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Death by Chocolate & Other Modern Tales

February 17, 2015

Fear no food. That’s my mantra. In fact, that phrase has been on my Yelp profile since 2007. The question I suppose you have to ask yourself is, “What counts as food?”

I don’t think you have to parse it that closely. The idea is that anything in moderation is probably going to be fine. That includes partially hydrogenated oils, which I know the scientists say are unhealthy at any level. But people were eating flaky pie crusts made with Crisco for years and continuing to live rich full lives. And of course we’ve all been eating GMOs for a long long time now, and most of us are fine.

You aren’t going to find scare tactics on the FLB. I’m not going to try and insist that all food be safe. It’s not. Some food might make you sick. But you have to live life. And eating eggs with fully cooked yolks or hamburgers cooked to within an inch of their life doesn’t sound like living to me.

That means I’m still going to eat chocolate after telling you the below tale. More than anything, it should be seen as a cautionary story about the negative consequences we face when we fail to protect our fragile and complicated environment.

So as a punchline, I’ll also share the story of how we don’t learn from our mistakes.

There’s something I learned a long time ago in school that has stuck with me my whole life. It was from physical science, and it goes like this, “Matter cannot be created or destroyed, it simply changes form.”

This is the story of lead.

You put lead in gas. It comes out in the exhaust, it goes into the air, and ultimately ends up in the soil or water. The problem is that you don’t want to eat lead. Or inorganic arsenic. Or other heavy metals that sneak into our food. However, if they are there, the chances are that we put them there. Ourselves. Not on purpose, but quite by accident.

The summary of the findings is on civil eats, but you can read the full report direct from the source from As You Sow.

What you’ll find is that expensive chocolates like Theo were found to have cadmium, some Trader Joe’s chocolate was found to have lead, and mass market chocolates from Mars and Lindt were are contaminated enough to warrant a warning label in California (based on the As You Sow tests). The issue isn’t necessarily the manufacturers fault, because a lot of this can be traced to the beans themselves.

Still, not all bars were affected.

If you choose to work yourself up in a lather about this and you are a dark chocolate lover, your new favorite bars are Ghirardelli Intense Dark Midnight Reverie (86% Cacao) and Endangered Species Natural Dark Chocolate (72% cocoa). But both contains soy lecithin as an emulsifier (although the Endangered Species soy is non GMO), and Ghirardelli skimps on the cocoa butter with the inclusion of milk fat. Bastards. The San Francisco chocolate maker also adds “natural flavor”. Bastards. Oh, I said that already? It must be true.

Well, all that leaded gasoline, all those persistent pesticides, and all of that industrial pollution seemed relatively harmless at the time. Now the pigeons have come home to roost.

So, what are we doing now?

We’re approving GMO apples. These aren’t the apples that are going to save the planet. They aren’t able to grow with less water. They aren’t making more apples per acre to feed the world. Our best and brightest geneticists have figured out a way to splice into an apple’s DNA so that it doesn’t become an unsightly shade of brown after it’s been cut and left out for a while.

Indulge me for just a moment. Surely, a reasonable person would say there is at least a small risk of something going wrong with GMOs. That can range from something obvious like crop contamination that results in GMOs drifting into areas where they are not welcome, to something larger and less predictable. And one would hope that someone out there is weighing the potential risks against the potential rewards.

I’m not seeing the rewards here.

Well, I guess it will reward those large industrial manufacturers who will now be able to make a new line of convenience foods for time-starved parents who don’t have a few seconds to cut up an apple. But let’s back up for a minute. An apple doesn’t need to be pre-cut. It’s a freaking apple. It’s a single serving in a perfect container. It’s tough on the outside. It’s not sticky. It doesn’t require refrigeration. You don’t need to wrap it in plastic. It’s easy to carry with you. It can last for months on its own (if stored properly) and still be crisp.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, needs a non-browning GMO apple. So let’s screw around with our fragile and complicated ecosystem by creating a new variety of fruit. It’s probably fine. But that’s what we said about leaded gas, industrial pollution, and persistent pesticides. And just look at what that’s done to our chocolate.

Not that you shouldn’t eat it, but when you eat it, try to remember that big business is befouling our planet for their profit. It really gives a whole new meaning to bittersweet.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 17, 2015 1:10 pm

    The last thing i would do us stop eating chocolate.

    My thoughts about this are from the producer or manufacturers side and overall public health. Why do you give up on the possibility that chocolate may be able to be made more safely. Isn’t Is there a test that a producer or manufacturer can do to determine if the levels of lead are below harmful toxicity?

    In the world of cheese, cheesemakers are required to test for bacteria and acidity levels and the industryis closely monitored by regulaton and food safety and recall plans. We log every batch of cheese that we reveive at the shop. Its time consuming but actually helps us to know more abput each cheese and be better cheesemongers.

    Smaller chocolate manufacturers would be working with smaller suppliers up the supply chain. They would have more work to do but it may be easier once procedures in are you are in place. Larger producers

  2. February 17, 2015 1:35 pm

    Could have concern for the public they hope to make happy by selling delicious chocolate and the emsuong profits. Its matter of developing systems.

  3. Jack C permalink
    February 17, 2015 3:02 pm

    The saddest thing is our culture’s obsession with perfect-looking fruits and vegetables. Every apple I’ve gotten in a mass supermarket since moving to NY in July pales in comparison to those I picked up at Kleinke’s in Delmar (right up the road from my house). Most are mealy, dry, and cloyingly sweet. The macouns I picked up at Kleinke’s were crisp, somewhat juicy (it’s a harder apple variety, from what I can tell), and had a great balance of sweet and tart. Oh, and they were smaller and a bit imperfect. As soon as I learn how to properly store apples so they stay crisp for months I’ll be golden (but not Golden Delicious – blech).

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