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Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet

by Carol Off

Biting into a seemingly innocuous chocolate bar, how many of us would ever stop to consider the sweet’s provenance, or wonder whose hands had picked the cocoa seeds, and whether the farmer was paid a fair price? Not many, and that’s exactly what award-winning journalist, author, and well-known CBC broadcaster Carol Off sets out to change with her latest exposé.

Off takes the reader through a comprehensive history of cocoa and the ceaseless exploitation of native farmers by colonists in its pursuit – from the Aztecs bowing blindly to the Spanish in the 16th century to the multinational corporate behemoths that now control where and how the plant is grown and used around the world. There is a lot of information packed into the book’s scant 300 pages, but Off’s narrative is sharp and concise, covering hundreds of years of history in detail, her conversational style making the reading as easy as it is enlightening.

More importantly, Off casts light onto a world that is largely unknown to the average Canadian, a world in which slave labour (mainly that of children), illegal land appropriation, and even murder are commonplace. After tracking the path of the industry through Mexico, Venezuela, Ghana, and the Gold Coast, Off focuses on the current state of affairs in the Ivory Coast, the hub of cocoa production for the world’s largest chocolate companies. Off’s own experiences, paired with the well-credited findings of other journalists and investigators, reveal the role these corporations play in maintaining the abhorrent quality of life suffered by the majority of Ivorians, who remain dependent on the transient cocoa industry for their survival even in the face of political corruption and an increasingly dangerous struggle against racism and oppression.

Bitter Chocolate is an astounding eye-opener that takes no prisoners in its account of an industry built on an image of sweetness and innocence, but which hides a dark and often cruel reality. You’ll never look at chocolate the same way again.