Between Valentine’s Day and Girl Scout cookies, this time of year can mean one thing to many people: chocolate. Scientists are beginning to figure out what Girl Scouts and lovers have always known, which is that aside from being delicious, chocolate also can be a great way to get people to pay attention.
Chocolate with a Secret
Last week, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, three Spanish chefs who are UN goodwill ambassadors served truffles made with a special ingredient: dried tomatoes from Nigeria. They did it to raise awareness about food waste and hunger. Up to 75 percent of the tomatoes harvested in Nigeria each year are “lost,” meaning that they rot in the fields or spoil or disappear on their way to market.
While the Roca brothers were criticized for trivializing the issue of world hunger with a truffle, the UN defended the recipe, saying that cutting down on food waste is always beneficial. In fact, one-third of all of the world’s food is spoiled or lost every year, while nearly a billion people worldwide go hungry. The truffles reduce waste and use local ingredients–and more importantly, they got people talking about the crucial issues of food waste and global hunger.
Chocolate and the Spider Monkey
Meanwhile, in Ecuador, conservationists were beginning to realize the connection between chocolate and the highly-endangered Ecuadoran brown-headed spider monkey. Local farmers had been cutting down large areas of the rain forest where the monkeys live, in order to plant cacao (the bean that is processed and turned into chocolate). The farmers made very little money for their chocolate, so they cut down more and more of the forest to plant more cacao trees, while the spider monkeys who relied on the forest for food and shelter hovered near the brink of extinction.
A group of conservationists began working with the farmers to adopt better farming practices, and partnered with a French fair-trade chocolatier to secure better prices for their beans. Their efforts have been successful: farmers who once earned only $1 per kilo for their cacao are now guaranteed $3.50 per kilo for the next three years. Chocolate produced by the conservation group sells for roughly $3 per bar and features a drawing of a spider monkey on its package. The change has been beneficial for the monkeys, as well: scientists are now optimistic about the future of this important species.