Food of the gods

chocolate

The least favorite part of my childhood Tu Bishvat seder was when they passed around the carob. I had never tasted so vile a substance, and the experience was only worsened by its supposed similarity in taste to chocolate. I’m sorry, but carob is to chocolate as Kenny G is to Coltrane. Since the third grade, I’ve been on a “no-carob” diet.

But that’s not the reason that our Tuv Ha’retz community, which is hosting our synagogue’s Tu Bishvat seder, decided to celebrate chocolate (a “p’ri etz hadar” – “product of a goodly tree” – if ever there was one) at this year’s celebration.

We did so to draw attention to the striking injustices and cruelty that accompany the production of much of the world’s cocoa supply, which eventually makes its way into our Mars bars and ice cream cones, hot chocolate and, yes, even our recently-consumed Chanukkah gelt.

I was first made aware of this issue thanks to a wonderful post on Jewlicious.com. When you have a spare moment, read the heart-rending stories of children who have suffered so Nestle, Mars, et al can turn a hefty profit (70% of the total cocoa profits, as compared to a measly 5% for the average cocoa farmer!). Here are some quick facts, courtesy of globalexchange.org:

  • The US State Department’s year 2000 Human Rights Report acknowledged that some 15,000 children between the ages of 9 and 12 have been sold into forced labor on cotton, coffee and cocoa plantations in northern Ivory Coast in recent years.
  • West Africa has been the center of world cocoa cultivation for the last sixty years, today producing over 67% of the world’s crop.
  • Cocoa revenues account for more than 40% of the Ivory Coast’s total export earnings.

So that’s why just as we dip twice at our Pesach seder, this year we will dip our three types of fruit into Fair Trade chocolate fondue. And instead of four cups of wine, changing from white to pink to red, we will have four cups of Fair Trade coffee, flowing from black to mocha to hot chocolate.

The original Aztec name for chocolate, xocolatl, means “bitter water.” Much of the world’s chocolate sadly lives up to its etymology. Yet the Latin name for the tree which produces the cocoa pod is Theobroma cacao – “Food of the gods.” It’s our hope that through this ritual act of eating we can learn how food becomes godly when we eat it in a Godly way – with compassion, pleasure, and awareness.

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4 Responses to “Food of the gods”

  1. Leah Koenig Says:

    I just find it amazing that you had the option of going to a Tu B’shevat seder! I didn’t know they existed until about 3 years ago. Your seder sounds amazing and so well thought-out. I’m looking forward to being a part of it and seeing the young kids there who, someday, might write a post about THEIR childhood Tu B’shevat seders having the most amazing, fair-trade chocolate they’d ever had. :)

  2. Jo Says:

    Your focus on Fair Trade chocolate is timely; Divine Chocolate, a company co-owned by Ghanaian farmers, is launching in the US right now: see http://www.divinechocolateusa.com/

  3. Kana Says:

    Hi. My name is Kana who is currently working as an intern at International Labor Rights Forum. ILRF is also working for child labor issues in cocoa industry in West Africa, so please check out our website, too.
    Let’s spread the world!
    http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/Nestle07

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