Chocolate expert Valerie Beck is a pioneering entrepreneur in chocolate and hospitality. Creator of the original Chicago Chocolate Tours,...
Jon Amarilio is a partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister in Chicago. He represents individuals, small businesses, state and...
Trisha Rich is a partner in Holland & Knight’s Chicago office, where she practices commercial litigation and professional responsibility...
Our guest Valerie Beck proves that a legal career can be just like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re going to get. Valerie graduated from Harvard Law School and practiced in “Big Law” before leaving her legal practice to become a chocolate expert and entrepreneur. In this unique edition, co-hosts Jonathan Amarilio and Trisha Rich join Valerie on a tasting tour through the world of craft, artisan chocolate. They also chat about Valerie’s unique career path, how consumers can influence and encourage major chocolate brands to become more ethical and sustainable, and Valerie’s Chocolate Freedom Project, which is committed to ending child slave labor in the chocolate industry.
Special thanks to our sponsors, CourtFiling.net.
The Chocolate Covered Edition
Jon Amarilio: Hello everyone, and welcome to CBA’s @theBar, a podcast where young and youngish lawyers have unscripted conversations with our guests about legal news, events, topics, stories, and whatever else strikes our fancy.
I am your host Jon Amarilio of Taft Stettinius & Hollister, and co-hosting the pod with me today is my friend and yours Trish Rich of Holland & Knight. Hi Trish.
Trisha Rich: Hi.
Jon Amarilio: So Trish, we have a different kind of episode today and dare I say, a tastier one. We’re joined by Valerie Beck of Chocolate Uplift. Valerie is a Chicago native, a Harvard College and Harvard Law grad, and former big law lawyer turned chocolate expert and entrepreneur. She started and owned a chocolate tour company and has since then become an international chocolate consultant, broker, judge, marketer, speaker, yes, that’s a thing some of which we’ll get into today.
Valerie also started the Chocolate Freedom Project which isn’t exactly the kind of Willy Wonka reference. It seems to be at first but rather exists to end child slave labor and trafficking on cocoa farms in West Africa, mostly in Côte d’Ivoire, also known as the Ivory Coast.
Valerie, welcome, thank you for coming on the pod.
Valerie Beck: Thank you John. Thank you Trish, I’m so excited to be here.
Trisha Rich: We’re so excited to have you.
Valerie Beck: Yeah, yeah.
Jon Amarilio: So Valerie, it’s not often that lawyers turn into professional chocolate experts, right?
Valerie Beck: Right.
Jon Amarilio: As much as some of us might want to be, Trish.
Valerie Beck: Maybe I have started a trend, come on in. We are going to have to have you on my food podcast sometimes.
Trisha Rich: Yeah, yeah.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah. But I know that when I mentioned this show to several of my lawyer friends and one particularly interested associates in our office, the reaction was universal, and it was how do I do that?
Valerie Beck: Yeah.
Jon Amarilio: So my first question for you is how did you do that?
Valerie Beck: Well, I am so excited you ask, because it was a process, not so much flipping a light switch from lawyer to chocolate services entrepreneur, but it was really a process. I fell in love with chocolate at the age of four. I remember going to my mom and saying mommy, guess what I just found out there’s such a thing as chocolate milk, I never wanted to drink regular milk again. I mean why? And so, my whole life I’ve just been in love with learning about chocolate, finding out where it comes from, how is it made, what are the chemical processes that go into it, everything I could learn about it.
Jon Amarilio: But you didn’t start there, right?
Valerie Beck: Yeah.
Jon Amarilio: You started as a lawyer.
Valerie Beck: I did.
Jon Amarilio: You went to Harvard Law.
Valerie Beck: I feel so grateful that I got to do that, yes.
Jon Amarilio: So —
Trisha Rich: The Michigan of the East?
Jon Amarilio: The Michigan of the East. I was going to say, she was at a bit of disadvantage compared to like Yale Law grads, but you overcame that.
Valerie Beck: I worked hard, thank you.
Trisha Rich: You’re very brave.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah really.
Valerie Beck: Thank you.
Jon Amarilio: And so you went to big law, right?
Valerie Beck: I did.
Jon Amarilio: We won’t name the firm, but big, big law, right?
Valerie Beck: It’s fine, exactly yeah.
Jon Amarilio: And how was your experience there?
Valerie Beck: You know I must say I’ve got nothing negative to say about the work or the people I worked with in terms of smart people, working hard, doing flawless work product for their clients. That said, I kind of felt like I was in a white-collar sweatshop in that I just really somehow was not able to set boundaries between my work and my life.
Jon Amarilio: What are those?
Valerie Beck: My work in my sanity, right.
Trisha Rich: You say that word a boundary?
Valerie Beck: I will not spell it. I don’t know what it means exactly. I couldn’t do it. It’s français, viola.
Trisha Rich: What kind of law did you practice?
Valerie Beck: Corporate finance and M&A; so corporate transactions. I remember one deal we were on, oh my goodness, the partners would send us home to sleep in shifts.
Trisha Rich: Wow.
Jon Amarilio: Wow.
Valerie Beck: We would have 20-hour day sometimes.
Jon Amarilio: That seems necessary.
Valerie Beck: Completely necessary. It was great.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah, yeah. So –
Trisha Rich: I don’t know why people are so concerned about lawyer wellness, I don’t understand.
Jon Amarilio: I don’t get it either. So you said, forget all that.
Valerie Beck: Yes, I said, you know I need to save my life and find the –
Trisha Rich: Exit.
Valerie Beck: Exactly.
Trisha Rich: It’s not an overly dramatic statement.
Valerie Beck: Thank you. We can all relate to that, right?
Trisha Rich: Yeah.
Valerie Beck: So when I was 19 I had this idea that I didn’t act on until I was 35, wait, that would make me — never mind. So in any case I was studying abroad as a college senior and I fell in love with the chocolate shops of Paris, who wouldn’t and I thought, wow, wouldn’t it be fun if I could create a business that would take people on a tour and let them learn about artisan chocolate and fair trade chocolate and again the processes and the history.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah, but we all have ideas like that, none of us actually go through with them.
Valerie Beck: I guess I was just more desperate.
Jon Amarilio: Okay.
