Women and Cocoa: Chocolate Farming and Gender Inequality

Chocolate Farming and Gender Inequality

I just posted an interesting link on the Pastry Sampler blog on gender inequality and the chocolate front. What I found from an article on Confectionery News was that while women can be trained with all the technical knowledge of cocoa farming, in certain parts of the world they may not be able to own land, or real property. Without being an actual land owner, some suppliers will not engage in business, creating an unfortunate circle that many women cannot break from.

The World Cocoa Foundation published a presentation Innovations in Sustainability PPP – Women and Cocoa Farming: “Bridging The Gap.” In it was a chart that had the gender breakdown of land ownership and labor in West-Africa cocoa farming households. While women took up 85% of the food crop labor, they only owned 25% of the cocoa farms. This is what they called a “circle of exclusion.”

And in some cases, women must hire laborers to do work they are able to do themselves, which eats away at profits they might otherwise realize if they did the work.

From Oxfam International, an organization fighting worldwide poverty, and Gender inequality in cocoa farming in Ivory Coast:

Some of the challenges facing women in the Ivory Coast are cultural. Even though women are regularly involved in 12 of the 19 key stages in cocoa production, and play a lead role in tending the young cocoa trees and performing post-harvest activities, cocoa farming is considered by some to be “man’s work” off limits to women. The result is that at times women must rely on male laborers which can eat away at their income.

“Women don’t really do the cocoa work,” says Etchi Avla a 43 year-old mother of five who owns and manages her own cocoa farm in Botendé, a small village on a dirt road about 90 minutes from the nearest paved road. “From the very beginning it has always been men ever since the field has been there and when I needed to take care of it then I would call the men. My biggest problem is to prepare the field and encourage the men and thank them.” Because many tasks are considered by some to be men’s work, Alva relies on a male laborer, with whom she shares her crop at harvest time—she keeps two-thirds, and the laborer gets one-third.

Women are not only constrained or limited by their ability to own the land in some countries, but also the right to work the cocoa farm land.


World Cocoa Foundation, ed. “Women and Cocoa Farming: Bridging the Gap.” Innovations in Sustainability PPP. World Cocoa Foundation, n.d. Web.

“Gender Inequality in Cocoa Farming in Ivory Coast.” Ed. Grow. Food. Justice. Planet. Oxfam. Oxfam International, n.d. Web.


The Interesting Relationship Between Bigotry and Online Reviews

bigotry in online reviews

What is bigotry? Dictionary.com defines it as “stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.” How it works its way into the food world: through online reviews. And it seems Asian food is often a target.

Andrew Simmons, a writer for Slate.com, presented his own findings in “Gastronomic Bigotry: Do you think an ethnic restaurant caused your food poisoning? You might be a little bit racist.” It’s about a New York Times article on how the New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene used Yelp to help track down cases of food borne illnesses, cases the CDC found had possibly not been officially reported – by observing and taking note of certain keywords on Yelp reviews.

The CDCs findings point to the importance of social media:

As social media usage continues to grow among U.S. adults, health departments might consider additional surveillance methods to capture illness reports from those more likely to post a restaurant review online than to contact a health department. By incorporating website review data into public health surveillance programs, health departments might find additional illnesses and improve detection of foodborne disease outbreaks in the community. Similar programs could be developed to identify other public health hazards that reviewers might describe, such as vermin in food establishments.

The research points to the conclusion that by diners reporting if they’ve been sick on review sites, those reviews could help track down community outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. Perhaps diners don’t know who to contact if they’ve been ill.  The online ‘surveillance methods’ could help target the source of the problem and prevent another outbreak of the same environmental findings, such as cross-contamination and improper storage methods.

That all seems good until Simmons ran his own search with word ‘poisoning’ from restaurant reviews in his home town of L.A. Simmons discovered from his first 100 searches, 68 percent came from Ethnic restaurants, 44 percent Asian alone. His findings are interesting because although authentic ethnic foods are currently en vogue with diners, in the world according to Yelp, diners are first to bad mouth those same ethnic eateries over all others. He writes that diners today “don’t reveal that they share their predecessors’ xenophobia until they get sick.”

