Blood Chocolate, Lessons from Zazu Dreams

Image courtesy of Micaela Amateau Amato

Each fall, I send out the following appeal to my communities:

Dear friends,

While buying Halloween candy this year please consider the links between many of the popular brands of chocolate and child slavery in the production of this cocoa.

The Peabody award-winning documentary, “Slavery a Global Investigation”, ( depicts the devastating suffering of children enslaved in the Ivory Coast cocoa industry. This cocoa is used by Hershey, Dagoba (now Hershey owned), Mars, ADM Cocoa, Godiva, Fowler’s Chocolate, Kraft, Nestlé. These children live in horrendous conditions, work relentlessly, covered in wounds and scars from vicious beatings, many of whom “disappear” after they were beaten until motionless. Aly Diabete, a freed slave told reporters: “The beatings were a part of my life. … Anytime they loaded you with bags (of cocoa beans) and you fell while carrying them, nobody helped you. Instead they beat you and beat you until you picked it up again.” When told about the consumption of chocolate in the west, one child stated, “These people are eating my flesh.”

It’s critical that we buy alternatives when we can afford them: dried fruit, fruit leather, popcorn wrapped in parchment paper. Some fair-trade companies include: Endangered Species chocolates, EnviroKidz, Theo Chocolates.

While the responses I receive from grateful (previously uninformed) parents are encouraging, it is the reactions—ranging from indifferent to angry—from censoring school administrators who choose to “avoid politics” that provoke me to confront these more demanding, core concerns:

  • How can we recalibrate our normalized relationship to consumption/disposal habits that we know harm our children and children around the world?
  • How can we transform habitual behaviors of entitlement and obsessive accumulation, so that we embody the ways we are all interconnected as a model and resource for compassionate living?
  • Social and emotional intelligence are primary contemporary educational philosophies. How can we develop spiritual intelligence—an ever-evolving practice that reconfigures our most vital relationships?
  • How can we transform habitual behavior through a commitment to interfaith relations?
  • How can citizen-activists exemplify symbiotic solutions as we transition from our petroleum-pharmaceutical-addicted cyber-culture to an interfaith social permaculture—one that inspires, educates, and mobilizes peoples of diverse religious backgrounds?
  • Investigating practices that integrate the civic and sacred as a commitment to interfaith eco-dialogue and collaborative action, how can we manifest engagement, wonder, and moderation, including gleaning, eco-kashrut practices, and restoring balance to the land?

The subject of my climate justice book, Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era (Eifrig Publishing, 2017), focuses on social justice in relation to multiple ecological catastrophes. While in each country they visit, the characters become increasingly aware of environmental relationships to humanitarian crises. They learn about synergy within the natural world from historic heroes such as: Spinoza, Rachel Carson, Stephen Hawking, Harriet Tubman, Doña Grasi Nasi, Sol Hachuel, Inayat Noor Khan, Martin Luther King, Jr., and ibn Sina,

as well as 21st century villains like Nestlé, Merck, Exxon, and Monsanto—BigPharma, BigOil, and Agribusiness giants that stalk planet Earth.

This is a story about unlearning what we think we know, and learning love along the way. In his dreams, Zazu, a Sephardic, Arab-Jewish boy travels the globe on a humpback whale, crossing both temporal dimensions and international borders—overlapping vast space and time; history is folded time.

This tale of decolonization is divided into 2 sections—image and narrative, as well as about 400 endnotes of scientific, economic, historical, and literary references.

By engaging dialogues between scientific inquiry and personal anecdote, Zazu Dreams explores the sacred in the face of our “overindustrialized” (Ivan Illich) food, medical, and petrochemical addicted infrastructures. Confronted with convenience-monoculture and manufactured consent, the main characters witness how entwined Agribusiness and BigPharma Master Narratives undermine embodied/collaborative/participatory/feminist democracies. Zazu begins to unravel how technocratic capitalism has overtaken his own family histories of empathy and intermutuality.

For over 25 years, I have focused on J. Krishnamurti’s guidance: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” His warning characterizes both our global crisis and our potential to intervene in convenience-culture. Now, I am refocusing on LOVE—infusing what I do/be/am with a sacred tenderness—Cornel West-style. This means shifting from our ethnocentric Anthropocene Era

(plutocrat-driven democracies embedded in bacteria-phobia, commercialized-childhood, global warming, GMOs), into an embodied awareness of interdependency that learns from indigenous wisdom and earth-based perspectives. Like the metabolism of the human body and the earth’s tendency towards homeostasis, the metabolism of our culture must be scrutinized as a relational organism.

