Slaves, Exploitation, and Destruction as Progress, a Rant

Are you sitting down?

Had a cup of coffee today?

Maybe used a little vanilla in your pancakes?

Enjoyed some coconut milk?

I have some hard news for you, friend. You have likely supported slavery. Child slaves, adult slaves, monkey slaves maybe too. I don’t mean in some esoteric historical way, I mean today. Slavery exists all over the world still. To be clear, I am not speaking of subsistence workers, exploited industrial or agricultural labor, or other working poor, though all represent the same social ill. All of these categories exist within the vanilla trade, the spice trade in general, and sadly, the world over. America is no exception. In the USA, inmates fight our mighty forest fires for around a buck an hour.

Studies of so many ruins show, wealth disparity is the very thing that leads a civilization to it’s end, yet humans have continued to exploit their fellow man in horrifying ways since time immemorial. One would think we would all be treating ourselves and each other with “loving kindness”, and the earth like the treasure it is by now. You know?

It’s weird to me, that the people who tend to the ground, who grow and harvest our food, who feed the world, would be some of the poorest paid workers on the planet. I feel like anyone who can grow pumpkins and watermelons, pick countless pounds of berries, grow groves of delicious apples — These are our heroes! Forget the celebrity.

Tending to the vanilla vine is no easy task. The vine takes 3 years of growing to begin to produce a single orchid, then consider every single vanilla bean on earth today was hand pollinated. Imagine how many beans that is!

It’s incomprehensible!

Every single one pollinated by hand.

Then there is a sun drying process and a curing process, each of which require lengthy waits.

Of course, vanilla and slavery hold a linked history forever, as the hand pollination process that sea merchants, and botanists had tried for literally centuries to proliferate the sacred Vanilla Bean beyond Mexico to all parts of the tropics. Yet, it was the favored 12-year-old slave of a botanist on the Reunion Island, young Edmund Albius who cracked that secret with a small piece of bamboo, and allowed for the entire vanilla industry we see today. I’ll post more that I have written about Edmund Albius, he is certainly my Saint of Vanilla. He definitively deserves his own place on this site, much more than the historical mention just offered.

I know, this isn’t what you came here to hear. But the truth hurts sometimes, and we all need a reality check to consider where we are pushing the machinations of suffering for our fellow man, and where we can stop it. Vote with your dollars, they say. I support local businesses for hardware, for dining out, for bread. That is my choice, you vote with your dollars however you want.


Ever since I began, I have always sought out fair-trade, organic vanilla beans, some come direct from a farmer cooperative on Madagascar. Admittedly, I don’t know where all my beans come from, I’ve not been there. I don’t know if people are really being treated in a “fair-trade” way, but I have purposefully sought out importers I feel safe purchasing from, some who I have bought from for more than a decade. Sure, I would definitely like to do better in knowing. I want to know first hand exactly where I am buying from. I have clear goals and a plan I am working on for that, more to come there soon.

When I started Triple XXX Vanilla, my big goal was to help make vanilla sustainable. My solution was a DIY Vanilla Extract kit. I thought if everyone was making their own Vanilla Extract, and using Vanilla Beans to their Maximum Potential we could all help keep Vanilla around forever! We could raise up those involved in it’s care and creation instead of allowing chemical companies to put who knows what in a bottle and call it Vanilla (Here’s what), we could all make our own just how we like it!

I stand by my belief, it is important to know just what’s in your Vanilla Extract!

Vanilla is an amazing renewable resource if we use it with purpose and intent. Perhaps if we were all using the Vanilla Bean in more sustainable ways, vanilla wouldn’t be as profitable to the profiteers and middle men that dominate the industry. Imagine if farming all over the world, was treated as the sacred thing it is instead of yet another “bottom line” industry. If farming was about collectives, if we supported family farms, self-sufficient communities and simple trade, if we showed an appreciation for that very skilled labor of serving the land and harvesting it’s bounty, all peoples lives would surely improve.

This is not about politics, red or blue, black or white. No issue is black or white. It’s not about religion. I’m not a capitalist nor communist. I’m just a human being who loves Vanilla! We all make real change in the world around us – for better or worse. This is my way to make things better.

I came to a real crossroads with the vanilla, my love of it versus what an ugly industry it is. I decided to stick with it, because if I can alert people to the power of vanilla beans, and also the evils of the multinational corporations monopolizing an industry, exploiting workers to the point of slavery, and putting all kinds of weird stuff in their so-called “vanilla” — stuff you might not want. This is what I can do.

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