The Formula for Quality

The Formula for Quality

What’s the secret to the perfect cup of coffee? For the past two years I have tried to formulate quality, specifically trying to draw linkages between high quality coffee production and quality of life of coffee farmers in Veracruz, Mexico. It was a seemingly perfect study design: In 2010 the Agroecological Center for Coffee (CAFECOL) introduced a new certification to assess the quality of coffee on a 100-point Q-score.[1] Any coffee that scored at least 84 points could be sold through an online auction directly to specialty coffee roasters. CAFECOL wanted to evaluate their program by comparing three broad groups of farmers: those who produced high quality coffee and successfully sold through the online auction, those who produced high quality coffee but were not successful in selling through the auction, and those who were unable to reach the 84 minimum point score. They posed the following question: What make the ‘successful’ coffee farmers different than the rest?

The hypothesis: Farmers who make high quality coffee have a high(er) quality of life.

For the first three months I developed an interview protocol with the partnering organizations CAFECOL and the Institute of Ecology (INECOL). For the next nine months I interviewed 40 coffee farmers and their families (including 20 living stays) in the high altitude micro-regions of Coatepec, Huatuasco, and Zongolica. Then I spent the next 12 months cleaning up the data, revisiting the literature, and writing up the methodology as part of my MPhil degree at Cambridge.

Now, degree in hand, I have a sinking feeling that I have failed miserably to address the initial question. The thing is, there is no one typology for a ‘successful’ coffee farmer, and no simple measure for quality of life.

I tried everything. I ran statistical tests, controlling for regions, gender, age, income, and education level. To deal with the issue of too many possible explanatory factors (>300), I ran a statistical analysis called Principal Components Analysis (PCA) to compress these into new variables and search for patterns in the data. From the qualitative side, I coded and re-coded pages of interview transcripts and ran text queries in search of salient themes. While these revealed some important insights (and importantly, methodological limitations), questions remain of how to combine multiple analytical methods.

We had assumed that quality for coffee could be simply measured through the Q-Score. The initial sampling design controlled for farmers with different Q-scores to understand differences between groups. However, we had not accounted for the possibility of variation within the Q-scores themselves. It is hard enough to achieve high quality in one instance, harder still to achieve consistently high quality. Nor was this outcome always an active decision. A farmer may have done exactly the same from one year to the next--harvested from the same plants, using the same inputs, and with the same processing techniques, yet due to uncontrollable factors like climate and disease, not achieved the same level of quality. Just as persistent happiness is not a realistic goal, quality coffee seemed to come in cycles.[2] Thus scoring high on quality one year did not guarantee success the following.

Importantly, how do you relate quality of coffee back to quality of life? That relationship is far more complex than any statistical analysis, for embedded within the notion of ‘quality living’ are the intangible aspects that make life worth living but really cannot be measured: e.g., love, compassion, spirituality, place attachment, and health. Proxies such as income and weekly expenditures can be helpful approximations, but should not be used to assess the holistic notion of human wellbeing.

What is my final assessment? I have no concrete findings, only intuitive “hunches.” Indeed, there was something different about the farmers scored higher on the quality coffee assessment, such as an entrepreneurial spirit, a spiritual connection to their land, and a deep concern for the future generations. On a personal note, living with those farmers taught me to live differently. I learned to relish the simple gifts of life like running water, toilet paper, and a pillow for one’s head. I saw through their eyes the joys of waking up to breathtaking landscapes and feeling the soul-warming comfort of corn tortillas. I listened, feeling helpless, to their hardships, yet inspired by their tenacity to live. Those farmers taught me something very important: quality of living is about being present.

So what is the formula for quality? There is no recipe of success. I may have failed at the initial task, but succeed at a different goal: learning to live and to experience wellbeing. It has not been an easy journey, but that’s what makes it worthwhile. As Confucius once said, “by three methods we may learn wisdom:

First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; And third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

 Coffee is a bitter story. The journey has been rocky. In the end, I have learned to savor life sweetness and see through different eyes. Perhaps, that was the goal of this degree—and why it’s called a Masters of Philosophy.

[1] The Q-score is an internationally recognized quantitative assessment of 100 points derived from a composite of factors like the cup profile, body, and aroma

[2] Coffee plants tend to have three-year cycles of good and bad years. Plants may be working day and night, but that’s not to mean that they are always productive (like us humans).

Eating Like a Hobbit

This article was inspired by the NY Times Article How to Live Wisely and gives special thanks to Corri Taylor, my first Economics professor and ongoing mentor on the philosophy of life.

