Is it ethical to eat chocolate?

Our ethical columnist explains why chocolate is an eco-disaster - and the dangers of pleasure.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

Dear Ethan,

Maybe I’m a bad person, but I have a sweet tooth. I can’t help it. I just love chocolate. I know that when big companies make chocolate, it uses lots of resources, exploits workers in developing countries and generates millions of ‘food miles’. But there are lots of companies trying to produce ethical chocolate now, aren’t there? Would it be okay to eat chocolate if I promised it was fairtrade, organic and didn’t generate lots of emissions?


Coco Behan,

Dear Coco,

I believe that one of the popular confectionery bars in the UK is now advertised with the slogan ‘Pleasure you can’t measure’. I have always been suspicious of the whole notion of ‘pleasure’ and I’m doubtful whether it can be measured in any event. But there are things we can measure and one of them is the devastating impact of such ‘little pleasures’ on the planet. How big is your ‘chocolate footprint’?

Don’t get me wrong. Chocolate is nice. It melts in the mouth. It’s sweet but can also be a little bit bitter. It has weird and wonderful psychological effects. Apparently, it was the Aztecs who first discovered you could make a drink using cocoa, and they were a bunch of headbangers who built pyramids in the Andes and probably spent most of their time spaced out on something or other. In fact, chocolate really is a drug. Chocolate contains tryptophan, a natural precursor to serotonin, a brain chemical that makes you feel ‘happy’. Chocolate is just a milder version of that drug ‘ecstacy’, the one that makes you so stupid you listen to loud, boring music without complaint. (Given the noise that emanates from the local council estate most weekends, maybe I should take ecstacy.)

Don’t be lured in by the chocolate pushers. Get ye behind me, Cadbury, Hershey’s and the rest of you! Don’t try drugging up the population to sell your evil wares! I don’t think it’s ethical to buy heroin and I don’t think it’s ethical to buy chocolate either. It wouldn’t be so bad if chocolate had a powerful stupefying effect on those great lumps of aggression; men. But it seems to be women like you, Coco, who get addicted to it. As if you weren’t enslaved to the machine of capitalism in enough ways already, you’ve allowed yourself to be seduced by an evil product that is very, err, seductive.

Let’s just take a look at the dangers of chocolate. First, the beans are grown in poor countries, often using child labour. As I’ve said in this column before, we should never consume anything that will only encourage the wilful production of children. Then the stuff needs to be processed, shipped to some huge factory where it gets mixed with sugar (a product which receives stupendous amounts of subsidy so we can rot our teeth cheaply).

As the woman with her ethical finger on the pulse of the planet, Lucy Siegle, notes: ‘Sugar’s environmental footprint is huge. Plantations are responsible for the loss of millions of hectares of fertile land through soil erosion. Water is to sugar what pesticides and herbicides are to cotton – everything. Sixty years of sugar in Pakistan in the Indus Basin has resulted in a 90 per cent reduction in the amount of freshwater available. Not that sugar crops are light on the old agrichemicals, either. According to the WWF, pesticide spraying is common and, according to the WHO, there are 25million cases of acute chemical poisoning through agricultural pesticide use each year.’

So your sweet tooth is not just a dental disaster – it’s an environmental one, too.

Then there’s the milk in all that milk chocolate. In Britain, there are two million adult dairy cows according to the Department for Not Caring About the Environment, Industrialised Farming and Ruining Rural Affairs (Defra), producing about 35 litres of milk per day – that’s three times what was produced by cows 50 years ago, according to the right-thinking folk at Milk Sucks!. How do the cows manage this? By being sucked dry on a daily basis until their production dips just a little, when they have their throats cut so they can be turned into pies – just like their male offspring.

And in return for 35 litres of milk, the cows produce 55kg of river-spoiling waste – the equivalent of 24 humans’ production of shit each day! And that’s before we even begin to think about the massive amounts of methane that cows must produce after they force down another huge meal of grass or fodder. They only produce the milk because they’re supposed to be feeding their calves, so we have to get them pregnant in order to do so. So, guess what? The cows are fucked, and so is the planet. (Unless they’re artificially inseminated. I’m not sure if the planet can be inseminated, but if it could be, humans would do it.)

Don’t even get me started on the nuts, fruit, vanilla and all that other stuff they mix chocolate with, or all the deadly products that are ‘jazzed up’ with chocolate to help stupid people ignore the stench of death as they shove mouthful after mouthful into their fat, lazy mouths.

Yet, you think that somehow this could be made ‘ethical’ if we just didn’t bother with the insecticides or maybe didn’t bother with the milk or something? You seem to think that if they give the poor farmers a bit more cash, it makes it okay to carry on with your masturbatory chocolate habit. Sorry, but only someone who is prepared to ignore the enslavement and genocide of cows and the sticky, sickly sweet sugary sucking of the planet’s fragile fertility could think that chocolate can be ethical. You can spray a turd with gold paint, but it will still be a turd. (Please don’t start spraying turds with gold paint as I will then have to write a whole column about the dangers of the gold paint industry.)

In short, why don’t you load a Twix into an ecological shotgun and blast both chocolate finger-filled barrels into the bleeding, wounded face of Mother Nature?

I hope you can also see why I’ve always been suspicious of pleasure. From sex to ice-cream to chocolate, pleasure is the desperate twitching human impulse that ruins everything. Avoid it like the plague that it is.

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}. Read his earlier columns here.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today