Sweet Springfield: Chocolate Wellness Talk and Honest Abe

by Valerie Beck, Chocolate Expert and Sweet Speaker

Have chocolate, will travel
Have chocolate, will travel

What do chocolate and President Abraham Lincoln have in common?

They have honesty in common, when the chocolate is made with real ingredients and fairly traded cocoa beans.

Why the “Honest Abe” comparison at all?

Because I had the wonderful opportunity to spend some time in sprightly Springfield, Illinois, 200 miles from my home in Chicago, where I gave a chocolate wellness talk, and where Abraham Lincoln lived much of his adult life, practiced law, campaigned for office, and was returned for burial after his assassination.

Old State House in Springfield, IL
Old State Capitol in Springfield, IL, a powerful Abraham Lincoln site for Illinoisans like me and for all other Lincoln enthusiasts

I traveled to the Illinois state capital at the kind invitation of an influential ladies philanthropic organization to speak about chocolate wellness, and we had a marvelous and delicious time. Of course I also took some time to re-visit one of the best museums in the US – the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum – and to do some Springfield “chocolate scouting.”

Heartland
Midwest moment
Where chocolate begins: sharing cacao at my talk
Where chocolate begins: magnesium-rich and health benefit-filled cacao, which I shared at my talk
The audience enjoyed lunch and dessert before my talk and chocolate tasting
Dessert before dessert: the audience enjoyed lunch and dessert before my talk and chocolate tasting

One of the elements of my talk involved playing a game I created called “Sometimes, Always, Never: What’s Really In Your Chocolate.” The way it works: I explain which ingredients and origins to look for in chocolate bars, and which to avoid. Then we have audience members read the labels on a variety of chocolate bars I’ve brought, and we talk about where the cocoa beans came from, and what the ingredients are in each chocolate bar are. Knowing the health, labor, and environmental benefits or risks, the group decides whether each chocolate bar is one that they might sometimes choose for themselves and their families, one that they can always feel good about choosing, or one that they would never want in their household.

The game resulted in some surprises as it does every time, and then of course we ate the chocolate bars that the group decided to put into the “Always” pile! This included delicious, healthful, fair trade chocolate bars by Alter Eco, Dick Taylor, and El Dorado. The latter is made in Ecuador and is not yet available in the US, and this group was my first group to sample it!

Inside joke: Dick Taylor craft chocolate from California meets Dick Taylor Collision Services of Illinois
Inside joke: Dick Taylor craft chocolate from California meets Dick Taylor Collision Services of Illinois

I was impressed with the group, and moved by the glowing testimonial I received:

“Valerie is an exuberant and extraordinary speaker who superbly involves the audience as she presents such interesting facts about chocolate and wellness.  She is very friendly and personable, yet a cylinder of dynamite showering listeners with delightful energy!  The manner in which she shares her heart, soul, lively humor and vast knowledge makes her presentations quite enjoyable.  Valerie is highly recommended as a speaker to your group!”

  Janie Rast, Ladies organization, Springfield, IL

Great state of Illinois chocolate by first-class local chocolatier Cocoa Blue for my audience
Great state of Illinois chocolate by first-class local chocolatier Cocoa Blue for my audience. Honest Abe would have approved. Click for my blog post on Cocoa Blue.

Thank you, Ladies of Springfield! I appreciate your hospitality, eagerness to hear about chocolate’s health benefits, and openness to my Chocolate Freedom Project to raise awareness of child slave labor on West African cocoa farms and of fair trade alternatives that are healthier and more delicious. “Keep eating real chocolate!”

Honored to have dinner - and dessert - at the home of the dear chocolate lover who invited me to town
I was honored to have dinner – and a very chocolatey dessert – at the home of the dear chocolate lover who invited me to speak in Springfield; we connected because she and her husband had been on my Chocolate Tours years ago when I operated that business.

There’s even more deliciousness to this sweet Springfield story:

I arrived in Springfield the day before my talk and checked into the Inn at 835, a captivating antiques-filled bed-and-breakfast. The rooms were lovely, breakfast was delicious, wine and cheese hour at night was a charming touch, and the chocolate chip cookies at bedtime were the ultimate!

Bedtime chocolate chip cookies served at the Inn at 835
Sweet dreams at the Inn at 835

From the Inn, it was a short walk to the Abraham Lincoln Museum. This was my third trip to Springfield since this exceptional museum opened 10 years ago, and I’ve visited the Lincoln Museum each time. I continue to  notice additional details in the exhibits, such as the pile of legal papers in the re-creation of Lincoln’s utterly disorderly law office marked “if you can’t find it, look here.”

