Lessons on the Bitter Side of Chocolate

June 22, 2020

chocolateThis summer, students taking a class called The Bitter Side of Chocolate took a different look at the beloved treat. 

The course, taught by Assistant Professor of Economics Alma Bezares Calderón, explores the role of chocolate in human history, its economic and cultural importance across time, and the complex structure of the global cocoa-chocolate value chain.

“A value chain is the process in which, at every stage, there is some added value that leads to a final product,” said Bezares. “In the case of the cocoa-chocolate value chain, everything starts with the production of cacao beans, which takes part mostly in the African continent where 76.55% of the world’s supply of cacao beans come from the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon.”

The multidisciplinary course uses history, anthropology, political science, and economics to explore and analyze the subject matter. Bezares explains she focused on chocolate because it is a product that is familiar to consumers. 

“Using the history of cocoa and its value chain as a learning tool, we were able to discuss and elaborate on how exactly racism, classism, patriarchal systems, and vast amounts of inequalities have survived and morphed throughout the years,” said Kyle Aguilar ’20, who is majoring in economics. 

The class is being taught as a paired course along with Africana Philosophy, giving students the opportunity to link ideas introduced in that class to issues they analyze in The Bitter Side of Chocolate.

After taking the course, Bezares hopes participants are able to reconsider some of the common perceptions about livelihoods on the African continent.

“I [also] hope that this course allows students to place themselves in the value chain and understand their role as consumers in the global North,” said Bezares. “I hope that they can recognize that maximizing their consumer welfare goes beyond searching for the lowest price and that there are other factors they may want to weigh in when making a purchase.”

Bezares' research focuses on political economy and development, mostly in the African continent. One of her current projects looks into the connection between property rights and conflict in the Ivory Coast–a topic closely linked to cocoa production.