Valerie Beck: I had reached my rock-bottom of desperation. One of my final straws you might say of many, many final straws, was falling asleep on a date.
Trisha Rich: Wow.
Valerie Beck: Yeah, I was amazed I even had a date. I don’t know how that happened, because I was never out and about to meet anybody.
Trisha Rich: So how did the second date go?
Valerie Beck: Trish, I’m so glad you asked, there was none.
Trisha Rich: Really?
Valerie Beck: I know, surprised, right? The poor kid probably still isn’t right. I feel very, very bad for him.
Trisha Rich: Well, to be fair, you had provided him with a lifelong real estate story. So —
Valerie Beck: I feel grateful, well I can supply that.
Trisha Rich: Yes.
Jon Amarilio: I kind of feel like if I was the guy in that date I just keep it to myself though. Yeah.
Valerie Beck: Yeah.
Jon Amarilio: I wouldn’t say much about me.
Valerie Beck: Oh, male ego would need some love, that’s okay.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah, yeah. That’s the thing.
Valerie Beck: Yeah exactly.
Trisha Rich: If we ever do a pod on – yeah, if we ever do a pod on terrible first dates, I don’t even think we’ll need a guess, it could just be me and you.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah.
Valerie Beck: I can’t wait to listen. And I thought yeah, why don’t I just go back to that idea that I had when I was a study abroad student? Why don’t I really try to make it work? I thought I’ve almost literally got nothing to lose because if I don’t make a change, nothing will change.
Trisha Rich: So did you start working on your chocolate company while you were still at the law firm?
Valerie Beck: I left that firm and I tried to do what I think is called downshifting, going to a firm where I could have a little more control over my life, that myth seemed to not turn out to be reality, and from there I actually went in-house and was not entirely pleased with how things turned out there either.
So the short answer is yes, I was working on my business project while I was a lawyer, but the true answer is no, I somehow really didn’t have the headspace to do that until I actually quit. And so, I did a little bit of contract work which oh my gosh that could be a whole separate book or a novel or podcast or something, but it at least gave me again the headspace to just really focus on the business.
And then the final thing that I did in the law that actually was I don’t know kind of a godsend at its time, at that time at least recruiters would call, everybody, not just me I mean, but it was a thing, I don’t know if it’s still is, and one of them called and I said, I’m not looking to go back into a firm but I asked her do you ever have strange little jobs that you can’t fill, like where I could work from home and do it at odd hours and do you have that?
She said funny you should ask, and so I ended up writing blurbs for a firm that was starting a new website on some of the cases that they had won and so I was able to do something in the law from home, half time to work on my business, it was so crazy that it worked.
Trisha Rich: It’s great.
Jon Amarilio: And so you built up this business?
Valerie Beck: Yes, I built up the business. I started with one dream and I built it to 50 employees in four cities and it was so exciting to be an entrepreneur.
Jon Amarilio: What is it that you love about chocolate? Why did you want to introduce other people to it and teach them more about it?
Valerie Beck: Yes, oh it’s a great question Jon. I love not only the flavor that we can all get so excited about, but I love that the process of chocolate can uplift everyone along the supply chain. I don’t know if that sounds as geeky as I hope it does, but every time we buy any product who’s behind that, who made it, who suffered for it or who benefited from it. And I loved always thinking about chocolate in that way.
So from the cocoa farmer all the way through to the chocolate maker, any distributors, any retailers to us, the eaters, I just love that chocolate can uplift us all.
Jon Amarilio: So our audience can’t see this right now, but we have a table that is just filled with Craft Chocolate Bars and different kinds of chocolate here.
Trisha Rich: It’s beautiful.
Jon Amarilio: I won’t ask you what your favorite is, I’m not going to make you choose between the children so to speak.
Valerie Beck: Right, thank you. That’s what I say. I love all my children equally. This one no —
Trisha Rich: It’s funny I think that’s what all parents say, right?
Valerie Beck: Right.
Jon Amarilio: But, yet so not true.
Valerie Beck: But we know the truth, right.
Jon Amarilio: Definitely your favorite. But so you wrapped up that business and you became a chocolate consultant, especially right?
Valerie Beck: Right, that’s right.
Jon Amarilio: So you go around the world as I understand it and you do what?
Valerie Beck: Yeah, so basically I help everybody along the supply chain with whatever they need for that project. For example, it might be working with the Trade Commission of Ecuador to talk with their cocoa growers and their chocolate makers and talk about ways that they can grow the kind of cocoa beans and make the kind of chocolate that the US market wants to buy.
Jon Amarilio: So do we have some Ecuadorian chocolate here?
Valerie Beck: Oh you bet we do. This one is by Dandelion Chocolate made in San Francisco from just two ingredients, Ecuadorian cacao from the Costa Esmeraldas Farm owned by Freddy who’s just an amazing innovative visionary entrepreneur, and cacao and sugar, that’s all you need to make amazing chocolate.
Jon Amarilio: So is that like the marker of good chocolate that is just cacao and sugar?
Valerie Beck: Traceability and clean ingredients are I would say definitely a marker of great chocolate.
Jon Amarilio: Okay.
Trisha Rich: Right, so we’re trying this now?
Jon Amarilio: Let’s eat them.
Valerie Beck: Even that aroma, right, intoxicating.
Trisha Rich: I am just putting it in our mouth.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah.
Valerie Beck: Whatever works.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah. I do that with wine too.
Valerie Beck: Whatever works, it’s about enjoyment, however you enjoy it.
Jon Amarilio: That’s delicious. So —
Valerie Beck: I am glad you think so.
Jon Amarilio: What makes this chocolate stand out for you?
Valerie Beck: Yeah, so for me it’s the flavor as well as the texture that I find very storytelling. The chocolate opens up for me with a certain note and then it develops. It doesn’t taste like just one thing and I find different people taste different things.
So for this one I get sort of a fruity note, I get an earthy note. Maybe the tiniest tint of a floral or you might just say you know what it just tastes like chocolate and it’s good and that’s okay too. But to me it tells a story from beginning to end. The texture is flawless, so smooth without being overly unctuous, without being dry in any way, it just sort of hits that, that perfect spot for me and again I love to read the label and see two ingredients. I love to see the cacao country of origin printed right. Ecuador Costa Esmeraldas, this is traceable we know where it came from.