Nourishing embodied coalitional conversations between the sciences and personal narrative, we can disrupt our ingrained “monoculture of the mind” (Vandana Shiva) that sustains intricate systems of corporate criminality and its concomitant rampant consumerism. Only by understanding how all forms of oppression are interconnected can we understand that all forms of emancipation are equally interconnected. Intersectional dialogue lays the foundation for this feminist social permaculture.

We are now entering into the narrative and endnotes of Zazu Dreams. Our dialogue highlights the fertile relationship between traditional oral storytelling and conventional scientific perspectives—an exchange of very different kinds of voices that have a tremendous amount to learn from one another. 

Zazu Dreams, Chapter Three: “The Oldest Jews on the Planet”:
This edited excerpt comes from the chapter about the relationship between environmental racism, wildlife habitat, and climate change, illustrating how our consumer choices feed corporate power. The main characters include orangutans: environmental refugees due to international palm oil addiction and its subsequent deforestation. Palm oil is one of the primary ingredients in conventionally-produced chocolate.

Zazu: Ari, I wish you could have heard the many voices of Cochin! Besides Jews, there are Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists who all live and work together, speaking many different dialects and respecting each other’s different ethnic histories.

Endnotes: The critical importance of diversity spans every aspect of life—whether cultural (multiple ethnicities co-existing in contrast with ethnocentrism), agricultural (crop diversification in contrast with monocultures), cosmological (multiple non-hierarchical galaxies in contrast with geocentrism). When agriculture shifted from family-needs to business-demands, diversity was sacrificed. Before the advent of industrialized agriculture, farmers produced approximately 80,000 different species of
plants. Today they rely on about 150.

Zazu: Cochin is like a paradise flowing with sameness and difference, and even the synagogue is called Paradesi Synagogue of Cochin. Everyone is able to go to school, have jobs, and eat
healthy food!

Endnotes: Our title, Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for The Anthropocene Era, comes from this awareness of simultaneous sameness and difference that we hope will inspire transdisciplinary and transgenerational collaborations.

Zazu: The people of Cochin understand that kitar I no meter, el dip
ay ke ver* (when you remove and do
not replace, you soon see the bottom). They understand how hurting animals and their environment breeds social injustice. We learned from these “Black Jews” that the local refugees, the orangutans known as ‘people of the forest,’ are almost extinct because of the worldwide trade in palm oil.

Endnotes:‘Orang hutan’ translates as ‘person of the forest.’ Nestlé is one of the corporations responsible for destroying the rainforest—the home of orangutans. Tragically, these animals who are born with the ability to reason and think, and who share almost 97% of our DNA, making them our closest relatives, are killed because they are seen as ‘pests.’ The only apes found in Asia, these largest tree-living mammals in the world are critically endangered (

Palm oil (Elaeis guineensis), one of the primary ingredients in mainstream chocolate, comes from the fruit of the oil palm tree native to West Africa. Because it
is the cheapest vegetable oil to produce due to its high yield, and because it is unusually versatile (ranging from snack food, soaps, and cosmetics to biofuel—over 50% of all consumer goods contain palm oil), its global production has doubled in the last 10 years. Palm oil production and harvesting is disastrous for wildlife, ecological relationships, and human rights. Once again, social justice, environmental regulations, and animal protection are inextricably bound.

Since palm oil is now getting bad press among conscious consumers, euphemisms abound. For example, palmitate is a palm oil derivative that can be found in baby’s milk formula—another gruesome Nestlé specialty. To uncover more palm oil derivatives hiding in your ingredient lists, visit

Zazu: These orangutans were refugees from Indonesia.

Endnote: Animal habitat loss has historically been the result of human preoccupations: advanced capitalism, rampant consumerism, war, neo-colonialism, humanitarian imperialism, international development, free-market-driven infrastructures. Because of global warming (the results of these convenience-culture practices), we are establishing a new language for those who are suffering most immediately. ‘Environmental refugee’, a term first used by Lester Brown in 1976, has become a demarcation for how climate change is generating floods of refugees—both animals and people. The United Nation projects that by 2020 more than 330 million people will be environmental refugees. Disaster-induced displacement, as defined by the Climate Institute, include those fleeing from droughts, rising sea levels, deforestation, desertification, floods, or corporate-induced disasters. This is becoming the norm across the globe—spawning terms like ‘forced environmental migrant,’ ‘environmentally motivated migrant,’ ‘climate change refugee,’ ‘environmentally displaced person (EDP),’ ‘disaster refugee,’ ‘eco-refugee,’ ‘ecologically displaced person’ and ‘environmental-refugee-to-be (ERTB).

