Louth Literary Coven’s recent summer gathering provided the perfect opportunity to talk feminism and chocolate.
Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights by Helen Lewis was enlightening and funny. Each chapter addressed a specific area of rights often taken for granted by women today but won by earlier generations of feminists. Lewis describes her chosen women as having to be challenging, uncompromising, boundary pushing and frequently not ‘nice’!
Lewis told the stories of UK feminists, so I asked five women making chocolate in the UK about their experiences of being a woman and the benefits, if any, of being difficult.
There may be a huge divide between the fights of UK feminists and the women cacao farmers, but through this pairing we were going to discover some universal truths that both divide and join them.
Bar One: Sophie Jewett & York Cocoa Works – Idukki, Kerala 50%
I’ve met so many inspirational women since finding fine chocolate. Sophie was one of the first. I’ve watched her progress with huge admiration, so she was a must in the line-up for this tasting. In 1970s York, women’s working relationships with chocolate were generally more aligned to the production line than management. Today we are eating chocolate made by a woman (and her team) who has taken on the deeply engrained structures of the chocolate industry to create and manage a factory in York.
This satisfyingly chunky mouth full was reminiscent of the 70s Yorkie bar. A tasting journey delivering coffee, cocoa and cream. An indulgent sweetness carefully balanced with rich cocoa notes. Bold and straightforward in character but we all loved it for that and its chunkiness!
We asked Sophie for her thoughts on feminism and having to be difficult to be heard. Her reply, quite characteristically, was more concerned with “listening to all voices” and remembering that as we struggle to be heard “none of us can really claim that our struggle is more or less than someone else’s”.
Bar Two: Amarachi Clarke & Lucocoa 60% Haiti
I have absolutely no qualms in pairing Ama’s work with that of Helen Lewis. They are both unashamedly difficult. Ama has been a political campaigner for years and told us, “Being difficult is how things change. With purpose, passion, ambition and being loud, over and over again.”
It was for this reason I previously paired one of Ama’s bars – the limited-edition Belize International Women’s Day bar – to our book club’s discussion of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Acknowledging the grower-maker divide, we sought Ama’s view on gender equity at the making end of the supply chain as surely this was something to celebrate. For women in general this may be true. However, as a black woman, Ama told us how she had always been taught to work twice as hard just to be seen. By challenging the use of conventional sugars, opting instead for a combination of unrefined coconut sugar and lucuma fruit, she has been “largely ignored or written off”.
We experienced a deep aroma enticing us in. An intense flavour for a 60% without the anticipated sweetness. A swift balanced melt and pleasantly textured. A dark and fruity start with distinct fig notes, developed into lingering cherry notes. Overall, a deep and mellow experience with undertones of maple syrup. Nicely summarised as “amazing”. Definitely no hierarchy required to appreciate the taste and craftsmanship behind this bar.
Bar Three: Luisa Vicinanza-Bedi, Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates Carmen’s Cacao 66% Colombia
Reading Difficult Women leaves you feeling hopeful for the future. Change can happen if we fight hard enough. When women help other women they can be a powerful force for change. My third choice of maker is the founder of Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates and an embodiment of this female drive for change in craft chocolate. In Cacao Magazine’s recent article ‘The Peace Crop’, we discovered how Luisa and Colombian cacao farmer Carmen Erazo have created a female-friendly supply chain. Carmen is not just improving the lives of her own family but by sharing her experience with other women, she is supporting others to gain more from their cacao too.
Both Luisa’s and Carmen’s narratives are those of connectedness, common experience and support. Shared commercial success for a better life is the driving force behind this grower-maker relationship. Luisa told us, “We both want to deliver the prize.”
Conversely, Luisa recommended the tasting of Carmen’s bar because it is different and distinctive, preparing us for a flavour journey. “Not totally Colombian in style but with citrus and red fruits.” Wow, it certainly delivered!
An upfront citrus hit. A slow, slightly reluctant melt delivering red fruit, then back to the 70s sweet shop experience with sherbet dip and lemon sherbet notes. All this excitement accompanied by deeper hazelnut and cocoa notes. The melt was a little reluctant but we didn’t need perfection when we had exciting, challenging and satisfying.
Bar Four: Deanna Tilston, Tosier 70% Acul du Nord, Haiti 2017
Luisa’s choice of the Carmen bar delivered connectivity and hope for women. Deanna’s selection highlighted the divide between growers and makers. Deanna told us of the women who grow cacao in Haiti. It was a tale of division and violence. In the Acul du Nord, 50% of the workforce are women. When Deanna described how armed guards are needed just to get the beans to the port, we saw it was a woman’s life we knew very little about.
