The challenges of chocolate

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When you tear into a chocolate bar, you might not be thinking about how difficult it was to deliver it to your happy tongue.

Chocolate comes from the seed of the cacao fruit, which is native to the Amazon region. And, like all tropical crops, its farming, harvesting, and production are fraught with risks and difficulties. As you chew those bunny ears, you owe thanks to the Crematogastor ant, many natural barriers to pathogens, hard-working biologists, and sheer luck.

The NCSU Libraries will debut a new exhibit in the iPearl Immersion Theater this coming week based on a chapter devoted entirely to the fragile history of cacao, cocoa and chocolate in Rob Dunn’s new book, Never Out of Season. Through compelling visual narrative and data visualization, the exhibit tells the story of the origins of humanity's use of cocoa in the Americas, Europeans coopting the fruit, ecoterrorism on cacao plantations in Brazil, and the current issues facing cocoa in its primary growing region of West Africa.

Dunn, who celebrated his book release with a reading and tasting event at Hunt Library last month, teaches in the Department of Applied Ecology at NC State and in the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen. He is the founder and director of the Rob Dunn Lab at NC State.

In Never Out of Season, he examines our food supply and weighs the pros and cons of the corporate food system. Although crossbreeding and modern growing methods have brought an abundance of food and reduced hunger on a global scale, the loss of biodiversity in our crops has left them vulnerable to natural inevitabilities like weather, bugs, and disease.