Following up on our last blog – not all chocolate is the bitter kind born of child labour and greedy corporations. ChocoSol Traders is a small, ecological and inter-community initiative between farmers in Chiapas, Mexico, sustainable technologists based out of Oaxaca City, Mexico and horizontal traders and chocolatiers in Toronto. ChocoSol is committed to ending slavery, and works at the grass roots level with farmers and their families in Mexico, whom they pay better than fair-trade prices.
ChocoSol will be at the ROM this Family Day long weekend, February 18 to 20, celebrating the connection between the subject of our blockbuster exhibition Maya, and Chocolate. Here is a short interview with Michael Sacco, the founder of ChocoSol Traders.
Making chocolate for a living sounds like a pretty great job. As a kid did you ever imagine you’d have such an awesome job?
As a kid I wanted to be a writer not a chocolate maker. I discovered my passion for making chocolate after learning to make chocolate with a Zapotec indigenous elder in Oaxaca. Eight months later I was still making chocolate using a solar roaster I designed. It was this passion for making chocolate as a way to share ideas about ecology, appropriate technology, and intercultural dialogue that motivated me to found ChocoSol as a learning community social enterprise in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2004
What does chocolate have to do with the Maya?
For the Maya cacao was the food of the gods. It was the currency, the most important spice, a powerful medicine, a sacred incense and offering. Chocolate was a sacred food that the Maya recognized as giving them good health, good energy, good heart, and good mind. Not only that, but it tastes great and causes other foods to taste even
better…..of course they would see such a food as the food of the gods!
You produce some uniquely flavoured chocolate, including chili chocolate. What inspired you to mix chocolate and chili?
When I began reading about the true history of chocolate I rediscovered the old tradition of mixing spices with chocolate including forest garden ingredients like all-spiced, achiote, and rose of cacao. It was the ecology of the forest garden, and the millenary wisdom of the Maya that inspired me to try this, but it was the flavour and the pleasure of spicy chocolate that kept me hooked!
What is your favourite kind of chocolate?
My favourite chocolate is vanilla chocolate because it combines the beautiful vanilla pod, with the powerful cacao to create a mellow and healthy bar with a flavour combination that appeals to the stomach, the tongue, and the heart!
What is horizontal trading?
Horizontal trading is about relationships. It is about friendship and reciprocity that is not reducible to a market place relationship. It is about knowing your farmer, understanding the artisan, and working with custom-ers (not consumers) to educate and more deeply enjoy the food of the gods and other healthy ecological Slow foods.
You are also doing a corn tortilla workshop at the ROM. Why was corn so important to the Maya?
The Maya are the people of corn. The way they grew, cooked, and processed corn is so different from our modern industrial processes. For them corn was a symbol of community, ecology, health, and it was the basis of the highly advanced society they developed. There are many chocolate and corn recipes.
Here is a riddle: what is a plate, a spoon, and a meal all in one?
answer: a corn tortilla.
What can visitors expect at your workshops this weekend at the ROM?
ROM visitors can expect to learn about the traditional art of grinding corn and cacao.
They will also be able to sample some chocolate and maybe a corn tortilla in the afternoon. They will hear some stories about how this all works and if you are strong enough to pedal a big stone wheel, you can even expect to help in the grinding process, but small children are not advised to try this; it is more for kids 10-50 years of age.
The ChocoSol workshops are bound to be popular but it should be noted that workshops are limited in size to 40 people on a first come first served basis. There will be one tortilla and two chocolate workshops per day. Visit the ROM’s website for more information on the workshops and all of the other Maya and chocolate activities taking place during the Family Day long weekend.