I have no idea what hobbits eat for breakfast. All I know is that they eat four breakfasts, and they relish each one of them.

Four meals don’t sound so bad when you’re out on the field. It’s all about context. At a discussion with the Gates Cambridge Trust we learned that each person has a “rhythm of life.” Whether that applies to years spent in a job, time it takes to finish school, or even the number of meals you eat in a day, we each have our own rhythm of life.

Over the past year I have been writing the academic work of my fieldwork and am just starting to reflect on the personal lessons learned. There are some similarities, strangely, between that year of fieldwork and the past year at Cambridge. One is the open-ended schedule and limitless activities. How we decide to divide and use our time is about preferences. This brought me to a recent article in the NY Times on living wisely.

Sometimes it can be more productive to be less productive.

The philosophy of economics may strangely explain the secret to success, and shine light on this burning question: Why do some coffee farmers produce higher quality coffee than do others? Perhaps because they’ve figured out how to allocate their time and limited resources doing the most productive activities, not only in terms of the coffee itself but also in terms of their own wellbeing. Though I cannot test it by any statistical means, and it would be unethical for me to judge whether one farmer is “happier” than the next, it seems that there is something about balance. No doubt, farmers who make great coffee work really hard. But they also play, love, and laugh really hard.

Take, for example, the concept nonseperability of labor: time spent at work is not all “work” or conversely we work when we should actually be relaxing at home. We are all guilty of mixing the two. For farmers, this is especially true, though it is not necessarily a bad thing. They might stop halfway through pruning coffee bushes to pick a fruit, nourishing the body and taking a pause to enjoy the sounds of the birds. They might wake up early in the morning to put coffee out on the patio to dry before joining the family for breakfast. For this reason it’s really hard to estimate how much time they actually spend “working,” and how productive they are relative to those hours. But perhaps that’s not the important question.

It seems to me that high quality coffee farmers have figured out their own rhythm of life, how to ride the waves of ups and downs, of seasonal changes and market fluctuations, as is the nature of the business. Just as persistent happiness is not a realistic goal, quality coffee seemed to come in cycles. Coffee plants tend to have three-year cycles of good and bad years. Plants may be working day and night, but that’s not to mean that they are always productive (like us humans).

How we choose to allocate our scarcest resource of all—time—could be one of the most important facets in determining our wellbeing.

Rainforest for Breakfast

Rainforest for Breakfast


This is the variety plátano cuadrado (also known as 'bolsa').

Bananas: the perfect complement to coffee I love bananas, don’t get me wrong. But I hardly eat them in the UK. Bananas represent, to me, both the perils of globalization and the opportunities of local production. Let me start with the former before moving into the dark side of bananas. Much of worldwide banana production goes to local consumption. Especially for smallholder farmers, bananas can be a staple food and important source of income to local markets. While living in Mexico, I learned about all about banana diversity: the diverse banana species, the diverse uses of bananas, and how bananas even promote biodiversity on the farm. Bananas are one of the more common shade-trees on coffee farms in Veracruz. Unlike the more seasonal fruits like oranges and guavas, it seemed like bananas were available year-round. That’s because banana is not one fruit; eight species of banana are commercially grown in Mexico[1] and during my fieldwork I encountered 15 banana species on the coffee farms. I grew to love each for different occasions: the small, firm plátano roatan to quench the sweet tooth after a meal; the creamy plátano morado early in the morning to satisfy the morning fast; and the plátano tabasqueño when I wanted a hearty afternoon snack. Also true for many farming households, bananas were a staple part of my diet: I consumed one, two or sometimes three each day. Bananas are also a cheap form of food security. When money runs out to buy fruit from the market, there are usually bananas on the farm.

An itsy bitsy banana (unknown variety).

