5 Bitter Truths About Chocolate
While we'd like to continue to believe that chocolate comes from a purple garbed man in a whimsical factory, the real chocolate world is far darker and far harder than we ever would have thought.
Though the general disregard for children is about the same.
You know already that lead is bad for you. This is why we have such a thing as "unleaded" gasoline, and in general don't allow lead near anything you're about to breathe or eat. So what does this have to do with chocolate?
Well, it just so happens that the shells of cocoa beans, the chief ingredient in chocolate, have an almost supernatural ability to absorb lead from the air. Of course, this is only a big deal if there's a lot of lead in the air, right? Sure, which is why it's unfortunate that Nigeria, where a shitload of our cocoa comes from, still has lead in their gasoline. That's why a Hershey bar tastes so damn good: The secret ingredient is African exhaust.
The average candy bar ranks fourth for highest lead content in a food. Don't panic yet, though; lead occurs naturally in everything, even wholesome vegetables and grains, and while there is no amount of lead that isn't harmful to the human body, a little bit of the stuff in our bloodstream is more or less unavoidable and probably won't do anything bad enough that we'll ever notice.
Infants and children, on the other hand, are basically screwed. Because they're already stupid, kids absorb higher concentrations of lead into their system than the rest of us, just through their day to day activities of eating dirt and inhaling paint chips. Also, they breathe faster than an adult, which further draws in whatever lead happens to be floating around and sends it toward their sensitive little brains. Even before they start wailing on that candy, they have more lead in their bodies than Vito Corleone. Then comes Halloween.
What effect is this heavy metal smorgasbord having on our youth? A study conducted on some not-so-academically-gifted students showed that most of them had high levels of lead in their systems. Now, we know that it comes from a variety of sources, but for the fat kids, it's easier to put two and two together. Unless you don't know what two and two equals, because you just ate a bag of M&M's.
While no specific manufactured chocolate is named, high levels of lead have been discovered in some of them, and by high, we mean damned close to the limit allowed by international standards. Just from chocolate powder alone, one study found an American kid might get anywhere from three to 12 percent of their tolerable weekly intake of lead in one serving.
Now combine this with all the other exposure to lead children could be getting and it isn't difficult to notice the brain busting potential here.
Destroying Rainforests and Dealing with Dictators
Enjoying that Kit-Kat? Well stop because it's made of fucking monkey fingers! OK. It isn't really. But it might as well be according to Greenpeace.
Greenpeace put that commercial together when it learned that Nestle was dragging its heels on a promise it (and every other chocolate company) had made to stop using palm oil (a substance used in place of cocoa butter). Palm oil is produced by assholish plantation owners who clear vast amounts of rainforest, endangering the Sumatran tigers, orangutans and rhinoceroses that live there.
Also it looks like the amber from Jurassic Park. But, really, don't let that distract you from how awful of a thing this is.
Flipping off Mother Nature just that extra little bit, these particular rainforests sit on peat bogs, which release tons of carbon into the atmosphere when disturbed. Just these deeds, plus some pressure from Internet groups, made most chocolate companies, like Cadbury, immediately begin to phase out their business dealings in Malaysia and Indonesia.
The fact that these plantations were also accused of using slaves, stealing land and outright murdering people is barely mentioned in the little bit of media covering this issue. Of course, Nestle has been dealing with slave labor to purchase cocoa for years, so it's doubtful they'd let a few brutal human rights violations elsewhere get in the way of business.
Pictured: One of Nestle's Malaysian chocolate slaves.
And it hasn't. Just last year, Nestle was discovered buying milk from farms owned by Grace Mugabe, wife of Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe. To give you some context here, Mugabe once expressed a desire to "be a Hitler tenfold."
Grace Mugabe, known for lavish spending sprees while her own people suffer ridiculous poverty, and beating the hell out of a Times photographer (because he was taking pictures of her lavish spending), runs these farms like you might expect: Terribly.
Plus, hey, kind of looks like an alien. Throwing it out there.
