'Chocolate forests' are coming to save the Amazon, and all is right with the world.

Fellow chocolate lovers, you're going to be soooooo giddy about this news.

As someone who keeps a bag of chocolate chips going at all times, I've often found myself bummed out by reports on the chocolate industry. Many chocolate producers use cocoa harvested by child labor, which is totally not OK. (It's why I try to buy fair-trade chocolate whenever possible.) Some national parks in West Africa have been demolished to make room for more cocoa farms — again, not OK.

But some recent news out of Brazil has us chocolate fans jumping for joy over our beloved cacao bean.


Dried cacao beans. The magic has already begun. Photo by Yasuyoshi Chiba/Getty Images.

According to a report from Reuters, Brazilian cattle ranchers are starting to transform their used-up pastures into cocoa farms. Cattle ranchers have been the primary drivers of the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. (You know, that big bunch of trees that provides 20% of the Earth's oxygen.)

Thanks to environmental regulations, ranchers are restricted from clearing more of the forest to graze their cows.

Clearcutting the Amazon rainforest to graze cattle? No, thank you. Filling this land with cacao trees? Yes, please. Photo by Antonio Scorza/Getty Images.

And thanks to cows who eat gargantuan amounts of grass each day, ranched land is becoming too depleted to continue growing grass to feed them. So ranchers are moving in a new direction — toward chocolate.

"Move toward chocolate" is pretty much my life motto, so I'm totally feeling this change. And thankfully, so are environmental groups.

Because deforestation for ranching has had such a detrimental impact on the Amazon region, alternative use of land that includes planting greenery is a welcome change. Both The Nature Conservancy and the Amazon Fund — a Brazilian government initiative to combat deforestation — support the move to plant "chocolate forests." They're even helping finance new cocoa plantations, with the Amazon Fund giving more than $5 million in grants to cocoa farmers.

A cocoa farmer in Brazil checks his crop for me. I mean, not exactly for me, but kinda for me. I'll happily buy your chocolate, sir. Photo by Yasoyoshi Chiba/Getty Images.

That's good news for ranchers-turned-farmers because according to a study done by Brazilian environmental group Imaflora, cocoa can be up to five times more profitable than cows.

"Besides being a means of avoiding deforestation," The Nature Conservancy said on its website, "cocoa plantations favor the local, regional and national economy."

I'm going to forgive The Nature Conservancy for their lack of an Oxford comma because hello, more chocolate!

Is there anything more beautiful than a big ol' bin of chocolate with a big ol' scoop in it? Maybe the Amazon rainforest. Could be a tie. Photo by Stephen Chemin/Getty Images.

Ranchers trading in cows for cocoa means less Earth-killing deforestation and more life-giving chocolate. In other words, all our dreams are coming true.

Let's just recap, because I can't get over the awesomeness of this news:

The Amazon rainforest affects everyone in the world as does its destruction. Not only does a fifth of the oxygen we breathe get produced there, but the process of deforestation also adds more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Deforestation = bad. Chocolatization = good.

A farmer in Brazil tending to drying cacao beans. I like him a lot. Photo by Yasuyoshi Chiba/Getty Images.

Not only can cocoa farms can help reclaim some of the Amazon land that's been clear cut for cattle ranching, but ranchers-turned-farmers can make more money and have a more sustainable livelihood with cocoa. Boom.

Economic prosperity = also good.

And then there's the environmental aspect. Cocoa farms offer many of the same benefits as natural forests, absorbing carbon dioxide, boosting water resources, and helping revive native plants and wildlife.

In addition, some environmental group funding includes a mandate that farmers plant native species, such as mahogany and ipê, along with the cocoa plants. Taller trees provide shade for the cocoa and help replenish the natural landscape.

Reforestation = so much good.

Look at all the pretty green. Life-giving oxygen, life-giving cacao pods. Perfect. Photo by Yasuyoshi Chiba/Getty Images.

Did I mention this also means more chocolate for us? *HAPPY DANCE*

The chocolate industry has taken a big hit in recent years. I've seen several reports of a "chocolate crisis" due to disease, weather, failed crops, etc. Some experts have even predicted a global chocolate shortage in the next few years.

OMG, THAT'S SO NOT OK.

This is why a cocoa boom in the Amazon is extra, extra good news for us chocoholics. And the fact that this boom is also helping the environment — in addition to helping farmers in Brazil's struggling economy — means we can feel extra good about our chocolate habits.

I feel you, Lucy. GIF via "I Love Lucy."

I'm telling you, this is Cubs-win-the-World-Series kind of news. I'm just going to revel in it as I toss back my daily serving of chocolate chips. (Fair trade, natch.)

Cheers, chocoholics!

Courtesy of Verizon
True

If someone were to say "video games" to you, what are the first words that come to mind? Whatever words you thought of (fun, exciting, etc.), we're willing to guess "healthy" or "mental health tool" didn't pop into your mind.

And yet… it turns out they are. Especially for Veterans.

How? Well, for one thing, video games — and virtual reality more generally — are also more accessible and less stigmatized to veterans than mental health treatment. In fact, some psychiatrists are using virtual reality systems for this reason to treat PTSD.

Secondly, video games allow people to socialize in new ways with people who share common interests and goals. And for Veterans, many of whom leave the military feeling isolated or lonely after they lose the daily camaraderie of their regiment, that socialization is critical to their mental health. It gives them a virtual group of friends to talk with, connect to, and relate to through shared goals and interests.

In addition, according to a 2018 study, since many video games simulate real-life situations they encountered during their service, it makes socialization easier since they can relate to and find common ground with other gamers while playing.

This can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD in Veterans, which affects 20% of the Veterans who have served since 9/11.

Watch here as Verizon dives into the stories of three Veteran gamers to learn how video games helped them build community, deal with trauma and have some fun.

Band of Gamers www.youtube.com

Video games have been especially beneficial to Veterans since the beginning of the pandemic when all of us — Veterans included — have been even more isolated than ever before.

And that's why Verizon launched a challenge last year, which saw $30,000 donated to four military charities.

And this year, they're going even bigger by launching a new World of Warships charity tournament in partnership with Wargaming and Wounded Warrior Project called "Verizon Warrior Series." During the tournament, gamers will be able to interact with the game's iconic ships in new and exciting ways, all while giving back.

Together with these nonprofits, the tournament will welcome teams all across the nation in order to raise money for military charities helping Veterans in need. There will be a $100,000 prize pool donated to these charities, as well as donation drives for injured Veterans at every match during the tournament to raise extra funds.

Verizon is also providing special discounts to Those Who Serve communities, including military and first responders, and they're offering a $75 in-game content military promo for World of Warships.

Tournament finals are scheduled for August 8, so be sure to tune in to the tournament and donate if you can in order to give back to Veterans in need.

Courtesy of Verizon

When the COVID-19 pandemic socially distanced the world and pushed off the 2020 Olympics, we knew the games weren't going to be the same. The fact that they're even happening this year is a miracle, but without spectators and the usual hustle and bustle surrounding the events, it definitely feels different.

But it's not just the games themselves that have changed. The coverage of the Olympics has changed as well, including the unexpected addition of un-expert, uncensored commentary from comedian Kevin Hart and rapper Snoop Dogg on NBC's Peacock.

In the topsy-turvy world we're currently living in, it's both a refreshing and hilarious addition to the Olympic lineup.

Just watch this clip of them narrating an equestrian event. (Language warning if you've got kiddos nearby. The first video is bleeped, but the others aren't.)

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