And bigotry goes beyond actually reviewing the actual food consumed. If you are in an ethnic restaurant, do you expect all the workers in it (from cooks, to the host/hostess, to the waitstaff) to be of the same ethnicity? Can’t a restaurant hire its own staff based on, say, performance, rather than an Affirmative Action hire? Seattle sushi restaurant Mashiko noted reviews that stated there were no Japanese people working there. In An Open Letter to Bigot Diners, sushiwhore points out to reviewers that yes, white women can and do make awesome sushi. And Seattle isn’t the only one with bigoted diners who desire Asian chefs (doesn’t even matter what ethnicity, just “Asian”) to be working at sushi restaurants, San Diego has them, too.

I don’t even know how to end this post, except to note that a good portion of reviews aren’t even real anyway. Which will make the pilot efforts of that public health social surveillance thing from the government all that more interesting if it expands. Because everyone tells the un-skewed, unbiased truth in online reviews, right?

Cake Cutting: A Perfect Way?

I’ll admit it: I’ve always loved algebra. Geometry? Eh, not so much. But with algebra, you can literally solve anything, especially when baking. For example, take this question from ck12.org: How can we make enough chocolate chip cookies for an exact amount of people with only one recipe? Easy, use algebra. Or, this question from a text book word problem from algebra.com: How many trays of each type of muffins should the baker make to maximize his profit? Use linear algebra. Or, how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit or the other way around (aaamath.com)? Create an algebraic formula.

How to cut a perfect slice of cake.

But when cake cutting is involved, it involves more than simply cutting a slice from a whole. Will each piece be equal, or at least, perceived as equitable between the guests eating it? Will everyone be happy? Will the remaining pieces dry out? I look into how mathematics come into play when cutting a perfect cake slice, and reference two  journals, Nature from 1906, and Notices from 2006, that try to solve just those questions.

Scientifically and Mathematically Speaking – What’s the Best Way to Cut a Cake?

It would be a delicious question to solve.

You Are What Your Maternal Grandmother Ate, And Also What You Eat Affects Your Offspring


Interesting research by Christoper Kuzawa, Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University. The field research followed more than 3,000 pregnant Filipino women and their offspring, and filtered through 3 decades of participation.

It is interesting that what trended is this: what the maternal grandmother ate and how big or small the baby was directly affected the subsequent daughter’s children. And in some instances, how the second generation’s diet as a child affected the third generation’s offspring.

The following are powerful findings from Fetal Origins of Developmental Plasticity: Are Fetal Cues Reliable Predictors of Future Nutritional Environments?

Intergenerational studies that track birthweight records across multiple generations find that the mother’s own birth weight is among the strongest predictors of her offspring’s birthweight….These findings have been taken as support for the hypothesis, now 35 years old, that the nutritional experiences of the mother when she was a fetus condition the intrauterine nutritional environment that she provides her own offspring, with effects stronger through the female line…And while this intergenerational effect is best documented for prenatal nutrition, several recent studies suggest that what a mother ate as a child also influences offspring growth.

Reading further, not only does prenatal health give a possible clue to the next generation’s health, but also what the female’s nutritional environment was – after birth – in childhood.

Although not focused on birthweight as an outcome, more direct evidence for an intergenerational influence of childhood nutrition comes from the INCAP supplementation trial in Guatemala (Stein et al., 2003, 2004). In this study, offspring of women who received a high-quality nutritional supplement during childhood grew faster during the first 36 months of life. While the mechanisms remain to be established, these studies suggest that a female’s nutritional experiences after birth continue to condition the nutritional environment that she will provide her own offspring, with measurable effects on both prenatal and postnatal growth in the next generation.

If this isn’t a wake up call on how we should be taking care of ourselves and our children by way of  nutritional choices, I don’t know what is. The fact that the nutritional choices we make as procreating women can or may affect our grandchildren is eye opening. A little scary, but saying no to that coveted junkfood now may be the best gift to give to our daughters, and our daughters’ daughters.

For more on Chris Kuzawa, PhD, and his research, visit his research page.


Kuzawa, Christoper W. “Fetal Origins of Developmental Plasticity: Are Fetal Cues Reliable Predictors of Future Nutritional Environments?” American Journal of Human Biology (2005): 5-21. Web.