Bitter Chocolate: Anatomy of an Industry

Bitter Chocolate: Anatomy of an Industry

by Carol Off

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Hailed in hardcover as “compelling” (Kirkus Reviews) and an “astonishing [and] wrenching story” (The London Free Press), Bitter Chocolate is an eye-opening look at one of our most beloved consumer products. Tracing the fascinating origins and evolution of chocolate from the banquet tables of Montezuma’s Aztec


Hailed in hardcover as “compelling” (Kirkus Reviews) and an “astonishing [and] wrenching story” (The London Free Press), Bitter Chocolate is an eye-opening look at one of our most beloved consumer products. Tracing the fascinating origins and evolution of chocolate from the banquet tables of Montezuma’s Aztec court in the early sixteenth century to the bustling factories of Hershey, Cadbury, and Mars today, investigative journalist Carol Off shows that slavery and injustice have always been key ingredients.

The heart of the book takes place in West Africa inside the Ivory Coast—the world’s leading producer of cocoa beans—where profits from the multibillion-dollar chocolate industry fuel bloody civil war and widespread corruption. Faced with pressure from a crushing “cocoa cartel” demanding more beans for less money, poor farmers have turned to the cheapest labor pool possible: thousands of indentured children who pick the beans but have never themselves known the taste of chocolate.

“An astounding eye-opener that takes no prisoners” (Quill & Quire), Bitter Chocolate is an absorbing social history, a passionate investigative account, and a shocking and urgent exposé of an industry that continues even now to institutionalize misery as it indulges our whims.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for Bitter Chocolate:

"Bitter Chocolate is less a book about chocolate than it is a study of racism, imperialism and oppression as told through the lens of a single commodity."
The Globe and Mail

"An astounding eye-opener that takes no prisoners in its account of an industry built on an image of sweetness and innocence, but which hides a dark and often cruel reality. You'll never look at chocolate the same way again."
Quill and Quire (starred review)

"We know chocolate makers have their secrets—like how they get that caramel in there. That one, though, is pretty tame compared with the stuff unearthed in . . .Carol Off’s new exposé, Bitter Chocolate.
Toronto Star

In the style of Mark Kurlansky’s Salt, Bitter Chocolate unravels chocolate's glittery packaging and uncovers an industry tainted by war and genocide."
Ottawa XPress

"[Off] makes her case so strongly and with such nuanced flavour that the book becomes as hard to put down as a bar of Toblerone."
Shared Vision

School Library Journal

In this work, published in Canada in 2006, CBC reporter Off (The Lion, the Fox and the Eagle: A Story of Generals and Justice in Rwanda and Yugoslavia) explores the dark and bitter stories behind the history of chocolate production, now a multibillion-dollar world industry. She first provides background on Europe's introduction to Central America's cacao tree and its adaptation of recipes to increase the appeal to European consumers. The history that follows, in which chocolate became a common part of North American and European diets, is filled with household names like Hershey and Cadbury and such multinational conglomerates as Archer Daniel Mills and Cargill. Citing the work of investigative journalists, Off hones in on today's cocoa producers, who face a perpetual shortage of labor. Journalists have uncovered use of child labor (possibly slave labor) in Africa; one of them, investigating child slavery in the Ivory Coast, has been missing since 2004. Off's investigative account will make readers think twice as they bite into that next piece of chocolate. Certainly suitable for both public and academic libraries.
—Kristin Whitehair Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Kirkus Reviews
The compelling untold story of a universal luxury that is unattainable to the very people who provide its most essential ingredient. Most of the world's chocolate is produced in some of the least stable, most impoverished places in the world-places like Cote d'Ivoire, Africa, which for 15 years has been in near-constant political upheaval. Harvesting and processing cocoa pods is backbreaking, dangerous labor in a region roiled by ethnic cleansing and in some areas civil war. The workers who get paid at all lose much of their meager wages to government "fees" that amount to state-sanctioned bribery-and they're the lucky ones. The unlucky ones are nothing less than modern-day slaves, many of them children "hired" through brokers and forced to work long hours for no pay and little or no food. But chocolate consumption has always relied on exploitation, argues Off (The Ghosts of Medak Pocket: The Story of Canada's Secret War, 2004, etc.): from Meso-American times, when slaves harvested and mashed cocoa pods to make a bitter drink for their masters, to the colonial era, when European slave merchants traded African workers to cocoa plantations. The chocolate industry has been aware of slave labor in cocoa production since at least the 19th century, she writes, but almost no progress has been made in wiping it out. Congress has rejected efforts to institute a "slave free" labeling system, preferring a voluntary system that, Off contends, has no teeth. So-called "fair trade" chocolate is no panacea either, as a growing number of small chocolate companies have been taken over by the very multinationals to which they were supposed to provide alternatives. Offers only vexing problems, not solutions,but does so with clarity, conviction and outrage. Agent: Don Sedgwick/Transatlantic Literary Agency

Product Details

New Press, The
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Carol Off is a co-host of CBC radio’s current affairs program As It Happens. One of Canada’s leading investigative journalists, she has won numerous awards for her CBC television documentaries set in Africa, Asia, and Europe. She lives in Toronto.

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