(Essay taken from Alexa’s a Spy and Other Things to Be Ticked off About—Humorous Essays on the Hassles of Our Time, now available on Amazon or through any bookstore.)
Early one morning I opened my internet newsfeed to the following shocking headline: “The Earth Is Running Out of Chocolate.” That’s no way to start a day if you’re me. But that’s the word from Mars—the company, not the planet. You know what they say: chocolate lovers are from Mars. Nobody knows where people who don’t love chocolate are from.
Also speaking out about the crisis is a company called Barry Callebaut which, I was interested to learn, is one of the world’s largest chocolate manufacturers. How did I not know that? I’ve spent a lifetime studying chocolate, or rather eating it.
One Christmas one of my brothers gave me a year’s supply of chocolate—twelve Swiss chocolate bars the size of concrete blocks, one for each month of the year. It was a wonderful gift but I misunderstood. I thought they were for the twelve days of Christmas.
Early in our marriage, my husband bought me a box of Andes Mints, my favorite chocolate-covered mints, for Valentine’s Day. On February 15 he asked if he could have one. No, he could not but not because I wasn’t willing to share—though I wasn’t willing to share.
He couldn’t have one because there were none left. He was stunned so I told him I’d been concerned about the freshness date. But he and I both know no chocolate I’ve ever come in contact with has been in danger of passing its freshness date.
Every year I have to wait until October 30 to buy my Halloween candy. That way there might still be some left by Halloween. But then again, there might not be.
You can see why someone like me would find the news about a chocolate shortage so disturbing. Apparently it boils down to supply and demand. On the supply side, dry weather, climate change, a tiny moth and a nasty fungal disease are wreaking havoc on the cocoa crop. Let me just say that “tiny moth” and “nasty fungal disease” are a couple of things I don’t like hearing in the same sentence as one of my favorite foods—even one of my least favorite foods.
Apparently cocoa farming has become so difficult that many farmers have shifted to more profitable crops like rubber. But who wants to eat that—even with nougat?
On the demand side there’s me. And you. The average American consumes around twelve pounds of chocolate every year. I don’t take the time to weigh mine before I eat it but I’m pretty sure I get my twelve pounds annually, and quite possibly some of yours as well.
All told, Americans consume around twenty percent of the world’s chocolate. Europeans eat about fifty percent of it. That doesn’t leave much for anyone else. And that’s one reason demand is up. Other countries are catching on. I wonder what took them so long.
Some experts believe the recently discovered health benefits of chocolate may also be driving demand. And there is some evidence suggesting chocolate is good for us. I know that’s why I ate my last Snickers bar…for my health.
If you’re a chocoholic like I am, you know that dark chocolate has always been considered the more healthful member of the chocolate family. And I do like dark chocolate; I just like it better with milk in it. And sugar.
That’s why one study I read about was especially welcome news for me. It supposedly found that any variety of chocolate, not just dark, is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Healthy heart, big butt. I think it’s worth it.
Still I’m skeptical. Whenever I read another story about chocolate’s health benefits, my first question is who paid for the study? Ghirardelli, Hershey’s, Mars? I’m cynical by nature, plus I want to write and thank them.
But if chocolate really is good for us, you can see how it could drive up demand. It’s different from a lot of other health foods. You never hear of anyone overdoing it on flax seed. No one eats so many skinless chicken breasts that they can no longer waddle. I’m fond of arugula, but I don’t polish off the entire bag every time I have one in the house. But there is no such thing as a bag of chocolates in my house, though there may be some empty bags that once held chocolate.
Still I believe there’s a bigger threat on the demand side, and that’s the growing enthusiasm for putting chocolate in, on and around everything. Chocolate milk, chocolate covered strawberries and chocolate cereal have all been around awhile. Now we can add chocolate-covered bacon for a complete breakfast.
Chocolate wasters dunk pickles, onions, beef jerky, even roses and wine bottles in chocolate. In other words, they take two things I like and turn them into one thing I don’t like at all.
They also dip a few things in chocolate that I never liked to begin with, insects for example. I know many bugs are edible and even nutritious. But so is broccoli and you wouldn’t put chocolate on that, would you? Oh wait. That’s been done.
But why? What is it about chocolate that makes it so easy to waste? Would you put bubble gum in your chicken noodle soup or grape jelly on your pepperoni pizza? Would you put ants in your ice cream? Not unless you were hell-bent on wasting them all and giving the ants a bad case of hypothermia.
Does anyone in their right mind really think eating an onion—or a cockroach—with chocolate on it is a good idea? Or are they just trying to shock and disgust us, in which case they could just sneak up behind us and blow their nose really loudly.
I don’t know what can be done about the chocolate supply, but on the demand side I have an idea. Stop wasting it! Putting chocolate on pickles and salami is like papering your walls with hundred dollar bills. Or gold-plating cardboard. It’s wasteful and not that good anyway. If you have chocolate to waste, give it to me. I’ll treat it like the precious commodity it is. Then I’ll eat it.
The world is running out of chocolate