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Bitter Chocolate: Anatomy of an Industry

3.66  ·  Rating Details  ·  236 Ratings  ·  46 Reviews
Once known as a sweet indulgence for children on Halloween and for sweethearts on Valentine's Day, in recent years chocolate has become a high-end (and year-round) delicacy with more and more exotic chocolates turning up on menus and in shops everywhere. But as giant chocolate makers and artisan chocolatiers alike take chocolate in sumptuous new directions to meet the dema ...more
Hardcover, 328 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by The New Press (first published 2006)
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Aug 11, 2008 Alan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is half history, half bitter condemnation of "Big Chocolate." As a chocolaholic myself, it did make bitter reading. Apparently, the international chocolate industry is fueled by the cruel exploitation of child labor in Africa. These children are treated no better than slaves. Others who are complicit in the many sins of this industry include the Europeans and American companies who profit from it, the IMF and World Bank who impose impossible conditions on producer nations, the corrupt ...more
Jacqui Pegg
May 13, 2014 Jacqui Pegg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was an excellent book. I appreciated the thorough history of cacao and chocolate, from its first known cultivation and use, through centuries of export and trade, colonialism, world trade, cash cropping, slavery, industrialization, corporatization, post-colonial West African power, wealth and politics, and so on.
I was very interested in the link to the Quakers, efforts to develop model communities around chocolate factories, the origins of all the great chocolate mass-producing c
Dec 02, 2008 Jason rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Could not finish. The author's preachiness turned me off. I get it: eating chocolate is bad news. Cacao bean farmers use slaves and are at the root of all evil. I got it in the first few chapters. By the middle of the book, I think I had the point and returned this one to the library.
Aug 01, 2012 Dan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite movies as a kid was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). What child did not want to win the golden ticket? Who didn't want to see the mysteries hidden behind the tall walls of the factory? Who didn't feverishly ride their bikes to the Penny Candy Store at every chance and buy sweets with grubby hands and hungry eyes? Isn't this why we worked for our allowance money? It was not until 15 years later in college that upon watching the film again after many years that I re ...more
Alison Perry
Aug 25, 2008 Alison Perry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who has ever purchased chocolate.
Yes, it reads like a very long newspaper article. But get past that and you've got one entralling true story on your hands. If it doesn't move you to think about your next grocery store purchase, whatever it may be, you might want to consider the idea that you're dead inside. Read it.
Mar 31, 2014 Sean rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
I had a fairly good idea that chocolate, like coffee, had a history steeped in blood, violence and slavery. As with coffee (and reading Coffee: A Dark History; , I didn't realize just how bad those problems continued to be into modern times.

The biggest thing I guess I take away from this is that I need to do a bit more research into what I am buying. I have long been a purchaser of fair trade coffee and chocolate, but perhaps not as religiously as I
Michael Riversong
Since this medical condition has come along i've been craving chocolate a lot more than ever before. It seems to have some stabilizing effect on my whacked-out blood sugar. But i've seen rumors that chocolate production involves horrible slavery and corruption.

Carol Off, a Canadian writer (of course) went into the entire history of how chocolate production has worked. From early times, it has always been associated with elitism and slavery, even during the Aztec Empire. Now there are problems wo
I have never been a big chocolate consumer. According to some people I know, this is my most glaring character flaw. It is only that I don't have much of a sweet tooth and would prefer some salty cheese and a glass of red wine over a bit of chocolate any day. It wasn't until a year or two ago that I realized some of my chocolate avoidance came from just never being exposed to the right kind of chocolate. My friend Rachael began my education with some creative picks she found at our local natural ...more
Sep 01, 2008 Tracy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Carol Off is a good writer, making history seem tangible and accessible. She's able to call people corrupt, greedy liars without ever really using those words, instead using their words to say it for her. Her opinions on issues are apparent without being didactic. Although the book focuses on the the history of the cocoa bean, and the capitalism it's rapped up in, it's also a study in globalization through a particular product. It was a fascinating read.

The reason I only gave it 3 stars is becau
Jan 30, 2014 Amanda rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2014
So much of this book is disappointing. I generally enjoy topical works, especially if they pertain to human rights or consumerism. However, if you have a general grasp of western history, much of this book is redundant. Off spends a lot of time (poorly)exploring important historical "milestones" in an attempt to to provide context to the larger tale of the growth, both literal and symbolic,of chocolate. Also - and I'm aware this is totally nitpicking - there was SO MUCH alliteration in this book ...more

This book really depressed me. From this book, I learned that children/slaves mostly farm the cocoa for the chocolate we mostly eat.

The book itself was hard to digest. Perhaps, because I was stuck in a doctor's office waiting room for 3 hours, I found many of the chapters barely edible for my eyes. I got lost a number times in a world of names and events.

The rise of power of Hershey and Cadbury I found most interesting. That rise of power came with a rise of disgusting practices on their part (
Zahra Khan
Mar 09, 2014 Zahra Khan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I give this book 4 stars for the quality of information presented including original reporting.

