Before chasing utopian dreams riding in on a unicorn, let’s take stock. It’s business after all & people have multiple motives.
Money can’t buy love but it does buy sex, an antidote to life’s pain, overcoming it with pleasure. For some, so will chocolate, so will God, or any combination of the 3.
And that’s what it’s all about. Power, money, art, fashion… every step in evolution… at the beck & call of nature to reproduce so other life forms can feed. The maggots, for example, that’ll have us for dinner surely as cacáo seduced us to have it for dessert. The grand cycle of biology. None of us would be here except for it; human consciousness as we know it ends without it.
Adam Pearson & his wife Nery now serve in an advisory capacity in addition to crunching numbers in the accounting & marketing divisions of this new chocolate concern.
As for the growers in Marañón Canyon, they do make more money. Has success gone to their heads? They stand a little taller & walk with a little swagger. But they aren’t riding Caddy Escalades or donning Prada tank tops. No pimpers’ paradise; not yet anyways.
Noe, ever the good politician, quadrupled the membership in his association.
Fortunato keeps rather quiet & inconspicuous, which attracts people to listen to him even more when he does speak.
Hernandez, the man set to chop down his pearlescent white-seed cacáo trees, is a local god now with the announcement.
75 of 180 farms in the Canyon have been brought back from the dead. That brings a tear to many eyes. Most are tasting finished chocolate made from their own seeds for the very first time. “Come eat our fruit” is their new greeting to visitors.
While they show pride of place & produce & the treatment it receives, planters in the end are unattached to any tree or bush or plant & will hop to the next cash crop if it fetches more money (the so-called “opportunity costs” elsewhere).
That’s why Brian now spends a lot of his time fielding their concerns & demands for price stability, sales contracts & credit programs. He usually defers & takes a velvet glove approach for strategic reasons.
On one hand, he’s their adopted son. They look out for him, often asking, “Gringo, when are you running for mayor?” On the other hand, he provokes the ire of some residents who see in him nothing more than just another in a long line of opportunists from the outside (which in more than a few cases includes themselves too), from Pizzaro on down… Of course this started before him & pre-dates the conquistadores. The Inca Trail, after all, was hardly built with purely noble intentions except for the native imperialist kind.
Gore invented the internet & Thomas Friedman deigned it the great equalizer. Even people in far-flung Marañón Canyon can tap into the global currents. They’re astute. They grasp what’s up. We’re a global species but we’ve yet to become a truly global community. Real fault lines & schisms continue to divide.
In this conspiracy of good intentions, this push & pull of events & desires organized by businesses to sell us on the notion of “sweet chocolate”, hell resides in the stinking wisdom that the hooked fancies of the idle rich stoked the engines of history, discovery, & misery (e.g., Middle Passage) to bring the sugar & spice home, all a luxury paid-for in blood but cheap enough to seem democratic (the profits owing to low-paid labor). To escape that, or at least to relieve the pangs, post-modern consumers, even poor ones, get fake satisfaction & false superiority from designer labels that structure tastes around attaining glimpses or simulacra of elite comforts, condensing materialism into idealism as ghetto youth do $500 Nike’s (anyone just slipping them on can “Be like Mike” & bad as LeBron, right?). How much does it cost Chinese to sew those sneaks anyways? The kid on the street rarely calculates the math but, hey, at that price everyone should be taken care of, no?
It’s the classic Marxist commodity fetish.
Metaphysics trumps the production. Cacáo in particular has lent itself to such symbolic associations throughout history.
A defining quality of the Mayan cosmo-vision was a cross-media, sensual dimension that animated objects, landscapes, myths, deities… in reality everyday life. For the Maya, the world was a transformational, multi-sensory place, governed by analogic reasoning where all senses – sight, scent, touch, hearing & taste – merged in what Houston & Taube call ‘cultural synaesthesia’. Set within landscapes they conceived as sacred, substances such as jade attracted moisture thru magnetic force, bestowing greenery & fertility to the fields surrounding it. Similarly, turquoise, the property of the gods, was believed to emit smoke, while quetzal feathers symbolically linked them to rulers. And cacáo with its association of heart ‘n blood would literally course thru the arteries of trade networks as currency during the Late Classic Period.
From there it moved on to a European medicine, then an aristocratic luxury, an aphrodisiac for ‘My Sweet Valentine’, a base American candy &, next, poised to resume its medicinal role as a healthy antioxidant in the 21st century based on recent clinical studies funded by candy companies that has it curing everything from asthma, high blood pressure, heart attacks & cognitive disorders. (Is there any ailment it won’t treat?)