Bananas have an incredible diversity of uses apart from food: the leaves can be commercially sold for uses in cuisine (such as the steamed Mexican tamales or Puerto Rican arepas) or as a vehicle for offerings on festivals like Día de los Muertos. Different bananas have different nutritional value, and even cultural significance. The plátano morado, for example, is claimed to alleviate gastritis, but some believe that it should only be eaten in the morning because it could harm the body eaten later in the day. Nutritionally packed with Vitamin C, high in potassium, and excellent source of carbohydrates there are many reasons why these locally grown bananas are so good for farming households in Veracruz, Mexico. The story is different in Costa Rica where large banana companies convert vast areas of land to banana monocultures. Costa Rica has a history of logging and deforestation associated with bananas since the early 20th century. After a spell of devastating fungal disease, the Standard Fruit Company (more commonly known by its banana brand, Dole) began to increase plantations in the 1950s. Soon other large companies began to join in, and Costa Rica experienced a massive banana expansion in the 1990s. This was in part aided by trade agreements with the US, which supported infrastructure like roads and bridges to ultimately favor expansion of the banana companies. Today, these large companies are criticized for interrelated social and environmental damages like deforestation and pesticide abuse that have consequences to human health. A case in the 1970s showed that thousands of banana workers were rendered sterile due to negligence of the fungicide DBCP (dipromochloropropane). Increasingly workers are also coming from other countries like Nicaragua and are drawn into rural wage labor. IMG_5708What’s the solution? Shall we smash our demand for bananas? But then, would we grow hungry for some other exotic fruit? Bananas are not unique—for countless tropical fruits are becoming mainstreamed into global diets. But perhaps there is a way to find a happy balance with this diet: bananas and coffee. Bananas and coffee, when grown together on small-scale agroforestry systems, could help feed the people without costing the planet.   References [1] “Eight types of bananas are grown commercially in Mexico.” Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of Modern Mexico. 20 March 2014. Vandermeer JH and Perfecto I. (2005) Breakfast of Biodiversity: The Political Ecology of Rain Forest Destruction: Food First Books.  

The Secret to Happy Productivity: Eat a Chocolate Frog

What’s the secret to happy productivity? Swallow a chocolate frog first thing in the morning. That’s right, a chocolate frog.

For most of us, there is something looming on our To Do list that we need to get done but keep putting off. Whether it’s the paper to write, the email to send, or the grant application to submit, these activities take us away from what we may more enjoyable, like frolicking in the sunshine, spending time with friends, or sometimes even staring at the wall. But alas, those less pleasant tasks will not disappear instead only grow bigger-- and uglier--the more we put them off.

At the Cambridge EnterpriseWISE conference, we were advised to think of these unpleasant tasks as frogs. You probably have a box of frogs. Some of them are bigger and nastier looking than others. The key to happy productivity is to start the day by picking the biggest, ugliest frog, staring at it meanly in the face, taking a deep breath, and gulping it down.

Didn’t that feel good?

Now everything else will seem sweet in comparison. Of course, practically speaking sometimes frogs are so large that you cannot handle them in a single gulp. You’ll need to break it down into parts and swallow a little piece every day. (Apologies if this has turned into a revolting metaphor.) Then sooner than you know it, that frog will be conquered.

That may last for a couple weeks, months, years, or even an entire lifetime. If you can keep it up, I applaud you. But sometimes we all crave a little sweetness and cannot bear the thought of an ugly frog first thing in the morning. One approach is to look at the chocolate lining, so to speak, of the unpleasant circumstance. Be grateful that you have Internet connection to send that email. Think long-term about the potential payoff from making that grant application today. Attitude change is one approach. Another is to insert fun activities like listening to music or treating yourself to coffee, while doing the activity. Whatever strategy works for you, there are ways to make that frog seem less unpleasant.

Follow this Harry Potter recommendation to eat a chocolate frog first thing in the morning. You will spend the rest of the day bouncing happily from your morning burst of productivity.

Why coffee tastes so bitter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA short poem about the bitter life of coffee.

Why coffee tastes so bitter

Because it is good for you

Some like it sweet

Some like it neat

Some leave it on the pot to overheat

But those who know coffee at its best,

Drink it black, fresh, and undressed

Because good coffee is purity

Pristine like clean water and rejuvenating like fresh air,

Rich like the colors of an artist’s palate,

Complex like emotions, from rage to compassion, from sorrow to love

Coffee is dark.

It sometimes makes me want to cry

                                                            or pray

                                                                        or sing

Because, for many, del café vivimos

Coffee is life.

Why coffee tastes so good 

Because it is bitter

© Madeline R. Weeks

It’s a Matter of Taste

It’s a Matter of Taste

What happens when you give a group of 30 middle school students chocolate? Do they squirm with delight? Nope.

“It’s gross.” “Yuck.”

To be honest, I was horrified. Here I am trying to tell people to eat better chocolate—when I realize that my own concept of “good” chocolate is not what most kids are used to eating.

I had asked students to evaluate chocolate in terms of taste, and the respective chocolate companies on their pledges to social and environmental sustainability. The activity was immediately off to a bad start when I handed out the cacao beans and showed students how to crack open the shells and munch the bitter nibs. The disillusionment continued as these students moved through the dark end of the chocolate spectrum, tasting bars of 85%, 72%, and 70% cocoa mass.