Jon Amarilio: Okay so traceability is like Appalachian essentially.
Valerie Beck: Yes that’s a perfect way to look at it.
Jon Amarilio: Okay.
Valerie Beck: Absolutely like if you bought a bottle of wine and it just said, wine.
Jon Amarilio: Right some of it does.
Valerie Beck: And so we are not telling you anymore.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah right.
Valerie Beck: And you evaluate that line in a different way from one where you see the estate.
Jon Amarilio: So identifying the country of origin and possibly the estate, could you say that for those in our audience who want to learn how to pick chocolate better that those are important markers.
Valerie Beck: Yes. I would say that’s a crucial thing to look for the cacao country of origin remembering that cocoa beans do not grow in Switzerland, Belgium or Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Jon Amarilio: Which — we will come back to Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Valerie Beck: It’s a beautiful town.
Trisha Rich: So the thing that struck me most about this piece was the texture. I mean it’s just incredibly smooth.
Valerie Beck: Right, thank You Trish. Yes it’s again got this creaminess yet with no milk, with no dairy.
Trisha Rich: So what are the two ingredients again, it is always cocoa and sugar, right?
Valerie Beck: Cocoa and sugar, it’s all you need.
Jon Amarilio: Pay attention Trish.
Valerie Beck: She’s savoring.
Trisha Rich: Yeah, sorry. I got distracted by the food.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah fair enough.
Trisha Rich: So this one’s really interesting. It’s really good. Do you happen to know that place where this came from?
Valerie Beck: I do. I sometimes joke. I make it a point to know everything about my clients that they will let me find out and more. I love them, I respect them. They are hard-working and I like to get as deep into their business as they want me to. So yeah, the founders and team of Dandelion Chocolate are amazingly committed professionals. They go to the source, Greg for example is their chief sorcerer but it’s called sorcerer.
Trisha Rich: Because it’s magic.
Valerie Beck: Right, you see what they did there, yes, and so and he goes personally to all of the farms where they source cocoa beans, to see with his own eyes what’s happening there and so I love again that level of commitment. They just opened, Dandelion Chocolate just opened a new 35,000 square foot facility now for a big brand that’s a closet for a small batch brand that’s huge and so I’m just so proud of them for again committing to their craft to building, to growing and making this incredible chocolate.
Jon Amarilio: So you go to these countries and you help teach the growers how to better grow sustainable and high quality cocoa right?
Valerie Beck: You are imputing almost way too much to me. I talk with them about maybe flavor profiles that US buyers might be looking for but yeah I do what I can do to help them. I don’t pretend to be an expert in terms of agricultural knowledge that they’ve built up over generations but yes I go, I talk with them about what the trends are in the market and how can they meet those trends if that’s their goal.
Jon Amarilio: What are the trends in the chocolate market?
Valerie Beck: Yes. Oh it’s great questions. So what we’re seeing on this table that I wish everybody could come and help us, although now that’s got more difficult.
Jon Amarilio: Start eating more.
Valerie Beck: One trend is different notes in the cocoa beans. So again when you eat the chocolate, do you just taste chocolate? That’s okay, if you do but does the cocoa bean want to tell you another story? Does it want to tell you a story of Earth, of grape, of tobacco, just like in wine again and coffee. Yeah you can taste all these flavors that are in the grape, that are in the coffee bean. Same thing with cocoa so letting the cocoa bean tell its story, looking for those fruity earthy notes those are really popular.
Jon Amarilio: So what chocolate bar here is talking to you?
Valerie Beck: Oh boy, the voices in my head, oh dear. They’re all telling me a great story. For example the — oh my goodness, what have we got, open and ready to go? Oh the one here from chocolato with the nuts in it. This uses cocoa from Peru and there I get almost a little bit of a jammy, grapey sort of a note, almost like wine.
Trisha Rich: Interesting.
Valerie Beck: In fact yeah.
Jon Amarilio: Let me just fact-check you here for a minute.
Valerie Beck: I think it’s very important to try –
Trisha Rich: So what’s in this one that we’re trying right now?
Valerie Beck: So this one is called Go Nuts because it’s got toasted almonds and sea salt and the sea salt is not just any ordinary sea salt, it has been elevated by being soaked in vanilla. So again the creativity of the inclusion I think just gives this bar that little something extra.
Jon Amarilio: I’m going to talk with my mouth full that’s really good.
Valerie Beck: Oh I’m so glad you like it. I’m so glad you like it.
Trisha Rich: Jon and Beck thank you enough for having me on as the co-host today.
Jon Amarilio: I am here for you.
Valerie Beck: So yeah, I hope bars like these get onto shelves. I work with the chocolate makers with anything they need in terms of marketing and wholesaling and I just love being able to again share such a unique product with other chocolate lovers.
Trisha Rich: So for people that are newbies at this myself included, can you briefly tell us, you know the story of a cocoa bean, like how it got from Peru in this case, to being in front of us?
Valerie Beck: From bean to bar you might say, yeah exactly. Oh my goodness. So cocoa is a fruit. Chocolate comes from fruit is that not the greatest news ever.
Trisha Rich: I actually learned that just a few minutes ago.
Valerie Beck: So the cocoa tree grows in rainforests type areas, usually about 20 degrees north or south of the Equator. With climate change, we’re definitely seeing shifts in that so that’s very important in the chocolate world.
Trisha Rich: You mean if climate change were real, right?
Valerie Beck: Right.
Jon Amarilio: 00:16:01.
Valerie Beck: Oh boy, ask any farmer who grows anything in the world and that farmer will tell you that, that there have been shifts.
Trisha Rich: Sure.
Valerie Beck: You people might argue over where those shifts come from but any farmer in the world will know this.
Trisha Rich: You are not going to get in an argument.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah good fun.
Trisha Rich: So north or south of the Equator and all the way around the world, they are predominantly in South America – are we seeing —
Valerie Beck: You’re so right. South America is where cacao originated. We think in the Amazon basin, maybe 5,000 years ago hopefully longer than that because what would people have done before chocolate, I mean it’s a terrifying thought.
Trisha Rich: Very sad lives.
Valerie Beck: Very sad lives —
Jon Amarilio: I think it explains the Middle Ages and Inquisition. They didn’t have chocolate. Well I guess they just buy the Inquisition.
