Parts Unknown

Last night, I caught a recent episode of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.”

My first thought, “Ten-frame!” My second, “A possible three-act math task?”

Act One

I wrestled with including the first fifteen seconds of the clip. Will students ask their own questions if they suspect they’re going to answer one of Bourdain’s? Does the remainder of the clip make sense without this? Or, are the first fifteen seconds the first act, the remainder the second? By the way, Bourdain does a pretty good job on his blog of tossing out questions students may have:

Was I doing a good thing? Is it OK to be in the chocolate business? I don’t have any problem with wealthy people who can afford making impulse buys in expensive gourmet shops spending a lot of money on my chocolate. But where does the money go? In fact, where does this chocolate come from anyway? Just about everybody loves the stuff. It’s everywhere. A fundamental element of gastronomy. But I knew so little about it. Where does it come from? How is it made? Most importantly, who does it come from? And are they getting a good piece of the action? Or are the producers, as in so many cases, getting screwed over? I very much hoped to find that whoever was growing our cacao was, at the end of the day, happy about the enterprise — that life after Eric and Tony’s Excellent Chocolate Adventure was, on balance, better than life before.

Act Two

What information would be good to know? I wanted to know, what is a “nosebleed price”? From the man himself:

Thing is, it’s a very boutique-y, very high end, screamingly expensive end of the biz. One of the only 7,000 bars we were able to produce (the whole year’s supply sold off in just a few months) cost the nosebleed price of $18. Even reflecting the remote location, the rarity of the raw ingredient, the long trip from the mountains to the city to Switzerland and then to the States — the whole artisanal process — that’s still a f**k of a lot of money for a chocolate bar.

It looks to me like the producers get 15% of each chocolate ten-frame for the raw cacao, labour another 2.5%. For comparison, the three investors get 5% each.

Act Three

Raw Cacao: $2.70/bar; $18 900 in total
Labour: 45¢/bar; $3150 in total

Doesn’t exactly answer “Are they doing a good thing?” does it? And is it even possible to “show the answer” to this question? Can we adapt this task so that students use proportional reasoning to make a case for our cacao growers rather than just perform a couple of quick calculations? That is, can students use math to answer “How fair?” rather than “How much?” Differences in purchasing power and cost of living between nations now come into play.

Maybe this just doesn’t fit the three-act framework. Too bad. I kinda liked this sequel: How long would a Peruvian cacao grower have to work to purchase a luxury chocolate bar in Manhattan?


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3 thoughts on “Parts Unknown

  1. Seems to me this makes an excellent modeling task: have students make assumptions, set parameters, build a model and defend their model while other students critique it.

  2. I wouldn’t abandon it just because it doesn’t fit the three act framework. I agree with Chris Robinson; it would make a terrific task. Students could investigate what is a living wage and whether or not the retailer’s take is appropriate.

  3. Thanks Chris & Mary for your comments. I guess I just have to get a little more comfortable with the openness of tasks like these. I should also say that I think this task could work at earlier grades. I like the pictorial representation in the video and the possibility of relating this to an understanding of percent or using hundredths grids to solve percent problems (Grade 6/7). I wanted to push this to later grades. That’s why the focus on proportional reasoning. Too many times I see tasks like these being heralded as cross-curricular. Unfortunately, the math tops out at Grade 7, which should be a problem if we’re looking at Math 9.

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