‘The Slow Melt Podcast’ Wants You to Rethink Chocolate
“I don’t eat expensive chocolate to be fancy or waste money; I eat it because I want to support the chocolate makers and farmers dedicated to sustaining diverse and delicious chocolate. I eat it because the best versions of this are like nothing else. And I eat it because I don’t want my joy to come at the expense of someone else’s misery.”
– Simran Sethi, Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love
For many of us, our love affair with chocolate has been cultivated for years, taking us through life’s various ups and downs. But how much do we really think about this treat that we love? How is chocolate made? Where does it comes from? Who produces it?
Chocolate shares a lot of similarities with coffee, two products that most of us have grown accustomed to, not as luxuries, but as everyday consumables. It’s easy to find a cheap bar of chocolate and a cheap bag of coffee at any grocery store.
But at what cost?
Both of these goods come from far away, the result of the work of many people along a complex supply chain. To go from bean to bar or bean to cup is no simple task, and often, the people responsible for producing the raw product are the ones who suffer the most.
In a $100 billion industry, 70% of the world’s cocoa beans comes from Ghana and Ivory Coast. In Ghana, the average cocoa farmer earns 84 cents a day, while the average small farmer in Ivory Coast earns just 50 cents a day. The Big Chocolate industry is also ripe with issues of child labor. These are some of the many topics related to chocolate. In fact, we can use it as a lens to look at a variety of different issues: gender, climate change, economics, society.
That’s how Simran Sethi sees it. In researching her book Bread Wine Chocolate The Slow Loss of Foods We Love, Sethi realized that she was just scratching the surface, that there was so much more about chocolate that she wanted to learn and that she wanted to share. So she launched The Slow Melt, the first podcast covering the continuum about chocolate, a chance to explore all the issues related to one of our favorite indulgences.
“We use food as a lens for social justice, gender, environment, and so many other things,” says Sethi, “I thought, we could narrow it even further and use chocolate.”
The podcast is an attempt at just that, helping us chocolate lovers to better understand the product – how it’s made, how to taste and savor it – and also rethink our connection to it. “I’m inviting you to expand your lens,” says Sethi. “We’re sharing information so you can make better decisions so you can enjoy it more.”
Sethi shares her vast knowledge on chocolate in a way that’s approachable to anyone, whether you’re a chocolate connoisseur, or just a lover of every day chocolate bars. Over the first season, the bi-weekly podcast will cover a variety of topics. Episodes 1 and 2 have already explored how chocolate is made, some of the chemistry involved, how to decipher chocolate labels and more.
“Chocolate is kind of the perfect lens because the story starts at a dollar price point,” says Sethi, highlighting that most of us probably started our own chocolate journey via a candy bar, which lowers the barrier to participation, unlike other craft foods.
“It’s not a bottle of wine, it’s not a craft beer,” says Sethi continues, “we have a relationship with chocolate from a very long time… it’s not a beverage that you’ve learned to love over time.” That relationship means that we have something that we can build on when we seek to learn more.
Deepening our understanding of chocolate is a little different than food. When it comes to produce, if we want to meet the producers of our carrots, broccoli and lettuce, if we want to, we can. We can visit a farm, shake the hands of a farmer, ask question. We can even attempt to grow our own, better understanding how food goes from seed to edible product. Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, a crop grown far away from those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. Most of us will never travel to origin, never shake the hand of a cocoa farmer, or see the cocoa plant up close. Which is why we need a little help in deepening our knowledge so that we can better advocate for those producers. “My bottom line with this podcast is to build a base of informed consumers,” says Sethi, “demanding better chocolate, demanding more ethical chocolate.”
Most importantly, Sethi wants us to change our narrative about chocolate. In today’s food media, we’re often focused on the end product. Artisan chocolate makers get a lot of attention (in fact you can probably name a handful off the top of your head), but few articles are devoted to the people at the beginning of the supply chain; the people whose work we are dependent on for the product that we love.
As consumers, the beginnings of a chocolate bar are often the last thing on our minds, and as a result, we inhabit a system dependent on a lot of suffering. Changing that narrative is a part of helping to improve that system.
“For many people the narrative starts with the roaster or the maker,” says Sethi, “that narrative has to change… I am hell bent on making people recognize that this comes from people who may never see the end product.”