In this semester’s Nature Writing class, students are ever grappling with how we define the terms that describe our class. What is Nature? What is Writing? And how do these ideas become entangled in our social consciousness in continually new and exciting ways?
One such cross-disciplinary (and delicious) dance has been our sampling of gourmet chocolate bars from around the world. Each week, we’ve sampled at least two different chocolates—from Coconut Ash & Banana to Sea Salt & Coffee to 85% Cacao from Panama. While passing around each bar to share, we have also read the narrative that often envelops the front, back, and even inside of the packaging.
We have read that our chocolate consumption has supported the World Bicycle Relief project across Africa, school construction projects in Tanzania, and small cooperative Runa farms in Ecuador. We have read about the “sustainable luxury” of exotic ingredients, reveled in the rich colors of each label, and learned about the individuals and cacao farms that provide the ideas behind these delicious treats.
Little connects us to our environment more than the food we eat. Eating is a very literal way to blur the boundary between ourselves and the world—and if food already is a narrative of the permeability of that boundary, a bar of chocolate fully enrobed in the rhetoric of fair trade, organic agriculture, and social and environmental justice helps to make that permeability even more apparent.
On the other hand, of course, the irony of “sustainably luxury”—that we are sharing bars of chocolate that are exclusively marketed to us as a form of what is a really pretty extravagant socially and environmentally conscientious consumerism—does not escape the class conversation.
Can we really narrate and consume our way to a more just ecologically an environmentally just world? Should we simply recognize our position of privilege rather than obfuscate it with rhetoric that tells us we’re “saving the world” and “helping people” through our middle-class consumption? What stories would we like to hear about the foods we eat?