Now that cacáo is no longer sacralized with higher meaning in the making, it mainly falls back on propaganda. A scrim or veil of ads, slogans, & PR dominate the exchange system which, for grifters, is beautifully remote & misperceived to mask the full value. Think ‘blood diamonds’ for an extreme example. Smuggling has always been integral to that trade. Conflict merely intensifies it. Dealing directly with rebels who swap rocks mined by enslaved POWs in exchange for weapons can guarantee a 1,000+% markup for the merchant. Dealers in the know, don’t say; & dealers who say, don’t know.
It is that very gap separating producers from consumers that Madison Avenue & the unscrupulous move in.
The reality: knowing what they get paid for raw cocoa nuts & seeing refined chocolate bars retailing at over 50 times that, growers the world over figure out that that’s a lot of money going elsewhere (& their story here just one attempt to rip the curtain down).
Crazy wack gringos, fetishizing trees, paying $10 to $15 a bar, must be making off like bandits.
The current macroeconomics arrangement of the Global North-South is very shaky. ‘Unsustainable’, to invert the vogue word of the day.
Big Candy wants out of the growing fields ASAP. The second chocolate can be synthesized in a lab, pronto, they’re gone.
Until then they’ll slog thru various lip service campaigns to obtain their haul because billions have been already been served in becoming addicted to their wares.
The Iraq war may not have been all about oil but we sure aren’t leaving there without it. Same with cacáo. It may be “their” country but it’s “our” chocolate. Doubly so considering that few who actually grow it, give a damn. So razor blades, nails, nuts, bolts, bugs, & lead end up in cocoa sacks destined for chocolate factories. Traces of those off-label “ingredients” sometimes make it into candy bars.
There are two kinds of labor: the labor force & forced labor. Africa, from where the world sources 70% of all cocoa, came to it thru the twin scourges of slavery & colonialism. South America also experienced them. Only in perhaps Central America, ancestral homeland of Mesoamericans who consecrated cacáo, do societies still respect it to any modicum degree above a cash crop. Yet there too, like Marañón, greater opportunities in coffee, rice or oil have shifted loyalties around.
That leaves a small cadre of hardcore chocolatarians scattered about the planet who, all to the good, love it & everything about it, from Bud-to-Bud™ — tree bud to taste bud — & every step in between. For them chocolate is more than a business. It’s a culture that occupies their lives. They own it now. It dies except for the conservatory of their hearts, in the manner that jazz & classical music have been institutionalized.
The crux is, most of them only refine it & eat it. They don’t grow any.
Hence the movement to re-colonize the tropics to preserve the authentic chocolate once the Candy Giants patent an artificial substitute & pull up the stakes.
The Pearson Project in Marañón Canyon, Peru is not the culmination point of the new era chocolate (that’s still to come). But it’s arguably the most considerable manifestation to date for what’s in store. Namely, their own private plot, processing facility, & the equipment to craft chocolate in situ, right at the point of harvest. Vertically integrated, value-added enterprise modeled after vintners, ala the combined bromans / barsmiths Claudio Corallo, François Pralus, & Diego Badaró, except with more attention to varietal control & seclusion.
All of them swear to uphold the constitution of the cacáo heirlooms & save chocolate heritage as we know it in a time capsule, safe inside oral cavities, for another nuclear-concept wrapped in a multi-syllabic term: zietschaungundermoutton (“world in a mouth”; thanks to the Germans).
A flavor folly if there ever was one.
Faulkner overstated in claiming ‘the past isn’t over, it isn’t even past’. There may be some residual hangover but Earth has changed. Forever. The very composition of soil & air – different than before. The whole terroir thing — homogenizing. Our own sensory receptors today — quite unlike, say, the Mayans’. The tellurian bonds between Earthlings & the memory of the gods implanted in Theobroma cacáo — unraveling.
Consider the future of this chocolate that of a naturalized alien.
Ever more poignant than that an out-of-commission Steve De Vries has gotten back up, dusted himself off in cocoa & is getting back in the saddle again to re-mount the unicorn, to regain his youth with revolutionary zeal.
The same mission once more, to capture the greatest aroma on Earth & bring it to its highest fruition resumes in that hoped-for, if elusive, quest to get everybody to STFU. That interlude in which words fail to describe the experience & only silence becomes the answer.
A dream lives on forever.
As though nature’s pharmacopoeia prescribed an analgesic dose of chocolate for the earthly journey we all embark on, cast from the womb, longing for home & the tingle of shared pleasures in the pursuit of happiness, love, security & meaning, summed up into fulfillment.
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