I once saw a quote that read, “Chocolate is not a substitute for love. Love is a substitute for chocolate”. Sometimes I feel this to be absurdly true. I confess – there have been times in my life when things seem completely out of whack and I just want to – need to – nibble on (no, devour) something chocolaty, with a vengeance, like there’s no tomorrow, until the world makes sense again. Okay, that didn’t sound like the insane ramblings of a chocoholic, did it?
Well, if I am a chocoholic, then I can only describe my experience on Tuesday night at Yoga for Today as therapy. I attended a workshop with one of Edmonton’s (healthy) chocolate gurus, Victoria Laine. A holistic nutrition educator and yogi, her new book (and Tuesday night’s workshop) is aptly titled Health By Chocolate. Between offerings of chocolate pecan pie and pudding, Victoria treated us to recipe demonstrations and reflective anecdotes from her journey of yoga teaching, nutrition counselling and chocolatier-ing. Victoria’s book covers some of the health benefits of chocolate and includes recipes to satisfy even your most sinful chocolaty yearnings for every meal of the day. So there you go – guilt be gone! I joke, of course. The treats we sampled last night were all made using fair-trade, dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao*) and whole foods like dates, banana and nuts. When the chocolate was prepared with “clean” ingredients, I was amply satisfied with a small amount and was much more successful at moderating my intake, thankfully!
I’m glad Victoria discussed the topic of fair-trade chocolate, since one of my goals lately has been to cultivate a greater sense of connectivity with my food. In the midst of savouring our chocolate treats, I was soberly reminded that chocolate has always had its dark side, with slavery and child labour widespread throughout cacao farming history and still exists today to a larger extent than I’d like to imagine. Until recently, I had never given much thought to the fact that the chocolate I eat when I’m sad, inhale when I’m stressed, polish off “just because it’s there”, was once a simple cacao bean collected by hand by someone, maybe a child, who may never taste the final product that I get to enjoy whenever I want.
One of the challenges with cacao farming is the prevalence of pests and diseases that threaten to destroy the crops, leaving farmers with limited resources and choices. Cheap or free labour is the order of the day when one’s livelihood is in jeopardy. Enter the children, working long hours in oppressive heat and suffering injuries from machetes (used to open cacao pods to harvest the beans) and pesticide exposure. Hmm…chocolate tastes a little more on the bitter side when scrutinized in that light. But I digress a little more than intended. There is fair-trade chocolate and organizations like the World Cocoa Foundation whose mission is to improve the lives of cacao farmers. If you are a chocolate lover like me, I do encourage you to visit their website and learn more about what you are eating. Food is one of the threads that bind us to one another, giving us a common ground that transcends vast distances and cultural differences between us, while nurturing not only our bodies but also our human diversity and creativity. For me, food is one of the great love languages.
However, personal sentiment aside, I will just add that Victoria tied the Health By Chocolate workshop together with what she called a “chocolate meditation”. For those of you who are well versed in the practice of meditation, I wonder if slowly melting a delicious piece of dark chocolate at the same time would enhance or distract from your experience. Personally, I’ve never been skilled at quieting my mind and have a healthy envy toward those who can. And I certainly haven’t attempted lately to let chocolate melt in my mouth as slowly as possible, allowing myself to truly savour it at length. I loved the “chocolate meditation” for reminding me of my goal to be more connected with food and to practice eating mindfully. In other words, “Ommmmm, chocolate”.
I’ve included Victoria’s recipe for “Healthy Chocolate Turtles”- these are impressively close to the commercial kind (but better). Eat, enjoy, share, connect, support fair-trade, meditate and stay healthy!
Oh, ahem, and to be completely self-serving here, if you are craving some home made chocolate gelato, consider signing up for our next Vata workshop on January 21, 2011. Namaste.
Healthy Turtle Bonbons (Taken from Health by Chocolate by Victoria Laine):
Makes 12 turtle bonbons:
12 whole medjool dates
12 whole pecans or walnuts
¾ C dark chocolate chips
Lin a tray or flat plate with waxed or parchment paper or plastic wrap.
With your fingers, remove pit from each date, and replace it with a nut. Gently squeeze the date closed around the nut. Melt chocolate [e.g. in a double broiler or glass bowl set over a pan filled with several inches of water, placed over low heat].
Roll each stuffed date in chocolate using a fork or tongs.
Place individual treats on the prepared tray so they don’t touch, and allow to cool and set on the counter or, if the room is warm, in the fridge.
When the coating has hardened, serve on a glass or decorative plate or individual small baking cups or candy holders.