Its not terribly well written though so a bit of a tough read. But stick with it and you'll learn about the issues in the chocolate industry in great detail and from reliable sources.
Aug 06, 2008 Kristina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: political foodies
This book is definitely a good base to learn about the history of chocolate production as well as the current political / corporate ethical quagmires. The beginning of the book started with a good pace, but the middle was saturated in details about Mali and Cote D'Ivoire. Although it was interesting, it took me weeks to get through this section. The end of the book regained the tone of the first sections and I read the remaining 100 pages in 2 days.
I was hoping that this book would go into deta
Mar 08, 2011 Marcie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Only read this book if you are willing to change your habits of decadence. Looking at history, society, and current events through the lens of one idea - in this case, chocolate – often opens a whole new world to view. That’s the case here. It's a history - sometimes fascinating, sometimes slow (there’s a reason I didn’t study business!), but always intriguing. It’s a look at globalization – through a detailed examination of the development of one slice of it. It’s a global social, economic, and ...more
Madhur Aggarwal
May 07, 2014 Madhur Aggarwal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Didn't think when i started reading this book that our simple, sweet, mundane chocolate could have such bloody history. But the worrying thing is that although slavery is no more, there is still serious exploitation of small cocoa growers.
Jul 24, 2015 Leslie rated it really liked it
This was especially helpful to read as someone whose race/gender intersection is socially stratified at a statistical "bottom" within a country that still positions me to readily contribute to the needless poverty of others. The full circle story of the Spanish crashing into the world of the Maya (oh the predictable triumvirate of greed-religion-oppression) all those centuries ago and Europeans/Americans doing it yet again via the organic & fair trade movements now run by big business is bri ...more
A real eye-opener into the politics and exploitation involved in getting beans to the first world. A fascinating history of chocolate consumption too. Interesting how it started out being consumed as a bitter drink with no added sugar.

Also was interested to learn that cocoa trees grow naturally in the shade of a larger tree with lots of undergrowth/mulch. Yet intensive monoculture farming relies of lots of artificial fertilisers and water for tree health. And yet they succumb to disease so the t
Suzanne Pringle
I am not too sure how I feel about this book. It reads as part history, part here and now. I did not finish it as I felt it was very dry and the last half seemed to repeat itself. It just seemed to go on and on about child laborers/slaves and the appealing conditions they were living in. Yes it is sad but the big chocolate corporations are doing NOTHING about it! I feel as a single, normal person I can do nothing. Plus the world we live in is almost catered to those types of situations -not that ...more
Depressing, but eye-opening
Reine Gentozala
Jan 25, 2014 Reine Gentozala rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Quick and easy read until the chapter about the lawmakers. Compelling and eye opening.
Lianne Burwell
May 21, 2009 Lianne Burwell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
If I wasn't so much a chocaholic, this book could have put me off eating chocolate. However, it did encourage me to look more for fair trade chocolate. Carol Off, co-host of CBC Radio's As It Happens, has produced an well-written book that traces the history of chocolate from the Aztecs to the modern era, and its affect on economics and social development around the world, especially among the people who grow the beans that make one of the world's favorite treats.
Ch J Loveall
Apr 12, 2014 Ch J Loveall rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent review of chocolate by someone outside the chocolate complex.
Heavy duty expose of the shocking (and yet no one responds)trade in cocao beans at the expense of many many peasant farmers. Sadly so many are at the mercy of despotic regimes, selfish greedy officials, and corporations promoting graft and corruption so you and I can have our indulgence. Truly disturbing. The writing was a little choppy, the subject carried it, I appreciated her extensive research.
Chris Chang Weeks
Aug 12, 2011 Chris Chang Weeks rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My daughter is a passionate chocoholic and inspired by what she has told me about some of the dark aspects of chocolate production, I decided to read this book. Written by an investigative reporter, it's very well researched. It paints a very brutal tale of chocolate production, human exploitation, and power grabs with the poor farmer caught in the middle.
I would definitely recommend it.
A journalistic exploration of the global chocolate industry and it's past and present connections to conflict, slavery and genocide. This book provides a fascinating and sobering introduction to one of the darker sides of globalization and modern capitalism, that of the ongoing worldwide devaluation of human beings (and of children in particular).
Jennifer Mangler
This book really made me think about how I spend my money. It matters. This book also made me realize that, even though I think of myself as well-informed, there is MUCH I do not know about how the things I buy are made. It's easier to remain ignorant of that, but it's not okay with me. Not anymore.
Alison Smith
Jul 19, 2011 Alison Smith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was shocking. I had no idea of the horrible things that go on in the chocolate industry without the average consumer even being aware of it. It made me reconsider the foods I eat, what I buy, and how my actions in the store can affect people's lives halfway across the world.
Sarah Haman
Nov 14, 2014 Sarah Haman rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This talked about the history of Chocolate from central america to modern day. It also talks a lot about the child slavery used to pick the raw cacao beans. It talks about the corruption in transnational corporations and in the countries involved especially Cote d'Ivoire.
May 21, 2011 Melissa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had no idea how walking into a 7-11 and buying a Snickers candy bar was really impacting someone on the other side of the world. It makes you think for sure about the next chocolate bar you buy. Great writing and would highly recommend it if you are a chocolate lover.
Jul 08, 2014 Rose rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The history of chocolate is covered very briefly until the mid 19th century, as the book is really concerned with the state of today's chocolate industry and the terrible conditions suffered by the farmers and their labourers. Truly disturbing as it ought to be.
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Carol Off is a Canadian television and radio journalist, associated with CBC Television and CBC Radio. She has been a host of CBC Radio's As It Happens since 2006. Previously a documentary reporter for The National, Off also hosted the political debate series counterSpin on CBC Newsworld.

She is the vice-president of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. She was awarded ACTRA's John Drainie Awa
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