How Sweet It Is! Feeling Better about Hershey.

You kind of have to hand it to Americans. We can turn anything into a reason for consumption. The journey from a day honoring early Christian martyrs to the World’s Largest Inflatable Heart is by no means direct.

But whatever. Chocolate is yummy.

Anyway, I wanted to take this Valentine’s Day to remind you of the problem of child slavery on cocoa plantations. It’s real. It’s bad. But encouraging signs are appearing…

Hershey’s recently released an announcement that by the end of 2012, 100% of the cocoa for their Bliss line of chocolate will be Rainforest Alliance Certified–meaning that the production of this cocoa will meet third-party standards for environmental protection, social equity and economic viability. Additionally, Hershey’s has promised to invest $10 million in West Africa for various educational and development initiatives intended to improve the lives of cocoa workers. (Beings that they netted $510 million in 2010, that’s not a lot, but okay.)

There’s still farther to go–Bliss and Dagoba represent a mere fraction of Hershey’s brands, which include York, Mounds, Almond Joy, LifeSavers, BreathSavers, Reese’s, Heath, Jolly Ranchers, Mauna Loa, Scharffen Berger, Twizzlers, and many more. They could do more. We can do more.

It’s movements like Raise the Bar, Hersheys! that raised awareness enough to put pressure for these small changes. Now, an eighth-grader from Philadelphia, Jasper Perry-Anderson, has created a Change.org petition to petition the trustees of the Milton Hershey School to put pressure on Hershey to take more pointed measures at ending child labor and human trafficking in the plantations from which they source ingredients.

Why not sign the petition? It’s kind of the least we can do.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

A truly frugal outlook has a long view.

I’m delighted to welcome to the blog today Cathleen Hockman-Wert, the co-author of Simply in Season, one of my favorite cookbooks!

It’s always a pleasure to connect with people who share my interest in good food, food that is good in every way: food that tastes good, food that is good for our health, good for the environment, good for local communities and good for people worldwide.

Rachel asked me to share a little about the story behind Simply in Season, a cookbook that I co-authored with Mary Beth Lind to celebrate good food. It encourages people to choose seasonal, locally-produced and fairly traded foods, with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables.

Simply in Season is the third in a series of cookbooks produced by the international relief and development organization, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). The first, More-with-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre, was first published in 1976. This was a time when global food shortages loomed, and in response MCC asked its constituents to eat and spend 10 percent less on food. More-with-Less explained how to do that – to eat less meat and more rice and beans, for example – but even more importantly made a persuasive argument: that faith and food are deeply connected. And that, moreover, eating more simply was not about “cutting back.” Rather, it meant “living joyfully, richly, creatively.”

Fast forward 30 years.

I grew up with More-with-Less, and it strongly influenced my values. I believed that “eating justly” meant two primary stewardship issues: health and cost. I wanted food that was good for me, and cheap. The intention was that by spending less on food, I would have more to share with others.
Frugality is part of my Mennonite DNA; my people tend to believe thriftiness could give cleanliness some solid competition for that place next to godliness. But my perspective was also shaped by broader culture. Compared to other nations, we Americans don’t spend much on what we eat, and we like it that way. We feel entitled to cheap food.

My perspective began to change as I learned more about the stories behind my food and realized that as a consumer with purchasing power, I am a part of these stories. One tomato might look like another, but because of the way they are produced, they may have wildly different stories in terms of economic justice, environmental impact, and so on. The stories are in fact so different that I came to see that food choices are not morally neutral.

When I choose which tomato to buy, this action has ramifications beyond my own pocketbook. It takes place in the context of a community, human and nonhuman. I am participating in systems that make life better for others, or worse. Grocery shopping is in fact an exercise in ethics.{a well-worn page from More-with-Less}

In Simply in Season I wanted to continue the conversation that began in More-with-Less about faith and food, and how our everyday actions reflect our values.
I still value frugality! But now my view is a little more holistic. A truly frugal outlook has a long view. Even the most devout penny-pinchers know it doesn’t save money to buy something cheap if it’s so flimsy it will have to be quickly replaced; it’s better to spend more at the outset and use it for a long time. In a wider sense, likewise, a frugal approach to grocery shopping – to any shopping, really – takes into account the hidden costs: the costs of cleaning up our environment, the health care costs for farmworkers sickened by pesticides, the military costs of protecting access to cheap oil. And our Christian calling to care for “the least of these” makes us ask, who is bearing the real costs?

It isn’t always easy to move from “spend less” to “spend for a better world.” When I shop, sometimes I repeat a little mantra: “cheaper is not always better.” I also like to repeat a prayer from Blessed Be Our Table, a collection of graces from the Iona Community: “Let me not seek a bargain that leaves others hungry.”

I’ve found it helpful, too, to view eating/shopping as a spiritual discipline. To me this reflects several things. First, as with the discipline of charitable giving, there’s an economic impact: choosing good foods can cost more. Equally significant is the impact on time. Amidst busy schedules, it can be hard to find the time to buy and prepare fresh food. Framing this practice as a spiritual discipline honors that reality. Spending time in worship or prayer requires making these things a priority. So does cooking a meal.

