential election and this article furthers that arc; women, especially queer women and WoC, are running.
hello homo decor!
Queer Chocolatier stands in solidarity with queer and trans* individuals across the spectrum. Part of that includes my production of unapologetic art pieces for the homes of folx who aren't often represented in mainstream, off-the-shelf home decor items.
Hello Homo Decor!
Why is this important?
Queer and trans* folx may experience stigma at some point in their lives. In some cases, this can happen during their youth, even from their families and in their homes. For those people who have had painful and traumatizing memories of living in a home that was anything but comfortable and warm, it is my intention to provide a small, embracing piece of love to display.
For folx that have been supported and loved for who they are and who they love, having a piece of art in the home is a way to continually celebrate their identity.
What can we expect to see from homo decor?
Homo Decor will emphasize a spectrum of pronouns and pairings as well as statements of love.
Imagine for every "Mr. & Mrs." matching coasters, mugs, or picture frames, there can be a "Mrs. & Mrs.", "Mr. & Mr.", "Mx. & Mx." And for every "His & Hers", a "Theirs & Hers", "His and His", and so on.
If you want something custom made for your unique home, contact me and let's talk Homo Decor!