July 7 is National Chocolate Day. This day has always been special for me, but it has taken on an entirely new significance for me in recent years.
For the first many years of my life, I was known by my peers for my love of chocolate. This was no ordinary obsession; I quite literally worshipped the stuff. I ate alarming amounts of it, brought it up in any conversation or in any school assignment that I could, and wore my Hershey’s hoodie almost every day. When I was eleven, I decided that the word “chocolate” had to be written in all capital letters, underlined twice, and circled. Every time.
That all changed abruptly several years ago. When I was 15, I attended a Tenth Avenue North concert. That night, I found out that slavery plays a large role in the chocolate industry supply chain. I was shocked to hear that slavery still existed. I had no idea what human trafficking was, but I figured receiving seven pounds of chocolate for a single birthday probably wasn’t helping the situation. The news was devastating, to say the least.
My interest piqued, I decided to learn more on my own. I read horrifying stories of children working long hours on cacao plantations for little to no pay, cramped into small rooms with no beds to sleep, afraid to leave because of the beatings they would receive if their “employers” (traffickers) caught them trying to escape.
I knew I couldn’t continue my current way of life, but that meant giving up a huge part of my very identity. Letting go of my chocolate obsession forced me out of my hot fudge shell. I could no longer be “crazy chocolate girl.” I had to figure out who I really was and what I truly cared about.
I wanted to help those kids who toiled all day on empty stomachs to bring fleeting delight and satisfaction to people as privileged as me. As my knowledge of modern slavery and human trafficking has grown, I have worked to transform my obsession with chocolate into a determination to help all of those oppressed and exploited by traffickers.
Fortunately for me, I found a way to reconcile my love for chocolate with my love for humanity. Chocolate itself is not the problem. The challenge is to find alternative choices that do not contribute to the human trafficking epidemic. For nearly five years now, I have looked for the Fair Trade label in grocery stores, so I know that the money I spend on candy bars and baking cocoa goes to paying fair wages to workers and building communities.
Tonight, I will celebrate National Chocolate Day, and how far I’ve come, with some Ben & Jerry’s Fair Trade Chocolate Therapy ice cream, and it will be glorious.
Eating ethically made chocolate provided a way for me to get started in the movement to end human trafficking, but I decided I wanted to become even more involved. Interning with Beautiful Dream Society has given me the wonderful opportunity to help people affected by or at risk for human trafficking.
I can’t think of any sweeter way to be myself.
Heidi Babin is a student intern for Beautiful Dream Society.