An August 2005 article in Hypertension Journal reported that Italian scientists found dark chocolate helpful in lowering blood pressure, and that LDL cholesterol levels dropped in every member of their (albeit small) test group. And of course, everyone has heard of the many studies showing that chocolate contains healthy antioxidants called flavonoids.
Myths about acne and lack of valuable nutrients have been debunked, making chocolate (which has vitamins B, D and E) more popular than ever. The fact that it’s is also high in fat, sugar and calories deters precisely no one. Indeed, when aliens do land, they may think many Earth cultures base the worship of entire holy days upon the sale of chocolate in varied shapes and packaging.
This wouldn’t be a stretch, considering the long history of chocolate as a privilege of the wealthy, and a symbol of religious adherence or noble decadence.
Meso-American cultures first brewed chocolate beverages around 1100 BC, and the tradition survived up through the Mayans, where hieroglyphs showed chocolate was consumed in ceremonial rites. Aztecs used cacao beans as currency, and introduced them to invading Spaniards, who in turn imported chocolate to European royalty in the 1500s, enslaving many tribal societies to keep the expensive bean production running. The 20th century industrial revolution brought mass production, making chocolate an easier treat to obtain.
Now, however, scientists predict chocolate scarcity. Director of the Nature Conservation Research Council, John Mayson says, “In 20 years chocolate will be like caviar... so rare and expensive that the average Joe just won't be able to afford it."
Climate change, among other modern issues, may affect Theobroma cacao evergreens, which are native to the Amazon basin. The trees’ natural ripening process requires rich soil, high humidity and rainfall, and many seasons to produce cacao pods, which contain fatty bean-seeds used in the production of cocoa butter.
Spread by humans throughout tropical regions of the world, increasing demand led to hybrid cacao specimens, forced to mature quickly in open fields (often cleared equatorial rainforest patches), stripping the soil barren for the sake of fast, high-volume harvests. When one area is “farmed-out,” new areas must be cleared of native trees, interrupting rainfall patterns and intensifying regional climate changes.
Despite efforts to promote “sustainable farming” practices by advocates such as the World Cocoa Foundation (http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/), certification protocols and strategies to protect natural ecosystems are falling short amid the race for profits, thus threatening the world cocoa supply by the very way in which it is produced.
While industry managers at Mars Inc. and Cadbury hope genetic engineering and cultivation control will offer solutions, less optimistic environmentalists say enjoy those valentine chocolates, because your grandchildren may never see such things on store shelves.
Written and guest posted by Heather Archuletta of Pillow Astronaut.