Chocolate in an age of COVID

Photo by Nathana Rebouças on Unsplash

I want to thank Prof. Kim Brown for this guest post:

Can a person be too interested in chocolate?  I think not.  We can see all dimensions of issues in international and global studies through the omniscient chocolate bar.  This time of the pandemic once again reveals the fragile nature of the lives of cocoa producers, their product, and consumers. This post explores what has happened to cocoa and chocolate during the past 14 months. 

While major multinational companies such as Cargill, Mars, Wrigley, Kraft, and Callebaut continue to publicly endorse responsible sourcing and long term planning for sustainability, they are not always able to achieve their goals.  The pandemic has made these goals particularly unattainable. Even as members of the confectionery industry remain committed to key goals –vanquishing child labor and land deforestation, providing better attention to the needs of women farmers and guaranteeing a living wage to farmers– the past 13  months have seen few achievements in these areas. Nevertheless smaller projects have seen success. For example, Barry Callebaut has provided support to African Startup Seekewa. Divine Chocolate has underwritten literacy programs in Ghana.

Product prices have fallen and the two countries producing 60% of the world’s chocolate –Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire– face not only falling prices but a surplus of cocoa brought on by COVID in the past 14 months. Initiatives to ensure farmers receive a living wage remain in place.  Plans are good but implementation is not always successful. A key example in this area is the Living Income Differential levied in the amount of $400 per ton proposed in both countries. It is designed to offset current low global prices. In central American producing areas such as Guatemala and Honduras, small farmers have struggled to get their products to market. 

For those interested in more information about chocolate, I would encourage you to consider subscribing to Confectionary News. While this is an official newsletter of the industry, it curates a wide range of information on everything chocolate from industry reports to NGO reports.  One of particular interest at this moment might be the Easter Scorecard from Be Slavery Free. This annual report in infographic form profiles how well roughly 20 chocolate producers are doing in areas from Fair Trade to child labor, to deforestation and providing a living income to farmers. It is also possible to work through global websites that detail statistics, trends, and follow the cost of COVID..  They include The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), Confectionery News profiled above, and The Cocoa Initiative.

If you prefer podcasts and Twitter, Oliver Nieberg who has a number of rich podcasts about the industry has now moved to Lumina Intelligence and directs the Sustainable Food and Drink podcast. There are also powerful films including the 2012 film Shady Chocolate Business

On the supply chain end of things, niche marketing and futures predictions have given small chocolatiers a run for their money over the past 13 months. In spite of this, we see trends such as less plastic packaging, more biodegradable packaging especially on the part of the larger companies, and an increase in various types of vegan chocolate.  Companies such as Nestle have introduced a chocolate bar with no added sugar, only cocoa fruit and pulp. It is the Incoa chocolate bar, currently only available in France and the Netherlands. Other companies are infusing new ingredients from ancient sources such as baobab powder.  

Those of us working from home seem to have discovered more and more chocolate to buy but as we return to the workforce outside our homes it remains to be seen what we will do. In any case, keeping track of the chocolate bars around us is a very appropriate activity for consumers, researchers, and activists. 

Kim Brown, Portland State University

Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

New podcast episode: Fieldwork with Syrian refugees in Izmir, Turkey

I want to thank Mija Sanders, who talks about her experiences interviewing Syrian refugees in Izmir, Turkey in the latest episode of my podcast, Dispatch 7. This city is a major transit point in the movement of Syrians to Europe. Many people have an interesting story about the challenges that they faced starting their doctoral fieldwork. But I think that few people can have had such a dramatic start to their fieldwork as Mija.

Shawn Smallman

What you didn’t know about finding an international career

Over the last year I’ve been enjoying a series of podcast interviews on global topics. One aspect my podcast that makes it more fun for me is that many episodes focus on topics of interest to students and people in their twenties. For this reason, I’ve recorded a number of episodes on careers. If you are curious as to what you might do after you graduate, or want to explore a career shift, here are some episodes that might help you.

