Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 17, No. 3, March 2021
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Love & Waste: Igniting A Permaculture Paradigm Shift
~ A Personal Story, Part III

Cara Judea Alhadeff

March 2021

LoveBus ~ Photo provided by the author


In reference to the Vietnam War and President Nixon's “Pentagon Papers,” whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, decried: “They hear it, they learn from it, they understand it, and they proceed to ignore it.” Both my personal and professional lives focus on how we can re-interpret "information" in order to embody our interdependencies. How can we learn to decode what we are told is “transparent truth?” How can we educate ourselves and our children to take nothing for granted, to filter perception management and the seemingly self-evident through cultural, historical, and ecological relationships, to unlearn what we think we know and debate differing perspectives?

Four installments, from January to April 2021, will include my personal-political discussion of both the roots and the implications of perceived solutions to climate crisis and environmental racism. We will see how these solutions may unintentionally sustain ecological devastation and global wealth inequities—actually diverting us from establishing long-term, regenerative infrastructures. As we unfold the possibilities of a “permaculture paradigm shift,” we will explore the implications of supply chains that render particular humans superfluous (Hannah Arendt). When radical self-inquiry converges with infrastructural mechanisms and institutional support, we can begin to uproot the foundations of our industrial-waste consumer culture—our internalized fascism (Michel Foucault). We can begin to actualize symbiotic, biophilic solutions as we transition from our petroleum-pharmaceutical-addicted cyber-culture to a biocentric economics.


Practicing Non-Violence through Creative-Waste Living

I had met Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Arun Gandhi[1], at Peaceweavers while Zazu and I were living at EcoVillage Ithaca.[2] His book, Be The Change: A Grandfather Gandhi’s Story, tells how Gandhi taught him as a young boy the connection between non-violence and not wasting—even a worn-away pencil stub. His story is about recognizing and nurturing the sacred in everyday objects. This awareness—so beautiful and simple—had been the foundation of how I had lived since leaving home as a teenager to live on communes and organic farms in Europe and North Africa. Now, in the physical creation of our home, I had the chance to live Gandhi’s philosophy of not wasting as a commitment to nonviolence.

One personal example of living this ecological consciousness is how my family and I build our home, how we animate the embodied energy of each object and the space we create by combining them. This is a deliberate commitment to local and global nonviolence. Every day we ask ourselves how can we teach and embody the intricacies of the social scientific concepts of true cost, life-cycle analysis (LCA), cradle-to-grave, and embodied energy (designating both the local and global cycles of extraction > transportation > manufacture > assembly > production > installation > representation > distribution > consumption > disassembly/deconstruction > disposal/decomposition/containment)? The embodied energy of each object and the space we create by combining them is a deliberate non-violent act. “Reusing embodied energy” (Hawken 90) not only saves both energy and capital costs, it is spiritually intelligent.

We can cultivate traditional indigenous practices, this spiritual intelligence, as a form of devotion to ecological living.[3] Abraham Joshua Heschel declared, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ...Get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” In our biocentric art installation in which we have lived for the past three years, nothing is taken-for-granted; we consider the objects and the space they share sacred. We embody radical amazement—infusing awe throughout our daily interactions. Animating our embodied energy allows us to shift our relationship to consumer-waste culture's everyday violence—creating a bridge between infrastructural change and individual-collective accountability. I am happy to be in dialogue with others about this intimacy that deeply shifts our relationship to objects and people as disposable.

Conscious Conception: Home is a Verb

When we are clearly attuned with the space and objects around us, we witness what is already here, how it can be used in surprising ways. Like the physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking’s idea, everything we need to know is already within us just waiting to be realized, Leah Sha’rabi, the Jewish mystic, declared that “Everything you see has a spark of holiness in it that is waiting to rise up. It wants to be free, like a person in prison who longs to be rescued” (Firestone, 180). Rescuing an everyday object means that we release its inherent dignity. Although not directly identifying with Animism, Hinduism or even the Kabbalah, Sha’rabi believed that everything has a soul, every object is sacred, the most menial tasks are sacred. When we embrace the sacred possibilities of mutual accountability we can begin to uproot our materialist society, eventually rebuilding in its place a “Living Democracy” (Frances Moore Lappé) that aligns our values with the natural world.

For example, Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era, my cross-cultural climate justice book, challenges cultural habits deeply embedded in our calamitous trajectory toward global ecological and cultural, ethnic collapse. It explores how we can rethink relationality; how we can, as Eduardo Kohn declares in his How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology beyond the Human, “decoloniz[e] our thinking” (224) in order to embody intersubjectivity. Unlearning ideologies of entitlement and waste can generate a permaculture paradigm shift rooted in socio-spiritual economics.

Building (inhabiting) our LoveBus is such a commitment. It is rooted in the ancient Hebraic practice of gilgulim, to reanimate or reincarnate; a process of bringing new life to that which was considered dead—or landfill. Trash, an object no longer valued thus deemed as waste, is rooted in Western concepts of Progress and Development. When we rethink basic assumptions that perpetuate the fact that over “40 percent of the content of American landfills is construction waste” (Hawken, 100), we can “reimagine development as a tool for restoring nature and communities” (109). In contrast with the misconception that something/anything can no longer be useful, can no longer be used to build or be built upon, the continual renewal of gilgulim invites a spark, a revival, a renewal, a form of rescue paralleling the First Law of Thermodynamics: the total amount of heat energy can never be altered, that energy can never be created or destroyed, instead it is transformed. Learning from cross-cultural wisdoms, Rob (Wild Menagerie), Zazu, and I choose to embody this Law in how we live our home.

