Why I Skipped the Candy Aisle…

Yesterday after work, I went to the grocery store.  Milk.  Shampoo.  Bread.  Toothpaste.  It was just a quick trip to grab some generic staples one would find in any home.  I also purchased my weight in canned cat food, a romantic comedy, and some *ahem* feminine hygiene products.  (Shout out to my male readers if you are still with me.)  Slap a bottle of wine, a tub of ice cream, and a bag of chocolates in there and my cart would have practically screamed, “Single girl going home to her cat and a little screen time with Ryan Gosling.”

I mean, ladies, amIright? *swoon*

But I didn’t buy any wine…because I think wine is rather gross.

And I didn’t buy any ice cream…because I basically forgot.

And I didn’t buy any chocolate…because I don’t support child slavery.

*insert sound of record screeching to a halt here*

Say WWWHHHHAAAATTTTT?!?!?

You heard me.  Chocolate and child slavery.  Believe it or not (and I do pray that you’ll believe it) most major chocolate companies source their chocolate from farms on the Ivory Coast of Africa.  Okay, that part is actually easy to believe.  But how about this:

These farms use forced child labor.  Also known as child slavery.

Are those of you I didn’t lose at the mention of tampons still with me?  Good, because this is something everyone needs to hear.

According to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, there are approximately 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in Africa.  Many were kidnapped or purchased from their families and are now forced to work all hours of the day in deplorable and dangerous conditions, while being fed little to nothing and beaten if they fail to meet their daily quota.

The cocoa beans their little hands harvest are then processed into the chocolate that makes the candy you may be passing out to other little hands next week.

Little hands that don’t know the sting of a switch or a whip.  Little hands that have never felt the deep pain of true hunger.  Little hands that are tucked safely in to their own bed each night and then rub the sleep out of little eyes when it is time to get up for school the next morning.  Little hands that are held and kissed and loved.  Little hands that experience so many things stolen from the little hands that were used to make their Halloween candy.

Doesn’t look quite so appetizing anymore, does it?

They spend the years of their childhood harvesting the millions of pounds of cocoa beans required to meet the worldwide demand for cheap chocolate.  All so that those cocoa beans are a little cheaper to harvest.  Sure, the savings get passed on to us…but at what cost?

Do you really need your chocolate fix so desperately that you would be willing to enslave a child to provide it for you?  Because that is what happens when you purchase from a company that buys products from slave owners.  You may not be the one carrying the whip, but you are financially supporting the company that purchases from the man who does.

That purchase pays his owner.

Some complain that budgets are tight and fair-trade chocolate is expensive.  How can you be expected to shell out that much extra cash for candy?  Try explaining that to the ten year old boy who farmed the cocoa beans used to make your candy bar.  Explain to him that his childhood, his safety, his comfort, his education, and his life are less important to you than saving a few bucks at the supermarket.

Go on…tell him.

I don’t mean to be Captain Guilt Trip with this post, but this message needs to be heard.

Fortunately, it is being heard, and people are finding ways to make a difference.  I’ve gathered together a few other great blog posts and articles on this topic that I would strongly encourage you to read:

Here, at Rage Against the Minivan, blogger Kristen Howerton shares a bit more information about the chocolate slave trade.  She ends her post with the BBC documentary “The Bitter Truth,” a heart-wrenching exposé on the use of child slavery in the chocolate industry.  If you do nothing else, please take the time to watch this documentary.

Here, at FoodisPower.org, is a great article detailing the appalling conditions children face when taken into the slave trade of the chocolate industry, including a few first hand accounts of former child slaves.  I would encourage you to peruse their website for more information on this and other issues in the food industry.

Here, at Sidewalk Theologian, blogger Jess writes about her experience of learning more about child slavery in the chocolate industry and how we can make small choices that could have a big impact in this area of social justice.

Here is a great article on ways you can still celebrate this chocolate filled holiday without supporting child slavery.

Finally, here is a well researched, comprehensive list of recommended and not recommended chocolate companies, updated October 23, 2012.

I hope you will all take the time to look at the above resources and pass this information on to a few of your friends.  Perhaps this new knowledge will influence your shopping habits as it did mine.

And hopefully in the near future, this issue will no longer be an issue.  But that, my dear readers, is up to us.

Sweetly yours,
breylee♥

Inviting God Into My Closet

When I was a little girl, I loved to build forts.  Toss me a couple of pillows and a handful of blankets and I would recreate the Taj Mahal in my bedroom.  Send me outside to play for any amount of time and you would find me up a tree with my little brother trying to turn the twigs we had gathered into the most epic tree fort your eyes had ever seen. Once, I even tried to talk my dad into letting me have free access to the lumber and building supplies we had in our garage, as I was fully convinced that I could build my own playhouse in the backyard if he would just give me a hammer and a few days off from school.  (Yeah, that one didn’t happen.)

As fun as fort building was, I didn’t always do it for recreational purposes.  Sometimes, building a fort was my way of building walls of protection around myself.  I was an insecure child.  My home life wasn’t perfect.  (It was far from terrible, I promise, but things weren’t always great.)  Sometimes I felt completely overwhelmed by what was going on around me and inside of me; and when the environment I was in did not feel safe, I had to find a way to create an environment that did.

When those moments came, when I found myself feeling sad, angry, or frightened, I would clear out the floor of my closet, set up a little nest of blankets and pillows, bring in a lamp and a book, and read until I fell asleep.

My closet fort was my safe place.  In it, I could hide from the world.  With those doors closed, nothing could hurt me, scare me, or make me feel bad.  The outside world could not touch me.  I was safe.

A few weeks ago, I shared this old coping mechanism with my therapist, Bethany, after she shared an image she had of me, as a little girl, crawling into my closet for a safe place to cry.  We were both a bit blown away by the accuracy of this image.

Later, in a different session, I was sharing with her how unsupportive M had been when it came to my struggle with depression, and how difficult it was for me to so often hear, “It’s all in your head.  I don’t understand why you can’t just get over it.”  (I know M tried.  It just wasn’t something he was fully capable of understanding, so I can’t blame him for his insensitivity.)  

I told Bethany that, in the aftermath of our breakup, I realized how greatly his words and attitude had hurt me, and I knew that the right man would be able to understand what I had been through and show me compassion as I occasionally continue to struggle.  She responded to my revelation with, “You need someone who will crawl into your closet with you.”

Wow.  Yes.  Exactly that.

I need someone who will crawl into my fear, my anger, and my sadness without reproach and without looking back.  I need someone who is willing to hold me while I shake, rage, and cry.  Someone to sit quietly by and simply be with me.  He doesn’t need to solve my problems, he just needs to be there to support me through them.

Honestly, I am still that little girl, curled up and crying on her closet floor.  A cancelled wedding and a broken heart will do that to you.  While I may not have literally crawled into my closet the day I received that phone call, I certainly began to build a figurative closet of protection around my heart.  It had been broken and needed to be guarded, so I did that by closing my heart off to the outside world.

As I was driving to work Wednesday morning, struggling with some thoughts and recollections I thought I had dealt with months ago, something struck me.

I need God in my closet.

While I may not be ready to let anyone else in, I need Him there.  I need God to join me in my fear, in my anger, and in my sadness.  Only He is trustworthy enough to see it all.  Only He is gracious enough to sit with me in silence with no judgment.  Only He is able to be exactly everything I need when the world around me forces me to withdraw into my safe place.

Only He can be trusted to never, ever, ever break my heart.

I need God in my safe place so I can once more trust in Him to be my safe place.

Maybe then I can begin again to open my heart to the rest of the world.

Guardedly yours,
breylee♥