It seemed to Deanna that for these women, feminism has no meaning. We reflected on the 11 Fights of Helen Lewis’s Difficult Women: Divorce, the Vote, Sex, Play, Work, Safety, Love, Education, Time, Abortion and The Right to be Difficult. A quick Google of women’s participation in voting in Haiti gives you – at the top of the list – a report entitled ‘Violence against women in elections in Haiti’.
Our tasting was accompanied by a reverential, concert hall silence. A subtle aroma, so so smooth, deep cherry notes with a harmonious blend of figs, red fruit and treacle. How could something so smooth and together come from such a turbulent environment?
But, sitting in our summer Lincolnshire gardens, in quiet appreciation of this skilful interpretation of what really was “fab cacao”, the divide between women as consumers and women as growers was palpable. Deanna’s experience of equity in craft chocolate making is a positive one. Working with growers is making a difference to women’s lives but the fight is a difficult one, with a long way to go.
Bar Five: Isobel Carse, Dormouse 72% Lachua, Guatemala
Isobel from Dormouse Chocolates recommended their Lachua bar, an award-winning trailblazer of a bar!
There was another important woman in Isobel’s narrative; Emily Stone, the co-founder of UncommonCacao. Isobel painted us a picture of Emily’s work showing how women can have leadership roles. Emily is indeed an inspiration to us all, with the difference being just the fact that Emily drives a car “demonstrates power and garners respect in Guatemala”.
Helen Lewis suggests feminism has to fight ‘the tyranny of niceness’. Ama at Lucocoa reminded us of this. Isobel tells us how, alongside a positive experience of equality in the UK and Europe, “finding the right balance” to speak out against the injustices of the industry can be difficult particularly with social media where “tone and meaning can be lost in translation”. Lewis urges us on: “There is no perfect way to make a demand on power.” If you are not being unreasonable then don’t be derailed but she stresses the need to listen to and assess the views of others first. The discussion brought together the essence of the book, as well as Isobel’s and our own experiences as women.
So, to the Dormouse expression of Lachua. It had a character that was most definitely not restrained or sleepy. An even melt delivering surprising olive notes to begin with, then fruit. For once we all agreed that the fruit was blackcurrant, but we differed on its form: stewed blackcurrants, fruit pastilles and syrup were mentioned, building up to a crème de cassis finish. Strangely, someone suggested the similarity with a recent tasting of Krak white chocolate Hibiscus bar. “If I close my eyes, you could almost persuade me this was white chocolate with that added tartness”. The diminuendo of the aftertaste had good length and flavour. Murmurs of appreciation all round. A spectacular finish to a stimulating afternoon.
“Feminism is ultimately about independence and control over our bodies and control of our lives,” Lewis tells us. Whatever the cultural, geographical, economic or political divides, this is the fight that unites us as women. Our UK chocolate makers have shown us how they are making connections with women across these divides, developing supporting relationships, making change and sharing profit through empowerment.
Louth Coven member Vicky, reflecting on the afternoon described how “our pairings show the differing perspectives of the chocolate makers which really mirrored the book. There were heart-breaking heroic stories in both, but also passion, pride and a drive for fairness in such challenging circumstances. There is so much to understand about feminism and chocolate and, thanks to book club, I’m doing both together!”
This blog post is a summary of a post on the Louth Literary Coven’s Mainly Books and Chocolate blog. The complete post gives all our thoughts on the book’s themes and messages, as well as our chocolate tastings. You can link to the full blog post here.
Sources and further Reading:
BBC, 2020. Sounds: Difficult Women by Helen Lewis. [Online]
Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/series/m000k7kb
CEPPS, 2018. Violence Against Women in Elections in Haiti. [Online]
Available at: http://aceproject.org/ero-en/misc/violence-against-women-in-elections-in-haiti-an
[Accessed Aug 2020].
Clarke, A., 2020. Lucocoa Blog: World Chocolate Day 2020. [Online]
Available at: https://www.lucocoachocolate.com/blog/worldchocolateday2020
[Accessed August 2020].
Lewis, H., 2020. Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights. 1st ed. London: Jonathan Cape.
Ramsey, D., 2016. Chocolate: Indulge your inner chocoholic. 1 ed. London: Dorling Kinersley Ltd.
Reinhardt, L. T. & Willow, R., 2020. #Womeninchocolate. Cacao, Issue 3.