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Religion, tyranny and self sacrifice at Chocolate Book Club

Religion, tyranny and self sacrifice at Chocolate Book Club

chocolate book club small things like these

Sometimes at Louth Literary Coven someone chooses a book that captivates and unsettles us all, without exception. This was one such book. Some home truths about the history and ethics behind our beloved chocolate left our consciences similarly ruffled.

The Book (no spoilers)

Small Things Like These is an exquisitely written short novel by Claire Keegan that explores the crisis of conscience experienced by Bill Furlong, coal merchant, husband and father of five, when he witnesses the cruelty taking place at the nearby Magdalene laundry.

The turbulence of Bill Furlong’s inner life is set against the domestic rituals and traditions involved in the lead up to a family Christmas. The happiness and stability conveyed is almost Dickensian, but despite Bill’s years of hard work, and good “Protestant habits”, this familial security feels fragile. The tension created by the tyranny being played out at the nearby convent, and the town’s complicity by keeping silent, plays on Bill’s mind until he must decide whether to act or to maintain the order of things.

The allusions to Dickens make the realisation that this story unfolds in the 1980s all the more shocking. As does the context of the real Magdalene laundries where an estimated 30,000 women were confined, where numerous unmarked graves were discovered, and the last institution didn’t close its doors until 1996. Set up with the aim of saving the souls of women and children unfortunate enough to find themselves there, these laundries allowed their congregations to build up millions of pounds in assets to fund their work. The Church being, in part, funded by the labour of these “fallen women”. (Mary Regan, 2013)

Bill Furlong’s character was tender, empathic, complex and funny, but given his split loyalties we reflected whether, as wives and mothers, we would have supported his decisions.

The Chocolate

In 2013, after revelations about the treatment of women in the Magdalene laundries, the Irish Government issued a formal apology and pledged 58 million Euros in compensation to survivors. (Reuters, 2013) An apology for the Catholic crimes against the indigenous peoples during the colonisation of the Americas was a little later to arrive. Pope Francis issued the historic apology on his first papal visit to Latin America in 2015. (Boren, 2015)

During the conquest of the Americas indigenous souls were as keenly sought as venerated cacao, and my pairings were inspired by the history of cacao and parallels in the involvement of the church in the use of captive labour in the name of religious endeavour. The Jesuits, in particular, were among the first to recognise the value of the high-quality variety of cocoa initially grown in Mexico, and then western Venezuela, and used the proceeds of its cultivation to contribute to the financing of their schools and missions.  (Harwich, 2020)

Our first two bars give us an insight into the quality of the cacao that seduced the Jesuit missionaries. 

Krak Chocolade Mexico Don Moises 70% 

Our chocolate from Mexico comes from a small-scale plantation, Finca La Rioja, established in the early 1900s by another Spanish immigrant, Moises Muguerza Gutierrez (Don Moises), and now run by his great-grandson, who can be proud of the distinction and old-world ancestry of the cacao he has inherited.

The pale milk chocolate hue was a good clue to its character: central cream and hazelnut flavours, a gentle flavour delivery with hints of bonfire toffee, citrus and liquorice to add intrigue and complexity and to keep us captivated.

Orfeve Noir de Noir, Perija 75%

Our taste of Venezuela came from Swiss makers Orfeve and is made with the revered Porcelana from the Zulia Estate in the Sierra de Perija by the river Guasare. This beautifully smooth, pale coloured chocolate revealed high raspberry notes, rounded hazelnuts, earthy reverberations and dancing roses in the aftertaste.

Pleasurable and comforting, the way chocolate should be, and enjoyed all the more in the knowledge that any tyranny involved in its production is now at a safe historical distance. 

Our tasting of both bars gave us some insight into the allure of this beautiful substance. Pleasurable and comforting, the way chocolate should be, and enjoyed all the more in the knowledge that any tyranny involved in its production is now at a safe historical distance. 

As the demand for cacao grew among the colonies and back at home, the production of cacao stepped up a notch in Brazil, along with the saving of souls in the Jesuit run reducciones or missions. The forced conversion of the indigenous population and the creation of efficient farming estates arguably saved many souls from the slave traders, but how free they really were we can only speculate. Our next two bars are made with cacao from Brazil.

Heinde & Verre Bold Brazil

The cacao for this bar is sourced from a central cooperative in the state of Pará in Northern Brazil, and has multiple roasting profiles applied to it to increase the boldness of character.

