I distinctly remember the last handful of M&M’s I ever ate. It was early summer, 2006. A friend and I were at my mother’s house, talking about how we felt we should be vegan. We’d recently attended an animal rights conference at the library downtown. Some time before that, I’d invited him to a lecture by a vegan former professor from BYU. I’d been circling veganism since the prior year, when I’d met and befriended a vegan classmate; a friendship which led me to watch disturbing YouTube videos like Meet Your Meat. By the day I was munching M&M’s out of a bowl, I had already phased meat out of my diet and stopped buying milk, at least on its own.
So… there we were, talking about animal suffering, how wrong it was, how bad we felt about the constant genocide going on behind the cleanly packaged grocery store products, and how we ought to be doing something… or rather, he was talking about doing something. I was avoiding eye contact and devouring the free M&M’s my mom had left on the counter. There was a panic brewing in a tiny corner of my brain – the chocolate center! I know, biologically-speaking, neuroscientists will argue that there’s no such part of the mind, but I could feel it shifting uncomfortably and trying to tune out my friend’s voice. He was telling me we could do it, it was possible to be vegan, even in Utah, and that he even knew vegans who no doubt would help us make the change. The next thing I knew, he was sticking out his hand and asking me to shake on it. We would become vegan. Together. I crammed the last of the M&M’s into my mouth (What? I needed the hand free!) and shook on it. Goodbye, precious chocolate….or so I was thinking at the time.
Cocoa, of course, comes from a bean. It’s only during the production that non-vegan ingredients are often added, and the lower the quality, the more they skimp on ingredients and add things like cow milk. As for M&M’s, none of them are vegan. (Yet. They’ll come around, once their customers all go vegan!) Neither are Dove, Cadbury, or anything made by Mars. But the good news is that there’s a lot of chocolate out there that a vegan can enjoy right now. (For the record, cocoa butter is actually a creamy plant product and has nothing to do with cow butter. When label-reading, watch for milk, milk solids, and whey. Also keep in mind that unless the sugar used is labeled organic or vegan, it is possible that it’s char-bleached.) Ready for the chocolate now?
Well to start with, the one thing that’s always in my freezer is a bag (sometimes two) of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Remember to read the ingredients on these, as they will vary, but Ghirardelli is a decent standard. Even better would be something organic, for the sake of the sugar. Now, on to bigger and better things!
Divine – Fair-trade chocolate bars! Chocolate is one product which often involves child labor or slave labor in the early stages, so this is some of the more ethical chocolate on the market, and affordable, at about $3/bar. The dark chocolate varieties are milk-free. I love the mint bar, which is crispy inside. The dark chocolate is also available with raspberries, almond & currant, or plain. A great place for locals to get their hands on these is at the Ten Thousand Villages store in Sugarhouse – a non-profit store where everything is fair-trade and you pay no sales tax. And while you’re there, grab a bag of dairy-free chocolate-covered coffee beans. They’re incredible!
Dagoba – Yes, I think it’s the name of the place where Luke Skywalker meets Yoda. But beyond that, it’s organic chocolate, meaning no char in the sugar, and the flavor varieties are impressive. Want blueberries and lavender in your chocolate? They’ve got it. These run $3.45 on the website, and are also available at specialty food stores like Whole Foods. If you’re a Whole Foods boycotter, check Earth Goods General Store on 9th and 13th for these. Others similar to Dagoba are:
- Endangered Species chocolate bars. Organic, wide variety of flavors, and as you might guess, they devote 10% of their proceeds to protecting animals, habitats, and humanity, so you can spread the compassion a little further! Stick with the dark chocolates. You’ll probably find these in the same places as Dagoba.
- Green & Black’s chocolate bars. Again, they’re organic, but stick with the dark chocolate to avoid dairy. Smith’s, Walgreens, and Whole Foods all carry these.
If you can’t imagine life without the creamy texture of milk chocolate, don’t despair! Terra Nostra has you covered with melt-in-your-mouth milk chocolate bars! Rice milk that is, not cow milk. (If anything, they taste even creamier and smoother.) They cost a bit more than the others, but if you’re not a dark chocolate fan, these delicious bars might just save your vegan life. Solid rice milk chocolate, chocolate with almonds, or dark-chocolate-truffle-filled. I’ve only found these at Wild Oats, and that was before the takeover by Whole Foods, so you might have to go online for them.
Now, maybe it’s actual candy bars you’re craving. All the chewy fillings, nougat, coconut, peanuts… For a long time, candy bars have been inaccessible to vegans, but now there’s Go Max Go, a candy bar company run by vegans, for vegans! They make vegan versions of Snickers, Mounds, Three Musketeers, and Milky Way bars. As you’ll see on their website, there is just one place you can find these in Utah: Cakewalk Baking Co. in Woods Cross. (And I hear she delivers, so make it worth her while and buy some cupcakes while you’re at it!)
By the way, if you’re hoping to go the traditional V-Day route in the coming weeks, check out the boxes of vegan truffles available on this website, The Vegan Store! You still have plenty of time for shipping.
Know of any great vegan chocolates I’m missing out on? What’s your favorite?