By Karin Klein
10:49 AM PST, November 27, 2012
They're almost as much a part of Hanukkah as potato pancakes, the foil-wrapped chocolate candies called gelt that usually come in plastic-mesh bags at the checkout stand and taste pretty much like the leftover wax from the candles in the menorah. Embossed with designs, they're meant to represent the coins that once were given to children as an encouragement for their Jewish studies. (As with most Jewish traditions, there are multiple explanations for the tradition.)
In other words, they don't taste very good, and at a time when Hostess cupcakes are headed toward possible extinction, perhaps it makes sense that another low-quality sweet from the nostalgia banks of baby boomers is undergoing an upscale -- and ethical -- makeover.
According to an article in the online Jewish magazine Tablet (and reported over the years elsewhere), 80% of the world’s cacao comes from West African operations where children are commonly used as slave labor. Though this affects, obviously, most of the chocolate we buy, awareness is growing that a treat to celebrate a people's liberation should not be obtained from the enforced labor of innocents. (This would be especially true of Passover, which is the literal celebration of liberation from slavery, but chocolate doesn't figure prominently into that holiday, though questions might arise about whether the gefilte fish came from farmed fish grown sustainably.)
Enter fair-trade gelt. And while they were making a moral candy, the producers of these upright coins also decided to make them taste like something a person over 9 years old would be willing to eat. It's more expensive, of course, but a little less candy probably won't hurt anyone.
It had to happen, right? At a time when people are grating broccoli into their latkes and worrying about whether the canola oil to fry them is genetically engineered, foodiness was bound to make gelt both political and upscale. And if this means that Hanukkah celebrants take responsibility for ensuring that those whose labor provides the food are treated right, we're moving in the right direction.
Now, please pass the organic local applesauce.
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