With the rise of single origin chocolate—made with beans from one country, region, or plantation—today many bars name the source of their cocoa. Based on historical and statistical analyses, interviews with artisans, and examination of product packaging, this article discusses the limited visibility of West Africa among single origin bars. Although the region generates about 70% of cocoa traded on the world market, a comprehensive database of “premium bar chocolate” shows just 3.8% made with West African beans. This discrepancy is due to a complex imbrication of trade logistics, bean strain, and representational politics. U.S.-based artisans cite flavor limitations of the predominant Amelonado strain and difficulties procuring superior cocoa from the region. However, U.S. media representations of West Africa as a place of “trouble” (for example, of conflict, HIV/AIDS, and poverty), and especially allegations of slavery on Ivorian plantations, also make it difficult to source from West Africa. As product packaging often shows exotic and implicitly erotic origin sites, persistent negative stereotypes surrounding West Africa pose a challenge for quality-conscious makers committed to ethical sourcing.
Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate
Kristy Leissle earned her PhD in Women’s Studies from the University of Washington in 2008 by studying chocolate. She is Lecturer in Global Studies at the University of Washington Bothell, and Director of Education for the NW Chocolate Festival, the largest gathering of bean-to-bar artisan chocolate makers in the U.S. Her writing on chocolate has recently appeared in Alimentum, yes! and the Journal of African Cultural Studies. She lives in Seattle, where she keeps a closet stocked full of chocolate at all times.
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Kristy Leissle; Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronomica 1 August 2013; 13 (3): 22–31. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22
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