It would have been horribly easier—and more popular—to throw in a sugary Cadbury Dairy Milk or Kinder bar.

Doing so would have been betrayal of my own beliefs about chocolate. I was on a mission to educate their palates and train the future connoisseurs of high quality chocolate. Yet, what these kids demanded was the sugary milk chocolate that they were familiar to eating. In all fairness a handful of students actually liked the dark chocolate selection. It may not be their fault that they are raised eating sweet milk chocolate. Even my first love of chocolate started with (and I hate to admit) a Hershey's’ peanut butter cup.

Are kids more hard-wired to like sweet?

This motivated me to do some research. It turns out that our taste buds really do change over time and can develop just as bodies and minds do. One study in 2002 by the University of Western Sydney, Australia indicated that female children were slightly more sensitive to tastes sweet, salty, and bitter than are male children. Another study by the University of Copenhagen corroborates this, adding to it that male children have a stronger preference for sweet. Not until around age 13-14 do kids begin to demand less sweet and become more comfortable with bitter. This may also be cultural and overall there is relatively little scientific research on children’s sense of taste and exactly how it changes over time. Because kids have 10,000 taste buds compared to adults who have about 5,000 working taste buds, kids are more sensitive to extreme tastes like bitter and have more proclivity for sugar.

The flavor of chocolate is the most important factor in determining consumer preference, and is the result of a complex process starting from the genetics of the plant to the post-harvest treatment like fermenta tion and drying. At least 800 flavor compounds are associated chocolate, which is even more than fine wine. This flavor will obviously be influenced by the quality of the ingredients, including the non-cocoa ingredients like sugar. Texture will influence our ability to perceive these flavors. By changing the particle size it is possible for more cocoa flavor to emerge with less of the raw cocoa ingredient (Voltz & Beckett, 1997). Grinding chocolate for longer periods of time through a process called “conching” will break down the chocolate into smaller particles.

As chocolate is ground, its chemical matrix will go through a series of alterations to its crystalline structure. According to a talk at the Cambridge Science Museum, the tongue cannot taste particles below 15 micron, which is why chocolate conched for longer periods of time, like the Galaxy bar, has a smaller particle size and thus tastes smoother. This also has to do with the viscosity, which changes how long the particles linger on the tongue. Since sugar is a hydrophobic compound, emulsification allows the fat to come into contact with the sugar, and we perceive this chocolate as smoother.

Flavor perception is the result of a complex process involving different parts of the body: the teeth (touch like snap and mouthfeel), the tongue (sour, bitter, salty, sweet, and unami), the nose (aroma), and the throat (flow, viscosity). From the moment we unwrap a chocolate bar our eyes and nose have already begun to assess the chocolate. The longer we allow chocolate to melt on our tongue, the greater the release of volatiles that increase our perception of flavors (Engelen et al, 2003). Chocolate with a higher viscosity will stay on our tongue for longer (Afoakwat et al, 2008d), which may explain why we can easily perceive the melt-in-your-mouth quality of milk chocolates. Dark chocolate takes longer to go through the full journey of taste to really appreciate its full flavor profile.

Getting kids to like the dark chocolate may not be just a matter of taste, but also a matter of patience.

  1. Sensitivity of taste in children and adults: C. James and D. G. Laing. University of Western Sydney, Australia. Appetite, 24, 68.
Afoakwa, E. O. 2011. Sensory character and flavour perception of chocolates. Chocolate Science and Technology. Wiley. Culter, Jennifer. “The Difference Between the Taste Buds of Adults & Kids.” Demand Media. 20 March 2015. Engelen, L., de Wijk, R. A. Prinz, J.F. Janssen, A.M., Van Der Bilt, A., Weenen, H. & Bosman, F. (2003). A comparison of the effect of added saliva, alpha-amylase and water on texture and flavor perception in semisolid foods. Physiology and Behavior, 78, 805-811. University of Copenhagen. “Girls Have Superior Sense of Taste to Boys.” 18 December 2008. 20 March 2015. Voltz, M. & Beckett, S.T. (1997). Sensory of chocolate. The Manufacturing Confectioner, 77, 49-53.    
The Making and Tasting of Chocolate

