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Identity In Chocolate & Culture

Identity In Chocolate & Culture

Hello and good day!

A couple of years ago, I sent out a series of emails telling the stories of how the little towns where we buy cacao got their names. Back in the triangle shaped canyon that is the district of Huarango, there are roughly 80 small farming villages.

I asked our field and operations manager, Oscar Ayala, to work with me on the project. He went out and interviewed older folks in the community to see if people remembered how the villages got their names in the first place.

The district of Huarango is relatively new. Organized farming just started in the canyon in the mid to late 1960's. The people living and farming there now are just one or two generations removed from the original frontier movement.

The stories that Oscar was able to retrieve were charming and fascinating. I doubt many people even know how the city they live in got its name. There is a lot of rich material in this type of investigation.

I'd like to write a book about city and town names in the future. I think they are a great vehicle for understanding local culture.

Anyhow, out in the district of Huarango, there were some real jewels. Learning the stories of town names helped us gain a better understanding of the wonderful folks who sell us cacao.

Take this town name for example. Pan Goya. This is a village that sells us a fair amount of cacao.

"Pan" means bread. "Goya" is a nick name for people named Gregoria. When this village was first being homesteaded, a family moved in with three daughters, all with the middle name Gregoria. It was a family of bakers and each of the girls had their own oven and specialized in a certain type of bread.

From the small settlement where they set up their new, humble home, the smell of fresh baked bread wafted out over the jungle. They were the only bakers in the entire canyon. As a result, people hiked their way over to that settlement to buy bread.

Over the years, the settlement grew, and the people of the town decided they wanted to become a legally recognized city with political representation. The application required an official name.

There was a town meeting and a hot debate ensued. Eventually, the young fiancé of one of the girls carried the day. The competing faction wanted to name the village after a particular tree that grew in the zone. But the young man pointed out that what really made their village special were the baking girls named Gregoria.

After many iterations, everybody agreed to name the little town Pan Goya because it was succinct and funny and easy to remember.

There are so many good stories like this.I don't have enough space to rehash all these stories but get a load of some of these wonderful town names.

"Cirgarro De Oro", The Golden Cigarette.

"China Alta", Tall China.

"Mano De La Virgen", The Hand Of The Virgin.

"Puerto Ciruello", Plum Port.

Origin stories are powerful. One way or another, we all want to know where we come from so that we can understand how we fit into the complex tapestry of life and history.

i've spent a lot of time and mental energy over the years thinking about the fact that I wouldn't be alive without a bunch of lucky breaks. That is true of everybody of course.

Somehow, thinking back on those fortunate events gives me a lot of gratitude for the life that I get to live.

For example, my mom is 99.99% Ashkenazi Jew. I'm not a particularly religious person. I personally believe in God.

It isn't something that I go around trying to convince people of, but it makes sense to me.

My brother had a Bar Mitzvah. But he is 14 years older than me and by the time I came around, my mom wasn't as dedicated to instilling the traditions.

Life does that to you sometimes.

You get busy and go through ups and downs and the traditions sort of fade away. Regardless of that, I identify as ethnically Jewish. I kind of have to.

If my great grandmother hadn't moved to New York city from Poland about thirty years before World War 2 broke out, my mom, my brother, and I likely wouldn't be here.

Our people would have been exterminated by the Nazis. Most Polish Jews were rounded up and killed.

A woman decides to move to Brooklyn more than a hundred years ago, and that leads to a chocolate company somewhere down the line.

It is a powerful thought, and this is why knowing your history is so important. It helps to give you deep appreciation for the value of your life. This doesn't just apply to humans.

It applies to food too. People love to know the story of where food comes from.

When we first got into the chocolate business, we didn't realize how badly people would want to know the genetics of the cacao we were using. They had such a strong desire to be able to fit their ingredients into a classification.

This caused us to pursue genetic testing.

The results showed that we'd come across a population of cacao called pure Nacional, which was thought to have gone extinct more than 100 years earlier. It was a fine flavored cacao that was popular the world over up until the early 1900's.

It was previously only known to grow in Ecuador and was thought to have been wiped out by a disease called Witches Broom. When we got the results and started telling people, it greatly increased their interest.

The chocolate and cacao would have tasted the same either way, but the story added a special element. It helped people understand how our chocolate fit into the grand scheme of things.

As with chocolate, so with people.

The importance of passing along traditions helps us understand how we fit in. It gives us stability in a constantly changing world. We know that no matter what is going on, there is somewhere we belong, in a family, in a place, to a culture.

This is the power of origin stories.

Anyhow, I am running out of space and steam.

Thank you so, so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!