Tasting More Bitter Than Sweet

As part of a contemplative practice, I was offered cacao to taste as I watched a video on the way cacao was retrieved for the use of large western companies. The video exposed the exploitation of child labor in the Ivory coast and the harsh labor conditions of workers surrounding cacao production. As the video came to a close for the contemplative practice of the class, I watched laborers who worked with cocoa every day try chocolate for the first time. I was then invited to become conscious of my thoughts and feelings as I tasted chocolate.

While I was given a sweet treat during this exercise, I found myself focusing heavily on the bitter conditions that allow chocolate to be so easily accessible to my classmates and I, but not the people that labor tirelessly to make its production possible. Throughout the course material, I have been assigned readings that have shed light on the exploitation of developing nations and the labor of people within them, but it was not until this contemplative practice that it fully became personal for me. Suddenly, as I was sitting in my nice lecture hall, listening to the professor I pay a significant amount of money to learn from, I realized that in that very moment I personally was benefiting from unfair trade policy and harsh working conditions. I had a product of western privilege resting on my tongue in the form of chocolate, which is an inexpensive commodity to me, but one paid heavily for by its producers.

Far too frequently in courses, I separate myself from the material. Ultimately, the contemplative practices such as the cacao experience have allowed me to pull myself back into what I am learning and create an increasing level of understanding.


5 thoughts on “Tasting More Bitter Than Sweet

  1. Jannely P Pina

    Hi Savannah,
    I had a very similar experience during the chocolate contemplation. This contemplation was a very different learning experience in the sense that I wasn’t just watching a video about the cocoa farms but I felt that I was seeing the process in a whole new light. Even if we had not done the contemplative practice after watching the videos on the Ivory Coast, I know I would have still felt that the trading policies are unfair and that having children work at such a young age in those conditions is cruel but, being able to taste the raw cocoa bean made the information we were taking in more real. When the professor first talked about having contemplative practices in class I thought that it would just be a huge waste of time but now I can see how beneficial they can be when it comes to connecting the materials with a more personal level.

  2. Brian Honaker-Coe

    I think your point is really interesting about how easy it is to be separated from the course material in a lot of classes–I find that this feeling is only amplified with many Political Science courses that delve into political topics so far away from our normal, everyday lives. I am glad to hear that you have found these contemplative practices to be as intriguing and unique as I have.

    The inequities of global justice, I believe, were definitely highlighted with the cacao exercise, and it appears that those ramifications have been meaningful for you. I do not mean to necessarily project my feelings and reactions onto you, but if perhaps you are struggling with all of this and these feelings of privilege as I am, I wonder how you are attempting–if at all–to reconcile these realizations of inequity with also the simple fact that we are in the situation we are in. Can we enjoy the fruits of this labor while also supporting a global justice movement in other ways, or no?

  3. Jack Gerhard

    I really identify with your points Savannah. The Ivory Coast accounts for 33% of all the world’s cacao production. And over and over the region comes into international protests of child labor. The major issues is that farm owners often promise the children education, paid work, and housing. In the end they are forced to work 100 hour weeks, and are beaten when they try to leave. A larger issue is that on an international scale there is no actual jurisdiction or intervention program that can stop the violation of human rights. In 2014 the U.S. DOL mentioned that the Ivory Coast child labor uses are still observed. I would encourage you to explore more how the labor is watched on an international scale and yet intervention is not applied.

  4. Japna Singh-Kurtz

    Blog response 2:
    Hey Savannah,
    I also had a similar experience during this contemplative practice. While I enjoyed the chocolate I couldnt help myself from noticing the bitterness of the raw cocoa. One of the interesting things I have come to learn more about recently, was about the effects of globalization on different farming industries. Having grown up in Washington, I have been exposed to liberal ideas and thoughts most of my life. Therefore coming to a realization that international trade and globalization has negative impacts on smaller developing coutries came as a bit of surprise to me. I have always viewed international organizations as good things that bring people closer together. Yet after this class and and an interview with a board memeber from the Washington Fair Trade Coalition I have come to realize that often times bilateral trade agreements between two countries (usually a weaker developing farming state and a western advanced power) is typically a massively unequal relationship where the developing state is often exploited by the larger state. This is also true for the cocoa industry in the ivory coast, because major choclate producers all come from rich western host countries like the US or the UK. These larger countries tend to buy cocoa, which is a labor intensive and valuable commodity, at a relatively low price. Therefore the laborers who farm cocoa get the short end of the stick and bare the burden of cost cutting practices by major industries in other countries. Unfortunately, without someone placing accountability on the chocolate corporations, conditions for workers in places like the ivory coast will not get better.
    -Japna Singh-Kurtz

  5. Sammy Huynh

    Hi Savanah, thanks for your article
    I have a same experience during the chocolate contemplation, However I was not surprised international trading between bilateral trading is mostly an unfair agreement. I was born from Vietnam, where have been attracted manufacture investors due to extremely cheap labor, minimum wage in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is just 3.9 million dong ($172) per month. From what I have experience in Vietnam and the people in Ivory Coast, I think unfair labor in the third world countries caused by concentration of power and wealth, between foreign large manufacturers and local farmers. Moreover, as you mentioned, it’s not only cheap labor in harsh labor conditions, but also child labor is a huge issues. For example, in the videos on the Ivory Coast, I see children work at very young age in the cocoa field, which is very similar in Vietnam as well. Post- Vietnam War, if children were born in poor family, who don’t have condition to study like another kids. They need to help their parents to make money by following them to family farm. The effect of child labour is inevitable, which deprive children of their education and mental and physical developments. Hence, the cycle of poverty is the main contribute to child labor that should be stopped. Therefore, the contemplation practice have reminded that the bitter taste of cocoa is priceless to the story behind in the Ivory Coast, as well as poor local farmer workers in Vietnam.


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