Monday, November 2, 2009

The Upside of Halloween . . . or Hand Over the Chocolate!

Not being a big fan of ghouls and goblins or anything remotely resembling a werewolf, one might correctly assume that Halloween does not rank high on my favorite holiday list. Except, of course, for the chocolate.

Without a doubt, I am a confessed complete and total chocoholic. Nothing is quite as irresistible as smooth, silky chocolate. Chocolate has a magical ability to transform a moment into something rich and delectable, with a hint of the exotic. And, yes, as a holistic mom I am the strange lady down the street handing out fair trade chocolate, organic lollipops, or non-toxic crayons to the little neighborhood trick-or-treaters. But I am also the first one to plead with my family to save some of the chocolate for last (in case Halloween "traffic" is light this year), in hopes of sequestering the leftovers into a secret chocolate stash.

But, honestly, what's so bad about chocolate? Well, according to some scientists, not all that much. Studies have shown that "cocoa powder, dark chocolate and milk chocolate have higher Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC) values than many common foods, such as prunes and blueberries. (ORAC values measure how powerful an antioxidant a substance is. An antioxidant is a substance that inhibits oxidation or reactions promoted by oxygen and peroxides, and that include many held to protect the living body from the deleterious effects of free radicals. Examples include beta-carotene, vitamin C, and alpha-tocopherol)." Although some of the pro-chocolate research trials have been funded by those with a vested interest in the outcome, I personally have little motivation to refute their findings.

But not all chocolate is created equal. Rich, dark, organic chocolate holds the greatest potential for positive health benefits and the less processed, the better. More importantly, how our chocolate is produced is critically important as trafficking in children to be sold into labor in cocoa fields in West Africa or their exposure to high levels of pesticides during farming should be a deciding factor for all of us when we choose to indulge. The wages earned by cocoa farmers around the world are desperately low, largely due to a lack of corporate responsibility. "Producer income remains low because major chocolate and cocoa processing companies have refused to take any steps to ensure stable and sufficient prices for cocoa producers," explains the Global Exchange website.

Fair trade, organic chocolate is not hard to find. It may not be what is offered at the next house on your Halloween tour of the neighborhood, but it should be! With a little effort and a lot less guilt, we can all enjoy the spoils of Halloween for weeks (well, maybe days) to come!

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