Heart shaped, sea salt laced, covered in bacon bits—chocolate in all forms has overtaken every drugstore and supermarket now that a certain holiday is upon us. It’s easy to forget that the beloved treat wasn’t born out of Willy Wonka’s factory and that cacao, the seed chocolate is made from, has been cultivated for thousands of years.
Enter chef and activist Daniel Klein, the guy behind award-winning online documentary series The Perennial Plate. He made this short video to remind us that for many people, the art of harvesting cacao and making chocolate represent millennia’s worth of history, culture, and spirituality. Indigenous traditions of farming and drinking cacao go further back than Hernán Cortés and the conquistadors' first encounter with the Aztecs, after all.
Farmer Dona Demetria Gutierrez Rendon and chocolatier Hector Galvan are two of the few who keep the trade alive in Mexico. Since petroleum became one of the country’s biggest industries, growing cacao has taken a backseat: What had been 1,800 hectares of cacao trees in the 19th century have now shrunk to just four. Why is the industry dwindling in the country that introduced chocolate to the world?
“To young people, cacao represents poverty and being indigenous,” Galvan says in the video. “For me, chocolate doesn’t only represent flavor and agriculture. It also connects the rich and the poor, in the spirit of the people.”
Our culture loves chocolate for its rich, sometimes nougat-y, drool-inducing indulgence. How does Galvan describe it? “Noble and exuberant.” After seeing this video, you won’t look at chocolate quite the same way again.