27 June 2008

Is nothing sacred?

Poor Mexico! The longer that I live here the more I learn about things that were discovered here but were usurped by others for power, glory, and most of all, profit. Chocolate, which originated in Mexico, is a good example. Today I learned with some chagrin that Mars, Incorporated, the world’s largest maker of chocolate, has embarked on a program to decode the cocoa genome. This is part of a five-year, ten million dollar project to be undertaken with the US Department of Agriculture and IBM. The genome is the hereditary information of an organism encoded in its DNA. By analyzing the approximate 400 million base pairs in the DNA that make up the hereditary information in the seed of a cacao tree, Mars hopes to track down the cocoa flavor genes. I cannot believe that their main motive is not to find a way to scientifically manipulate the taste or even worse...make artificial chocolate! I imagine that in this world of corporate behemoths being the biggest chocolate manufacturer in the world isn’t good enough. They want to find out how to get us to eat even more of their chocolate in order to guarantee that they stay ahead of their biggest rivals, Hershey and Barry Callebaut. What is even more interesting is that the three dominant producers of the cocoa beans from which chocolate is made are Barry Callebaut, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland Company. Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland Company also dominate the corn growing industry and corn (maize) is another foodstuff that originated in Mexico. Most of the cocoa beans, about seventy percent of the world’s supply, now come from small farmers in Africa who toil under harsh conditions and reap very little recompense for their efforts. The word "chocolate" comes from the Aztecs of Mexico, and is derived from the Nahuatl word xocolatl which is a combination of the words, xocolli, meaning "bitter", and atl, which is "water". The ‘cocoa beans”, or seeds of the cacao tree, have an intense bitter taste, and must be fermented to develop the flavor. In the land of the Aztecs (and Mayans) chocolate was consumed in a bitter, spicy drink containing maize and flavored with vanilla, chili pepper, and achiote (annatto). Oh, by the way, the vanilla bean is another thing that originated in Mexico. The Aztecs called the bean tlilxochitl, or "black flower", after the mature bean, which shrivels and turns black shortly after it is picked. Today, the majority of the world's vanilla is produced by other poor people in a small region of Madagascar, an island in the Indian Ocean. Of course, Mars says that their main focus in spending all that time and money on the cocoa genome project is to help the poor African farmers increase their yields. Hmmmm…yeah, right! I just hope that the results of this effort also help the poor African farmers to increase the size of their pocketbooks. Until that happens I can just picture Xochiquetzal, the Aztec goddess of both fertility and “xocolatl” weeping bitter tears into her chocolate.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.