Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Truth and Chocolate...

So, there's a push by certain groups to get the FDA to change the standards of what constitutes chocolate. Lindsay Beyerstein, over at Majikthise, covered this back in April, but it's totally worth taking a minute to discuss.

This push is essentially an attempt by certain candy manufacturers to allow them to replace cocoa butter with other, low-cost, alternatives, but still call the resulting product "chocolate." The NYT article discusses a lot about how this would hurt chocolate lovers and the producers of cocoa beans (by lowering the demand for the beans, which are already somewhat pricey). While that's certainly a concern- as a chocolate lover, I'd hate for real chocolate to become more expensive than it already is, and I'd hate for the bean growers to face hardships that might limit my options for buying tasty chocolate treats- I think that there is something more important, if also more academic, going on here that should be given serious attention.

Lindsay mentions why this is important in her comments, but, unfortunately, not in the article itself. Labeling laws are an important tool for consumers. It's hard enough to educate ourselves on products without the law letting manufacturers lie to us. We rely on truth in labeling to help us figure out if we're purchasing what we think we're purchasing. As Lindsay puts it- "If the label says 'coffee' I want actual coffee beans, not chicory." I'm not opposed to chocolate substitutes being sold- but they should be clearly labeled as such. Chocolate is a specific thing, just as coffee, milk, and butter are. If something is made with vegetable oil and not milk, it's not butter, it's margarine. Which is fine- there's a market for margarine, and there's a market for carob or immitation chocolates. The important part is that the package has to make it clear which one you're buying. If I pick up a carton of "milk" I expect it to be milk, not soy milk. If I pick up something marked as "chicken nuggets" it should be made with chicken, not pork.

There are many candies on the market that use "chocolatey coatings" or have labels marking them as "chocolate-tasting." That kind of wording is used because their products do not meet the legal definition of "chocolate." They are chocolate substitutes. This push, though, is an attempt by some manufacturers to legalize intentionally labeling their dishonestly. It is an attempt to redefine what constitutes "chocolate" in such a way as to allow things that are not chocolate to be called such.

Allowing this to happen only benefits dishonest manufacturers.


Jaclyn said...

People need to step off my chocolate, first of all.

Second (and, ok, more importantly) -- it's already true that most cocoa farmers in the world are being horribly exploited and barely get by, while the chocolate companies get rich. Which is why I always look for the Fair Trade Certified logo on my chocolate. (Alright, I don't always find it, but I do try to buy Fair Trade chocoate more often than not.) But this is just going to make the chocolate companies richer and the cocoa farmers poorer (due to lack of demand). Insane.

Yuri K. said...

It should *lower* the prices for cocoa beans, since demand will drop off (you point out that the beans are already kinda pricey). This is definitely bad news for growers, who deserve a fair price for their goods and don't need to be cut out of the process by oversubsidized American factory famrs (not sure what oils will replace cocoa butter, but it sounds partially hydrogenated to me).

But the big domestic thing, I think, is that this furthers the two-class food economy, with the top getting 'real' things and the bottom getting increasingly fake, unhealthy, manufactured, and shortcutted goods.

Roy said...

Actually, demand for the beans won't necessarily lower- speculation is that some chocolate manufacturers are pushing for this change because it will allow them to devote more of the beans towards other uses of cocoa butter- cocoa butter is used in other products besides chocolate. It's used in the production of some face creams and makeups, for example.

But, excellent point about the class issue- I think that some of the commentors on Majikthise mention this, too, but that's absolutely right.

The whole idea stinks, I think.

EG said...

It seems to me to be part and parcel of the attempt to seize control of language a la Orwell's newspeak. Instead of meaning "a certain food product derived from cocoa," chocolate would, by corporation-pushed fiat, all of a sudden mean, well, "whatever we say it means, peon! now spend your money and shut up!" Words mean things. "Chocolate" does not mean "fake crap we made up that's cheaper." "Enduring freedom" does not mean "bombing the fuck out a country." "Extreme" does not mean "latest marketing gimmick in bright colors." It's one thing for language to change over time and with use, as it always does. It's another to have control of language seized by propaganda machines, whether they be run by the government or by corporations.

Sovawanea said...

Speaking of misrepresenting chocolate, have you noticed the branding of dark chocolate products as "health food"? Hershey has to have the worst entry, with the cocoa via products being stocked in the vitamin aisle at the grocery store and having heart health claims on the label.

Sure, dark chocolate has some plant sterols that are better for heart health than say, milk chocolate and high fructose corn syrup. That doesn't mean that dark chocolate, with all of its extra calories and saturated fat is actually health food.

I can rationalize away eating in massive quantities myself without having to pretend it's going to keep me from getting a heart attack.

Roy said...

I haven't seen that yet, Sov. I'll keep my eye open for it, though. I do think it's fair to point out, though, that the Cleveland Clinic claims that the fat in dark chocolate isn't actually all that bad, since half of it comes from oleic acid, a "heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil." They do, however, caution that dark chocolate should be consumed "in moderate portions" and that we should eat other "flavonoid-rich foods like apples, red wine, tea, onions, and cranberries."

Me? I like to eat dark chocolate with cranberries in it. Yum.

Anyway, yeah. Chocolate, while not necessarily unhealthy certainly isn't a health food.

Anorak said...

There's nothing I hate more (well, ok, only on a superficial level) than buying something that seems to contain chocolate only to discover that it's actually that gross "choc" vegetable fat disgusting stuff.
It really fucks me off, I tells ya!