The United States is not the greatest chocolate offender

To the Editor:

Chelsea Purvis and Julia Shrader-Lauinger (“Skip the Chocolates, Roses for your Valentine,” 2/13) mention one fact in particular that raises significant questions about the credibility of their argument. Purvis and Shrader-Lauinger credit the cacao trade as “fueled largely by U.S. demand.” In fact, this couldn’t be farther from the truth — the bulk of the world’s chocolate is consumed in and demanded by the European Union. According to a December 1994 report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “per capita consumption of chocolate confectionary [in the United States] is moderate” at only 4-5 kilograms per person per year. Countries in Northern Europe, on the other hand, consume 7 to 10 kilograms per person per year — nearly twice as much. This morning, I was in Perugia, Italy, home of the famous Perugia chocolates (they make makers of Baci, the famous Italian hazelnut/chocolate kiss). One need only walk down the street in Perugia, or any town in Italy, to understand that the Italians consume at least as much, if not more, chocolate than we Americans do.

According to other sources, the fastest growing international market for chocolate is in developing countries, particularly the former Soviet Block and South America — where chocolate has both cultural and agricultural roots. Since chocolate is a luxury good, its demand has increased with the improved standard of living in those regions. Furthermore, while per capita chocolate consumption in the United States has increased slightly in the past few years (after an unnatural low at the height of the low-fat diet craze), overall chocolate consumption here is generally decreasing. As countries become more affluent, they are more likely to prefer quality over quantity. For example, as Americans grow wealthy, they are more likely to buy their sweetheart a fine (but small) box of Swiss imports over a large (but less refined) box by Russell-Stevens. Indeed, the chocolate produced from “technified” plants, to use Purvis and Lauinger’s demonization of a millennia-old agricultural process, is generally of an inferior quality (in spite, or perhaps because of, its quantity). While this may have been sufficient for the American Consumer circa 1970, increasing standards have resulted in a shrinking American market for inferior chocolate.

On the whole, Purvis and Lauinger present an argument that is interesting at the very least. However, they seem all too quick to jump at the United States as a source of international agricultural injustice. Their argument would have been more compelling had it been grounded in fact, and not exaggerated by ideology.

L. David Peters ’05

February 15, 2004

The writer is studying abroad in Florence, Italy