Biodiversity: why good chocolate can save the environment

Biodiversität: warum gute Schokolade die Umwelt retten kann
There are hundreds of thousands of different plant and animal species on earth. And yet the milk in your chocolate is more likely to come from the same breed of cows. And no matter where you buy bananas, you always get the same variety. In numbers: 95% of the calories consumed by all of humanity come from just 30 plant and animal species. We read the amazing book Bread, Wine and Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love by Simran Sethi. For you we summarize why biodiversity is in great danger, what a worst case scenario looks like and – most importantly! - What each of us can do about it. Spoilers: really tasty food!

The book

Simran Sethi is a journalist , podcaster ( The Slow Melt , our favorite chocolate podcast!) and author on the topics of food, sustainability and social change. In her award-winning book, Bread, Wine and Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love, she explores our diet and explains why the planet's biodiversity—and our favorite food—is in grave danger.
"This is a book about food, but it's really a book about love," writes Simran Sethi. And that's exactly what's great about her book: in addition to lots of exciting information, it's all about enjoyment, passion and dedication to good food. And about how we can all use it to save biodiversity.

Biodiversity in Cacao Cultivation: Bean-to-Bar Cacao Farm in India ©Soklet

The Global Standard Diet and the loss of biodiversity

Long shelves in the supermarket suggest a huge selection. But if you take a closer look, exactly the opposite is the case: there is a large selection of the same brands and ingredients. An example: 90% of the milk in yoghurt, ice cream or cheese comes from just one breed of cow, the Holstein Friesian cow. Why? Because this cow gives a lot of milk. A similar picture emerges for fruit, vegetables and cereals. In order to meet the huge demand of consumers, a few varieties are used that are high-yielding and as resistant as possible. Same thing around the world – even literally. Because this huge need for so little food is due to the fact that we all eat the same food. Like many other experts in this field, Simran Sethi calls this the “Global Standard Diet”: Wheat, rice, corn, palm oil and soybeans make up the majority of the diet of many people around the world.

But what would happen if a disease threatened the Holstein Friesian cow, a fungus attacked the standard wheat variety, or an insect plague wiped out the corn?

According to Simran Sethi, if humanity continues to subsist largely on just 30 plant and animal species, such a scenario can be devastating. The foods we know could disappear completely. But we don't even have to look to the future to see that the "Global Standard Diet" is not good for our environment and health: Carbohydrates from wheat and co provide little energy and this diet often leads to vitamin and nutrient deficiencies itself, to name just two health effects. In agriculture, the high demand for certain foods leads to cultivation in monocultures, which damage ecosystems, destroy animal habitats and are often maximized with pesticides. We all eat the same thing - and that's a problem.

Everything at the beginning?

Biodiversity loss is not easy to reverse, old varieties cannot be easily restored, broken ecosystems do not recover. Today's agriculture was shaped over centuries, by climatic changes, political decisions, globalization - and by consumer decisions of the people. Because the farmer grows what the people buy. And that's exactly where the horizon of action of each and every one of us and you begins: on the plate.
Because there is enough for everyone. On one condition: we must not always eat the same 30 foods.

3 things each of us can do

So the decision starts on the plate… or even better: in the shopping basket. Here are 3 things we can all start doing right away to help conserve biodiversity:
  1. Buy local. This not only benefits the local economy and is better for the climate because the food hasn't traveled halfway around the world, but also gives you the opportunity to discover seasonal fruits and vegetables that only grow in your area.
  2. Buy direct. In the supermarket you can usually find the food that the majority of people want. On the other hand, at the weekly market or in the farm shop of the nearest farm you will find varieties that you may only know from a special dish your grandmother used to have: Old, local vegetables that may not look or taste like mainstream foods, but they certainly taste at least as good. By the way, you can find great organic markets in and around Berlin here .
  3. Eat diverse. Of course, when the whole world stops eating wheat and corn and goes for quinoa and avocado, the consequences aren't good either. Diversity and variety are the magic words. For the sake of your health, biodiversity, the climate and your taste buds. We think: There is hardly anything nicer than discovering unknown or forgotten foods!
Honduran cocoa beans from Cacao Direct Biodiversity through permaculture: cocoa beans from Honduras ©Chocolate Alchemy

And what about chocolate?

Simran Sethi is a passionate chocolate fan. But her and our favorite sweets are also in danger. So which chocolate should you buy to preserve biodiversity?
We can't emphasize it often enough: stay away from chocolate from big manufacturers like Nestlé! First and foremost, of course, because it contains cocoa from child labor and, in our opinion, Nestlé should generally be rejected. But also because small-scale cocoa is much better. It is not about the highest possible yield and the most resilient cocoa tree, but about cocoa cultivation in harmony with the ecosystem. Cocoa trees can even make a great contribution to the reforestation of rainforests and thus to healthy ecosystems. They are shade plants, i.e. they grow in the shade of larger trees - naturally the opposite of monocultures.
Also great: Cocoa varieties that differ from the standard consumer cocoa are very different in taste and surprise us at Theyo again and again with their variety!
The same applies to chocolate consumption: buy as directly as possible. Direct trade and bean-to-bar are great ways for consumers to understand where the cocoa beans come from, under what circumstances they were grown and what measures farmers are taking to conserve biodiversity. In this way, a piece of chocolate can also contribute to biodiversity. 😉

Plea for more enjoyment

Simran Sethi's book is shocking because it reminds us of the seriousness of our planet's biodiversity. But at the same time it is an ode to good food and conscious enjoyment. And we share this attitude.
We have the privilege of being able to decide what ends up on our plates. And we should use this freedom of choice! For the sake of our health, for the sake of the climate, for the sake of diversity... and for the sake of enjoyment. Try new things, browse markets, visit a farm, cook something completely different, drink craft beer, eat farro and nibble on really good chocolate. 💛
Great reading recommendation for everyone who loves food and is interested in sustainable consumption: "Bread, Wine and Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love" by Simran Sethi.

PS: if you are also interested in the topic of biodiversity from a manufacturer's point of view, you should definitely take a look at the TedTalk by Alastair from Chocolate Tree . Or organize a virtual team event with us - here you can find out everything you always wanted to know about sustainability and fair chocolate!

Are you interested in biodiversity in the chocolate sector?

This topic is particularly important to us! If you want to know more about it, please let us know → hallo[at]

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