We have found that home is a dynamic and diverse practice, an ongoing unfolding to be reanimated each moment in relation to our needs, desires, values. Home is an action, a reflection of a constellation of our belief systems. Home is a living organism with a metabolism that continually transforms energy. Ours, like the focus of Native American Pueblo architecture is, as Barbara Kingslover writes, “to build a structure the earth could embrace” (211). Compelled by biophilic, earth-loving motivations we seek an exchange, a reciprocal relationship with the environments around us—local and beyond. I am reminded of buen vivir (good life), the Spanish translation of the Quechua Sumak Kausay[4] —indigenous cultures' ethics embedded in a social permaculture.

In contrast, U.S. normative standard-of-living, the American Dream, presumes that the “good life” implies having more than we need. This Western idea of prosperity is rooted in “enforced consumption” (Ivan Illich)—a technocratic model of property ownership. “Private property” attempts to fix home as a static unity, stripped of relationality and only available to those who are deemed entitled to it. Unlike land privatization / ownership and property for individual profit, First Nations and Indigenous peoples who may have fought over territory—fought over “the right of land use, never ownership, which is a concept foreign to most indigenous cultures” (Adams 44-45). As Eric Cheyfitz asserts in his Disinformation Age, “Buen Vivir is not geared toward “having more” and does not see accumulation and growth, but rather a state of equilibrium [between humans and nature alike] as its goal” (412).

Paul Hawken echoes these sentiments: “Too few designers ask, as poet and farmer Wendell Berry has, ‘What does this place require us to do? What will it allow us to do? What will it help us to do?’ Berry also said, ‘What I stand for is what I stand on’—reminding us that land must be measured not just in acres and dollars but in love and respect” (Hawken, 86). Similarly, how we reanimate the land with which we live and how we inhabit the buildings in which we live must be measured in love and respect.

Working in the LoveBus, and enjoying life ~ Photos provided by the author

See also Micaela Amateau Amato's paintings from Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era


[1] Arun Gandhi along with Noam Chomsky, Rabbi Lerner, Bill McKibben, James Hansen, David Orr, Karen Barad, Paul Hawken, SHK-G HumptyHump, Thom Hartmann, Henry Giroux, Stephanie Seneff, Eve Ensler, James Wines, Antonia Juhasz, and Daliya Kandiyoti endorsed Zazu Dreams.

[2] EcoVillage Ithaca

[3] “When one’s inner world is rooted in the Tree of Life, i.e., the Jewish tradition and all that entails in terms of ethical values, moral conduct, and deep connectedness to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, then increasing knowledge only augments the flow of life... [I]n the best tradition of Classic Sephardi Judaism, to partake in all aspects of life, to consume different kinds of tasty fruits, but to do so in a way that is integrated with the deepest impulses and highest aspirations of the Jewish tradition” (“The Surprising Sephardi Significance of Tu BeShevat,” American Sephardi Federation newsletter, 2021).

[4] Sumak Kawsay: Ancient Teachings of Indigenous Peoples, Pachamama Alliance.

Works Cited

Martin Adams, Land: A New Paradigm for a Thriving World. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2015.

Cara Judea Alhadeff, Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era. Berlin: Eifrig Publishing, 2017.

Eric Cheyfitz, Age of Disinformation: The Collapse of Liberal Democracy in the United States. New York: Routledge, 2017.

Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, The Receiving: Reclaiming Jewish Women’s Wisdom. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2003.

Barbara Kinsglover, Animal Dreams, New York: Harper Collins, 1990.

Eduardo Kohn, How Forests Think: Toward An Anthropology beyond the Human. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013.

Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. Boston: Little Brown and Company,1999.


Cara Judea Alhadeff, PhD, is a scholar/activist/artist/mother whose work engages feminist embodied theory, and has been the subject of several documentaries for international public television and film. In addition to critically-acclaimed Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era (Eifrig Publishing, 2017), her books include: Viscous Expectations: Justice, Vulnerability, The Ob-scene (Penn State University Press, 2014) and Climate Justice Now: Transforming the Anthropocene into The Ecozoic Era (Routledge, forthcoming). She has published dozens of interdisciplinary essays in eco-literacy, environmental justice, epigenetics, philosophy, performance-studies, art, gender, sexuality, and ethnic studies’ journals/anthologies. Her pedagogical practices, work as program director of Jews of the Earth, parenting, and commitment to solidarity economics and lived social-ecological ethics are intimately bound. Her photographs/performances have been defended by Freedom-of-Speech organizations (Electronic Freedom Foundation, Artsave/People for the AmericanWay, and the ACLU), and are in numerous collections including SanFrancisco MoMA, Berlin’s Jewish Museum, MoMA Salzburg, Austria, Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, and include collaborations with international choreographers, composers, poets, sculptors, architects, scientists. Cara is a former professor of Performance & Pedagogy at UC Santa Cruz and Critical Philosophy at the Global Center for Advanced Studies. She teaches, performs, parents, and lives a creative-zero-waste life. She is always eager to collaborate with other activists, scholars, and artists from other disciplines.  If you are interested please contact Cara via email at or via her websites, Cara Judea and Zazu Dreams. See also this article: Social ecology pioneers return to Nederland.

Climate Justice Now: Transforming the Anthropocene into The Ecozoic Era
Cara Judea Alhadeff, 7 June 2020

"Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment."

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (1207-1273)


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