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Kristy Leissle’s Cocoa Book Review

Disclosure: Polity Books kindly sent me a paperback copy of Kristy Leissle's Cocoa book free of charge for the purposes of a review. Polity Books had no influence over the content on this page. My opinions are my own. This article may contain affiliate links (identified by a ° symbol). These financially support this website - and our chocolate research - at no extra cost to you. Find out more.

Brutal. Raw. Frank.

These three words perfectly describe Leissle's introduction to her book, Cocoa. Right from the first paragraph, you realise this isn't a fluffy book about the romanticism of chocolate. No. it's a no-holds-barred account of the crippling failings in the modern chocolate industry that sentence cocoa farmers to a life of poverty.

For that reason, it's a very difficult read. Not because of the language but because of the gut-wrenching and insightful findings of Leissle's studies. That's not a reason to skip reading this book though. In fact, that's the very reason you should pick yourself up a copy and read it cover to cover, to discover the uncomfortable truths about how something we all love so dearly causes so much suffering and hardship to the very people that grow its critical ingredient, cacao.

Kristy Leissle's Cocoa Book Review
Kristy Leissle's Cocoa Book

This book is split into eight chapters, covering cultivation of the crop, its transformation into chocolate, the imbalanced relationships in the supply chain, global demands, geopolitics, economics, product quality, and sustainability.

Picking up where Netflix's Rotten Chocolate episode leaves off, Leissle explores the current state of play by examining the formation of today's modern chocolate industry from a complex tapestry of colonial influences.

The author offers academic and personal insight into the lives of the farmers (and their families) on the ground in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, a region that supplies the majority of bulk cocoa to feed the world's insatiable appetite for chocolate. She documents the life on the ground, and the impact of today's supply chain on the very people who are key to the chocolate industry.

Kristy Leissle's Cocoa Book Back Cover
The back cover

As I alluded to earlier, this is a heavy read, but that's necessary to properly document the industry's road to the global billion-dollar industry it is today. Reading the 188 pages of text is tough going, as Leissle pummels you with fact after fact from start to finish. I pawed through a handful of pages at a time, allowing the subject matter to properly sink in, and to process my own thoughts and reactions to what I read.

To fully appreciate the fascinating insight in this book, you need to allow additional time to examine the 31 pages of supporting research, articles and other recommended reading. These pages reference academic research papers, legal cases, data sheets, news articles, books and websites, providing rabbit holes for you to dive into to expand your knowledge on various aspects of the supply chain.

This book documents the true life story of how we arrived at today's unequal, broken system, but does it offer solutions? Leissle flags several issues that entrap farmers in a life of poverty, and simultaneously deals with the misnomer surrounding money (or lack thereof).

The issue that crops up constantly in this industry is the pitiful rates farmers earn for their crop, especially by Western standards. Indeed, it is woefully inadequate by any standard. Many campaigners suggest the "quick fix" of dramatically increasing the price of cocoa to lift farmers out of poverty in a heartbeat, action that continuously fails to garner sufficient buy-in from the dominant businesses (and their shareholders) - and governments - to make a seismic difference.

Leissle explains that raising the farm gate price, while an important component of an overall solution, isn't enough in isolation to 'fix' the industry. Not convinced the increase in funds would channel their way to the right places in this complex supply chain, she explores several other factors that need to be considered in unison, but as you might suspect, there's no one single easy answer. If a solution is ever found, it is likely to involve a massive upheaval on multiple levels, driven by governments and corporations in response to mass public demand for change. I fear we're a long way from seismic change.

Inside the Kristy Leissle's Cocoa Book
A snapshot of the book

Overall, this is an incredibly insightful and powerful read, even if it is a difficult subject. This book draws together research and on-the-ground evidence to document how we've got to the state we are in today, and how it actually impacts the very farmers that grow such a vital crop. This book offers valuable insight into the commoditisation of cocoa, the geopolitical power struggles, the imbalanced supply chain, poverty, racial and gender prejudices, education, and the life and career of cocoa farmers.

When you reach the final chapter, you'll crave wholesale change. The supply chain in its current form is a race to the bottom, entrapping farmers in a life of poverty. While various schemes help pockets of farmers around the globe, it's not a viable long term solution in isolation. Indeed, there's no one single solution to the cocoa industry's crisis, which makes fixing the sorry mess a lot more challenging. It requires genuine will from everyone in the supply chain, from end consumers willing to pay drastically more for their chocolate, manufacturers willing to pay more for their bulk ingredients and to provide additional assistance through sustainability programmes, and multiple governments to work together to enforce fairness and basic human rights for all.

As end consumers, we're so far removed from the farms that we forget the suffrage and hardship that goes into cultivating the cacao fruit crop. We demand a high quality, sustainable, ethical product at rock-bottom prices, entrusting chocolate manufacturers to pay fair rates for their cocoa, looking after the farmers, their families and their livelihoods.

This book takes a peek behind the curtain of romanticism that surrounds the world of chocolate and reveals powerful insight into what really goes into making your cheap bar of chocolate. You'll never look at chocolate in the same way after reading this book.

Cocoa Review

RRP: £14.99 | Kristy Leissle | Shop now°

Don't judge a book by its cover. This unassuming blue book details the failings in the chocolate industry and examines the history of how we got to where we are. Leissle is unashamedly frank and the truths she uncovers are unpalatable. This book is an important read for any chocolate lover - just brace yourself for uncomfortable truths about the products you love so dearly.

Depth of Content
Value For Money
Score: 4.8

You can buy this book from Amazon. I read the paperback edition° but there's a sturdy hardback version° available too. Fancy reading on the move? A Kindle edition is also available°.

You can also find this book at independent bookshops around the country.

Have you read this book? What change would you like to see happen first in the industry? Let me know in a comment below.


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