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The Natural History and Culture of Chocolate
MRIC 2008/09

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"The Natural History and Culture of Chocolate"

October 21st 
Lauren Fins - Forest Resources

Abstract: Money may not grow on trees, but chocolate does...and chocolate is big business. In 2004, the world consumed almost 12 billion pounds of chocolate confections, 29% of which was consumed by Americans at an average of almost 12 pounds of chocolate per person per year. The source of this gustatory delight, the chocolate tree (Theobroma cacao), originated in the upper Amazon basin, but is grown for commercial chocolate production in tropical regions around the globe. It is a small, broad-leaved, evergreen botanical wonder that is very particular about temperature and moisture, grows best in the damp and shaded understory of tropical rainforests, and generally refuses to produce its seed-containing pods beyond 20º from the equator. Its flowers are pollinated by midges that live in litter beneath the forest canopy.

Chocolate trees can be grown sustainably under the shade of taller fruit-producing trees, such as citrus species, but they are often grown in single-species production plantations where native forests have been cleared, where large doses of fertilizer and pesticides are used on a regular basis, and where slave and child labor reduce costs to candy producers who sell chocolate confections at very low prices. This presentation will examine T. cacao through a variety of lenses...from seed to confection...from the "botany of desire" to the social implications of indulgence.

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