Zazu: They wore a hamsa to avert the nazár (evil eye). A local endul kadera (witch doctor, shaman, sorcerer, conjurer, baal shem, baal nes who practices home remedies) had given them en dúlko (magic potion) to protect themselves against transnational agribusiness.

Endnote: Although strictly forbidden in the Bible, medicomagic was liberally practiced among Jews. As seen in some Hispano-Moresque Haggadah’s, in Medieval Judaism there was little distinction between medicine and magic.

Zazu: We had all heard how Nestlé Corporation and PepsiCo. destroy the orangutans’ forests by stripping their land for palm oil. They plant huge palm oil plantations that are responsible for massive clear-cutting leading to deforestation. We saw more and more connections between environmental and human degradation. Esta apegado komo la unya kon la karne (They are inseparable). Not only are orangutans and other animals threatened to the brink of extinction, but we even met child workers who are trapped on the palm oil plantations in a form of modern slavery.

Endnote: Nestlé purchases cocoa from cocoa plantations that use child slavery in the Ivory Coast and Mali. In 2005, three former child slaves from Mali filed a suit against Nestlé. They claim they were exposed to dangerous working conditions, forced to carry 100-pound bags of cocoa, forced to work between 12 and 14 hour days—often six days a week without pay and little food. As recently as 2013, the Fair Labor Association found evidence of Nestlé’s continued forced child labor (on at least 7% of their farms). Nestlé’s own code of conduct condemns such practices, yet because they are not held accountable, they continue to hurt children for the big business of ‘slave chocolate.’

Concerned consumers must navigate advertisements’ misleading messages. Numerous companies that manufacture obviously unhealthy products like Nabisco’s Oreos, claim to be ‘Certified Vegan’—yet, they, too, are responsible for the destruction of human and animal habitats where palm oil is harvested. Overt ethically-questionable corporations like Cargill are not the only culprits; many ‘health-conscious,’ ‘sustainable-production’ companies are also responsible. Earth Balance, the company that makes a popular plant-based butter spread, claims sustainability is its leading production standard. It also claims that its products are ‘animal-free.’ Yet, Earth Balance’s primary ingredient is palm oil ( Even though Earth Balance states that its products are part of an ‘environmentally friendly food chain,’ it proves to be yet another greenwashing company using ‘sustainable’ and ‘healthy’ as manipulative marketing tools. ‘Green’ business maintains some of the most insidious economic practices today (Jeff Conant, “Going Against the Green,” Yes! Magazine. Fall 2012: 62-64).

Zazu: Producing gigatons of greenhouse gases, these plantations are corroding the Earth’s atmosphere.

Endnote: Palm oil plantations are the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Indonesia; at this rate, 98% of their natural rainforests will be destroyed by 2022. Not only does the $44 billion palm oil industry maintain gruesome practices towards animals who are considered pests (such as orangutans who are clubbed to death by plantation workers, while others are buried alive during massive clear-cutting that also burns elephants), it displaces thousands of people, involves hundreds as slave laborers, and on a broader scale, has the greatest impact on greenhouse gases—the most significant global warming culprit. “Deforestation and [industrial] agriculture account for almost a quarter of global emissions” (Barbara Bramble, National Wildlife Federation). Deforestation in Indonesia and Brazil accounted for approximately 70% of greenhouse gases. The burning of both countries’ forests can be seen from outer space (see for more details).

Zazu: Who needs imaginary monsters or giants or evil empires when corporations like Nestlé and PepsiCo. (who share their own freaky form of conviviality), Merck and Monsanto destroy everything in their path? Mommia used to take me to story time in children’s libraries all over the U.S. Why weren’t any real stories about ‘good’ and ‘evil’ ever read to us?!

*Ladino is a hybrid of Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, and Greek; and, a seriously endangered language (UNESCO’s Red Book).

Our dialogue examines the insidious manifestations of environmental racism in the context of humanitarian imperialism—how our taken-for-granted standard of living dictates and breeds relentless consumption in the name of U.S.-style democracy. The litany of our collusion with corporate forms of domination is infinite within the Anthropocene Era (the Plasticene). Because disinformation campaigns spread by fossil fuel interests and BigPharma deeply root us in assimilationist consumer-bred entitlement, we must be attentive to the ways in which we unconsciously embody the very hegemonies we seek to dislodge. As we have seen,BigPharma, Corporatized Education, and Agribusiness payoffs drive policy. Even if policy appears to be in alignment with environmental ethics, we are consistently finding that policy change replaces one hegemony with another.

