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Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World's Most Seductive Sweet Hardcover – April 1, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

People in the First World consume chocolate with no qualms save what the confection might be doing to increase their waistlines. But, in fact, the manufacture of chocolate depends on its cultivation in Third World nations by citizens condemned to live in general poverty and with little control over their futures. Off describes the migration of the cacao tree from its Mexican homeland to West Africa, the land that now dominates its production. Off travels to the tropical Côte d’Ivoire, where the laborers who harvest cacao pods have never even tasted the final product into which they have poured their lifeblood. Off draws an even more sordid picture of the relationship between the institution of slavery and the rise of British chocolate capitalism under such magnates as Cadbury. Worse still, Off asserts, slavery continues to be a vexing, intractable problem in these West African regions. --Mark Knoblauch


"Bitter Chocolate is less a book about chocolate than it is a study of racism, imperialism and oppression as told through the lens of a single commodity."

"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."

"Astonishing. . . a wrenching story and one well-researched by an investigative journalist who has proven she knows the ropes. . . . Bitter Chocolate is a compelling and important book."

"In the style of Mark Kurlansky's Salt, Bitter Chocolate unravels chocolate's glittery packaging and uncovers an industry tainted by war and genocide."

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: New Press (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595583300
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595583307
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #295,084 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Researching the poor working conditions in third world countries, I thought this book would only give me the history of chocolate. Instead I discovered a comprehensive look at the abuses in the cocoa sector primarily in the Cote d'Ivoire. A combination of the developed countries demand for cheap chocolate, corrupt government, corrupt police and avaricious manufacturers, the true losers are the farmers and the "indentured" workers who produce my favorite food source. Carol Off presents an unbiased look at the world's favorite confection.
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Format: Hardcover
Chocolate is a wonderful product. It makes its consumer feel good and, at its most refined, is as capable of providing all the exquisite and subtle ranges of refinement and taste as fine wine. We associate chocolate with happiness, and yet all is not sweetness and light in the chocolate industry. With this book Canadian investigative journalist, Carol Off, digs beneath the surface of the industry's smiling public face to expose the exploitative side of the business, in particular with regard to the growers of cacao, who often struggle just to live so low are their incomes. First providing a brief history of chocolate, Off then examines the historical and current behaviours of the major chocolate industry companies as well as the government and politics of the major cacao producers. It is not a pretty story. Corruption, violence and exploitation (including some child slavery) at country level are rife (and appear always to have been) in the industry. The author uses Cote d'Ivoire, the world's number one cacao producer, as her main case study, and risks her safety to travel into its cacao and political heart. Everyone involved in the industry gets criticised by Off, but this is not a book that just targets big corporations for the misery of cacao producers (the argument always being that they should simply pay cacao farmers more); the situation is much too complex for that and Off makes that crystal clear. If anything, the book is most condemnatory of the corruption and brutality of regime's such as that of Cote d'Ivoire. How to improve the lot of the cacao farmer is a difficult question to answer. At its root must be honest and stable governments in the major cacao producing countries. After that there is the question of how much companies should pay for cacao.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
This book is half history, half passionate condemnation of "Big Chocolate." As a chocolaholic myself, it did make bitter reading. Apparently, the international chocolate industry is fueled by the cruel exploitation of child labor in Africa. These children are treated no better than slaves. Others who are complicit in the many sins of this industry include the Europeans and American companies who profit from it, the IMF and World Bank who impose impossible conditions on producer nations, the corrupt leaders and officials in the countries themselves who cynically exploit their own citizens and of course we, the consumers.
France comes in for particular condemnation for its behavior in Cote D'Ivoire.
I learned from this book that it has always been thus. Major companies like Cadbury and Rowntree were founded by Quakers devoted to the ideals of treating their employees well and did so -- in England. But they turned a blind eye to the horrible slave-like conditions of those who grew and picked the crop in Africa. Likewise, Milton Hershey was an enlightened though paternalistic employer in America -- but did not care about the poor Africans who actually produced his raw materials.
It's an interesting, though depressing book. It's well-researched and well-written but it can't be called real investigative reporting since it relies mostly on the fruits of others' labors and a bit too much on Canadian sources. It spreads its condemnation a little too wide as well on occasion. I sometimes felt the entire capitalist system was under assault. However, still very much worth reading.

I guess I'm weak. I still like chocolate occasionally. I guess I'll try to find "fair trade" and "organic" products in future.
For more on me and my book The Nazi Hunter: A Novel go to [...]
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Format: Hardcover
This is a magnificent example of investigative journalism that studies the past and present methods that have linked chocolate to a variety of sins-- including slavery, including child slavery today.
While I can't say enough positive things about the writing and research on past and present, I wish she had shown the same painstaking research and assessment when it comes to fair trade.
She slams fai trade organizations for having an expensive and complicated certification system, just a chapter or two after slamming the corporate efforts to deceive people on the basis of a slick and inexpensive certification system. Alas, certification and building the fair trade brand takes time and money, but no-one, including Carol Off, has developed an alternative that can function in a commercial world.
That's why I try to be more balanced about fair trade in my book on The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food, while looking forward to including her research in my next edition.
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