Workers are paid 40 dollars a month, can't afford the milk they help to produce and don't have electricity in the houses provided by the business. Also bad, the farms themselves were basically stolen, back in 2003, from the original owners after months of violence and intimidation by the Mugabe regime. The United States, Canada and the EU all have trade sanctions against Grace Mugabe. Nestle, however, is based in Switzerland, which isn't part of the EU, so they don't have to give a rat's ass.
A more accurate logo. Also? A badass album cover if Nestle ever decides to become a metal band. (Instead of murderers.)
One month after Nestle's relationship with the Mugabes came to light, Nestle pulled out of Zimbabwe, citing international pressure. The fact that Mugabe's thugs had begun harassing Nestle workers was just a wacky coincidence, wacky events being expected when you're working in the candy industry.
Ridiculous Lies About Health Benefits
While it may not surprise you that much that Big Chocolate, like any "Big" industry, doesn't give a crap about your welfare, the lengths these companies go to step over your bloated, greasy corpse to raid your wallet rank with some of the stupidest and most nefarious in the business world.
Milton Hershey, for instance, often claimed that "an ounce of chocolate provided more energy than a pound of meat." He even made a wrapper for his bar stating it.
It was this one... You probably didn't need us to tell you that.
But then again, for Hershey, chocolate was serious business and he hated it being classed as mere confectionary. Workers were not ever allowed to use the word candy in reference to chocolate. In 1926, Milton, who may have been more naive than malicious, went to the Supreme Court to convince them to officially make chocolate a food. The court declined on the basis that Hershey only brought his opinion along for evidence.
"This court rules in favor of shut-the-fuck-up-Milton-Hershey."
The National Confectioners association took it a step further, stating that candy is actually good for you, helps you lose weight and actually prevents tooth decay. That's right. Your doctor, nutritionist and dentist are just living in Oppositeville. You're only 20 Snickers away from perfect health, a six pack and a winning smile.
Also bringing the crazy was the Mars Corporation, who took this message of health to the extreme, creating a marketing campaign linking their chocolate bars to apples, oatmeal and milk. One ad, featuring a glass of milk turning into a Milky Way, caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, who forced Mars to stop implying their products are nutritious in their commercials.
So, Mars made a pamphlet instead that claimed eating chocolate every day was about as good as eating an apple a day. Then they sent them to dentists around the country so they could distribute them to patients.
Is that "play"? That guy at the end is clearly having a heart attack.
Cadbury's neglect for public health took the lazy man's approach. When a leaking pipe in one of their factories appeared to be causing a rare strain of salmonella in some of their products, Cadbury informed authorities and the public of the danger...five freaking months later. By this time, 30 people had fallen ill.
In court, they pled guilty to all charges put against them and promised to do better in the future. Also of comfort, Cadbury's multiple recalls for neglecting allergy warnings, a melamine scare for 11 of its products and their continued use of trans fats in their chocolate, despite packages that state a value of zero. Nice.
Yeah, we'd still eat it too.
The Mars Family is Insane
What do you think is the biggest chocolate company in the world? Hershey, right? Wrong. Mars, Inc. is four times the size of Hershey (they make the Milky Way, Snickers, Mars Bar, plus countless other products). And they got there via pure insanity.
"The secret ingredient is the government is trying to steal my health! I can taste colors!"
The company was started by Frank C. Mars out of nothing, Mars probably earning his first penny selling sugar-coated twigs to schoolchildren. So magnificently tight-assed was he that he poured every dollar into the slowly-growing business at the expense of his marriage and his relationship with his son, Forrest. When the two finally reunited after more than a decade of estrangement, Frank promptly sent Forrest off to Europe to expand the company. Then Frank died.
Forrest Mars then set himself up in a one-room factory in England and made chocolates--at a huge cost to his family. He eventually had to send them away because he couldn't afford to feed and house them. But it would all be worth it, as he would soon stumble upon the innovation that would make his career: candy-coated chocolates you now know as M&M's. And of course, shenanigans were involved.
