Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Snow days, hot cocoa, and culture

Yesterday (Jan 28) was my first college snow day ever!! And today's my second! It rarely snows where I live, so this is all exciting!

my little sis and me
When the snow finally fell yesterday at around 8:30 p.m., I went outside with my little sister and had a whole lot of fun in it! We played snow Frisbee and then made some little snowmen. Then we came back inside and made some hot cocoa. Yum!

My whole family was out in the snow today! We had fun together building a snowman, and then came inside to enjoy a cup of hot cocoa... again. (Dad didn't want any... that's why there are only three cups in the picture...see below. He doesn't like hot cocoa).

While enjoying my cup of hot cocoa, I got thinking about culture...

Back in elementary school, I remember learning about how the Aztecs and Mayans used cocoa beans as money. Talk about money growing on trees! Literally!

Little sis making hot cocoa
Only the rich were allowed to drink this legal tender. And the drink wasn't as sweet as we know it today. In the article "The History of Chocolate" on, I read that this bitter Aztec money/drink under went several flavor "refinements." It started with Cortes' addition of cane sugar, making it acceptable to the Spanish. The Spanish continuing making renditions of the drink by adding "newly imported spices, such as cinnamon and vanilla." When some bright guy decided the drink would taste great if served hot, it became a hit with the Spanish nobility. Eventually the drink spread throughout Europe and America.

According to the International Cocoa Organization, the top producers of cocoa are Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, and Indonesia.

Cocoa is also one of those "fair trade" items, similar to coffee. In his article, "Justice at a Price: Regulation and Alienation in the Global Economy," Daniel Reichmann discusses fairtrade and coffee. Reichmann says, "[f]air trade is a non-governmental process that certifies and labels commodities that have been produced under 'socially just' conditions, according to the standards of an international agency, the International Fairtrade Labeling Organization (IFLO)" (102).

That's good in theory, but what about in practice? We don't everything that goes on over in the other side of the world. How do we know if the cocoa we bake with and drink is grown under fair "social conditions"? (102). Shortly put, we don't really know. (I discuss this more in more detail in the context of coffee in my next post, "What's in Your Cup?")

Although we won't know all the ins and outs going on the far side of the globe, I dare say things are at least a little better now with Fairtrade, compared to back then in the Aztec era when it was sans Fairtrade. I presume the Europeans exploited the Mayans and Aztecs to get cocoa once they discovered it; and there were no organizations attempting to help with the social conditions.

However, even if we don't know for certain how the cocoa farmers who grew our cocoa were treated, or even under what conditions they labored, we can still be very appreciative of their labor to grow these delicious beans and enjoy them.

So there's a little culture/history/fairtrade lesson about cocoa for you today.....

Cocoa by the Cup

1 cup whole milk
1 rounded Tbsp. cocoa
1 level Tbsp. sugar (sugar in the raw)
a dollop of freshly whipped cream

Whisk first 3 ingredients together in sauce pan. Cook over medium-high heat until hot stirring occasionally.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Personally, I'm so glad they started at sugar cane (although talk about the labor issues then!). They also originally used pepper to give it a hot flavor. When you mention it got you thinking about culture, I'm curious if there is a particular cultural reason why you chose cocoa instead of tea or coffee?