It is a very attractive truffle.
It’s made of the usual ingredients — cocoa butter, sugar, chocolate — with a not-so-typical addition. Thirty grams of dried tomatoes from Nigeria.
And it was served at the World Economic Forum last week in Davos, Switzerland, with a very specific goal in mind: “to raise awareness on food waste and hunger,” as stated in a press release.
That’s a big job for a bonbon — and it’s the reason for the tomatoes.
According to U.N. sources, up to 75 percent of the 1.5 million tons of tomatoes harvested in Nigeria each year are “lost.” That can mean a number of things, from rotting in the field to falling off the truck on the way to market.
The Roca brothers, three Spanish chefs who are U.N. goodwill ambassadors, created the chocolate. “We are exploring food preservation techniques, such as the dried tomatoes used in this chocolate that can reduce food waste and create new market opportunities for young farmers,” explains Joan Roca, one of the brothers. “Preserving tomatoes is our first goal.”
They named the candy “Bombon Kaduna.” Bombon is the Spanish spelling of bonbon. Kaduna is a big tomato-growing region in Nigeria.
We interviewed some experts on food and hunger to get their thoughts on the candy campaign.
“It strikes me as a kind of silly representation of concern about global hunger,” says Christopher Barrett, a professor at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and author of a paper titled “Food loss and waste in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
We got a similar reaction from Mark Bittman, the cookbook author who is now a lecturer at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, specializing in health policy and food issues: “I mean, come on!”
Bittman finds no fault with the recipe. Using food that might otherwise be wasted is a good thing, he agrees. And tomatoes can be sweet and chewy, so why not add them to a truffle? But, he says, “This is not a recipe that is going to have any impact on world hunger and on poor and starving people. What they need is money to buy food.”
The U.N. defends its candy: “There is nothing trivial” about finding new ways to use local ingredients and, in the process, cutting down on food waste, a spokesman said.
But does reclaiming “lost” food really help feed hungry people?
“As stated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,” the U.N. spokesman told Goats and Soda, “up to one–third of all food in the world is spoiled or squandered. This is unacceptable at a time where almost a billion people suffer from hunger.”
Barrett isn’t sure statistics about food loss can ever be 100 percent accurate because food is lost or wasted in so many ways that are hard to track. If a bag of tomatoes falls off a truck, who notices?
And sometimes food loss is unavoidable, he points out — say, if the product becomes unsafe to consume.
He also does not think reclaiming lost food is a top priority in the war against hunger.
“We couldn’t find a single study demonstrating that dollars spent on food waste reduction after harvest are dollars well spent,” says Barrett. Why not spend the money on other food-related goals that will help farmers and hungry people, he suggests: say, breeding drought-tolerance into rice or paving a road so farmers can more easily get their food to market.
But despite these concerns, maybe the chocolate fulfilled its mission. Its aim was to get people talking about hunger — and that’s exactly what we’re doing in this blog post.