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Explorations in Just Living

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Welcome to the blog of the Enough for Everyone program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). By "just living" we mean both justice-based living and just simply living – freeing ourselves from the clutter of stuff so we can focus on living faithfully and living well. Join us in the exploration!

About the Author
Bryce Wiebe coordinates Enough for Everyone, a ministry of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. He loves slow food and is fascinated by the way things are made.  He is excited to dive into experiments in simplicity with you.  His sacred cow of consumption: kitchen gadgets.

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September 24, 2008

Halloween Is Coming

Smoke Tinged Halloween Moon

It's hard to believe we are more than half way through September.  Soon October will be here and with it the candy smith's favorite holiday outside of Sweetest Day, Halloween.  Already the store shelves are packed with increasingly expensive costumes and Halloween treats.  At my house costume planning began in earnest last night.  "Look daddy, I'm a ghost," my nearly 3 year old said, her bath towel over her head.

My little ghost and I will approach Halloween a little differently this year.  Besides dying her costume pink, which she insists on, we are going to participate in the Global Exchange Reverse Trick-or-Treat.  As I have looked closer at the supply chains that put food on my table and cloths on my back I have become increasingly concerned about the people on the production side of the chain. 

Like our more virtuous holidays, Halloween has been taken over by big business and they are swimming in profits.  According to the National Retail Federation, retailers raked in $5.07 billion last year.  It is estimated that candy sales alone will account for $2.65 billion in sales this year.  Gone are old-fashioned Halloween treats like apples, nuts and caramel popcorn balls.  Gone are the harvest celebrations and mindfulness of God's creation.  In their place the Halloween industrial complex offers "Cool Fan Halloween Pops: a three in one treat for Halloween! Light! Fan! and Candy!!" (You can't make this stuff up.) 

At what cost have these profits come?

According to the US Census Bureau, chocolate and cocoa products are the largest piece of the candy pie. The most important ingredient in chocolate comes from the cacao tree, a native plant to South America.  Cacao trees produce large seed pods, each containing 30 to 50 seeds.  These seeds are dried, roasted and ground.  The fatty part of the seed is removed yielding cocoa butter.  The bitter solids left behind are further ground into cocoa powder.  In 2004 world production of cocoa was 3.6 million tons.

Chocoholics with green thumbs will no doubt wonder how to grow Cacao trees in their backyard.  You should know these are especially finicky plants.  Cacao grows in a band 20 degrees north or south of the equator.  In other words, if you live in the Americas but don't live somewhere between Guadalajara, Mexico and Santa Cruz, Bolivia, you are out of luck.  Even though cacao cultivation began in the Americas, the world's top producers are in Africa.  Nearly 70% of the cacao consumed each year is produced in West African nations including Côte d’Ivoire (37.4%) and Ghana (20.7%).

In 2006 world chocolate sales topped $74 billion.  The economy of the world's largest cacao producer Côte d’Ivoire only saw $1.2 billion of that.  Include environmental degradation, harsh working conditions and forced child labor and the real cost of cocoa production in West Africa skyrockets as the profits evaporate.  The people at the front end of the chain are squeezed ever harder to increase profits at the other end. 

How does this relate to Halloween celebrations in our country?  As is the case with so many consumer goods, the chocolate supply chain between cacao fields in the tropics and my daughter's Trick or Treat bag in temperate Louisville, KY are obfuscated by clever marketing and circuitous purchasing practices.  The truth is as millions of American children, on one side of the chain, don over priced costumes and go door to door in search for candy, an estimated 284,000 West African children toil in abusive labor conditions on the other side.  The direct link between hyper-consumption and child labor should leave a lump in one's stomach much larger than fifteen snack size candy bars ever could. 

There are other alternatives.

Reverse Trick or Treat

This year, instead of supporting the status quo, make a statement against it.  Global Exchange offers Reverse Trick-or-Treat to increase awareness of the issues surrounding conventional chocolate production.  Participants order kits from Global Exchange.  Each kit contains samples of Fair Trade chocolate, which are given to the adults they visit.  Each chocolate is attached to a card with more information about the supply chain and labor problems in the cacao industry and how Fair Trade certified chocolate provides a more sustainable and fair option.  The program is free and first come first served.  The deadline is October 13 so order today.  Order HereMore Information

Take Fair Trade practices into more of your Halloween festivities with Fair Trade decorations and gifts available here.

Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF

UNICEF has long been an advocate for children in need of clean water, better eduction and medical care.  Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF gives kids a way to get involved in grassroots fund-raising.  Participants bring collection boxes or homemade canisters with them trick-or-treating.  They then request a small donation from each house visited. At the end of the night a donation is made either by phone, the Internet or mail. 

Both options put a new spin on family traditions.  What better way to celebrate God's bounty than sharing it with those in need? 

Categories: Justice