I suggest that we focus on such institutional misinformation and how we can transform our individual and collective habitual behavior. Embedded in radical interdependency, we can shift our consumption/ disposal habits—offering symbiotic solutions that average citizens can adopt as we transition from our petroleum-pharmaceutical-addicted cyber-culture to a social permaculture.

These include:

1. holding our standard-of-living accountable in the face of convenience culture and corporate greenwashing

2. converting awareness into action in order to embrace the sacred in our daily lives

3. establishing social systems that develop and support synergistic habits rooted in new ways of thinking

This approach to mitigation weaves together simultaneous individual, community, and infrastructural change.

Because of my personal history living off the grid (economically, culturally, and in terms of near-zero resource consumption and waste), I am in an unusual position to unravel these challenges. For the past 28 years, I have lived in international intentional communities—from permaculture ecovillages to queer-focused direct-action cohousing to macrobiotic communes. As a child, I grew up on farms using compost toilets, greywater systems, passive solar, geothermal energy, heat transfer pumps, ground level to cupola ventilation systems, French drains, and earthberm structures.

Now, raising my seven-year-old son in the U.S., every day I make the conscious choice to deflect my son’s exposure to ways in which this plutocrat-driven democracy may impact him. In contrast with petroleum-parenting (what I identify as the market-driven decisions parents make that overwhelmingly contribute both to environmental destruction and body-phobic institutional practices), I attempt to lead a social permaculture lifestyle. Petroleum-Parenting includes how we give birth, how, or whether or not we vaccinate our babies and children, how we negotiate circumcision-decisions, breastfeeding, transportation, sleeping, bathing, screen-technology as surrogate parent, and how we choose to feed, diaper, entertain, and educate our infants, toddlers, and children.

Within this paradigm, our children yet again become collateral damage. Living my ethics includes my commitment never to own a credit card, a smart phone, or a car, and to build and live within a repurposed home based on biophilic design. My decision to barter 98% of services and goods is not simply an economic endeavor, but a shared sacred practice.

For the past fifteen years, my colleagues have asked me to write a book about this philosophy and practice. The expanded discussion I am suggesting is not “50 Things You Can Do to Save the Planet.” It is about exploring our cultural epidemic of entitlement and accumulation. As Executive Director of Jews Of The Earth (JOTE) and as a Sephardic writer/activist/mother focusing on social justice and ecological consequences, I suggest that each of us explore how malnourished and displaced peoples are intricately connected with impoverished soils and seas—the consequences of consumerism.

The Zohar (the foundation of Kabbalistic thought), like the Islamic-Arabic concept of adab (creatively living one’s deepest values) and the yamas and niyamas of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in the Hindu tradition, offers both individual and social behavioral ideals for which to strive to live an ethical life. Reflecting “May your innards rejoice in foods whose seeds are righteous,” Talmud Bavli: B’rachot 17a (Kol Haneshamah), Zazu’s prayers call for Kabbalistic interconnected righteousness: 

We prayed to our revered tzaddik for an end to profit-driven biocide; we prayed for an end to the monoculture of the mind; we prayed for ecological intelligence to help us figure out how to encourage people to connect the dots between environmental justice and human rights, and act together to stop the suffering of people whose lands and water are poisoned and stolen; we prayed for a transition from a global extraction economy to a global regenerative economy…(60).

In order to strategize how to seek solutions, my research and daily life explore how we are contributing to the very trends we are trying to resist—such as climate change. This refusal to see another path, another perspective is at the root of our contemporary society; it is at the heart of The Anthropocene Era in which we now seem to be captive. Nonetheless, I believe we do have the capacity for love, for a spiritual intelligence—for an interconnected consciousness that acknowledges the sacred in everyday life. We can then unravel our own physical and spiritual malnourishment—working collaboratively to ignite a sense of wonder that would render justice inevitable. 


Cara Judea Alhadeff, Ph.D.,  Executive Director of Jews Of The Earth (JOTE); author of Viscous Expectations: Justice, Vulnerability, The Ob-scene (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014) and Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era (Eifrig Publishing, 2017).;


One thought on “Blood Chocolate, Lessons from Zazu Dreams

  1. This article brings out in the open how interconnected we are to each other and also how interconnected are the seemingly unrelated problems plague us.