The Making and Tasting of Chocolate

Dinner & Dialogue in partnership with the Gates Scholars and the Global Scholars Action Network Tasting can be a great way to engage the senses. Tasting in groups can be a great way to engage people in a lively discussion. In the spirit of bringing action to the table, the Global Scholars Action Network partnered with the Gates Cambridge community to launch Dinner and Dialogue: The Making and Tasting of Chocolate. The discussion topic was “What is good chocolate?” from a multi-disciplinary perspective. After a 15-minute presentation led on the seed-to-bean-to-bar process of making chocolate, participants were invited to explore the concept of “good” chocolate starting with a sensory evaluation of different types of chocolate, including certified (i.e. organic, Fair Trade, vegan), single origins (i.e. Madagascar, Ecuador) and a spectrum of intensity (i.e. 70%, 80%, 85%). With the story of chocolate in mind, students embarked on a Chocolate Challenge to taste and evaluate chocolate. Mindfully tasting
“We are not here to eat chocolate. We are here to taste chocolate. And there’s a difference.”
While it can be tempting to simply pop a square of chocolate in your mouth or gnaw from a chocolate bar, the art of tasting is really a practice of mindfulness (see Headspace). Chocolate is such an incredible food because it can take you on a journey, from the moment you open the package and observe the sheen of the chocolate bar, break off a square to hear the “snap,” and place it on the tip of your tongue. As the chocolate melts you’ll move through waves of sensation, starting with that first impression, then the core or real “essence” of the flavor, and finishing with the memorable aftertaste. That journey can depend on your mood, time of day, and what you ate beforehand. It is about the interaction between you and the chocolate in that particular moment. Students took the first challenge to taste the first sample in complete silence. It actually takes a lot of concentration to taste chocolate, yet so often we consume without really thinking about that process. And it is easy to be swayed by a fancy brand name or how we think the chocolate should taste. Thus, all the chocolates in this exercise were sampled blindly to remove any preconceptions about taste. Critically engaging IMG_7781During this tasting students used flavor wheels developed by TCHO and Chocolopolis as examples of the range of vocabulary that can describe flavor. In the wine industry, there is the Robert-Parker 100-point wine scoring scale; and in the coffee industry there is the Q Coffee System. Yet to my knowledge there is no standardized method for evaluating the quality of chocolate. I developed scorecards based on the wine and coffee criteria to assess the different sensory components like the aroma, first impressions, and aftertaste. Students then ranked each chocolate based on a 5-point scale then decided as a team whether the sample was “bad” “average” or “good.” While the sensory evaluation is one component, assessing good chocolate is really much more complex. The social and environmental factors should be just an important a part of the decision. Unlike other agricultural commodities, cacao thrives in biodiverse environments when it has the protection of a shade canopy and is surrounded by pollinators like an insect called the midge. So cacao grown in the traditional, or organic manner, can arguably be in line with efforts of environmental conversation. Certifications that specifically target the environment include Bio-Siegel (Germany), Soil Association Organic Standard (UK), and the Organic Certification.
"A brilliant way to connect and build ideas around the issue of ‘ethical farming’ while enjoying many varieties of our favourite treats!” (Student of the University of Cambridge)
There is also the people component. 90% of the cacao in the world is grown on small-scale farms and yet these farmers receive only 3-5% of the final price of the product. This is where certifications like the Fairtrade Mark, Fair for Life, the Ethical Award, and independent seals like It’s One World incorporate social standards like decent working conditions and reinvesting in children’s education. Each of the companies featured during the tasting matched at least one criteria of social or environmental “goodness” to varying degrees. Below is a snapshot of the different certifications of chocolates from the tasting. TastingResults2 Certifications tell one side of the story but usually not the complete picture. In fact, some of the best chocolates I know do not carry any certification. The challenge for many smallholder farmers, especially those in remote areas or without local structures of community organization, is the lack of information and market access to these certification schemes. Thus, it’s important to think about the overall transparency when evaluating good chocolate. In general the more information you know about where the chocolate comes from, in terms of where it is grown and how it is made, the easier it is to evaluate the goodness of chocolate in its holistic sense. Terms like “bean-to-bar” and “single origin,” and “direct trade” are all good indications of a more transparent value-chain.
"It was a taste-opening, multisensory experience that has heightened my awareness of the social context in which chocolate is produced. Each chocolate has its own story to tell, both with regard to its origins and its complex flavours. And the company was superlative!" (Student of Oxford University)
Consciously acting IMG_7776The final question remains: How do I support good chocolate? One of the best ways is to start with your own consumption choices. By the end of the session students were eager to find out where they could purchase their favorite chocolate. There are a handful of online retailers like CocoaRunners and Bean to Bar Chocolate and specialty chocolate shops in the UK like Paul A Young Fine Chocolates Ltd and Cocoa Cabana. In Cambridge, the wholefood grocery shop Arjuna offers a nice selection. It can also be a fun social activity to discover great chocolates. One example of a social enterprise that is helping customers discover and support good chocolate is The Chocolate Garage in Palo Alto, California. This model supports “Happy Chocolate,” with direct-trade and bean-to-bar chocolate that connects small cacao growers, artisanal chocolate makers, and consumers. Chocolate is about making happy connections and being conscious of the role you play in the overall value chain.
“We realised that there was a lot more to good chocolate and the need to change peoples thinking in this area.” (Student of the University of Cambridge)
Tasting chocolate is an individual and collective journey, which begins the first decision of which chocolate to purchase. It is a process of discovery that can open us to new ways of thinking about how we interact with chocolate and with each other. And not to be forgotten, active tasting is about active being. It is about being present to fully appreciate the beauty, complexity, and captivating quality of chocolate. IMG_7782  

