Slavery is Bitter

Say NO to Chocolate this Passover
With Passover right around the corner, I was thinking about kosher for Passover products. Which ones are good, which ones are so-so and which ones just miss. There’s the cookies which fall under all three categories for instance – the almond based cookies that are (almost) always yum, the macaroons which are mostly uh… feh, and the cakes which are just mostly awful. There’s a sect of HaredimHassidim that consider fish not kosher for Passover because back in the landlocked shtetl days, before mobile refrigeration was invented, fish were transported stuffed with bread crumbs to avoid rot. Haredim being HaredimHassidim being Hassidim, they have refused to alter a long standing tradition despite the availability of all the modern amenities that make bread stuffed fish a thing of the past. So for Passover, they make mock geffilte fish using spices and Matzo meal Potato starch. Thanks, but I’ll pass on that too. Another thing I’ll be passing on this Passover is chocolate.

Yes it’ll be hard what with all the chocolate covered yumminess typically available on Passover. But one of the things we’re supposed to do on Passover, one of the things we read in the Seder actually, is to view ourselves as if we personally, had been freed from bondage in Egypt, as if we ourselves were enslaved. So what does that have to do with chocolate, bitter or otherwise? I’ll tell you.

slavery's bitterAbout 50% of the world’s cocoa is produced in West Africa, and most of that comes from the Ivory Coast. It is estimated that 284,000 children, 64% under the age of 14, work under dangerous and exploitative conditions on cocoa farms in West Africa. Of that number 15,000 are slaves, sold in the streets of places like Mali for under $30. These children to back breaking work for 80-100 hours a week. They get sick, they get beaten, they die and most never see their families again.

The United States consumes about $13 billion worth of chocolate a year and virtually all of it contains cocoa derived from suspect sources. Most cocoa is sold at international commodities exchanges and West African cocoa is mixed with other cocoa making it virtually impossible to tell which cocoa is slave produced and which isn’t.

slavery's bitter chocolateEating chocolate that may have been produced by child slaves seems pretty inappropriate, but it is particularly inappropriate on Passover when we celebrate the joys of freedom and the tragedy of our slavery in Egypt. To that end GlobalExchange.org, “an international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world” has created a one page Seder supplement which includes, amongst other things, the following passage:

Leader: Once, we were slaves in Egypt. Today, young children are slaves on the opposite side of Africa./ Assembled: Child laborers in the West African cocoa fields are over a quarter of million in number; twelve thousand of them are slaves…We can walk in Moses’ footsteps. We can have the courage to ask the Pharoahs of today to let the children go.

Global Exchange also suggests including Fair Trade Chocolate on your Seder plate to symbolize the sweetness of freedom. If you do this, make sure it’s pareve (non-dairy) chocolate if your Seder plate includes a shank bone and/or you are eating meat for your meal. Global Exchange does sell fair trade chocolate on its Web site, but the only certified kosher chocolate they sell are chocolate covered espresso beans made with milk.

The Seder supplement is a little granolaesque for me, but the message is spot on. There are more slaves today than there have ever been. It’s a $7 billion a year industry that includes over 800,000 women and children. Let’s try to celebrate Passover this year without indirectly benefiting from their slavery.

On a lighter note, an exhibition in New York, featuring My Sweet Lord, a life sized, anatomically correct depiction of Jesus made entirely out of chocolate, was recently canceled after protests by the Catholic League. Made by sculptor Cosimo Cavallaro out of 200 lbs of chocolate, Chocolate Jesus was deemed a direct attack on Christians. Said Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League “All those involved are lucky that angry Christians don’t react the way extremist Muslims do when they’re offended.” So what were they angry about? Something tells me it wasn’t the slavery used in making the chocolate.

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About the author

ck

Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.

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