Children's art at the Lincoln Museum
Children’s art display at the Lincoln Museum

The exhibit that shows the 4-year Civil War in 4 minutes, using a video map of the US, music, and a running tally of the dead, but no spoken words, always makes me weep. And the exhibit in which the late journalist Tim Russert broadcasts about the 4-way presidential race “Campaign 1860” always makes me smile.

Vegan friendly Cafe Andiamo
Delicious chocolate cake doughnut at vegan-friendly Cafe Andiamo, against a background of local art by Billinda DeVillez

I followed my museum visit with some chocolate scouting – of course! – and some sightseeing, and enjoyed every element of my sweet Springfield visit.

Dana-Thomas House by Frank Lloyd Wright
Springfield’s Dana-Thomas House by Frank Lloyd Wright
Cafe Moxo
Cookies galore at Cafe Moxo, including chocolate chip cinnamon raisin

Your friend in “honest chocolate,”

Valerie

3rd from right with some of Springfield's philanthropic ladies
3rd from right with some of Springfield’s philanthropic ladies

Valerie Beck, The Chocolate Queen

CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

Instagram: @chocolateuplift

Chocolate Wellness: Why Should You Eat Real Chocolate, and How To Identify It

Chocolate Wellness: Why You Should Eat Real Chocolate, and How To Identify It

by Valerie Beck, chocolate educator and speaker www.chicagochocolatetours.com/speaking

Which will go into the "sometimes," "always," or "never" piles? Find out - and sample the "always" pile - at one of my Chocolate Wellness seminars.
Which items will go into the “sometimes,” “always,” or “never” piles? Find out – and sample the “always” pile – at one of my Chocolate Wellness seminars. Book a seminar. #eatchocolatebeskinny

Is chocolate health food, or junk food?

That depends on the chocolate!

Chocolate is naturally healthy, unless we add junk to it. Chocolate is made from the cacao bean, which is the seed of the fruit of the cacao tree. Cacao is a superfood, because of it is rich in nutrients and benefits. For example:

  • Cacao has more antioxidants than blueberries, green tea, or red wine.
  • Cacao is the highest source of plant-based iron.
  • Cacao is one of the highest sources of magnesium.
  • Cacao has more calcium than milk.
  • Cacao is a natural mood booster.

Of course, to receive these benefits, you want to eat artisan chocolate, not commercial chocolate. This is because commercial chocolate has been processed which removes nutrients, and because commercial chocolate usually contains added negatives such as pesticides, artificial ingredients, soy lecithin, and high amounts of sugar. In addition, commercial chocolate is often farmed in ways that harm the workers; abominations such as child slave labor are common on West African cocoa farms, which produce the bulk of the world’s commercial chocolate.

How can you make sure you’re eating chocolate that aligns with your health wishes and your moral code? Read the label! For example, you can look for chocolate bars with just 2 ingredients: cacao and sugar (plus any inclusions such as fruit or nuts). You can also look for chocolate bars with the country or estate of origin on the label, such as South American or other non-West African countries.

Sample raw organic cocoa beans at my Chocolate Wellness seminars. You can also sample them fresh from the tree on my Chocolate Travel Club origin trip to Ecuador.
Sample raw organic cocoa beans at my Chocolate Wellness seminars. You can also sample them fresh from the tree on my Chocolate Uplift Travel Club origin trip to Ecuador.

We go into more detail in my seminars, such as talking about:

  • the #1 ingredient to avoid in chocolate,
  • when to eat chocolate so that you maximize your health benefits,
  • how to incorporate raw cocoa beans into delicious meals and snacks, and
  • much more.

Click for info on and tickets for my next Chocolate Wellness seminar open to the public, at Kendall College in Chicago, on Saturday, February 7, at 11 am. Samples are included in all of my speaking engagements! Click here.

Or book a private seminar for your corporate, association, or other group. Again, samples are included! Click for details.

You can contact me at chocolateuplift@gmail.com anytime for more info.

And, here’s a sneak preview of my new still-under-construction site, which will also house info on my Chocolate Wellness seminars. The site is a mock-up and will ultimately be brought under the Chocolate Uplift domain, but here you go for now!

Meanwhile, keep eating (real) chocolate!

Eat chocolate and smile
Eat chocolate and smile

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

Why I Don’t Want Soy Lecithin in My Chocolate

Why I don’t want soy lecithin in my chocolate

By Valerie Beck, founder of Chicago Chocolate Tours and Chocolate Uplift, the “Professor of Chocolate”

What's really in your chocolate bar?
What’s really in your chocolate bar?