Valerie Beck: Well I sometimes think so my goodness our poor friends and ancestors of Europe before they took over and brutally colonized, South America had no chocolate. It’s a terrible story in many ways.
Jon Amarilio: That shows you imperialism is bad.
Valerie Beck: But yeah chocolate grows on cocoa trees, you harvest the beautifully colored cocoa pods, open it up take the seeds from outside of the fruit. Now the seeds must be dried and fermented to really start unlocking the flavor. It’s cool by the way right that chocolate is a fermented food like beer and wine, and bread and cheese and all the delicious things we love.
Jon Amarilio: Lot of parallels with alcohol.
Valerie Beck: It’s true.
Trisha Rich: You are speaking my language. The more you compare it to alcohol the more I understand.
Valerie Beck: Oh I am so glad. So yeah after that process, it all happens on the farm. Now the beans are ready to leave the farm. We call them beans but they are seeds, they are the seed of the fruit, of the cocoa tree. Now they’re ready to go to the chocolate makers and if we’re talking about bulk West African cacao oh there are so many steps in between.
If we’re talking about the type of specialty cacao that goes into the bars we have on the table here, it’s direct trade. For example, the team at 00:17:57 where we just tried the nut bar, the team at Dandelion where we had the Ecuador bar they buy direct from the farmers and this is actually revolutionary in chocolate. This is part of a new supply chain not traded on the New York and London Stock Exchange’s like bulk cacao and the commodities exchanges like bulk cacao but this is direct trade. This is chocolate maker and cocoa grower saying let’s do business.
Jon Amarilio: And so like so many other industries they ensure the quality by staying small.
Valerie Beck: Yes that’s such an important part of it right now. Can quality scale, can artisanship scale that’s a question that some of the larger, small makers are really grappling with and bumping up against and that I love — you are sort of being a part of that a little bit but yes by being small the chocolate makers and chocolate growers are able to work directly together.
Trisha Rich: Is it traded like a commodity like how we trade corn or soybeans where somebody like our friends here at Dandelion will just say I need some chocolate from somewhere in the world or is it more like wine where they’re specifically saying I want it from this land plot in this country.
Valerie Beck: Right it’s the latter for small batch chocolate. It’s working directly with the farmer, buying the cocoa beans directly from this lot, from this estate but you’re also correct that for the big brands it’s the former. It’s buying the beans on the commodities exchange.
Jon Amarilio: So what’s this guy over here?
Valerie Beck: Oh this guy is so good right.
Jon Amarilio: He is talking to me.
Valerie Beck: Ritual chocolate Park City Utah. Chocolate made at 7,000 feet. I get altitude sick just thinking about it but it’s awesome there.
Trisha Rich: So this one is a dark chocolate, it has salt on it. I can see that.
Valerie Beck: Thank you. Yes, this is a salted bar. Don’t you think too that salt just brings out the brightness of chocolate. Ritual Chocolate is again so smooth right? I know you’re into texture Trish.
Jon Amarilio: That’s good.
Valerie Beck: I am so glad you like it.
Jon Amarilio: So where’s Ritual from?
Valerie Beck: Yeah so the cacao here was grown in Ecuador like our Dandelion bar and Ritual Chocolate business is based in Utah, Park City. So you can ski and then you can ski on in for a hot chocolate.
Trisha Rich: So once a distributor I guess Dandelion is an example of a distributor right?
Valerie Beck: They are the chocolate maker so they don’t —
Trisha Rich: Oh they make it as well, okay.
Valerie Beck: Exactly, yeah they don’t actually work with distributors in most cases, they will buy direct from the growers.
Trisha Rich: So they buy from the growers?
Valerie Beck: Yeah.
Trisha Rich: And then they forget these beans shipped to San Francisco?
Valerie Beck: Correct.
Trisha Rich: Okay and then what happens?
Valerie Beck: Oh, that’s so exciting too. You can actually go, and I was just at their new facility a couple of months ago, you can go talk about transparent, not only is the purchase of the beans transparent, you can see the price that they paid on their transparency page on the website, you can see them making the chocolate.
So the first step is to take the cocoa beans which I’ve got some over here for us to look at and handle.
Jon Amarilio: 00:20:46.
Valerie Beck: Yeah, you can totally eat them, they’re delicious I put them on my grapefruit and my banana in the morning, they’re so healthy, loaded with magnesium, iron.
Jon Amarilio: It’s fruit Trish?
Valerie Beck: It’s a fruit, you got it. So yeah the cocoa beans have to be dehusked.
Trisha Rich: I am still on the ladder to go to the USDA about this food.
Valerie Beck: There’s so much that can be done, but yeah, the cocoa beans will now at the chocolate company be dehusked, and cracked into the smaller version that I have here, the cocoa nib and then once the cocoa beans are in small enough size, they’re ready to go into the grinder, and this to me is so exciting because the amount of time, and the temperature of friction at which the cocoa beans are in the grinder, picture like a stone grinder and the beans have got friction and heat as well as movement the chocolate is going to liquefy in a sense and depending on the time and the temperature, different flavors will emerge from the cocoa beans. It’s so exciting.
Trisha Rich: Yeah that’s very interesting.
Valerie Beck: So for example a bar like we just tasted will be in the grinder for three to five days non-stop.
Trisha Rich: And it’s moving that whole time?
Valerie Beck: It’s moving that whole time.
Jon Amarilio: And that’s when they’re putting any flavor, infusions and if they’re —
Valerie Beck: You could absolutely do that at that time, that’s right like, if you wanted to add raspberry, if you wanted something to be just so smoothly blended in that you couldn’t see it or crunch it but it was just really mixed in. For example, matcha tea is a big trend to do that with now, that’s pretty fun. You’ll add the sugar and then you’re ready to take the bar out of the grinder and now, oh boy, you can get as technically crazy as you want to.
Some chocolate makers will pretty much go straight to tempering the chocolate that is getting the molecular structure, solid in bar form and they’re almost done. But a brand like Dandelion since we’re talking about them has now got all manner of different machines to get the micron size of the particles, so tiny that you get that wonderful smooth texture.
Trisha Rich: For a super interesting, yeah.
Valerie Beck: I’m glad you get kind of geeked out on this too, I think it’s fascinating.