Fairtrade in the UK: Mars Chocolate Announces Partnership with Fairtrade Sourcing Program

Here in the UK, Fair Trade products abound. Grocery stores are lined with Fair Trade products from Divine Chocolate to major household chocolate brands like Dairy Milk, Green & Black’s, Maltesers, and KitKat. Shop online and you can find an array of household products like wooden stools and even Fairtrade Fashion. It’s no wonder that Fairtrade seems so omnipresent: the UK is the largest market for Fairtrade products. 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of the FAIRTRADE in the UK and the next question is: What will 2015 hold in store? One of the most popular chocolate bars in the UK—the Mars bar—is soon to be made Fairtrade. Or, at least sourcing some ingredients according to Fairtrade standards. Customers may not notice a change on the label because this time the focus is not on the certification. This month Mars Chocolate announced its partnership with the new Fairtrade Sourcing Program (FSP), a new scheme launched in 2014 “to enable producers to sell more cocoa, sugar and cotton on Fairtrade terms” (Source: Fairtrade International). As it currently stands, the FAIRTRADE Mark demands that 100% of the product is Fairtrade; thus for a chocolate bar to be FAIRTRADE certified not only the cacao but all other ingredients like sugar must be purchased according to Fairtrade standards. This can be challenging for chocolate if the cacao is sourced Fairtrade but the sugar is not, especially in countries like Switzerland where coveted traditional Swiss chocolate is made from locally grown beet sugar (Source: Fairtrade and Sugar). Under the new Fairtrade Sourcing Program, businesses can commit to purchaing products according to the Fairtrade standards even if not all ingredients carry the Fairtrade mark. So it takes the focus off the certification and labeling and emphasizes the supply chain and sourcing. Bottom line, this program could make it easier for large companies like Mars to scale up purchases of Fairtrade cacao. The goal of the FSP is “more Fairtrade for everyone.” But we’ve got to ask: Is this more of a commitment to helping the smallholder or to the large corporation? It seems like there is huge market potential from the smallholder perspective. Globally, only 1.2% of the world’s cacao is sold on Fairtrade terms (Source: Fairtrade International). In Cote D’Ivore, where Mars will be focusing this new initiative, roughly 30,000 Fairtrade certified producers are capable of selling 75,000 tons of cacao on the market, yet only 16% of their production is actually sold as Fairtrade. (Source: Interview with FortinBley). According to Mars, the new scheme would increase premiums paid to West African cooperatives to over $2 million by 2016. (Source: Press release). These premiums can be re-invested to support programs like training and increasing yields and disease resistant crops. While this is sweet news for the confectionary industry, and does represent a positive step in promoting more transparent sourcing, it’s important not to lose sight of what good chocolate is all about: quality. Even if this partnership does bring Mars “one step closer to sustainable, ethically sourced cocoa becoming the norm in the chocolate industry,” (Blas Maquivar, president of Mars Chocolate UK, Source: The Scotland Herald), one cannot help but wonder the if helping smallholder cacao farmers is best done by promoting a large corporation like Mars. Yet, the sustainability discourse is also changing. Large companies, according to the State of Sustainability Initiatives (SSI) Review of 2014 may be an important part of the equation to drive market growth for sustainable commodities. Initiatives like the Mars partnership with the Fairtrade Sourcing Program are part of a larger equation to address sustainability from a global scale. Yet there is no panacea for trade-offs that may arise. Would sourcing in bulk diminish the quality? What are the implications for small- and medium-scale chocolate makers? How might this impact the cacao farms that don’t have access to the program? And lastly, will this make consumers buy more Mars bars? My dentist is already starting to squirm.

