A healthy and socially responsible Halloween can still be sweet

| October 26, 2006

Halloween isn't just an occasion to be frightened by witches, vampires, and prepubescent girls in revealing Halloween costumes. It's also a great time to spread a bit of social conscientiousness to revelers in the form of organic and fair trade candy.

Before grabbing a bag of bite-sized Hershey bars, consider where that chocolate comes from. An estimated 40 percent of chocolate comes from Ivory Coast, where most cocoa farmers are impoverished. Farmers in the other top cocoa-producing nations, including Brazil, Indonesia, and other West African countries, don't fare much better. Responding to a fair-trade inquiry in her column, Grist 's Umbra Fisk details some of the not-so-fair practices in the chocolate business. With Ivory Coast cocoa farmers netting approximately one cent from a 60-cent candy bar, farmers are using their children as laborers. The work is endangering: '[T]hink swinging a long machete when you haven't had enough to eat, or spraying pesticides without the proper protective gear,' writes Fisk.

These kids aren't always there by their own or their family's will. Liza Featherstone, blogging on for The Nation'sThe Notion, cites the Organic Consumers Association's statistic that 284,000 children in West Africa 'are working under dangerous conditions, or have been trafficked.'

There are ways to avoid supporting such practices. The fair trade label guarantees that growers received a fair wage for their product, and inspectors are employed to monitor child labor practices. However, in the $60 billion chocolate industry, fair trade chocolate doesn't even make up one percent of sales. Both Fisk and Featherstone assert that consumers could swing this percentage up this Halloween with their purchasing power.

Now that you've thought about where candy comes from, consider what it's doing in the body. Childhood food allergies are popping up in schools everywhere, and the folks at Go Dairy Free encourage people to stock up on vegan and allergen-free treats this Halloween. They've included a list of trick-or-treater-ready candy manufacturers who make treats free of artificial flavors and many common allergens, such as dairy, soy, nuts, gluten, and casein. Some companies offer standard Halloween fare, like witch-shaped chocolates, but others are a little more inventive, like YummyEarth, who had the ingenuity to make vegan pomegranate lollipops.

While buying socially responsible candy for Halloween might take a bit more work, try looking in your local health food store or online and you might be surprised how accessible these treats are. Halloween is supposed to be scary; your candy is not.

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