Finally, seeing food choices as a spiritual discipline speaks to their ordinariness, their daily nature. In contrast to a big decision like buying an electric car or choosing a house within biking distance of work, choices about food are small, and we make them constantly. We might make one choice today and a different choice tomorrow, but there’s always another chance to move toward greater consistency in matching our values with our actions.

A spiritual “practice” speaks to both the noun and verb meanings of “practice”: it’s an enactment of our beliefs as well as something we’re working on – like practicing the piano. We do it over and over again and get better.

I hope that idea is helpful for people when they ask about how they can afford to choose good food. Each of us has a different situation. Choose a place to start: maybe one local meal per week, or switching from regular to fair trade coffee. After a while, change something else.

Practice.

Like our spiritual journeys themselves, this journey with good food choices is gradual, partial, imperfect, and ongoing. And ultimately, I believe, that is good news indeed.

{thank you, Cathleen! It’s a pleasure to have you at Eat With Joy today!}

{It really is a great cookbook! Try it!}

In Which I’m a “Good Girl”

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook has a classic recipe for French pots de crème [say “po de khrehm”] a delicious, airy, not-too-sweet chocolate mousse. I made it for Mr. and Mrs. S a few weeks ago and again on Saturday as the finish to a meal of green beans and pasta with meat sauce.

Actually, despite what Fannie says, I think these are not true pots de crème–according to the Wikipedia article, pots de crème are baked in a water bath, like a custard. These are, I think, mousse au chocolat. Oh, well. Fannie was not necessarily known for her command of French cuisine.

Any Francophiles want to weigh in on this? Nora?

Whatever you call it, this stuff is good. Fair warning, though: they contain copious amounts of raw egg. I’m pretty comfortable eating raw stuff–provided that I know it has come from a clean environment–but I don’t feed it to my kids.

Which means more for me, hooray!

Oh, yes. And the “conscience” part. Mousse au Chocolat or pots de crème or whatever you call them typically call for melted chocolate. Yes, I could buy fair trade chocolate bars (see yesterday’s post) but I didn’t have any on hand. What I do have is some lovely fair trade organic Dutch-process cocoa, which we use for making chocolate birthday cakes and hot chocolate.

{here are some cocoa farmers in Uganda who are able to make a living wage selling their beans for a fair price.}

And it can be used to make mousse au chocolat, too!

Maybe not the classic recipe or technique, but it sure was good, especially with super-fresh farm eggs. Be sure your cocoa is Dutch-process–it makes a big difference; it’s milder and much, much smoother.

[Mrs. S. said: “This was delicious. You’re a good girl.”]

Well, shoot. Just when I think I’ve given to someone who can’t repay, she goes and does just that.

Here’s my recipe:

Melt together over low heat:

6 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons fair-trade Dutch process cocoa powder

6 tablespoons sugar (fair trade!)

2 tablespoons water

Meanwhile, separate:

4 eggs

Beat the whites until stiff and glossy and set aside.

Beat the yolks until very thick and lemon-colored, and then beat in the cooled, melted chocolate mixture. Beat in:

1 teaspoon each of vanilla extract and rum or brandy

Gently, gently, gently fold in the whites. Spoon into small cups or glasses (about 1/2 cup in each). Chill, covered, for 12 hours.

Serves 4-6

Real Halloween Nightmares

I have always loved candy, but I wasn’t allowed to go trick-or-treating when I was a kid. The prevailing sentiment in the churches we attended was that Halloween was a “devil’s holiday.” We had “harvest parties” instead. I certainly never was lacking for candy around the 31st of October.

My kids haven’t gone trick-or-treating either, but that’s mostly because we’ve lived overseas for most of their lives; last year, we were here, but Aidan had a broken leg and getting him around to go trick-or-treating was pretty much out of the question. So far, then, I haven’t had to give a great deal of thought to Halloween candy.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m not opposed to letting my kids have sugar. We went to an Easter Egg hunt at the state park in springtime, which (brilliantly, I thought) had receptacles for unwanted candy to be redistributed to needy kids who hadn’t been able to attend. I think the food traditions in a culture–trick-or-treating, cupcakes at school for birthdays–are kind of nice. If there’s any beef I have at all, it’s that the ordinary days are a bit out of control.

[What’s the point banning birthday cupcakes at school if the kids get access to soda and sweet snacks from vending machines at school?!?]

Simplify our ordinary days, that we may be able to enjoy a good celebration.

The last thing I want to do is be a killjoy who takes candy from kids. But what if that candy takes kids from their parents?

In West Africa, an estimated 200,000 children are enslaved on cocoa plantations. And major chocolate producers like Hershey’s get their cocoa from these places.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Fair trade chocolate exists. When you buy a certified fair trade product (like chocolate or coffee), you pay a little extra, but it means that the working conditions have been found to meet certain minimum criteria, and that the workers have been fairly compensated for their work, and, most importantly, that they are not victims of trafficking. (People who have been moved to a different location and/or held there under force, fraud, or coercion.)Chocolate’s no longer an exotic luxury; for most of us, it can be had pretty cheaply. But the mini-bars and fun-sizes come cheap at a very, very high cost to the children whose labor brings them to us.

I want my kids to have a fun and safe time on Oct. 31.

But I want that for all God’s kids, too.

You can sign a petition asking Hershey to begin sourcing Fairly Traded chocolate here.

You can watch a whole documentary on child slave labor on cocoa farms here and below.