Una “mocha” del realismo mágico en el cine hispano

Este artículo fue escrito para una clase de español en la Universidad de Cambridge.    Una de las películas más conocidas del cine hispano es Como agua para chocolate, dirigida por Alfonso Arau y estrenada en 1992. Es una adaptación de la novela homónima de Laura Esquivel, que también escribió el guión. Esta colaboración real entre la pareja ha ganado elogios por su uso creativo del realismo mágico, un género también utilizado en la literatura como en las obras de Gabriel García Márquez. Usando la comida como símbolo de las emociones, Como agua para chocolate se trata del doloroso amor entre los dos personajes principales, Tita y Pedro, durante la revolución mexicana, de 1910 a 1919. Durante esa época, es una tradición que la hija menor no se case sino que se quede en casa para cuidar de sus papás; por eso, Tita está “encarcelada” figurativamente en el hogar y la cocina con la expectativa de cuidar a su Mamá Elena. Sin embargo, al amor no se le puede imponer reglas y el fruto prohibido es siempre más tentador. En una las escenas que captura los placeres sensoriales de la comida es cuando Tita está en el metate moliendo el chile para hacer el guajolote. Pedro la ve y está en trance por el poder mágico que exhibe Tita cuando transforma la comida. Esta imagen de la mujer moliendo también aparece en la pintura mesoamericana para representar este doble paralelo de la mujer oprimida-poderosa. Otra película del cineasta hispano es el Norte (dirigida por Gregori Nava, 1983) que se trata de una familia guatemalteca que migra hacia el norte, los EUA, pasando por México. La trama empieza con la historia de Arturo, un productor de café en Guatemala que es matado por las tropas militares. Sus dos hijos, Rosa y Enrique deciden huir de su tierra natal e irse hacia el norte. A lo largo de la jornada, están sujetos a la discriminación por sus raíces indígenas. Realmente hay muchos paralelos entre Como agua para chocolate y el Norte. Las dos películas tienen el tema de la frontera EUA-México del trasfondo. Son tanto historias de la familia como de los personajes individuales, y tratan de la transformación de la identidad y del anhelo por tener otra vida. Son historias del sufrimiento pero también del amor, amargo y dulce, a la vez. Aunque ni el chocolate ni el café tienen un papel protagónico, este espíritu de dualidad es característico de las dos películas.

Conversation with Harriet Lamb of Fairtrade International (with Spanish version)

“To be worthy of being called an idea, it has to be dangerous.” Oscar Wild

Harriet Lamb dressed as a Fairtrade banana (Photo courtesy of Songqiao Yao)

