The Chocolate Trail

On the chocolate trail,” is the title of a book by Rabbi Deborah Prinz, who lectured on the subject at Netanya AACI.  The subtitle of her book tells the story “a delicious adventure connecting Jews, religions, history, travel, rituals and recipes to the magic of cacao.”  So what is the connection between Jews and chocolate.  It is believed that Sephardic Jews, or perhaps Bnei Anusim or Marranos, Jews forced to convert to Christianity but who continued practicing Judaism secretly, who scattered to the new Spanish and Portuguese colonies to escape the Inquisition, were not only involved in the early trade in chocolate, but were also responsible for introducing chocolate manufacture into Europe.  It is believed that very early on such Jews brought chocolate manufacture into Bayonne, France, just over the Pyrenees mountains from Spain, from where it spread north to Paris, Belgium and Switzerland.

Deborah Prinz and her husband thought that she had written the first book relating the history of Jews and chocolate, but when on a visit to Jerusalem they saw an article in The Jerusalem Post that stated that someone with the similar name of Isaac Prinz from Holland had drafted such a book.  They located his files in the archives of the Hebrew University, but since they were contained in many boxes and were all in Dutch, they could not locate anything but an outline.  Further, contact with his living relatives indicated that the book was not finished.before his death.  He was not a relative, but quite a coincidence.

Her book is filled with many anecdotes and information about the history of chocolate and also contains recipes.  Several people brought their own handmade chocolate delights to the meeting to sweeten the evening.

Two thirds of the world’s production of chocolate now comes from West Africa, with ca. half coming from Sierra Leone.  Although the cacao plant was native to central America, its cultivation was introduced into its colonies by the Spanish in the 17th century. Previously it was produced using child slave labor.  After exposure of the fact that the large chocolate companies Nestle, Mars, Cadbury, Hershey, etc. were dependent on child slavery for their product, some attempts were supposedly made to clear this up.

In a recent documentary on France24 about the production of cacao now in West Africa, it was shown that notwithstanding efforts to supposedly end this practice, all the cacao plantations that a team of reporters visited in Ivory Coast and Ghana were still using child labor, including children imported from neighboring countries and paid a pittance for long hours of work.  Very few schools or facilities were found to house and educate these children.  This is a current scandal, since child labor is illegal under international law, and supposed attempts to change this situation seem to have been fraudulent.  Much of the chocolate we eat comes from child slave labor.

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