Although for previous dinners (as with the ones focused on Tuscany, on Hunger, on Nepal, on Indonesian/Vegetarian cuisine), the guest chefs or the Housing and Dining Services staff had come up with the menu, I actually came up with this Ecuadorian menu all myself, with the help of a lot of online research and a great blog I discovered that featured a lot of food from Ecuador.
I developed a menu that featured a range of popular dishes in Ecuador, but that was also feasible, given the constraints of the Dining Services labor and resources:
The plantain chips, aji criollo, pickled red onions, and mango juice:
The ensalada mixta, locro with avocado, and cod ceviche:
There was also spiced rice and mushroom ceviche (not pictured).
After the delicious dinner, the representatives from the Kallari Cooperative began the presentation and chocolate tasting. They brought us a plate with two different kind of cocoa powders, 9 pieces of chocolate*, and one cocoa bean (which you can see bitten in half in the third photo below). They first had a presentation about how Kallari makes chocolate, and why it is so much more equitable and good for the farmers than any other chocolate out there, and we then had a blind taste test, in which we tried Kallari chocolate in comparison with other fair trade or organic brands. I'll describe it all in more detail below, but the bottom line: Kallari was the most delicious of all. So smooth and with such complex flavor, but without any bitterness at all. Yum.
The basic picture of chocolate is bleak. According to The Bitter Truth, "most chocolate sold in the U.S. comes from cocoa farms where farmers work in unsafe conditions, receive below poverty wages, many of them children under 14 years old who are forced to work and denied education," not to mention the environmental impacts of unsustainable cacao farming. This applies to the 90+% of chocolate that is produced by the same three huge food conglomerates whose names you hear over and over, if you're the sort of person to read up on the food industry (Cargill and ADM among them)--this includes pretty much all conventional chocolate brands: Hershey, Mars, etc.
But another sad part, and something new I learned at the chocolate tasting, is that even the so-called "good food" chocolate brands are still not all that "good," at least according to these Kallari folks. Dagoba is owned by Hershey, Endangered Species chocolate apparently gives 0% of its earnings to actual endangered species, Green & Black's is owned by Kraft, and on and on. I'm not certain about all of these claims, and you should definitely research them or let me know if you know more about this, but it was certainly a sobering list.
Kallari, in contrast, is one of the few chocolate makers that controls the whole process from the bean to the chocolate paste to the bar to the selling of the bars themselves to international markets. As one of the speakers said “each step closer to the processing and marketing aspects of the chocolate making doubles the income for Kallari." By unifying the growing of cocoa beans with the processing and production of chocolate, the native Kichwa people of Ecuador are able to make a decent living. Please read more about Kallari on their website, and through this New York Times profile, When Chocolate is a Way of Life, and through this treehugger article, A Sweeter Truth: Making Organic Fair Trade Chocolate in Ecuador.
And pick up a bar at your local Whole Foods to enjoy the ethical deliciousness!
* I was missing one! The more observant readers among you will notice that I only have 8 pieces of chocolate on the plate in the photo above.