Trisha Rich: That’s — it’s just, it’s so interesting. So then in my mind, I think and I did grow up on a farm but I unfortunately not to talk about farm.
Valerie Beck: Oh exciting then.
Trisha Rich: In my mind the next step would be pouring it into some sort of mold or something.
Valerie Beck: Yes exactly, and I forgot to mention the roasting by the way, oh my goodness, that unlocks so many flavors as well. So the beans are roasted and then ground, go through the other machinery and equipment as needed, tempered, so that again that molecular structure is just right.
If you’ve ever melted chocolate in the microwave and tried to get it to stick on a strawberry, and you just kind of end up with a mess. That’s because the chocolate is out of temper, just meaning that the molecules aren’t lined up in a way that they’ll stay stable, so anyway that happens. And then yes, we’re ready to mold the chocolate into the traditional bar form or we’re seeing some makers get kind of radical.
I mean if you think about it, chocolate bar is very handy and we’re very used to it. But why the chocolate bar? We could have a chocolate round like Taza chocolate right here, we could have a chocolate pentagon, we could have anything we want.
Trisha Rich: Right for sure.
Valerie Beck: But yes now you mold the chocolate, some chocolate makers now, Trish, you are no lying, you love this, some chocolate makers will age the chocolate.
Trisha Rich: Oh that is so interesting.
Valerie Beck: Right because different molecular.
Trisha Rich: Flavors that come out over.
Valerie Beck: Actions, exactly are still happening, different flavors will come out.
Trisha Rich: That’s just interesting.
Valerie Beck: Right. I find it so fascinating as well, the chocolate will be wrapped, most of my client chocolate makers wrap by hand because they’re very artisanal small-batch makers, correct. Dandelion since again we’re talking about them has got a really cool machine that they call Hansel. I have met Hansel.
Jon Amarilio: So hot right now.
Valerie Beck: I have met Hansel, he is a great dude but yeah the bars will be wrapped and by the way the paper that you see from Dandelion, if you touch it, you can tell I think, it’s not paper, it’s cotton, it’s up-cycled Indian textile.
Trisha Rich: That’s fascinating.
Valerie Beck: Sustainability is another big word, right, flexibility.
Trisha Rich: So how much did this chocolate bar cost you?
Valerie Beck: Yeah so this is a $9 chocolate dollar.
Jon Amarilio: Which is probably a perfect transition. We are going to take a break there, eat some chocolate, and we will be right back.
Trisha Rich: Yum.
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Trisha Rich: So right before the break I asked you how much this chocolate bar cost and you said $9.
Valerie Beck: That’s right and it’s a bargain. When you look at what goes into it.
Trisha Rich: Why did you say that?
Valerie Beck: I say that because the price of the cacao is usually anywhere from five to seven times higher than the price of the cacao in a bulk chocolate bar, and then, you factor in the payments to the farmers for their labor if any additional beyond the price of the cacao, the transport, the handcrafting of certain elements in San Francisco in the case of Dandelion or in other cities, Park City for example in the case of Jon’s favorite salted ritual Chocolate Bar.
Jon Amarilio: I am going to say it was my favorite I’m leaving my mind open, we have a lot of work to do.
Valerie Beck: I like that attitude there is lot more to do.
Jon Amarilio: You know I don’t want to —
Valerie Beck: No favorite child yet?
Jon Amarilio: Yes, not yet. So that reminds me of Washington Post article that ran a couple of weeks ago and I think was entitled Cocoa’s Child Labors, which talked about the problem of child slave, labor and trafficking, and cocoa bean production, which you’ve been hinting at throughout the conversation. Talks about what we’ll call big chocolate maybe for purposes of the conversation, including all the major brands that our audience will know.
And they pledged decades ago to stop using cocoa harvested from essentially child slave labor, correct?
Valerie Beck: Correct.
Jon Amarilio: And it talked about the really appalling conditions that exist mostly in West Africa, right?
Valerie Beck: That’s right, it’s heartbreaking.
Jon Amarilio: So why don’t you tell us and our audience a little bit about that because this is all news to me?
Valerie Beck: Right, thank you so much for asking. It’s a problem that’s been going on since almost the dawn of industrial chocolate, and what we know is that 2.1 million children are working in hazardous slave like conditions, in mostly Ivory Coast as you said mostly Côte d’Ivoire also other parts of West Africa.
How do we know its 2.1 million kids? Because the United Nations and Tulane University went in and counted, and they were given permission to do this by the Ivory Coast government who also sort of co-sponsored the report in a sense.
Jon Amarilio: Oh they weren’t trying to bury the story?
Valerie Beck: The point is that everybody in the chocolate world knows about this and talks about it and yet the story is just starting to come out to the public even though some of us have been — do you have like your soapbox issues, things that you’re sort of always just very passionate and concerned about and that’s how I’ve always felt.
But yes, so children are not going to school and in many cases, they don’t live with their parents. In some cases, they’re paid a few pennies for their work. But even the farmers to whom they’re enslaved make only $2 a day or less. So in some cases the children are not even paid for their labor.
So when we look at the price of a chocolate bar, if we take the say the $1 or $2 commercial bar as our baseline, is that really fair when that price is based on slave labor. So I again compare it to Lianas, as I know Trish is a wine connoisseur. What’s the best bottle?
Trisha Rich: You’re overstating my expertise but consumer certainly.
Valerie Beck: Consumer is important.
Jon Amarilio: As someone who drinks with Trish frequently I can testify to that.
Trisha Rich: Consumer.
Valerie Beck: Go team. So what’s the — what does the best bottle of wine in the world cost? Is there even a price on there, right? And what’s a really good bottle of wine cost like I don’t know, you can get a decent bottle for $15 right, and you drink it in the night, and then you need another whereas here we can get some of the best chocolate in the world for $9 and that’s why I say it’s a bargain.
Jon Amarilio: So why are the companies, I mean other than the obvious, which is the price point right?
Valerie Beck: Yes.
Jon Amarilio: Why are these big companies that we all know we’ve all consumed throughout our childhood and adulthood, why are they still buying this?
Trisha Rich: Well why are they funding —
Valerie Beck: — this tainted supply chain, exactly. It’s an excellent question and I think one answer is that so far they have had no consequences. Actions have consequences.
Jon Amarilio: So just not enough social pressure.