We found a spicy aroma that carried through to the initial flavour. We tasted tomato sauce, chilli and lemon with a touch of Turkish delight on the finish. Straightforward and most certainly bold.

Mission Chocolate 70% Goiabada (Guava)

The aptly named Mission chocolate was founded by Arcelia Gallardo who crafts chocolate in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This bar is an award-winning combination of bold earthy cacao from Bahia and chunks of sweet crystalised guava. I absolutely love the taste of guava. This should have been a marriage made in heaven, but the palates of my book club friends struggled to find the harmony. It looked divine and sounded delicious, but our tasting recalled the dynamics between Bill and Eileen. On the surface they seemed to have everything in place, but would their relationship end in success or failure? 

… there is tyranny still near, and my guess is that no-one is going to apologise for it any time soon.

Book and Chocolate

Heinde & Verre means “near and far”. We had tasted bars made from cacao in places where cruelty and coercion were far enough away from our own time and experience, but for Bill and his family tyranny was in unsettling proximity: “some part of his mind was often tense, he could not say why.” This is the reason for including the Tonys Chocoloney bar in our discussions because there is tyranny still near, and my guess is that no-one is going to apologise for it any time soon.

The team at Tonys Chocoloney are calling out slave labour in the supply chain and encouraging people to take action by purchasing their chocolate instead of chocolate made by the chocolate giants (Tonys Chocoloney, 2022). Can we draw a parallel with Bill Furlong here?  If Bill Furlong did act, it would mean a massive sacrifice, his whole life and that of his family would be put at risk. What risk are Tony’s Chocoloney taking through their actions? They are pointing directly at the business practices of the big brands but then at the same time working with one of the biggest companies, Barry Callebaut. So, we thought not; in fact, it was the small things we found that revealed sentiments that created an even bigger gulf between them.

We can read all about the good intentions of this brand, but there are details that surface that could make you question its true revolutionary nature, and their calculation of the Fairtrade premium reported in the Cocoa Barometer is just one. (Voice Network, 2020)

You can read about it here: https://voicenetwork.cc/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/200113-Necessary-Farm-Gate-Prices-for-a-Living-Income-Definitive.pdf

We were all keen to side with Bill but based on how easily society in general ignores the existence of the wrongful use of labour, including those of cacao farmers, we were left questioning the extent to which, when put to the test, we would be willing to sacrifice our own comfort and security to ensure the civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities of others.

A genuinely thought-provoking book and chocolate pairing.

Sources and further reading:

https://krakchocolade.nl/en/origine/soconusco-don-moises-en/

https://orfeve.com/en/

https://heindeverre.com/chocolate/boldbrazildark/
https://www.missionchocolate.com.br/collections/chocolate-bars

Boren, Z. D. (2015, July 10). Pope Francis apologies for Cathorlic crimes against indigenous peoples during the colonisations of America. Retrieved from Independent: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/pope-francis-apologises-for-catholic-crimes-against-indigenous-peoples-during-the-colonisation-of-the-americas-10380319.html

C-Spot. (2022, May 20). C-Spot Atlas – Chocolate Sources – Amazonia Brazil. Retrieved from C-Spot: https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-sources/amazonia/brazil/

Harwich, N. (2020, September 28). Between America and Europe Cocoa and Chocolate Trade Routes. Retrieved from https://revista.drclas.harvard.edu/between-america-and-europe

Konrad, H. (1980). A Jesuit Hacienda in Colonial Mexico: Santa Lucia, 1576 – 1567. . Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Mary Regan. (2013, FEb 27). irishexaminer.com. Retrieved from Irish Examiner: https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-20223896.html

Reuters Staff. (2013, June 26). Ireland agrees compensation for Magdalene Laundries survivors. Retrieved from Reuters.com: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ireland-laundries-compensation-idUSBRE95P18420130626

Tonys Chocoloney. (2022, August 5). Tonys Chocoloney Our Mission. Retrieved from tonyschocoloney.com: https://tonyschocolonely.com/us/en/our-mission/tonys-101

Voice Network. (2020, January). Necessary Farm Gate Prices for a Living Income. Retrieved from cocoabarometer.org: https://voicenetwork.cc/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/200113-Necessary-Farm-Gate-Prices-for-a-Living-Income-Definitive.pdf

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