I was asked the other day why I’m against soy lecithin in chocolate, even if it’s organic soy lecithin. I replied that it’s because I’m against industrial sludge in any of my food, including my chocolate!

What is soy lecithin, and why is it in chocolate?

Soy lecithin is an ingredient used by commercial/industrial chocolate makers, to keep chocolate moving through their pipes. It’s an industrial waste product made from the sludge left after crude soy oil is processed with hexane and acetone. Soy oil refining companies found a way to sell their waste back to the food industry in the 20th century, in the form of lecithin. Whether that waste is organic or not isn’t the point. True, I prefer organic food to GMO food. But in the case of soy lecithin, even organic soy lecithin is still industrial waste, and there are whisperings that when it’s labeled as organic it still isn’t because there isn’t enough demand for an organic variety to actually produce one, but in any case it’s not part of the clean-food / artisan chocolate movement.

What does soy lecithin do to chocolate, and to us?

Cocoa beans + sugar + nothing else = pure delicious chocolate
Cocoa beans + sugar + nothing else = pure delicious chocolate

In addition to being processed waste sold back to the food industry for further industrial purposes, soy lecithin alters the taste and texture of chocolate, making it slicker and more standardized.

I love the pure flavor and rich texture of unadulterated chocolate, and I love delicious, complex-flavor artisan chocolate bars with just 2 ingredients – cocoa beans and sugar – such as bars by Askinosie, Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, and so many others. Depending on how the cocoa beans are developed through the chocolate making process, chocolate makers can express different stories and provide different flavors. Without additives, the chocolate can tell a more nuanced story.

Moreover, there are other serious issues surrounding soy, as some studies show it can lead to thyroid problems, infant abnormalities, and cancer. This is the case whether the soy is organic or not.

The soy industry and Big Food industries are obviously massive, and some people will tell you that a small amount of soy lecithin in your chocolate won’t make a difference to your health. But even if you didn’t mind the flavor and texture reductions or alterations, the amount of soy lecithin that many people are eating may not be so small after all. That’s because it is in so many processed foods ranging from salad dressing and mayonnaise, to bread and cake mix, and even tea bags.

Do you want hexane-processed sludge with that?

Even if you steer clear of most processed foods and fast food, do you want any hexane-processed industrial sludge in your food at all? Imagine you were at a fine restaurant, and the server asked if you would like ground pepper, parmesan, or a few drops of hexane and soy sludge on your meal. Yikes!

Isn’t it an upside-down state of affairs when industrial waste in food is the norm, and we have to explain why we don’t want it?

What we can do about it

Don’t despair! How can you make sure there’s no soy lecithin in your chocolate bar? Read the label! If you see something you don’t like, or can’t pronounce, you can back away from the bar, and make a different chocolate choice.

Discussing and sampling the goods at a bean-to-bar meeting I held with one of my chocolate consulting clients
Discussing and sampling the goods at a bean-to-bar meeting I held with one of my chocolate consulting clients

Happily, there is a chocolate revolution happening right now, with wonderful bean-to-bar chocolate makers such as the ones I highlighted above and many more including those in my distribution and broker portfolio, creating amazing chocolate deliciousness with cocoa beans. By controlling the entire chocolate making process, from sourcing the cocoa beans through controlling the steps such as fermenting, roasting, and mixing or conching the cocoa beans, they can draw out different flavors based on differences within the steps of that process.

More good news: artisan chocolate makers who use pure ingredients are generally the same artisan chocolate makers who use fair or direct trade, slavery-free, sustainably grown cocoa beans. Chocolate that’s delicious, ethical, and full of health benefits? That’s how it should be!

For an educational and entertaining seminar on deciphering chocolate bar labels, come to one of my "Eat Chocolate, Be Skinny" presentations
Hello from one of my “Eat Chocolate, Be Skinny” seminars, which are educational and entertaining presentations and chocolate tastings on how to decipher chocolate bar labels and gain maximum chocolate health benefits.

Remember: chocolate comes from cocoa beans, which are the seed of the fruit of the cocoa tree. Yes, chocolate comes from fruit! Keep the chocolate pure, and you have wonderful health benefits, wonderful flavor opportunities, and benefits rather than harm to farmers and the planet. That’s chocolate uplift indeed.

To sum it up in hashtags that you’ll see if you join me on Instagram or twitter at @chichoctours: #eatrealfood and #eatrealchocolate!

#chocolateislove