What you didn’t know about federal jobs. Joyce Hamilla is the executive director at the Oregon Federal Executive Board. She’s also had a fascinating career in multiple intelligence and security agencies, as well as academia. Many students don’t think that they would have any interest in federal jobs. Many students also know next to nothing about federal jobs, apart from what they have seen on television series like Homecoming and movies. Joyce spoke with such enthusiasm and conviction that by the time I was done listening to this episode, I was ready to apply for federal jobs.

Internships. Regina Navarro Gomez was an energetic speaker, who had done multiple internships as an undergraduate student. She talked about the pros and cons of internships, and why they matter. If you are an undergraduate student who hasn’t yet done an internship, you might find that you have a new perspective after listening to Regina’s interview.

Career Opportunities in Global Studies. In this talk I discuss the four main tracks that most people will follow if they graduate with a degree in International and Global Studies. I also talk about the choices that you should make during your studies in order to prepare yourself for success. The talk was designed to be a practical guide to think about career choices.

Useful Career Websites:

idealist.org This website allows you to search for non-profit job openings based on your location. It’s very popular with my students.

https://www.usajobs.gov/Search/Results? This is the federal government’s jobs website. You should be sure to filter by potential jobs and location or you’ll be overwhelmed

https://careers.state.gov/work/available-jobs/ This website lists available jobs in the foreign service

https://www.macslist.org/ If you are in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Macs list is a great resource to look for jobs.

Indeed.com This job site does not show jobs specifically for international careers or non-profits, but is popular with students.

Pickering Fellowship: “The Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program is a program funded by the U.S. Department of State, administered by Howard University, that attracts and prepares outstanding young people for Foreign Service careers in the U.S. Department of State.” To be clear, I have no ties whatsoever to either the Pickering Fellowship or Howard University.

Shawn Smallman

A new world map

I am perhaps a little obsessed with world maps, and how they shape our perception of the world. I have different apps with globes on my I-pad, and I often take a virtual tour of the world before falling asleep. So I was intrigued that -after all this time- a truly new and more accurate world map had been made? Curious? You can find the map, and learn more, here.

Shawn Smallman

Britain’s vaccine success in the midst of a pandemic

The early story of Britain’s reaction to COVID-19 was an unmitigated disaster, driven in part by uniformed cabinet discussions of herd immunity. Even Prime Minister Boris Johnston himself was infected with COVID-19. As if this story was not difficult enough, a new variant of COVID-19 appeared in Essex towards the end of 2020. We now know that not only is this variant more communicable, but also may be more deadly. In late December this virus came to dominate all the COVID-19 clades in Britain, and caused a remarkable surge in infections.

In spite of this difficult history, Britain has pulled of two remarkable achievements. First, it has conducted outstanding genomic surveillance. While Denmark was also doing so, it was the British tracking which revealed the extent of the threat these new variants posed. Now other nations, such as the United States, are playing catch-up, as they try to create an effective system for genomic surveillance. Even more remarkable, Britain has joined a short list of nations (along with Israel and the United Arab Emirates) leading the global race to vaccinate their populations. How was this success achieved?

Paul Waldie has a remarkable article in Canada’s Globe and Mail, titled “How Britain became a world leader in COVID-19 vaccine distribution – despite other pandemic problems.” In Waldie’s narrative one remarkable woman, Kate Bingham, and the task force that she led, managed to identify the likely winners in the vaccine race, negotiate contracts, and bring vaccine production home to Britain. What is most impressive is how proactive the task force was. Britain has had many missteps and still faces many challenges. Yet when the history of this pandemic is written, I think that -based on Waldie’s description- this task forces’ actions will be held up as a case-study of effective leadership during a crisis.