"They melt in your mouth! Does that even mean anything? SOMEBODY BUY THESE!"
Forrest manipulated an executive from rival Hershey into helping him produce M&M's, by offering to make the guy a partner. As proof, he offered to put the guy's name on the candy (the Hershey guy's name was Bruce Murrie, so M&M's stands for Mars & Murrie's). Then, once M&M's were a huge success and Mars had everything he wanted from Hershey, he proceeded to treat Murrie like shit until he quit.
Forrest then had his own children. The kids of this real-life Willy Wonka, by the way, were never allowed to eat a single M&M. No, he wasn't worried about tooth decay or grimy fingers contaminating a batch of candy. He was just cheap. Forrest demanded perfection from his kids and ran his business like a Soviet gulag. One improperly wrapped piece of chocolate, a Mars bar without enough caramel, or even a pin-sized hole in a chocolate coating, and he, very reasonably, would go to the factory floor, fly into a rage, trash the place and reduce his workers to whimpering in the fetal position.
That barely scratches the surface of the Mars family craziness that continues to this very day.
Like this but, we imagine, not as troublingly erotic.
The entire operation, now on its fourth generation of Mars family ownership, is run as if it has OCD. Millions of M&M's get thrown straight into the garbage if the M symbol isn't perfect. You know, those little candies you shovel into your face 10 at a time without glancing at them. The company is so secretive that they won't share their financial records with their own bankers. They won't go public for fear of having to tell stockholders what's going on.
Why are they so paranoid? Well...
Chocolate Plays Dirty
Like many tech-related industries, chocolate companies rely on secret technology, known to exist only by their patents, in order to get an edge on the competition. Also like their tech-heavy counterparts, Big Chocolate aren't above blurring the line between candy company and crime syndicate.
Holy shit we would watch this movie.
Remember when Willy Wonka closed his factories to outsiders and replaced his entire workforce with an orange dwarf sweatshop because he was worried about rivals stealing his secrets? It turns out that Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was drawing upon the actual behavior of companies such as Nestle and Rowntree, who were well known for sending spies, posing as workers, into factories to steal trade secrets. As a result, both began to guard their chocolate making processes very carefully.
Toblerone and Nestle would have done well to follow suit. Remember when Forrest Mars went to Europe to begin his own chocolate empire? He simply got a job with Toblerone first, then with Nestle, learned all their secrets and got the hell out of there. Most importantly, he learned never to let outsiders into his factories. If he absolutely had to, he made visiting workers enter and leave by the same way and forced them to wear blindfolds.
"Hey, before I fill out my W-9 and whatnot, I just want to be sure: This is a fucking candy company, right?"
The paranoia came to a crescendo when a Nestle product called Magic (which they themselves ripped off from an Italian treat called Kinder Surprise) was forced off the market when the U.S. Government feared it would become a choking hazard. Certain that the Mars company was somehow behind this, Nestle chairman Helmut Maucher sent out his own spies, private detectives and winged monkeys, to get to the bottom of it.
Mars' executives were followed, conversations were eavesdropped upon, phone records were obtained and dumpsters were raided. Nestle agents were placed strategically all over a restaurant where executives were dining so someone would be certain to be within earshot of the conversation.
See if you can spot the Nestle spy in this picture.
Crazy, right? Not really. Mars actually was behind the death of the chocolate toy egg thing, and since Nestle had already lost millions on the product, Mars didn't really need to give a shit.
They've since come to terms, apparently. In 2008, federal regulators in Germany, Canada and the U.S. investigated several chocolate companies, including Hershey, Mars, Cadbury and Nestle, for price fixing.
Executives from rival companies, according to one affidavit, have been meeting in coffee shops since 2001 (or possibly earlier) in order to set prices, meaning we all probably paid too much for every candy bar this past decade. Motivating this uneasy alliance, most likely, was an increase in the cost of cacao and milk, and the more or less unchanged level of chocolate sales.
Or maybe they just like money.
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