Written with Katie Nelson
Anyone who follows foodie news has likely noticed the recent unraveling of Mast Brothers in Brooklyn, the makers of “Bean to Bear” chocolate. In case you don’t know, the company was accused of fibbing about its history. The official company line is that it selects cocoa beans, it mills the beans and then lovingly makes chocolate bars. No outside industrial chocolate is used, and it sells these “hipster” bars for $10 a piece.
Except that the allegations say differently, claiming that Mast Brothers did use industrial chocolate from the very beginning. The bad press has spiraled so much, that the company is actively telling its fans to share a press release against the allegations.
First, let’s keep this in perspective: we’re talking about two bearded White Dudes selling chocolate.
They didn’t come up with a new way to split an atom based on ancient Aztec techniques.
They make expensive, mediocre chocolate. Anyone who’s buying their product deserves exactly what they’re buying: chocolate that is overpriced, nicely packaged and bland tasting.
In fact, you can’t come up with a better allegory for “hipster” affectation.
Second, these guys perfectly encapsulate a decade old trend of White Dudes glomming onto the acculturation that’s often inherent in anything “artisanal.”
When I think of “artisanal,” I think of tortillas and how my grandma Adelina made flour tortillas by hand. I reminisce about how much better her tortillas are a thousand times better than the flour tortillas you buy at a store. My grandma’s tortillas are authentic, and I know how to make them. But I likely wouldn’t make a huge killing on the repackaging of “artisanal” tortillas, because I’m a short, brown-eyed Latino.
But I think if my last name were Mast, and I were really tall and had a handsome blue-eyed brother about the same height as me, and I said we learned how to make tortillas in our apartment through trial and error, and we use “tribal” sourced manos and metates, and use nothing but the best organic corn, which was farmed at the best corn fields of Chiapas (I’m not sure about Chiapas corn, but it sounds cool), I could probably convince other similar hipsters to buy into my “authentic” story.
Which brings us back to the whole chocolate mess.
Chocolate is a “New World” creation. Its roots are in my family’s history (good and bad). Every mestizo (someone of Native American and Spanish heritage) shares in this painful history. Our Aztec and Mayan ancestors created chocolate. Our Spanish ancestors conquered and took it. That stolen chocolate was brought back to Europe where it was “perfected” and is now judged by Europeans for texture, taste and quality.
There’s even an element of geopolitical politics inherent in this whole chocolate story. African beans are cheaper and of lower quality than Latin American beans. African beans are farmed by virtual slave labor in civil war-ridden regions. South and Central American beans are pricier, due to fair trade practices. And the ones who get to pick and choose what makes the best beans are North Americans and Europeans.
To some, seeing these two bearded White Dudes now getting a comeuppance is enjoyable. But we all know that in the end, this is a really minor story. Still, suffering White Dudes will always make for good copy, because privilege goes with the territory.
Sergio Quintana is a broadcast journalist in San Francisco with a special interest in food, immigration, technology, and aviation. Katie Nelson worked in the food industry in Vail, Colorado, and has years of confectioners experience. They both how to make tortillas by hand.