Valerie Beck: Not enough social pressure and as the Washington Post article that you referenced pointed out, nobody’s been fined for using child slave labor in their chocolate. Nobody’s gone to prison for using child slave labor. So there have been almost literally no consequences.
Trisha Rich: Can we back up just one second, I have a –
Jon Amarilio: I am just going to eat some of this in the meantime as comfort Chocolate or having just for the present conversation.
Trisha Rich: Just drown yourself somewhere.
Valerie Beck: This chocolate is saving the world, this is a good stuff, yeah.
Trisha Rich: How are these children coming to these farms in West Africa? How is that happening?
Valerie Beck: Yeah, great question. So there’s a lot of trafficking going on and a friend of mine who’s from Ghana told me that everybody locally knows this one intersection in her hometown area where you can basically buy and sell kids. And sometimes, this comes about due to – they are just crushing poverty there, families all around the world love their kids and yet if a family can’t feed their kids, gosh, the terrible desperate measures that these families are going to.
So apparently the going rate right now is somewhere around $175 to $250 you can sell your child and now your other children have got more food to eat, you’ve got more food to eat, maybe you’re hoping and praying that your child is somehow going to make some money, getting trafficked into these hazardous working conditions.
But yes trafficking is a big part of it, it’s very poverty driven. And so one way that we can eradicate this monstrous problem of child trafficking and child labor is economic and that’s paying the farmers more for their cocoa crop, just as we see happening in the alternate supply chains where craft chocolate comes from and farmers are paid five to seven times the price.
Jon Amarilio: Will the farmers be — is that enough, will the farmers be incented or won’t they just be incented to pocket the profits? They’re like why can’t we treat this the way we’ve treated like the Blood Diamond problem.
Valerie Beck: Yes, I think we need all of these.
Trisha Rich: But how have we treated the Blood Diamond problem? I mean people are still buying those all the time, right?
Jon Amarilio: But it’s a lot better now, right, and what Valerie is talking about it’s just a complete open market for all the biggest companies in the world.
Valerie Beck: I think we need so many sort of weapons to attack the problem and absolutely paying people a fair price for their labor is the smart and ethical thing to do. I believe in any industry, including chocolate, having the type of public outcry that we had for blood diamonds where’s our Hollywood star who’s going to make a movie about blood –
Jon Amarilio: And so we need Leo on this.
Valerie Beck: Let’s call Leo.
Trisha Rich: I think he is busy on that ‘Devil in the White City’ movie.
Jon Amarilio: Is that? He is so busy in murdering people.
Trisha Rich: As soon as he is done with that.
Valerie Beck: Oh boy, it’s going to be big, it’s going to be big.
Jon Amarilio: Also, I don’t want to alarm you with this one over here tastes like flowers which weirds me out.
Valerie Beck: Thank you for having such a good palate though.
Jon Amarilio: Oh yeah, I don’t know.
Valerie Beck: That’s the rosemary, that’s been added to that.
Jon Amarilio: That’s why I don’t like that.
Valerie Beck: Yeah that one has got rosemary, you’re not a rosemary man.
Trisha Rich: So follow-up question to Jon, how many flowers are you eating?
Jon Amarilio: Right, well that’s a fair question.
Trisha Rich: Too many apparently, too many.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah, so like this fair trade and all that help, are they addressing this or –
Valerie Beck: Great question. It’s another element that we can use to approach this problem. Again, I think we can approach it so many ways. Fairtrade is a great idea in terms of bringing equal fair pay for labor in terms of bringing in women in diversity to the markets that Fairtrade works in.
We’re not seeing it work so well in chocolate though yet and here’s why and again to my Fairtrade friends they know I love them. But the Fairtrade price of cacao is only $200 more than the bulk price of cacao and that extra $200 is apparently not going to the farmers.
Jon Amarilio: That was the problem we were talking about before.
Valerie Beck: Exactly. So the farmers are not being paid usually any more money for Fairtrade than they are for not Fairtrade.
Jon Amarilio: Okay so Fairtrade is a scam.
Valerie Beck: Many people say so, many people also say that the program has got so much merit in so many markets; even though it’s not yet working in cacao, can it be tweaked to work in cacao, let’s hope. But checking up on it is another problem, having farmers afford to buy into the program is a big problem.
So there’s a lot of challenges with Fairtrade and cacao. What I recommend looking for again if you see a Fairtrade label, that’s awesome, but if you see the cacao country-of-origin, that’s going to tell you usually that the chocolate maker paid farmers that we can trace and we can learn about them and we can know about them; whereas, if you look at a big chocolate brand label, you will not see the cacao country-of-origin.
Jon Amarilio: Interesting.
Trisha Rich: And so, isn’t there any government regulation on any of this and what does that landscape look like?
Valerie Beck: Great question. Yeah that landscape is very deficient. So back in 1997, there were two US senators who wanted to address this, and they –
Trisha Rich: Was Ted Kennedy one of them? It seems like a Ted Kennedy project.
Valerie Beck: It does seem like it but it wasn’t. It was Harkin and Engel.
Trisha Rich: Oh interesting.
Valerie Beck: Yeah, but maybe Kennedy was on board the team. And so yeah, I think of him for all these good works, you are right. And so they were ready to pass a law saying hey we can’t have the fruits of child slave labor coming into the US.
And if you look back, there’s like a 1933 Commerce Law that basically says that anyway but this was going to make it more specific and was really going to give teeth to that law so that chocolate companies would have to clean up their act.
Jon Amarilio: But –
Valerie Beck: But, the chocolate companies said, let’s not be hasty guys and gals in Congress, were there gals in 1997?
Trisha Rich: I don’t think there were.
Jon Amarilio: Few, there were few.
Trisha Rich: They were like one or two.
Valerie Beck: There were few, that Pat woman, what was her name? I liked her. But in any case –
Trisha Rich: At the time, I went in high school then we were –
Valerie Beck: You were a baby, so I know it’s adorable. So the chocolate companies basically convinced Congress to let them self-regulate and they said, we’re going to — I know I see the shaking of the head always works brilliantly.
Jon Amarilio: It always works, yeah.
Valerie Beck: So they said, we’re going to clean up our act by 2005, oh wait, we meant 2012, let’s go for 2017, oops, now they’re saying 2025, but there’s no plan.