Shawn Smallman

What you didn’t know about federal jobs

I recently interviewed Joyce Hamilla, the Executive Director at the Oregon Federal Executive Board, about federal jobs. In the podcast, she talked about the many reasons why people should consider applying for federal positions I’ve noticed a clear trend over the last decade in which my students have become increasingly uninterested in working for the federal government. Of course, I think part of that is led to the ugliness of political discourse in the United States. But I also think that students and many other people are poorly informed about the wealth of jobs in federal service, and the opportunities to do work that is truly meaningful.

Joyce spoke to these questions. One of the points that she made is that if you are looking for a work environment that is apolitical, federal service may be the right place for you. She also pointed out that the federal government is hiring accountants, engineers, and people from every other possible background that you can imagine, even a cowboy. She also talked about applying for one of the eighteen different intelligence services in the U.S. government, and why -despite what you’ve seen in the movies- might want to broaden your horizon beyond the CIA. She also spoke about why -contrary to expectations- people often move jobs in federal service, so that’s a great workspace for people who want to explore different jobs. If you’re thinking at all about what do to after graduating, or if you might be interested in a new career, this might be the podcast episode for you.

Shawn Smallman

Two pandemics: Ghosts of the 1918 outbreak

Recently I’ve been reading a book (published in 2004) by Betty O’Keefe and Ian McDonald titled, Dr Fred and the Spanish Lady. The work examines the experience of Dr. Fred Underhill, who was the senior public health officer in Vancouver during the 1918 pandemic. While there had been a host of influenza pandemics through history, the 1918 pandemic killed perhaps 100 million people globally.

What struck me while reading the work was the manifold similarities between our experience of COVID-19 and that of almost exactly a century before. During our current pandemic some countries, such as Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan, acted quickly to enact travel restrictions. But that was the exception rather than the norm. Similarly, in 1918 troop ships brought influenza to Canada, even though during the crossings the ships would have to repeatedly stop for the burial of sea for returning soldiers (O-Keefe and MacDonald, 30-31). In 1918, travel restrictions were not implemented because everyone in Canada wanted to bring the troops home. While understandable, this was also tragic. During COVID-19 there were no effective limits on returning citizens in the United States, likely because there just was not enough public support for this measure. Of course, there were limits on non-citizens’ travel. But since the SARS-Cov2 virus does not discriminate based on citizenship, those countries that did not limit their citizen’s movement, and quarantine them on arrival, have paid a heavy price. …

The five most popular podcast episodes

I started a new podcast last spring, in part because I viewed it as a way to stay in touch with people during the pandemic. If I couldn’t meet people face to face, at least I could talk with them in the podcast. One of my early difficulties was to find a title, as at first it seemed that every possible choice was already taken. In the end, it was one of my students (Kristen Fox) who came up with the title, and it was my students last spring quarter who voted to choose it via Google Form. This was how “Dispatch 7: global trends on all seven continents” was born.

I wanted to share what have been the five most popular episodes:

Applying for graduate schools, Ep. 1. This was a fun episode for me, because I interviewed my former student, past graduate assistant, and now friend, Rosa “Rosie” David. Rosie is now in a doctoral program in Canada. In her interview she spoke about how to apply to a doctoral program. This episode was not only the first, but also has been listened to far more than any other.

The Joy of Tea with Kim Brown, Ep. 2. Kim Brown is not only my friend and colleague, and the co-author of our textbook, but also a ceaseless font of information about tea. I have had many conversations with her over the last fifteen years, in which I’ve tried to persuade her to write a book about tea. That’s failed, but at least she agreed to talk with me about tea in our second episode, which has been the second most listened to on the podcast. It will probably leave you wanting to make a trip to a tea store, as soon as this miserable pandemic is ended.

Career Opportunities in Global Studies, Ep. 9. I created this episode based on a talk that I frequently give to prospective students. I had no intention of creating my own episodes at the time; this was supposed to be a podcast based on interviews. But when the wildfires swept Oregon and California last summer, some of my scheduled interviewees faced major issues and had to delay their interviewees. So I created this episode, which I hoped would speak to International and Global Studies majors.

