Kitchen Table Talks: Chocolate with Dignity

Chocolate. For many of us, the sight, aroma and tongue coating decadence are enough to send the brain’s pleasure receptors into overdrive. Seemingly always prized, it has been used over hundreds of years as an offering in religious ceremonies, a currency, and often reserved for the ruling elite. Interest in chocolate often borders on obsession, so much so, that the botanical name for the cacao plant, Theobroma cacao, means “food of the Gods.” Those who testified to the chocolate gospel helped spread it around the world and it has since come to bring simple pleasure to citizens far and wide, high and low across the planet.

Sadly, however, there is a dark side to chocolate that many consumers are often blissfully unaware of, or deliberately chose to ignore. Cacao is grown predominantly on small family farms in a narrow tropical band around the equator. While a handful of massive global corporations control and profit handsomely from the worldwide chocolate trade, millions of cacao farmers and their families toil in poverty year after year and deforestation is widespread. Worse still, child slavery tragically persists, despite reputable international reports that surfaced over a decade ago–in particular highlighting the world’s largest exporter of cocoa, the Ivory Coast.

Mindful of the unbearable social and environmental costs endemic to the current chocolate trade, and concluding that the industry doesn’t have the resolve to create material positive change, many courageous folks are responding with a different approach. Fair Trade, Direct Trade, Profit Sharing, Co-ops, and Bean to Bar are among many alternatives being pursued.

On Tuesday, February 22, 2010 at 6:45 pm at Viracocha in San Francisco, Kitchen Table Talks will host an intimate gathering with some industry leaders to discuss the issues. Joining us in the conversation will be:

Brett Beach: Inspired in part by his work with the Peace Corps in Madagascar, Brett co-founded Madecasse in 2006. Its unique mission is to partner with cacao farmers and other community members to make world-class chocolate right on the island. They believe this Bean-to-Bar model has four times more economic benefit than selling beans at Fair Trade prices alone.

Christine Doerr
: After graduating from the California Culinary Academy and various stints as a pastry chef, Christine made the leap to pursue her own truffle business. After being accepted into San Francisco’s La Cocina incubator program in 2008, Neo Cocoa was born.

Adrienne Fitch-Frankel: Adrienne has worked for diverse human rights and environmental advocacy organizations and is currently the Fair Trade Campaign Director for Global Exchange in San Francisco. Her area of expertise is the impact of commodities, both extractive and agricultural, on local communities.

John Kehoe
: In various capacities, John’s work has been dedicated to the procurement and marketing of specialty cocoa, working closely with farmers, exporters, importers, and chocolate manufacturers since 1991. Founder of the specialty cocoa brokerage “EcoTrade” in 2002, John is currently the VP of Sourcing and Development for Tcho in San Francisco.

Carlos Mann: Born in Nicaragua, Carlos was a lifelong illustrator/designer until 2005 when he founded The Momotombo Chocolate Factory. He is the founder of OMETEOTE, a cacao education initiative that works to empower Nicaraguan cacao farmers and regular folks alike with marketable traditional Mesoamerican chocolate making skills. Carlos has lived in Costa Rica, India, and is an ex-S.F. Mission district resident.

Special Note: Fair Trade chocolate pastry will be graciously prepared by Jim Dodge of Bon Appétit Management Company. Jim is a revered pastry chef, teacher, cookbook author, and currently serves as the Director of Special Culinary Programs at Bon Appétit.

Please note: Please join us at 6:45 pm, an earlier than normal start time, for a brief segment from the award-winning documentary “Slavery: A Global Investigation,” a harrowing look into modern day slavery in the chocolate industry based on the groundbreaking work of Kevin Bales, author of Disposable People.

Special and sincere thanks to Haven Bourque of HavenBMedia, a media relations firm based in Oakland, and Sunita de Tourreil of The Chocolate Garage, an education and retail shop in Palo Alto, for their help in preparing this talk.

Tuesday, February 22, 2010

Viracocha, 998 Valencia Street @ 21st Street, San Francisco

Food and drink at 6:15 pm; Film and Discussion at 6:45 pm

Kitchen Table Talks is a joint venture of CivilEats and 18 Reasons, a non-profit that promotes conversation between its San Francisco Mission neighborhood and the people who feed them. Space is limited, so please RSVP. Due to a high level of no-shows, we ask that you kindly respect those in our community who are truly able to attend. Please RSVP with consideration.

A $10 suggested donation is requested at the door, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. Sustainable food and refreshments will be provided, courtesy of Bi-Rite Market and Shoe Shine Wine.