Trisha Rich: I hope you’re not suggesting that big business has its arm over the government.
Jon Amarilio: So all right.
Valerie Beck: Revolving doors, the phrase that occurred.
Jon Amarilio: Snark aside, is there any hope at the end of that tunnel?
Valerie Beck: Yes, there’s so much hope Jon at the end of the tunnel and on a couple of fronts, one is the consumer front that I know you and I are both big believers in, that as the word spreads, we vote with our dollars, right. And big companies want to sell us what we want to buy, and if we say hey big companies, we really love our childhood favorites but we’d really love if you didn’t use other children to make them, they can clean up their act.
Another front we’re seeing is the law, I’m still a believer, we are seeing some class-action suits for example in California and Massachusetts, where customers are suing under false advertising laws, saying that right, saying that if you said big companies on your label or somewhere that you’ve got child labor in your supply chain, we would not have purchased that a mission constitutes false advertising.
And then one more case that wow, this is really kind of a heartbreaker too. Two of the former child slaves who’ve grown up and escaped, came to the U.S. and they’re suing under the Alien Tort Statute.
Trisha Rich: It’s fascinating.
Jon Amarilio: Oh, interesting.
Valerie Beck: That’s kind of fascinating, right?
Trisha Rich: I remember hearing about that in law school. Jon, can you just quick refresh everybody and –
Jon Amarilio: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Valerie Beck: So we are seeing hope.
Jon Amarilio: Although the Supreme Court’s been scaling that back — that law back quite a bit in the past few years.
Valerie Beck: Yeah no, and you’re so right and what I see almost is more hopeful than the law itself right now. The law is — it’s a weathervane of public opinion and it lets people know what’s going on and as more and more people say, hey we want to see change, the law will join us.
Jon Amarilio: And on that pro-law note, we’ll take our next break.
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Trisha Rich: Before we start stranger than legal fiction, one of the things I’ve been thinking about is as we’re talking is that that turtle that got a straw in its nose and how its complete – a very sad story but it’s completely changed the way that we use and deal with straws and our access to straws and all sorts of things, so.
Jon Amarilio: So we need a turtle to eat a Snickers Bar.
Trisha Rich: Yeah that’s what we need, a turtle with a Snickers Bar in its nose.
Valerie Beck: Some kind of a mascot.
Trisha Rich: Yes.
Valerie Beck: I think you’re onto something and then Leo will get involved and we’ll make the movie and it’ll be perfect.
Trisha Rich: So I don’t know.
Jon Amarilio: So let’s play stranger than legal fiction, the rules are pretty simple. I think Trish definitely knows it. Trish and I have researched a strange law that’s on the books somewhere but probably shouldn’t be, we’ve made another one up completely then we’re going to pull you Valerie and each other to see if we can distinguish strange legal fact from fiction.
Are you ready to play?
Valerie Beck: I’m ready to play.
Jon Amarilio: Trish, you are ready to play?
Trisha Rich: I am ready.
Jon Amarilio: You might lead us off.
Trisha Rich: All right, so I’m going to read two laws and then you guys get to decide which one is the actual law and which one I made up.
Jon Amarilio: You always repeat the instructions right after I give them.
Trisha Rich: Well, ever since I screwed it up the first time, I’m really just saying that for my own self.
Jon Amarilio: Okay, okay.
Trisha Rich: The first time we played this I brought in two actual laws, so ever since.
Valerie Beck: Oh that’s a trick.
Trisha Rich: It’s very law abiding, yes.
Valerie Beck: It’s a good trick.
Trisha Rich: Okay, so number one, it’s illegal not to smile in Pocatello, Idaho or number two, you can’t use fighting words with the intent or hope to start a fight with police officer in Boulder, Colorado.
Valerie Beck: Wow. So this is US, I was envisioning this would be some sort of foreign jurisdictions.
Trisha Rich: Yeah, it could be. But today it’s not.
Valerie Beck: But today it’s not, okay. No, that’s interesting. Wow.
Jon Amarilio: What do you think?
Valerie Beck: I smile everywhere I go, so I think I’d be safe in Pocatello, Idaho even if that is the law. Fighting words, well, isn’t it illegal to incite violence anyway?
Jon Amarilio: So, I guess the legal question would be can you provoke violence from a police officer.
Trisha Rich: Yeah, I thought this one was tricky.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah.
Trisha Rich: So, what’s the verdict?
Valerie Beck: I’m going to go with the don’t incite violence and say that’s real.
Trisha Rich: That’s the real one.
Jon Amarilio: I’m going to say the smiling one is real if only because —
Valerie Beck: That so nice.
Jon Amarilio: Well, as people know I’m generally anti-smiler, anyone who’s smiling has ever seen a photograph of me.
Valerie Beck: What if you’re smiling with flowers?
Jon Amarilio: It’s insidious, I just don’t want to go down that road. But in my podcasting experience usually the more ridiculous sounding of the two is the real one.
Valerie Beck: I hope you’re right, I’m pro smile.
Jon Amarilio: I said I just don’t think we are going to need a middle one in this issue.
Valerie Beck: But I don’t believe in legislating what people should do in that regard, smile if you want, don’t smile if you don’t want.
Jon Amarilio: That’s a controversial position but why don’t we ask Trish which is the real one is?
Trisha Rich: Okay. Are you guys are both going to be happy to know that it is in fact illegal not to smile in Pocatello Idaho.
Valerie Beck: Let’s go.
Trisha Rich: So we should be immigrating there.
Valerie Beck: Let’s go there, that’s so funny.
Trisha Rich: So, the interesting thing behind this law is that it was passed after a terrible winter to get people to smile more and it led to a national advertising campaign and now the town is known as the U.S. Smile Capital. So, as a — I’m not a native Chicago and as our listeners know, but if somebody that’s lived here for 13 going on 14 years I would really love to see their version of a terrible winter.
Jon Amarilio: Right.
Valerie Beck: I was just thinking have they had a polar vortex.
Trisha Rich: Exactly.
Jon Amarilio: And something like forced happiness to make people feel better.
Valerie Beck: And that’s the thing even though I believe in smiling, I don’t believe in forcing.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah. Maybe if you just fed them chocolate.
Trisha Rich: Yeah, exactly.
Valerie Beck: That always helps.