Indigenous Futurism with Grace Dillon, Ep. 8. This is one of my favorite episodes because of Grace’s warmth. I love to hear her laugh throughout the conversation. When I originally conceived of this podcast, I wanted it to have short episodes. But with Grace the two of us just dove into a longer conversation. I think that everyone who listens to the episode has the same reaction that I did, which was that I wanted to go to the library and pick up several of the novels that she suggested. I am grateful to Grace, who also wrote the preface to a book that I wrote about an Indigenous spirit. Of course, that preface had the same humor and brilliance as Grace had in this conversation.

¡Bienvenidxs a España- A Fulbright Story! | Ep. 4 In this episode I interviewed one of our alums, Chiara Nicastro, about her experience with the Fulbright program. Chiara is an exceptional public speaker, and her energy and humor came through. My hope is that it will inspire other graduates to apply for a Fulbright in the future. I especially appreciated that Chiara also agreed to come and join me again in my careers episode, to talk about why an MA really is required now for many jobs in the field.

I’m hard at work on the podcast still. The next episode will be an interview with Joyce Hamilla about why students should apply for government jobs, and the following one will be about Syrian refugees. I’ve loved talking with all of my guests, and want to thank all of my interviewees.

Shawn Smallman, 2020

Bioterrorism and Chocolate: an “Introduction to International Studies” lecture

Crinipellis perniciosa mushroom from http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos/
Image Number K8626-1
“Spores released from the fan-shaped basidiocarp of this inch-wide Crinipellis perniciosa mushroom can infect cacao trees and drastically reduce yields of the beans from which cocoa and chocolate products are made.” Photo Scott Bauer. Obtained from Wikipedia Commons

I’ve written before on this blog about the strange case of bioterrorism and chocolate in Brazil, and an incredible documentary on this topic. But I’ve also written a lecture on this event for my “Introduction to International Studies” class, which anyone teaching a similar class (Introduction to Latin American Studies or Brazilian history, or perhaps a class on commodities) is free to use.  In the lecture I’ve talked about my own experiences in the Amazon and Brazil, so you’ll have to make some edits. Or if you’d prefer to listen to this story, you can hear a version adapted from this lecture on my podcast Dispatch 7, global trends on all seven continents.

If anyone is interested in similar topics, you can also read my blog post about an alleged bioterrorism plan to target cocaine. 

Shawn Smallman

Bioterrorism and Chocolate

Terms:

Witches Broom

Theobroma cacao

Olmecs

Mayan

Aztecs

Bahia

CEPLAC: Brazilian government agency charged with promoting cacao

Jorge Amado

Wade Davis, One River

Fusarium Wilt: disease of bananas; also known as Panama disease

Sea People- a book review

Lord Howe Island, which was one of the very islands in the Pacific ocean that the Polynesians may not have discovered. Image courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
One of the greatest mysteries in the history of human migrations is how the peoples of Polynesia managed to populate the greatest expanse of any culture in history, from the small islands of Micronesia to Easter Island.  The question has long fascinated people, as have the question of islands that appear to have been populated for a time, but were later abandoned.  Christina Thompson’s recent book examines how outsiders have sought to understand the mystery of Polynesian’s origins from the earliest European explorers, to the experimental archaeologists of the last few decades.

Christina Thompson has a gift for nature writing, and she describes Polynesia’s physical environment evocatively. But the core of the book is a chronological discussion of the different people who encountered Polynesians, and how they sought to understand them. Throughout, this effort is marred by the cultural chasm  between different peoples. When the great English explorer Captain Cook met a Polynesian navigator, Tupaia, he was amazed by the man’s practical skills; his counterpart even created a detailed map of a wide array of islands. But once Cook saw the map, he failed to understand it clearly enough to ask the proper questions that would allow us to interpret it. …

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