To kick off the celebrating women’s achievement series at Lucy Cavendish College, Harriet Lamb leapt into the room dressed as a giant yellow banana. As the CEO of Fairtrade for 12 years, she has been part of a movement to awaken a new consumer consciousness. Lamb’s journey started in Costa Rica while on a visit to banana plantations during her tenure at the World Development Movement (WDM). She noticed a strange quietness on the banana plantations. No chirping of birds. No howling of monkeys or sounds from other animals. The plantations had been sprayed with so many pesticides that the living creatures—including pests and beneficial organisms—had all been killed. There consequences for the human health too. Due to the exposure to the pesticide DBCP, there were growing cases of reproductive sterility: many villagers were unable to conceive or gave birth to children with deformities. Lamb met one woman who had given birth to a child with a head four times the size of his body. “He looked like ET,” recalls Lamb. Coming face to face with the horrifying reality of what agro-chemicals do to human health made Lamb question how industrial food is produced. “There has got to be a better way to do trade; in a way that puts people first, not last.” Since them Lamb has dedicated her career to working for small-scale farmers that are the backbone of our food system. There are an estimated 1.4 million farmers in 74 countries, and 80% of these farmers are small-scale. In other words, 1.12 million small-scale farmers are feeding our planet of over 7 billion people. Ironically, as we become richer and richer we spend less and less on food. Yet the process that brings our food to the table does not capture the full cost of production. There’s a price a making food cheaper—and who pays the price are the small-scale farmers. A good example of this inequality and concentration of power is the chocolate industry. Using the metaphor of an hourglass Lamb revealed the shocking statistics:
  • 90% of the world’s cacao is grown by small-scale farmers;
  • 3 companies grind 40% of the world’s cacao;
  • 5 companies control 57% of all chocolate sales;
  • A billion people constitute the pool of demand for chocolate
Sadly, what the cacao farmers receive at the end of the day is a very small percentage (usually between 3 and 6%) of the final product value. Is that what we call a Fair system? This is more than a pricing issue. This is a governance issue and a social change issue. The Future of Fairtrade In the past 25 years Fairtrade has expanded enormously. There are now over 30,000 Fairtrade products worldwide. The question is: What is the next big leap for Fairtrade? Despite all that has been accomplished there is still far to go. As Lamb illustrated with a gnarly onion (appropriately, a Fairtrade one), the organization is like an onion in which you keep unpeeling the layers. Fairtrade started working with smallholder farmers. Now their attention has turned to the women. And what the women want is education for their children. At the end of the day, Fairtrade has to work not for the farmers but for the children of the farmers. Women, as Lamb argued, are the gatekeepers of this future. She left us with parting words from an ancient Chinese proverb: “The man who says it cannot be done should get out of the way of the woman who is doing it.”   Versión español Charla con Harriet Lamb de Fairtrade International Anoche tuve la oportunidad de asistir a una presentación titulada “¿Qué es lo siguiente para el comercio justo?” por Harriet Lamb que actualmente es la directora ejecutiva (CEO) de Fairtrade International. El evento inició una serie de charlas organizada por Lucy Cavendish College para reconocer los logros de mujeres extraordinarias (Outstanding Women of Achievement Series). Fue apropiado que esta serie empezó con Lamb, siendo una mujer que despierta la consciencia de los consumidores y lucha cada día para darles una voz a los pequeños productores—sobre todo a las mujeres. La trayectoria de Lamb empezó con un viaje a Costa Rica cuando estaba permanente como directora de las campañas del World Development Movement (WDM). Ahí se encontró de cara con la realidad de los costos de producir la comida industrializada. Durante una visita a una plantación de plátanos se percató de algo: el silencio. Donde normalmente debería haber sonidos de pájaros, monos, y otros animales en el bosque tropical no hubo ningún sonido. La razón por la cual era el alto uso de insumos agroquímicos que había matado a cualquier organismo con vida, desde las plagas hasta los insectos beneficiosos. Todo eso llevaba como consecuencia un deterioro en la salud humana. Debido a la exposición de compuestos químicos, en particular el DBCP, los trabajadores de las plantaciones padecían de la infertilidad, algunos nunca llegaron a concebir hijos y otros daban la luz a un niño con deformidades, por ejemplo; Lamb conoció a una mujer cuyo niño nació con la cabeza cuatro veces el tamaño de su cuerpo. Fue en aquel momento que Lamb pensó: “Debería existir una manera mejor de producir nuestra comida, una manera que pone a los humanos primero y no en el último lugar.” A partir de entonces Lamb ha dedicado su trabajo a darles más derechos a los pequeños productores que realmente son la espina dorsal de nuestra industria de comida. Hay un estimado 1,4 millones de productores en 74 países, y el 80% de esos productores son a pequeña escala. En otras palabras, unos 1,12 millones de pequeños productores alimentan a nuestro planeta de unos 7 billones de habitantes. Pero la ironía es que cuanto más rico uno sea, menos gasta en comida. El proceso que conlleva que un producto llegue al mercado es más costoso que el producto en sí. No es posible comercializar la comida tan barata sin que alguien pague un precio. Quien paga son los pequeños productores. Un buen ejemplo de esta desigualdad y concentración de poder es la industria del chocolate. Utilizando la metáfora de un reloj de arena, Lamb reveló unas estadísticas sorprendentes:
  • 5,5 millones de pequeños productores producen el 90% de el abastecimiento del cacao en el mundo
  • 3 empresas muelen el 40% de todo el cacao mundial
  • 5 empresas controlan el 57% de las ventas del cacao
  • 1 billón de habitantes consumen chocolate en el mundo
Sin embargo, los productores cacaotaleros reciben muy poco (entre 3 y 6% normalmente) del valor final de su producto. El futuro de Fairtrade El objetivo de Fairtrade es invertir en el futuro. Al final, Fairtrade tiene que mejorar las vidas no solamente de los productores sino también de los niños de los productores porque ellos son el futuro. ¿Y quienes se fijan más en el futuro de los niños? Según Lamb, son las mujeres. Para concluir el evento Lamb nos dejó unas palabras de inspiración, un proverbio de la antigua China: “El hombre que dice que no puede hacerlo debe dejar a la mujer que ya lo esté haciendo.”