Trisha Rich: The Boulder law is more interesting, that it is a law in Boulder, Colorado that you can’t use fighting words with the intent or hope to start a fight, but the exception is you can do it with police officers.
Valerie Beck: That’s interesting. So I was almost right.
Jon Amarilio: So it is a protest.
Trisha Rich: Yeah.
Valerie Beck: So I was almost right.
Trisha Rich: Yeah, exactly. So, police officers are the exception to that law in Boulder and you can do this unless and until the police officer tells you to stop, but the rub on this law which I think is just kind of fun is that your intent to annoy or harass the police officer has to be very clear, so —
Valerie Beck: So if I’m smiling.
Trisha Rich: Right.
Jon Amarilio: So you can’t just be you.
Trisha Rich: Right. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah. You have to – you have to be outwardly like –
Jon Amarilio: Like poking him or his, like does this hurt, does this hurt?
Trisha Rich: So, anyway field trip to Boulder.
Valerie Beck: You must have siblings.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah, Boulder – yeah, oh yeah, I do. Boulder is a great town.
Trisha Rich: Yeah. So you guys both got it right.
Valerie Beck: Yeah kind of well.
Trisha Rich: Yeah, you did.
Valerie Beck: So this was fun.
Trisha Rich: Yeah, okay done. Who you got first?
Jon Amarilio: So, in anticipation of the discussion about West Africa, I decided to look up some strange law from Africa.
Valerie Beck: Oh nice.
Jon Amarilio: Big place but I found one that I thought really fit the bill and I did the same with the Caribbean maybe, we’ll find out which one’s true.
Valerie Beck: Nice. Maybe. I’ve got Belize chocolate.
Jon Amarilio: Option number one, in the Central African country of Burundi jogging is illegal and can earn you a prison term from five years to life.
Valerie Beck: Wow.
Jon Amarilio: So jogging.
Trisha Rich: So, as a runner I have some questions about that, but we can even —
Jon Amarilio: We’ll get to them, we will get to them, you know the rules.
Valerie Beck: What about running as compared to jogging?
Trisha Rich: Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly my question.
Valerie Beck: Okay, yeah.
Trisha Rich: But can you tell us the other rule first.
Valerie Beck: Marathoning, okay, we will go on.
Trisha Rich: Because it’s just a really, you can’t be a slow runner.
Jon Amarilio: That’s a good question.
Trisha Rich: Yeah. So anyway go ahead, what’s your second one?
Jon Amarilio: Okay. On the Caribbean island of Montserrat, it is illegal to drink rum, the consumption of which can earn you up to one year in prison.
Valerie Beck: But rum is the Caribbean.
Trisha Rich: Right, right, sugar.
Valerie Beck: And cacao –
Jon Amarilio: And is that the trick or —
Valerie Beck: Cacao is the Caribbean. He’s a trickster I’m getting out since, yeah.
Trisha Rich: Yes, he is. You cannot trust this guy.
Jon Amarilio: Valerie, you’re our guest why don’t you go first.
Valerie Beck: Oh, thank you Jon. Well, I am very intrigued by the Burundi idea because I was kind of thinking along the lines with Trish, you know, as jogging just sort of like Western colonialism in another form we don’t want it, is it okay to run but not sort of meander.
Trisha Rich: Yeah. So, I think at least the way I’ve heard it described as I’ve been running for 25 years, is that — if you’re going at a pace that’s slower than 10 miles an hour and that’s a jog and faster than that is a run.
Jon Amarilio: So you think if this law is real that there are Burundian police officers, laser scanning people as they go by.
Valerie Beck: What I’m hearing you say I’m over thinking this.
Jon Amarilio: Maybe.
Valerie Beck: But that’s what we want lawyers to do, analysis.
Trisha Rich: Yes. You’re going to love my bill for this and I’m just thinking if you’ve been running for 25 years, she’s like a child athletic prodigy when you started.
Valerie Beck: Yeah, I was negative seven when I start running.
Trisha Rich: Exactly.
Jon Amarilio: Wow, Impressive. I know we’re going to have to go running after this podcast, because of all the calories we consumed, but —
Valerie Beck: Oh that’s a whole other topic. This chocolate — this chocolate is a metabolism booster, you’re going to walk out of here even skinnier.
Jon Amarilio: That is just — that made my day.
Valerie Beck: Yeah.
Jon Amarilio: We have so much more to eat then.
Valerie Beck: Right. Let’s get on it. I am — if I can – yeah, I think the Burundi law, there’s a whiff of authenticity to me about that somehow.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah. Trish?
Trisha Rich: I think I’m going to with the rum.
Jon Amarilio: And you’d be wrong.
Trisha Rich: I knew it was the jogging.
Jon Amarilio: Well done Valerie. How could rum be illegal in the Caribbean?
Trisha Rich: I knew, I knew. I thought you’d be tricking me.
Jon Amarilio: It’s like half of their economy.
Trisha Rich: Okay. So tell me about the jogging law, because I — am I right that it’s — you can run, but you can’t jog.
Jon Amarilio: No, you’ve completely over thought this. You can’t run either, you can’t run either. So in 2014, the president banned jogging because he feared it was being used as a cover for subversion.
Valerie Beck: Interesting.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah, at least according to the BBC News.
Valerie Beck: Interesting.
Trisha Rich: Interesting.
Valerie Beck: I wonder if it was some sort of Western re-colonialization attempt.
Jon Amarilio: That country has a lot of problems, a lot of violence issues, there’s probably a depressing explanation for it, but we’re not going to get into that because we’ve been talking chocolate today and I think we should end on that note.
Valerie Beck: Okay.
Jon Amarilio: I want to thank our guest Valerie Beck of Chocolate Uplift for this informative and apparently not fattening conversation.
Valerie Beck: That’s right.
Jon Amarilio: I also want to thank everyone here at the CBA who makes this machine run, including mu co-host Trisha Rich, our executive producer Jen Byrne, Ricardo Islas on sound, and everyone at the Legal Talk Network family.
Remember you can follow us and send us comments, questions, episode ideas or just troll us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @CBAatthebar. Please also rate and leave us your feedback on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you download your podcast, it helps us get the word out.
Until next time for everyone here at the CBA, thank you for joining us and we will see you soon @theBar.
Jon Amarilio: So what are we doing with all this extra chocolate?
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